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South Korean Delegation to Visit North Korea; Trump Hails China's Move to Drop Term Limits; Germany's SPD Votes on Whether to Join Merkel's Coalition; Parliamentary Election Underway in Italy; Suspected Russian Troll Deletes Details of Her Past; Netanyahu to Meet with Trump amid Scrutiny in Israel; Hollywood Men Launch #AskMoreOfHim. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 05:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A major move in diplomacy. Delegations from South and North Korea are set to meet in Pyongyang on Monday, a very important step toward possible direct talks between North Korea and the United States.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President Trump comments on North Korea. He also praises China's leader while attending an off- camera dinner. We'll share his comments.

HOWELL (voice-over): And later this hour Hollywood wraps up awards season with a horror movie on the Best Picture list at the Oscars.

ALLEN (voice-over): "Get Out."

HOWELL (voice-over): That's right.

ALLEN (voice-over): Haven't seen it.

Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We are live in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. It's 5:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast at CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: Breaking news this hour of a major diplomatic development. The president of South Korea has announced he's sending a delegation of high-level officials to North Korea Monday for a two-day visit.

HOWELL: One purpose is to build on that dialogue that developed between the two Koreas during the Winter Olympics. Another is to try to open a path to direct talks between North Korea and the United States.

Let's get the very latest with our correspondents following this story. CNN's Will Ripley has reported from North Korea numerous times and joins live in Beijing. Our Andrew Stevens, also on the story with us, live in Seoul, South Korea.

Andrew, let's first start with you.

What more can you tell us specifically about this South Korean delegation and what the meeting will entail?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: It's a very powerful delegation, George. Not only have they got the head of the national intelligence service, which is basically the top spy, they've also got the head of the National Security Agency, who is the security adviser to the president.

Now the head of the security intelligence operation also is seen as the architect of not one but two presidential summits between North Korea and South Korea back in 2000, 2007.

So he is bringing his strength on inter-Korean dialogue, which, as you said, is all part of this meeting, it's getting talks between the two Koreas back on track as well. And, the other man, Chung Eui-Yong, is said to have a very, very close connection, impeccable credentials with Washington.

So he will be able to talk to Washington and talk to North Korea about getting the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea back on track again.

So as you say, there's two threads to this. One is the inter-Korean and one is U.S.-North Korea. The U.S.-North Korea is going to be, obviously, significantly harder. Donald Trump's made it very clear that these negotiations only work if we're talking about the denuclearization of Korean Peninsula.

And the Koreans, as we all know very, very well, have absolutely no interest, at least at this stage, in trying or in agreeing to any form of denuclearization whatsoever. So it's going to be difficult for this delegation but it is a major step forward, just to have this meeting at all.

HOWELL: Let's push forward on that just a bit. The focus, obviously, as you point out, to create the conditions for North Korea, for the United States, to engage in dialogue; the main goal, denuclearization of North Korea.

Will, let's bring you in on this because, given your reporting, your extensive conversations with people in that country, is there now room, from what you've heard, gathered, room to reconsider when it comes to the nuclear power issue?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have gotten zero indication from North Korean sources, from diplomatic sources, that there is any willingness on the part of the North Koreans at this point to denuclearize, as the United States insists.

However, there are a couple of important factors at play here. One, are the sanctions, which are really starting to kick in, really starting to bite. Trade between China and North Korea has dropped dramatically.

I was speaking with a source today, who described basically, when there used to be 100 trucks crossing the border, now there are just 10. That's really going to hurt North Korea's already struggling economy in the coming months if these sanctions continue.

And then also there is the messaging from the Trump administration that, if this diplomatic path doesn't work out, that they are willing to move to what President Trump called just last week phase two, which is why we interpret it as a military strike against North Korea, which could unleash a really catastrophic series of events.

One GOP lawmaker described the loss of life potentially of biblical proportions. So from the North Korean perspective there is certainly a reason to try to talk with the United States, to try to figure out what the Trump administration is thinking, what their next moves will be.

But in terms of the nuclear issue, no indications at this point, George, that they are willing to --


RIPLEY: -- relinquish their nuclear weapons, which are written into their constitution. You visit Pyongyang. All of the state propaganda is built up around this notion of the nuclear weapons almost guaranteeing, you know, proving legitimacy of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, by the fact that he's built up this nuclear force.

So it's hard to see how they'd just be willing to walk away from that at this point.

HOWELL: OK. So the focus on these possible direct talks. But, Will, here's the question.

Are talks already kind of happening?

OK, so there was a comment by the U.S. president at a dinner in Washington -- let's pull this up on screen. This is what he said.

"They called up a couple of days ago and said, 'We'd like to talk.' And I said, 'So would we but you have to denuke. You have to denuke.' So let's see what happens."

So Will, here's the thing, direct call from North Korea to the United States president.

What more are you hearing from your sources about that?

And if so, the significance of that.

RIPLEY: We don't know if there was a phone call that was placed and by whom. Obviously the President of the United States does have secret phone lines and world leaders can call him and they can have sensitive discussions that are off the radar. So it's not out of the realm of possibility that North Korea could

potentially call President Trump. And our sources in Washington say they don't believe the president was joking when he made those remarks; although, keep in mind, President Trump does kind of often convey, you know, very complicated diplomatic themes in very plainspoken language.

That's one of the reasons that his message resonates so well with people is it's easy to understand. So no official confirmation yet or clarification from the White House or on the North Korean side, for that matter, that a phone call actually did take place.

But clearly the North Koreans have indicated a willingness to engage with the U.S. They first mentioned that at the Olympics in PyeongChang when they sent their delegation to the closing ceremonies.

And it does seem that this special envoy from South Korea, that will continue to lay the groundwork for eventual conversations, direct discussions with the United States.

HOWELL: Will Ripley, live for us in Beijing this hour. Thank you.

And Andrew Stevens, following the story in Seoul, South Korea.

Gentlemen, we appreciate the reporting. And we'll stay in touch with you.

ALLEN: Thinking of the president after a tumultuous week that saw a stunning resignation and policy surprises, President Trump returned to Washington Saturday for the historic Gridiron Club Dinner, where politicians make fun of themselves.

HOWELL: They tell a few jokes here and there, right?

So Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, mingled with the Washington elite. And the president told a few self-deprecating jokes. Before that, he entertained donors at a fundraising lunch at his Mar-a-lago resort in Florida. And there Mr. Trump praised China's move to abolish presidential term limits. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't forget China is great and Xi is a great gentleman. He is now president for life. President for life. And, look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we will give that a shot someday.


HOWELL: The president there joking. That was applause. But certainly praising a very different system than is supported here in the United States. So very...


Later this week Mr. Trump plans to release details of proposed -- a proposal, rather, punishing new tariffs on steel and aluminum.

ALLEN: That move has angered allies like the E.U. and Canada. But China doesn't seem fazed. Only 2 percent of U.S. steel imports come from China. Maybe that's why.

However, a Chinese government official says the trade relationship with the U.S. right now is win-win. But he warns that could change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): China does not want to fight a trade war with the United States. But we absolutely will not sit by and watch, as China's interests are damaged.

If policies are made on the basis of mistaken judgments or assumptions, it will damage bilateral relations and will bring about consequences that neither country wants to see.


ALLEN: Let's bring back our Will Ripley from Beijing to talk about this story.

And, Will, on the heels of President Trump wanting to jab China with his steel tariffs, Saturday he actually made public comments about his good relationship with Xi Jinping, this coming right after his announcement.

He said he's a great guy and they have a great relationship. He liked the idea that Mr. Xi is going to extend his leadership of China. So at one point, he is trying to slap China and then he's praising its leader. Hmm.

RIPLEY: And, you know, this isn't the first time that we've heard President Trump praise Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is poised tomorrow at China's largest legislative gathering, the National People's Congress, to push through a plan that was just announced about a week ago, to abolish the two-term limit, which effectively means that Xi Jinping could rule for life.

The limits were set up to avoid --


RIPLEY: -- a return to the days of Mao Zedong, the crushing, at times bloody dictatorship, the cultural revolution.

And this is such a sensitive topic here in China, I want to show you a live picture of CNN's feed here, which is now being blacked out by Chinese censors because, whenever we start to talk about this, they cut off the signal.

And it's not just CNN that's being blocked. Social media is being heavily censored. Any terms that are believed to be critical of this plan to abolish term limits -- you can't even post them on Chinese social media, terms like "my emperor." That's one example. A lot of people sarcastically and warily saying that this doesn't bode

well for the peaceful transfer of power here in China that could have been solidified under Xi Jinping at the end of his second term.

But now it appears he's going to stay in power. Now the Chinese government will argue that this is a strategy to maintain continuity of leadership. They say now the three pillars of power in China, which are the military, the party and the state, they now will no longer have term limits, which allows the Communist Party to keep moving forward with its economic and diplomatic policies.

But the Chinese people don't have a choice here. They didn't elect this authoritarian president and there certainly won't be protesters out in Tiananmen Square tomorrow for the kickoff of the National People's Congress because, as we know, China cracks down brutally on any pro-democracy demonstrators.

And now they apparently have the wholehearted endorsement and support of Donald Trump, the President of the United States.

ALLEN: Right. The U.S. president's comments certainly are unsettling when you consider our freedom and democracy here and what's taking place in China right now. Will Ripley for us, thank you, Will.

Well, President Trump's threat of new tariffs is being met with harsh criticism among U.S. allies all around the world. The European Commission promising retaliation if those tariffs are enacted.

HOWELL: Mr. Trump fought back in a tweet, saying, "If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a tax on their cars, which freely pour into the U.S."

He added that there's a big trade imbalance.

So how would a steel and aluminum tariff impact European car imports?

ALLEN: Well, Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW all build vehicles at U.S. plants. The U.S. accounts for 15 percent of worldwide Mercedes-Benz and BMW sales. The U.S. currently has a $22 billion vehicle and auto parts trade deficit with Germany.

HOWELL: And a $7 billion deficit with the United Kingdom last year.

All right, let's talk about all of this with Scott Lucas, professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham in England.

Scott, it's good to have you with us. Let's talk about first the news we're hearing from the president among jokes at a dinner at a club in Washington, D.C., stating some information that is certainly no laughing matter, rather quite sensitive information about North Korea, saying that they called a couple of days ago, saying that he would love to talk but they'd have to denuke.

What do you make of this news that the president is saying that they called, his response and the setting where it was made? SCOTT LUCAS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: Well, we know that Donald Trump can play fast and loose with reality, especially when he's sort of speaking off the cuff to journalists, as he was last night. Here is what is happening behind the scenes and let us be clear, it has a lot to do despite Donald Trump, not because of him.

That is that, despite Trump's threats of military action, others in the area wanted to get this onto a diplomatic path. This especially included China, which is a key player in this. But both Koreas also decided they wanted to get this on the diplomatic path. They've been moving towards this for months.

And we saw this dramatically occur with the Olympics diplomacy just a few weeks ago.

Now it is probably true that State Department officials, behind the scenes in back channel talks, have been conferring, especially with the South Koreans, of course, and with the Chinese and possibly with the North Koreans, to try to encourage this diplomatic path.

That's what Rex Tillerson actually revealed a couple months ago, only to be slapped down by others in the White House for making this public. So I think Trump is probably referring to an ongoing diplomatic process.

But it is a process which is coming primarily from the region with some State Department support.

And let me make another point, to be very, very clear. It will not end in North Korea giving up nuclear weapons, let alone its nuclear program. The best you can hope for out of this process is to get a series of guidelines, which contain the nuclear weapons program. You're not going to remove it entirely.

HOWELL: All right. And certainly North Korea has been very clear about its stance on nuclear weapons. So we'll have to see how that works out with those talks.

The president, here in the United States, also taking a looser approach during a speech to Republican donors in the state of Florida, apparently praising China's president for consolidating power and extending his rule as the nation's leader indefinitely.


HOWELL: Mr. Trump essentially saying to a crowd that he was able to do that, I think it's great. Maybe we'll give that a shot someday here.

So even, if just a joke, what do you make of these comments from the leader of the free world, Scott?

LUCAS: Well, I'm going to speak personally here and that is I'm not really too keen on jokes about getting rid of democracy and installing a dictatorship. Maybe that's just me. Donald Trump, of course, will say, you know, it's just a laughing matter and, you know, fake news media are building this up.

But, of course, there's two important factors behind this. The other is, as your correspondent has been noting, is that Trump does have an admiration for what you might call strong, even authoritarian leaders. And it's not just China's leader, Xi Jinping; it's also Vladimir Putin in Russia, it's also President Erdogan in Turkey.

But the second is that what Trump is trying to do -- and it occurred at the dinner last night, where he actually tried to joke, well, I like chaos, chaos is good -- is that, in a White House, where staff and allies are actually describing this pure madness now, they're actually saying that no one knows what is happening day to day, because Trump is so volatile; angry at one moment, then frustrated, then cheerful, that Trump's trying to portray the idea that he's in control.

He's in charge. He's got it all locked down. And of course, there's a problem with that. And that is that, as the Russia investigation gets closer and closer, he doesn't look to be in charge. He doesn't look to be president for the next year, let alone president for life. And so that's what lies behind the joke.

HOWELL: There are term limits here in the United States. Scott Lucas, thank you so much for your time.

LUCAS: Thank you.

ALLEN: As we mentioned, President Trump poking fun at himself and his administration at the Gridiron Club Dinner, an annual Washington social event, where everyone lightens up.

He joked about his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russian investigation, saying, "I offered him a ride over and he recused himself. What are you going to do?"

And then on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner's lowered security clearance, he joked, "Before I get started, I want to apologize for arriving a little bit late. You know, we're late tonight because Jared couldn't get through the security."

And finally, on the constant flow of White House departures, he joked, "So many people have been leaving the White House, now the question everyone keeps asking is, who is going to be the next to leave, Steve Miller or Melania?"

Well, we'll see.

HOWELL: Still ahead here, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, just got a big victory but she's not the only winner. How a far right party gains from the coalition vote -- ahead.

ALLEN: Italians are choosing their first new parliament in five years, migrants and jobs at the forefront.

But will any candidate prevail?





ALLEN: There's breaking news out of Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel will be able to form her grand coalition. Members of the center left Social Democrats have just voted to join Ms. Merkel's conservative bloc. Moments before the announcement a cheer was heard in the room as word emerged of the decision.

HOWELL: Fair to say it's a big win for Ms. Merkel but also a boost for the far right Alternative for Germany party. It will become the largest opposition party in parliament.

ALLEN: CNN's Atika Shubert is at the Social Democrats headquarters in Berlin and joins us now live.

And, Atika, there was certainly a lot on the line for the German chancellor. Tell us more about what these results mean moving forward.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This was very much a crucial vote for her to get. More than 450,000 members of the Social Democrats had to either approve or reject her coalition government. Fortunately for Chancellor Merkel, it went her way; 66 percent voted in favor, 34 percent voted against, with about 78 percent of members actually voting.

Take a listen to how it was announced by the Social Democrats earlier.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This gave us the strength, in order to be a party in the government, to proceed and get the country on the right path.

We have the process of revival and this weekend, already, we will start with party leadership. All the new members and all those who were involved in this debate will also actively participate and help for the strength, the SPD needs.


SHUBERT: And, Natalie, this means, essentially, that a coalition government is likely to be put in place sometime within the next two weeks. Angela Merkel has already issued her congratulations and says she looks forward to working together on this coalition -- Natalie.

ALLEN: She's had some hard fights and she has prevailed many times. Atika Shubert for us there, live in Berlin, thank you.

HOWELL: From Germany to Italy we go, voting underway in that country's first parliamentary election since 2013. Immigration and economic concerns are front and center, as you see this live image there, 11:22 in the morning there at a polling station, as people head to the polls.

No party has established a commanding lead over its rivals and the outcome is anything but certain.

ALLEN: Three political factions are dominating this election. About 40 percent of voters say they're undecided. Immigration is the top issue for many.

HOWELL: These are the major players: 81-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. He is barred from office until next year but he has put together a coalition of center right and far right parties.

Luigi Di Maio leads the populist Five Star Movement. And the former prime minister Matteo Renzi is heading a center left coalition. Let's bring in Barbie Nadeau, following the story outside of one of many of the polling locations in Rome.

Barbie, what is the mood of people as they arrive to the polling center?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd say the mood does not center around optimism. People are just hoping for stability. I mean, this is a country that has cycled through three prime ministers since the last election.

And so many times we see these coalitions are sort of marriages of convenience and then once they're put into place, their ideology sort of lends to some infighting. And I think that that's the concern here, that any of these coalitions, especially that of the center right under Silvio Berlusconi, is going to go in weak if they are the ones that win.

But it's very unclear, really, how this is going to end. As you said, 40 percent of the voters say they are undecided. And of those parties with the highest polling going in are the least likely, actually, to get enough of a majority to actually have control of the government -- George.

HOWELL: Barbie, we talked about immigration, certainly on the minds of many, as they head to the polling center, but also the economy. Explain how the economy is playing into people's decisions.

NADEAU: Well, there's a lot of, you know, a high unemployment, a lot of people really unhappy with their lot in life right now. People feel that they're underperforming, underpaid and that there's this lack of stability in this country. Italy has crawled out of a recession but just barely.

And you see, especially in the southern part of the country, where I think we're going to really see a big, you know --

[05:25:00] NADEAU: -- difference in terms of the swing provinces here and how this vote turns out, I think you're going to see that unhappiness, essentially, with unemployment especially, with migration, with this idea that so many people are coming in to this country and leaving very little for the Italians to help their own infrastructure and their own country going forward.

But I think, you know, we may have an answer tomorrow. But it's more likely it's going to take several days until we understand what can be cobbled together to rule Italy from this point forward.

HOWELL: 11:25 there in the morning, Barbie Nadeau, at a polling center, where people are making a very important vote for Italy. Thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you, Barbie.

ALLEN: The storm is safely out at sea but the northeastern U.S. still feeling the effects of a punishing storm. We'll look at the damage it has caused ahead here.

HOWELL: Plus a woman living in the U.S. shared her whole life online until it was discovered that she was suspected of being a former Russia troll. That story ahead as NEWSROOM pushes on.




HOWELL (voice-over): We're live coast to coast across the United States and to our viewers around the world this hour. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much for being with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen. The headlines this hour.



ALLEN: It may be days before power restored for more than 500,000 customers in the northeastern U.S., that's after that powerful winter storm you're seeing here pummeled the region with heavy snow and rain, hurricane force winds and historic flooding.

HOWELL: It was a doozy of a storm. At least six people we know have died. All of them died from falling trees. The storm's intensity took a lot of residents there by surprise, even those who are used to some very ferocious weather. They described what it was like.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The house shook and then -- we heard -- we heard a noise. We didn't know what it was. We ran out; my son was still in the car, with the tree on top of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were just sitting down, the lights went out and, all of a sudden, we didn't hear anything. We heard somebody coming up the house, I said, sheesh, maybe it's one of my neighbors coming up for coffee. And it was the fire department, hey, did you know there was a tree down?

And then they just started falling, falling, falling. And this morning we woke up, they're all down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been the worst that we've seen in years. We're seeing homes underwater. Their basements were flooded out. Their electricity was off. As a result of that people called. So that's why we've been doing evacuations all through the night and today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very scary. It's the worst one ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all hands on deck from the public work side, from the infrastructure side. And the cleanup will begin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Furnace is gone and the basement has a foot of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been in this house for now five years. And we've seen extreme winds in the wintertime. And it was scary. But this was the worst it's ever been.





ALLEN: "The New York Times" reports that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are looking into whether the United Arab Emirates tried to gain political influence by funneling money to support Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

HOWELL: According to "The Times," Mueller's team has questioned a couple of witnesses, including the man you see here, George Nader, who has been an adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

Nader was reportedly a frequent visitor to the White House last year, meeting with the U.S. president's senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

ALLEN: How about this one?

A suspected Russian Internet troll who's living in the U.S. and now in hiding and appears to be deleting details of her past.

HOWELL: Though she's not charged with any crime, the discovery of the suspected former creator of misinformation online is bringing the Russia investigation close to home. CNN's Drew Griffin has this story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SR. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just last week, Agata Burdonova was a smiling, Russian-speaking video blogger filming herself and telling her followers back in Russia about the marvels of living in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington.

Even crossing the street was worth a post. "It doesn't change the light," she tells anyone who followed her, "until you press the button."

Her life was displayed online with Burdonova blogging the smallest of details. That was until a Russian TV news service outed her as a potential Russian troll.

Rain TV, an independent Russia news channel, says it confirmed through former employees of the Internet Research Agency that Burdonova worked here at the St. Petersburg, Russia, agency, the one that's at the center of the U.S. investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In Burdonova's own LinkedIn account, she describes working at the company called Mix Info (ph) from 2014 through October of 2015. The company was named in the recent indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller's office as one of several fronts the Internet Research Agency used to obscure its conduct.

Though Burdonova is not accused of any crime nor listed in that indictment, the description of her work mirrors the type of activities outlined by U.S. prosecutors.

Burdonova's own LinkedIn account describes her work there as "translations between Russian and English, managing social media accounts and creating content on topics that included news, social sphere, history, culture and economics."

According to the special prosecutor's indictment, the unit was referred to internally as the Translator Project and focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Burdonova has stopped posting on her Russian social media page. Her LinkedIn account has been changed. The reference to Mix Info deleted. And when contacted by CNN for comment, the prolific blogger texted, "Please do not waste your time. I'm not going to talk to any journalists."

GRIFFIN: The couple moved to the Seattle area in December, after Burdonova's husband got a job at an international gaming company there. He is in the U.S. on a work visa. She is here as his spouse.

The U.S. special counsel's office is aware of her presence through media reports but is offering no comment -- Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: All right, Drew, thanks.

ALLEN: Russian trolls among us. What a fascinating story.

HOWELL: Well, the Israeli prime minister is visiting the United States and what he hopes to accomplish in his meeting with President Trump -- ahead.

ALLEN: Plus, Sunday is Oscar night.

How will some major issues play out on the red carpet and on stage?

We'll have a look in an interview ahead here.





ALLEN: Doctors without Borders says Syrian airstrikes that besieged Eastern Ghouta have now killed 770 people and wounded more than 4,000. And that's just over 10 days in February. The medical aid group warns those numbers could rise dramatically once they get a complete report from all their facilities in the area.

HOWELL: A U.N. official says since the Security Council voted for a 30-day cease-fire last Saturday, there's only been more bombing, more fighting and more death.


HOWELL (voice-over): Fair to say that that outrage over the war in Syria is spreading around the world. Protesters in New Delhi held this march that you see here on Saturday, demanding an end to the violence.

ALLEN (voice-over): They clashed with police at these barricades you're seeing. Authorities were trying to stop them from reaching the Syrian embassy in Indian capital. The world is fed up.


ALLEN: When will it stop?

The Israeli prime minister is visiting the U.S. amid mounting legal scrutiny back home. Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking in front of America's biggest pro-Israel group and he has a meeting with President Trump.

HOWELL: Keep in mind, this comes just days after investigators questioned Mr. Netanyahu on a corruption probe. He has denied any wrongdoing. Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann, following the story live in Jerusalem this hour.

Oren, the prime minister spoke before leaving about his major priorities on this trip.

What does he hope to accomplish with President Trump?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said, first and foremost, his priority in talks with Trump is all about Iran, whether it's curbing Iranian aggression, the prime minister says, or finding some solution, nix it or fix it, as he said to the Iranian nuclear deal. That's really where he wants to keep the meeting focused.

In that sense it's the same as every other meeting he's had with Trump, where he wants the focus mostly to be right on Iran. He did give a token nod to the peace process, saying he'll discuss peace with Trump as well.

This as the Trump administration prepares to put their peace proposal on the table, perhaps sometime in the next few months.

But just as important as what is discussed is that this discussion is taking place, the optics and the appearance of the discussions and the meeting because --


LIEBERMANN: -- for both Netanyahu's voter base and for Trump's voter base, it's an easy win for both.

So seeing them together, shaking hands, smiling, that's just as important as the substance of the discussions.

HOWELL: All of this comes, Oren, at a time where the prime minister himself is under investigations. So this trip, seen as a welcome break, I'm sure, from what has been a cloud over his leadership.

Also, what's the latest on those investigations?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. Netanyahu and his wife were questioned on Friday for a number of hours. Netanyahu himself was questioned for five hours and that's the eighth time he's been interrogated in these ongoing investigations, police questioning him under caution, which means he's now a suspect in a third criminal investigation.

These ongoing graft probes that are continuing and more importantly are growing. Crucially he's now a suspect in one of the biggest of these probes. So that certainly hangs over this entire trip and will be awaiting him when he comes back.

He does have the support of his coalition so far, which means, in terms of political pressure, there is none from his coalition for him to resign. They've all said they'll stand by him until the attorney general makes a decision whether or not to indict.

That's expected to be months away. So he has that. And yet these stories and the investigations are ongoing. So a week-long trip to Washington and New York, certainly a welcome break from that.

HOWELL: Oren Liebermann, thank you for the reporting. ALLEN: All right. Hollywood's biggest party is just hours away.

You think the big celebrities are already up getting ready?

HOWELL: I'll bet they are.


ALLEN: What will they wear?

All right, we'll look at who will likely go home with an Oscar. We'll ask a film critic about that -- next.






HOWELL: All right, Hollywood has its biggest night of the year with Oscars on Sunday. Here's a breakdown of what you can expect to see.

The anti-sexual harassment initiative, #TimesUp, will have an official moment during the telecast to bring attention to their cause.

Also, celebrities are expected to bring awareness to gun safety. They'll be donating orange pins from the advocacy group Every Town for Gun Safety.

ALLEN: Jimmy Kimmel is back as host and will likely add some political jokes to his opening monologue.

As for the awards, the fantasy film, "The Shape of Water," leads with 13 nominations, including Best Picture. Other films in the Best Picture category include "Lady Bird," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," "The Post" and "Get Out."

Now let's bring in film critic Richard Fitzsimmons from London to talk a little Oscars with us.

Hi, there, Richard. Thanks for being with us.


ALLEN: Yes, it will be. My goodness, we've had awards and awards. But this is the big enchilada.

Is "Three Billboards" a slam dunk for Best Picture or could a unique horror film, "Get Out," steal the prize?

And there's "The Shape of Water." What do you think?

FITZWILLIAMS: The answer, I'm delighted to say, is that we simply don't know. That is what makes it so exciting.

ALLEN: Oh, come on.

FITZWILLIAMS: It's one thing to say that "The Shape of Water," 13 nominations and "Three Billboards" only has seven. But that isn't the point.

The point is the infuriatingly complex voting system for Best Picture could throw up either "The Shape of Water," which is the likely one, or "Three Billboards," which I think is absolutely first class and I hope wins.

Or it could, depending on how these various films are ranked by members of the Academy, 7,258 of them at the moment, it could throw up the first horror movie, "Get Out," ever to win. So we simply do not know.

My bet is "Three Billboards" won't make it. And I say that only because it hasn't got a nomination for Martin McDonough, who is the British director of this film, which I think is a pity.

ALLEN: Yes, it's been sweeping up until now. There's always surprises, though.

Let's look at Best Actor and Best Actress. Frances McDormand has swept that for "Three Billboards." And then there's Gary Oldman's stunning portrayal of Winston Churchill in the male category. Give us your thoughts.

FITZWILLIAMS: Absolutely, no doubt both of them are going to win because Frances McDormand injects such power, such passion, such anger as a bereaved mother, who intends to take revenge on the local police in "Three Billboards." She's superb.

Sally Hawkins conceivably might challenge her but I don't think so.

And Gary Oldman has really got it sewn up for the superlative performance of Winston Churchill.

There are two movies out of the top nine dealing with Britain's finest hour in 1940. Of course it isn't an American story; perhaps that's why "Dunkirk" looks likely only to win in technical awards, despite eight nominations.

But it's fascinating, isn't it, that there are three movies, "Three Billboards," "Lady Bird" and "I, Tonya," dealing with the relationships between mothers and daughters. That's made very absorbing cinema.

Also, fascinating that Netflix seems to be affecting a sort of reconciliation. The streaming service has actually got eight nominations, which is interesting. And "Mudbound," the very fine film with a nomination for Mary J. Blige as Best Supporting Actress has done well with four.

ALLEN: Yes, Netflix coming on strong there.

There's one woman nominated for Best Director, one female, Greta Gerwig for "Lady Bird." This has been the year of women empowerment, movement in Hollywood with the #MeToo movement, #TimesUp.

What are her chances though for her film?

FITZWILLIAMS: The answer is that Guillermo Del Toro will win for "The Shape of Water" as Best Director. But I'm delighted Greta Gerwig is nominated. It would have been outrageous if there hadn't been a woman nominee.

And though Del Toro will win, it will be an evening, where, even if there is no official dress code for the #TimesUp movement, the eyes of the world realize that this is the elephant in the room.

And those pins will be worn, the speeches, that moment that you mentioned earlier that we'll have during the ceremony, I mean, there's absolutely no doubt that this has been a very difficult year --


FITZWILLIAMS: -- for Hollywood in the last six months.

And although, as Shakespeare exhorted through "Hamlet," his players, to hold a mirror up to nature, which we will see in so many fine films being honored, the industry's also been forced to hold a mirror up to itself.

What it's seen has been very ugly and there's no doubt at all that that, too, will be an important feature of this evening's proceedings and how Jimmy Kimmel, I'm sure, he will be with it very well.

Of course, we will not have what we had last year and that was the biggest catastrophe ever --

ALLEN: Oh, yes.

FITZWILLIAMS: -- seen on the stage.

ALLEN: No need to bring it up.

FITZWILLIAMS: That is one thing we won't have.

ALLEN: Right. Getting it wrong. You got one envelope and -- right. And, yes. Well, we really appreciate, Richard, you coming on with us. Always a pleasure to have you, Richard Fitzwilliams from London. And we'll wait and see who actually gets that Oscar. Thanks, Richard.


HOWELL: That was a heck of a moment. You've got one job.

ALLEN: I know. And they're going to -- let's see, Faye Dunaway, I forget who else, they're coming back to give out an award.

All right. Well, "Get Out," we mentioned that, dominated the independent Spirit Awards Saturday. The social thriller took home Best Picture and Jordan Peele received the Best Director award.

HOWELL: The Spirit Awards honor independent films and are seen as a precursor to the Academy Awards; keep in mind, having correctly predicted the Oscar Best Picture four years in a row.

ALLEN: All right. See you in a few hours for the Oscars. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. For viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is ahead. For viewers around the world, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is next. Thank you for watching NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, have a great day.

ALLEN: See you later.