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U.S. Finds Russia Poisoned Navalny, Joins E.U. in Sanctions; Italy to Close Schools in COVID-19 Hot Spots; Ousted Myanmar President Faces Two New Charges; Three Female Media Workers Killed in Jalalabad; FBI Director: Domestic Terrorism is "Metastasizing"; Countries Grappling with Economic Impact of Virus. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Just ahead, the U.S. and the E.U. sanction Russia over the poisoning and jailing of Alexei Navalny. We will talk to a close friend of the Kremlin critic.

Some European leaders have public trust to build with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine after a policy U-turn.

New satellite images show North Korea has taken steps to hide a nuclear weapons site.


CHURCH: Good to have you with us.

The top story this hour: U.S. President Joe Biden has taken his first major action against Russia. The U.S. hit Moscow with sanctions in a joint move with the E.U. over the poisoning and imprisonment of Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

The opposition leader was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated for exposure to what's believed to be a military grade nerve agent.

The White House says Russia was behind the poisoning. The U.S. sanctions target seven senior Russian officials and 14 entities. Washington and Moscow obviously have very different views of the situation.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Together, they send an unambiguous signal that the United States is working closely with our closest allies and partners in Europe to make clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We will not countenance it. We will not tolerate it. And there will be penalties going forward.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): When there is nothing to present to somehow at least substantiate their claims about Navalny's poisoning, when all those who treated him are carefully hiding the facts that could help you understand what had happened to him at the end.

And when in parallel, instead of honest cooperation without secrets, they begin to punish us, as they think in my opinion, it does not do honor to anybody who takes decisions like this. Regarding the answer, we will definitely answer.



CHURCH: I want to bring in Alexei Navalny's longtime friend and ally, Vladimir Ashurkov, in London. He's the executive director of Navalny's anti-corruption foundation and he lobbied for sanctions against Russia.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

I am hoping you can hear me.

Can you hear me?


CHURCH: Right. So you lobbied hard for this, now new sanctions have been imposed on Russian nationals and a list of entities by the Biden administration and the E.U. in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.

What's your reaction?

Do they go far enough?

ASHURKOV: Well, there are 30 people on the list returned to the U.S. and E.U.; three people were sanctioned. So I would say it's a partial success. All the people sanctioned are either security people or people from law enforcement.

Unfortunately, the impact of sanctions will be limited as they don't travel that much. We would like to see more wallet sanctions for the businessman close to Putin and involved in economic and political corruption.

CHURCH: Do you get the sense that there may be more?

Or do you think this is it?

ASHURKOV: The sanction situation has developed over the last seven years from 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and started meddling in Eastern Ukraine and I believe this is a next step. But I don't think it will end here.

CHURCH: It's worth saying the Kremlin describe these U.S. sanctions imposed on seven senior Russian officials as a, quote, "hostile anti- Russian attack."

What do you say to that?

ASHURKOV: The facts of the last six month related to the Alexei Navalny poisoning and unlawful persecution are well established.


ASHURKOV: There was a direct link between him being poisoned by a military grade nerve agent in August of last year and the Russian security services. The specific names have been uncovered. It only makes sense that the U.S. takes measures and takes action.

CHURCH: Of course, Russia has been denying any connection to the poisoning of Navalny.

What do you think is the Kremlin's likely next step on this issue?

ASHURKOV: There is no symmetrical answer that Russia can undertake. No U.S. officials have answered. It's unlikely that Russia is going to come up with any meaningful response.

CHURCH: How worried are you about your longtime friend, Alexei Navalny?

What do you think will ultimately happen to him?

ASHURKOV: His return to Russia was a risk and he knew that his incarceration was a possible scenario. He prepared for that and our organization prepared for that. But there was nothing he can do. I mean, the work of his life is in Russia. The millions of supporters that he has are in Russia. He has done nothing wrong.

So it was natural for him to go back. It wasn't a calculated decision; it was more of a moral stance. And of course, we're worried for him. And Russian prisons are notorious for their torture and persecution.

But we believe that he will prevail and we are working every day, both domestically and internationally, to try to put pressure on the Kremlin to get him out.

CHURCH: Vladimir Ashurkov in London, many thanks for talking with us.


CHURCH: Wealthy countries have been accused of hoarding the world's supply of COVID vaccines but efforts to improve vaccine equality are getting a big boost. The World Health Organization says more than 230 million doses will be distributed to developing countries by the end of May.

The vaccine rollout by the global initiative, COVAX, is already underway, with the first doses going to Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.

In Belgium, people over the age of 55 may soon get access to AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. Belgium's superior health council is recommending the country remove the age limit on the drug. They say new data confirms the vaccine is effective for older adults.

Government leaders are expected to decide later today whether to accept the council's recommendation. Belgium is one of several countries with an age limit on that particular vaccine.

This comes one day after France extended the age limit for the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Melissa Bell is in Paris with more on the change in strategy and joins us now.

European leaders dropped the ball in the initial stages when it came to the AstraZeneca vaccine and now they're trying to correct that.

What's the latest on this?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you think about, it from the very start, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been the cause of so much difficulty. The AstraZeneca contract was the first one that was signed, once the E.U. got the coordination strategy up and running, also one of the biggest E.U. deals as well.

Then the row over the delivery question for the AstraZeneca vaccine, very public, unseemly. In the middle of all that, the European Medicines Agency made it the third vaccine approved for use in the E.U. with no upper age limit on it.

Then it was the national agencies that, in many countries, decided to impose that limit. Also Emmanuel Macron saying things like he believed that the vaccine was inefficient in older populations.

First of all, European countries find themselves with large stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine that, until this change of heart, could not be given to the older populations and a shortage of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine.

So this has had very practical consequences for the rollout of vaccination programs. Then you have to remember that these were fairly vaccine skeptical populations at the beginning. Of course, this has not done anything to help.

CHURCH: Melissa Bell, joining us live from Paris, many thanks.


CHURCH: Italy's government has ordered the closure of all schools in the hardest hit COVID-19 hot spots due to concerns over new variants. The health minister says the variant first identified in the U.K. has now become prevalent in Italy. And cases of the variants first identified in Brazil and South Africa are also confirmed inside the country.

Schools are set to close this weekend through April 6th. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak with regional leaders in

the coming hours to discuss the nation's coronavirus restrictions. She is facing increasing pressure to begin easing the measures, despite an uptick in daily cases and a sluggish start to vaccine rollout. Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This is not a birthday party or a wedding anniversary. It's Germans being allowed back to the hairdresser after months of lockdown, leaving both the coiffeur and his customers ecstatic.

"It's like Christmas, New Year's and my birthday combined," he says. "I am allowed to do again what I love most, working with hair."

Hair and nail salons are among the few businesses allowed to open again in Germany since the start of this week. Other than, that the country remains in a hard lockdown. Shops, cafes, restaurants, all shut. Chancellor Angela Merkel reluctant to allow for the restrictions to be loosened.

"First, we need to see how well we can manage contact tracing, the coronavirus warning app and reinforcements for health authorities, better test strategies and so on," she said.

"We then need to see how we can step-by-step allow for more openness without risking another exponential growth."

Public support for Merkel is waning in Germany, especially as the country's vaccination campaign is only slowly moving ahead.

This vaccination center we visited in Berlin is running like clockwork, mostly elderly and front line medical workers getting their shots. The managing director said most are grateful to get the vaccine.

MARKUS NISCH, VACCINE CENTER: Everyone is really happy to meet each other. That's why the old people are very grateful to be here and have the treatment.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the staff also acknowledged they could be vaccinating almost twice as many people each day if they could get their hands on more vaccine. The problem, this politician says, is that Germany relied on the E.U. to order vaccine doses and it didn't order fast enough.

KARL LAUTERBACH, GERMAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Procurement of the vaccines was slow. Price considerations were overwhelming. Capacity was not given the attention it should have been given. So we lost time and we are basically suffering from a shortage of all the major vaccines.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The German government acknowledges there have been lapses in its vaccine rollout but says there will be a lot more vaccine available soon, as many citizens grow tired of waiting. Politicians tell them to be patient just a little longer -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


CHURCH: Daily coronavirus deaths are hitting a record high in Brazil. Its health ministry reported more than 1,600 deaths on Tuesday. Brazil has the world's second highest death toll after the United States.

Despite the surge, Brazil's vice president is defending the government's opposition to a national lockdown. He says the best way to stop the spread is to accelerate vaccinations. So far, just more than 3 percent of the population has been vaccinated.

The U.S. president is speeding up the COVID vaccination timeline. Joe Biden says there will be enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, two months earlier than the previous goal. But that doesn't mean everyone will receive the doses by then.

Distribution and staffing challenges mean it could take much longer. Despite the progress, President Biden and health officials warned, it's still not time to relax health restrictions.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is light at the end of the tunnel but we can't let our guard down now or be sure victory is inevitable. We cannot assume that.

We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and look out for one another. That's how we will get ahead of the virus and get our economy going again and get back to our loved ones.


CHURCH: The governor of Texas is defying those warnings. Greg Abbott announced all businesses can open at full capacity starting next week. He also lifted the state's mask mandate. Abbott claimed Texans have mastered how to avoid COVID.

The mayor of Houston slammed the decision, saying it undermines all the sacrifices made by emergency workers.


CHURCH: Coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM, new charges announced against the ousted president of Myanmar. It comes amid new reports of police using live ammunition on protesters.

Plus, signs of nuclear weapons activity in North Korea. Why some say this should push Pyongyang higher up on the Biden foreign policy agenda.



(MUSIC PLAYING) CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Myanmar's ousted president is now facing two new charges. His lawyer says they involve violating provisions of the constitution and may be punishable by up to three years in prison.

Meantime, protesters against the military coup confronted police again, despite the increasing risk of violence. Security forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and, in some cases, live ammunition to disperse the crowds.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations met to discuss the crisis. Several members called for the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees. The group called for all sides to exercise restraint but steered clear of calling for sanctions.


LEE HSIEN LOONG, SINGAPORE PRIME MINISTER: The question is, what can make a difference to them and, if we do impose sanctions, who will it hurt?

And it will not be the military or the generals who are hurt. It will be the Myanmar population who will hurt. It will deprive them of food, medicine, essentials, opportunities for education.

How does that make things better?


CHURCH: Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul. She joins us now.

Paula, another day of protests as the ousted president faces two additional charges.

What's the latest on all of this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know, in many different cities and town, the protests are ongoing once again today. We have also seen on the numerous slide streams (ph) that there have been clashes between those protesters and the police.

Over the past few days, we've really seen the level of violence and force that the police is using against those on the streets has started to rise. We've seen the death toll start to rise. There's concerns the death toll will go higher.

The United Nations says at least 21 protesters have lost their lives since the February 1st coup. So there's concerns that this seems to be a trend, the level of force that they are willing or allowed to use by the military leadership potentially is increasing.

So that's certainly a big concern. As you also mentioned, the president also had a couple of charges laid against him.

[02:20:00] HANCOCKS: He now has four charges, one of the recent ones against the constitution, which could have a prison term of about three years. It's exactly what we have seen with the ousted leader, Suu Kyi as well. She has additional charges against her.

So little by little, the military leadership is really increasing the legal pressure on both of them.

CHURCH: We just heard from the prime minister of Singapore. He doesn't want to see sanctions applied to Myanmar because he says that will just hit the ordinary people in Myanmar. Singapore is also calling for the release of Suu Kyi.

What are you learning on that?

HANCOCKS: In this interview, he also said what had happened was an enormous tragic step back. This is what we have heard also from the prime minister and foreign minister, saying they are not recognizing the military leadership as the legitimate government in Myanmar.

They are calling for the democratically elected government that was elected in November of last year to be reinstated. And this is also what we are hearing from ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

They had a virtual meeting on Tuesday with the foreign minister or at least the military imposed foreign minister of Myanmar. Within that, according to state media, the foreign minister there said that there had been voter irregularity and there needed to be this going forward to make sure voter irregularity could not allow a government that shouldn't be in power to be in power.

Of course, something many of those nations in ASEAN do not agree with -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Many thanks to Paula Hancocks. Appreciate it.

Satellite images obtained by CNN are raising new concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

This image was captured by Maxar on February 11th. Analysts say it shows Pyongyang was trying to hide underground tunnels leading to weapons storage facilities. It could add urgency to calls for U.S. President Joe Biden to push North Korea higher up on his foreign policy agenda. Will Ripley joins us now from Hong Kong to talk more about this.

Will, what are you learning about these images?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's new in these images is not the tunnels themselves, that were first spotted back in 2017. It's the structures near the entrance of the tunnels that appear to be designed to obscure the view of spy satellites from the United States.

North Korea is well aware that this facility has been under surveillance for many years. They would also be aware that any sort of construction or new activity could get the attention of the incoming Biden administration.

This doesn't necessarily mean they are doing it as a matter of putting on a show. They might want to conceal these tunnel entrances if they're building or moving nuclear weapons into these suspected underground storage facilities.

It could also be a way to try to get the attention of the new U.S. President at a time that it's becoming increasingly clear that North Korea is relatively low on his international priority list.

CNN has learned the Biden administration is still putting together its North Korea policy. When President Biden was the vice president under Obama, there was an eight-year policy of strategic patience that was deemed to be an epic fail because Kim was emboldened to launch scores of missiles and nuclear tests during that time.

The last North Korean nuclear test was in September 2017. Since then, there has been a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile launches and nuclear tests, although he has been parading new ICBMs in recent months, raising speculation about whether the North Korean leader will do something more provocative to try to get the attention of the United States and get a seat at the table at a time that U.S. eyes are trained elsewhere.

President Trump engaged directly with 3 face to face meetings. While the diplomacy led to a cessation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula for a long period, it also allowed Kim time to quietly grow and expand and advance his nuclear arsenal.

Will North Korea just parade these weapons or will there be a test?

Or is this a signal North Korea wants to talk to the U.S.?

CHURCH: Will Ripley, bringing us the latest, appreciate it.


CHURCH: In the latest wave of targeted attacks in Afghanistan, three women working in the media have been killed. A warning, some of what you are about to see is graphic.


CHURCH (voice-over): Government sources say the women were gunned down on their way home from work at a local TV station.

Witnesses say that the attacker shot the women in the head before fleeing. A fourth woman survived but is reportedly in hospital, fighting for her life. Coworkers say the 3 women died were recent high school graduates, 18 to 20, and they were working in the station's dubbing department.

KHAN SAFI, ENIKASS TV (through translator): All of them were our colleagues for more than 2 years. They were very good people, I have no words. All I can say is that this was a brutal act against them. Killing them is a major sin. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Police say the suspected lead attacker has been arrested and he has ties to the Taliban. But a Taliban spokesman denies they were involved. This comes amid a wave of shootings and vehicle bomb attacks in recent months. They appear to be targeting journalists, civil society workers and mid level government employees.

Some of the almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted last week are sharing what happened to them after they were kidnapped at gunpoint. Even though the girls are back with their families, the memories and emotions are still fresh and raw. CNN's Stephanie Busari reports from Lagos.


STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN.COM SUPERVISING EDITOR, AFRICA (voice-over): It's been a harrowing few days but, now, these girls can smile again. Taken from this school by armed men, they are being reunited with their families. For some parents, it's too much, as they finally give into their emotions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is like I was just born now. I feel very fine. Like I -- we thank almighty Allah.

BUSARI (voice-over): The girls, 279 of them, were abducted last Friday when armed men raided their school in a northwestern Nigerian state. The attack in the dead of night took school security by surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When I heard them, I broke the small gate (ph) and I heard them saying, shoot them, so I hid myself. They entered and shot at anyone who attempted to help me.

BUSARI (voice-over): The gunman took the girls to the nearby forest, where they were forced to walk barefoot at gunpoint. They were returned just four days later, most of them with no serious injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Most of us were injured on our feet and we could not continue trekking. They said they will shoot anyone who did not continue to walk. We walked across the river and they hit us and let us sleep under shrubs in the forest.

BUSARI (voice-over): This is the latest in a string of kidnappings in northern Nigeria, raising questions about the safety of schools in this area, so much so that parents are now asking whether they should send the children to school in an area of the country that already has low attendance rates.

The Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari welcomed their release and said his government was, quote, "working hard" to bring an end to these grim and heartbreaking incidents of kidnapping and promised the military and police would, quote, " continue to go after kidnappers."

Concerns, likely far away from these minds, at least for the time being. Stephanie Busari, CNN, Lagos. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Still to come, a chilling warning from the FBI director about the terrorism of the January attack at the U.S. Capitol. More on Christopher Wray's testimony before Congress. That's next.





CHURCH: For the first time since the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the FBI director appeared before Congress with a grim warning that domestic terrorism is spreading across the country.

Christopher Wray defended the FBI's handling of security threats and how information was shared with law enforcement. He debunked right- wing conspiracy theories that anti-fascist extremists were responsible for the violence. Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a single overlooked warning of potential violence planned for January 6th, a report the day before from the FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, detailing online posts about going to D.C. ready for war, getting violent and making lawmakers hear glass breaking and doors kicked in that the FBI director got some of his most serious grilling on by senators.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: So it comes down to the basic question of what the FBI knew, when they knew it, whether they shared it, why this didn't rise to the level of a threat assessment.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: It was, as you noted, raw, unverified uncorroborated information that had been posted online. And my understanding was that that information was quickly, as in within an hour, disseminated and communicated with our partners including the U.S. Capitol Police, including Metro P.D.

TODD (voice-over): That threat information Christopher Wray said was communicated on January 5th to the Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police in three ways, an email, verbal communication and through a law enforcement portal.

WRAY: As to why the information didn't flow to all the people within the various departments that they would prefer, I don't have a good answer for that.

TODD (voice-over): In previous testimony, the former and current Capitol Police chiefs acknowledged their department did receive the FBI's threat report the evening of January 5. Why didn't they act on it?

YOGANANDA PITTMAN, ACTING U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: It was being shared for informational purposes, but has not been fully evaluated, integrate it with other information, interpreted or analyzed. Receiving agencies are requested not to take action based on this roll recording.

TODD (voice-over): Wray also knocked down a conspiracy theory pushed by Republican Senator Ron Johnson and others that the January 6th riot was organized by people posing as Trump supporters.

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence of that. Certainly --

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Is there any evidence at all that it was organized or planned or carried out by groups like Antifa or Black Lives Matter?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence to that effect.

TODD (voice-over): The director came under tough scrutiny from Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal with all the information the FBI had before January 6, about the Proud Boys and other extremist groups planning to come to Washington. Blumenthal asked,


WRAY: There is so much chatter often attributed to somebody in a neatly identifiable way where people are saying unbelievably horrific, angry, combative things, using language about beheading and shooting and explosives and all kinds of things like that.

And separating out which ones are getting traction, which ones reflect intention, as opposed to aspiration is something that we spend an enormous amount of time trying to do. Sometimes we don't have the luxury of time and the ability to make those judgments.

TODD (voice-over): And an ominous warning from the FBI director, he said violent extremists and other bad actors are getting better at using encrypted social media platforms to evade law enforcement. Wray said getting access to that information is one of his agency's biggest challenges in trying to head off some of those threats --


TODD: -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: The United States is slapping sanctions on two Houthi militant leaders in Yemen. They are accused of planning attacks, impacting Yemeni civilians, other countries and commercial vessels in international waters.

U.S. Treasury officials say they are making the humanitarian crisis in Yemen even worse. And Washington wants to hold the leadership of the Iran-backed militants accountable.

Meantime, the war in Yemen is pushing the country toward a large-scale famine. Sweden hosted a donors conference that failed to raise the humanitarian aid the U.N. was hoping for. The Swedish foreign minister says, even though the pledges were disappointing, at least the crisis is getting attention again.


ANN LINDE, SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER: We had hoped for more. We wanted nearly $4 billion U.S. dollar and we didn't get even half of it. But at the same time, we have to say that it's better than our worst fear.

The situation with the pandemic and the other priorities have made Yemen far too low on the agendas in many countries.

I am optimistic that the United States show more engagement now by having this special envoy and engaging and that E.U. is also engaging. And they also have a special representative on Yemen.

In the end, it is only the parties. It has to be a Yemeni-led and Yemeni-decided agreement.

But to get there, we need a push. And I think that, even if we cannot be satisfied with the donor conference, it has put Yemen higher on the agenda now.


CHURCH: Fighting COVID-19 on the economic front. What the U.K. and U.S. are doing to try to keep hardhit workers and businesses afloat.

Plus, Winston Churchill made more than 500 paintings in his lifetime. But he only created one in World War II and it has just set a new record at auction. We will take a look.




CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Many countries are taking new steps to try to deal with the crushing economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.K. is extending its support program for millions of workers until the end of September. The budget is going to be announced later. It will including $7 billion and grants for pubs, shops and businesses.


CHURCH: In the United States, President Joe Biden is urging Democrats to reject poison pills that could sink the COVID relief plan. He says they might need to accept provisions they don't like. Let's go to John Defterios, who joins us live from Abu Dhabi. Both the U.S. and United Kingdom working on COVID relief plans, the

U.K. extending the support program until the end of December.

What impact might this have on market confidence?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: That's a good question. There is concern that the government is playing an outsized role in terms of supporting small business. But this is a sign of the times.

They have a history of pretty good budget prudence, to be frank, vis- a-vis the other G7 countries around the world and particularly the United States. So this balance of growth versus budget rests on the shoulders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He's the youngest to ever hold the position, a Stanford grad.

There are 4 key components after adding $600 billion in debt last year. Corporate taxes are likely to go from 19 percent to 23 percent. In the context of Europe, that is a low figure.

You mentioned the support for small businesses here. The business rates are high and they will try to provide some relief. They are leading Europe in terms of vaccines now. They are the pacemaker, even though they had a horrible start to the pandemic.

Finally, they are one of the leaders in Europe and in the world for net zero 2050 on a target to renewable energy. They expect more funding there to accelerate that. And they will be hosting COP26, a major environmental conference, at the end of the year.

So debt to GDP, the U.K. is at about 85 percent vis-a-vis the United States, now surging past 130 percent, more like Italy than in the past.

CHURCH: John, in the United States, the Biden administration trying to get its $1.9 trillion COVID relief package through the Senate after passing the House. It has hit a few snags.

How critical is it for the country, for those who will receive the checks and for market confidence that this package gets approved quickly?

DEFTERIOS: It's interesting; we know the Senate Republicans are resisting the scale of the package but the target has been the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Joe Biden was on a call with Democratic leaders yesterday within the Senate. CNN reporting on Capitol Hill suggested that it was a 15 minute call where Biden didn't take questions.

And the message was don't mess with our budget right now. Don't try to add things on to it. So you had Elizabeth Warren challenging the new Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, who has been a prolific spending and supporter of the subsidies, wanting to bring back the $15 minimum wage and now wanting to present the wealth tax, 2 percent of those making $50 million to $1 billion and 3 percent above.

So far, the White House hasn't shot it down. They just want to get the budget done first.

CHURCH: We will watch to see what happens there. John Defterios joining us live from Abu Dhabi.

And thank you for joining us. I am Rosemary Church. "WORLD SPORT" is up next and I will be back with more news at the top of the hour. Do stay with us.