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India's Healthcare System Gasping its Breath; Narendra Modi's Leadership Under Critic's Lens; Borders with India Seeing Surge in COVID Cases; Brazil Rejects Russia's Vaccine; AstraZeneca Facing E.U. Commission in Court; South Africa's President to Testify in Court; Troubling New Surge Of COVID Infections Hits Nepal; Blinken, Timing Of Possible Biden-Putin Summit Being Discussed; United States-Saudi Arabia Ties; Blinken On America's Longest War; Uproar Over Iran Foreign Minister's Leaked Audio; John Kerry Denies Telling Iran Of Israeli Strikes; Iranian Boats Harassing U.S. Ships In Persian Gulf; British Prime Minister Engulfed In Scandals; Queen Elizabeth Returns To Work; Toxic Waste Discovered Under The Ocean. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 28, 2021 - 03:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, a coronavirus disaster in India with a new model suggesting deaths could be much higher than reported. The country's leadership could be downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

South Africa's president is set to testify in a high-profile corruption investigation. We are live outside the court in Johannesburg.

And from accusations of lacking empathy to mishandling the pandemic, Boris Johnson's very bad week. A look at the potential political fallout.

Good to have you with us.

Well, India is drowning under a massive wave of COVID deaths and infections. The country has now officially topped 200,000 deaths. But a new model predicts the death toll is actually much higher and could hit nearly one million before August.

But help is on the way. Vital medical supplies are finally reaching India as countries around the world step up to help. The aid can't come soon enough, of course. Bodies are being burned in makeshift crematoriums, in parks, and parking lots.

People in the country are pleading for oxygen and medical supplies on social media. Sports stadiums, hotels, and railway coaches are being turned into critical care facilities as hospitals are running out of beds. One hospital official described the many problems complicating the crisis. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGITA REDDY, JOINT MANAGING DIRECTOR, APOLLO HOSPITALS: I think the biggest thing which is under strain and stress is the medical manpower itself. Its' doctors and nurses who are stretching themselves because every single health system has added beds. We are currently operating over 4,500 beds for COVID, but in addition to that, we are doing over 5,000 patients in home care and tele mental kind of treatment.

We have taken our hotel rooms almost 3,500 hotel rooms and put medical devices and clinicians in those to supervise patients over there so everybody is stretched.


CHURCH (on camera): The World Health Organization says the COVID variant first detected in India has spread to at least 17 countries. Just across the border, Pakistan is seeing its biggest rise in infections since last summer. And it just recorded its highest daily death toll, just over 200. The military says there are 90,000 active COVID cases with more than 4,000 patients in critical condition.

Troops are patrolling the streets in 16 major countries to make sure people are wearing masks and nonessential businesses are closing at 6 p.m.


MUHAMMAD SAEED, PESHAWAR RESIDENT (through translator): The army is needed because the people don't understand the gravity of COVID-19. As the coronavirus is surging my uncle and friends are hospitalized with coronavirus infections. I've seen them all with my own eyes.


CHURCH (on camera): And COVID cases in Nepal are rising at a rate of 30 percent compared to 3 or 4 percent just a few weeks ago. Part of that is driven by people crossing the border from neighboring India. But a top health expert says open markets and crowded public spaces have also fueled the search.

CNN's Anna Coren is tracking developments and joins us live from Hong Kong. Good to see you, Anna.

So, India just had a tragic milestone of 200,000 COVID deaths. But there are still reports of super spreader events being held in the midst of the second wave. What is going on?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It's mind-boggling to put it mildly, Rosemary. Two days ago, Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the country, his party, the BJP party held a political rally in the southern state of Telangana. The pictures that you are seeing, it just does not make sense. People shoulder to shoulder, no social distancing. Yes, some are wearing masks, many are not.

This is happening whilst a second wave is wreaking havoc across India. We've spoken about the super spreader events that have happened in the past few weeks. You are talking about religious festivals, political rallies, which are yet to be banned. There are elections, the state elections happening across the country. But you would have to think when it's a case of life and death, why are they allowed to take to the streets?


Rosemary, let's take a listen to some of the people pleading for help, going to hospitals where they are being turned away, no beds, no oxygen. Take a listen.


UNKNOWN: My father is in a very critical condition. I'm getting no help. Numbers are given there but nobody is responding. Numbers are not reachable. Please help me, please. My father is dying. (Inaudible) Yesterday, I lost my younger brother.


COREN (on camera): I mean, the heartache we are hearing day after day, you know, every four minutes, Rosemary, somebody in Delhi is dying. And it just begs us belief. We know that the government has activated the military, they are trying to ship around, you know, oxygen tankers. We know international aid is coming into India, but that is a drop in the ocean. These people need help now. The hospital system is on the brink of collapse, and you just wonder the government is still allowing these political rallies to take place. It is just mind-blowing.

CHURCH: It certainly is. And Anna, what more are you learning about the Indian variant that has spread to at least 17 other countries now.

COREN: We know that it spread into neighboring Nepal. As you were reporting beforehand, about Pakistan the highest number of deaths. Pakistan not yet confirming whether that Indian variant is there. We are talking about several variants. It's a variant plus this double mutation.

We know that the variant was detected last year. It is afflicting younger people. And obviously, Rosemary, we know that vaccinations, we would hope, would be resistant against these variants, but we just don't know. We are hearing some reports that doctors who have been inoculated, fully inoculated with both doses of vaccine on offer in India are still getting sick.

And that is what is terrifying, Rosemary. If these variants are resistant to the vaccine, what does that mean not just for India, but for the region and the world?

CHURCH (on camera): Such a concern, and exactly why the whole world needs to work on making sure that countries that haven't had access to these vaccines get it now before these variants are rampant.

Anna Coren joining us live from Hong Kong, many thanks. Well as we've mentioned, help is pouring in for India from around the

world. The first shipment of medical supplies from the U.K. arrived Tuesday, including oxygen, concentrators and ventilators. More are on the way from Ireland, Germany, and Australia. And U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with the Indian prime minister.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I've discussed with him when we'll be able to send actual vaccines to India, which will be my intention. The problem is right now, we have to make sure we have other vaccines like Novavax and others coming on, probably. And I think we'll be in a position to be able to, share to share vaccines as well as know-how with other countries who are in real need. That's the hope and expectation, and I might add, when we were in a bind at the very beginning, India helped us. Thank you.


CHURCH (on camera): Meanwhile, China says it's ready to provide support and assistance to the Indian people. Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged to start a COVID emergency supply reserved for South Asia during a video conference on Tuesday. And as Anna mentioned, many in India are blaming Prime Minister Modi's government for mishandling the COVID crisis.

Members of his ruling BJP are still holding rallies like this one on Monday despite the worsening pandemic.

CNN's Ivan Watson has our report.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Less than three months ago, India's prime minister declared victory over the COVID pandemic.

NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA (through translator): The nation that houses 18 percent of the world's population, that nation has effectively control the coronavirus and saved the entire world, in fact, entire humanity, from a major tragedy.

WATSON: India's initial success at beating back the first wave of COVID, celebrated by Modi's ruling BJP in a February resolution, thanking Modi's quote, "visionary leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against COVID."

The victory lap continued into April, less than two weeks ago, Modi headlined at campaign rallies, addressing thousands of supporters ahead of local elections. That optimism running parallel with the Kumbh Mela religious festival where huge crowds of pilgrims gathered on the River Ganges.

[03:10:08] Meanwhile, a second far more deadly wave of COVID-19 was burning its way across the country. Daily infection numbers dramatically surging throughout the month of April. A growing number of hospitals overwhelmed, short of beds and oxygen for sick patients, leading to awful scenes of Indians gasping their last breath outside hospitals while waiting for treatment that never came.

RAMANAN LAXMINARAYAN, SENIOR RESEARCH SCHOLAR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: These are deaths that could be averted with an 80-dollar, you know, oxygen cylinder for a week. It's really that. I don't think the second wave was unavoidable, but the scale of it and the damage that it's causing, I think, was largely avoidable.

WATSON: With the public health system flooded, charities like the Hemkunt Foundation try to help. It provides oxygen to patients as they wait for a hospital bed. Aid worker Harteerath Singh says the foundation is receiving 15,000 calls for help a day.


WATSON: Is there any way that India could have prepared for something like this?

SINGH: We definitely could have done a better job. To be very honest, it's the collapse, it's the collapse in the government and this is the harsh reality.

WATSON: Critics of the Indian government question why India, which exports oxygen overseas, now suddenly needs emergency shipments of oxygen and other medical supplies from foreign countries.

HARSH MANDER, WRITER AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: You had a full year to do it and suddenly we are finding these really general shortages around the country.

WATSON: This week, top health officials suggested stockpiling and panicky patients have contributed to the shortage of oxygen and hospital beds.

RANDEEP GULERIA, DIRECTOR, ALL INDIA INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL SCIENCES: There is an unnecessary panic among the public. And it is causing more harm than good.

WATSON: As for Prime Minister Modi, in a monthly radio address, he conceded COVID-19 was claiming lives and causing pain.

MODI (through translator): After successfully tackling the first wave, the nation's morale was high. It was confident. But this storm has shaken the nation.

WATSON: Public health experts warn India's COVID storm is far from over.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH (on camera): And CNN's Impact Your World team has verified ways you can support India's fight against COVID. For more on how you can help, go to

Well the first hearing is underway in Brussels for the European Commission's case against drug maker AstraZeneca. It's suing the company for breach of contract, saying AstraZeneca has not delivered the number of COVID vaccine doses it had promised. AstraZeneca says the lawsuit is without merit.

The E.U. had planned to use AstraZeneca as its main vaccine earlier this year. But the company's delays have made for a messy rollout in some countries.

So, let's go live to Paris where CNN's Melissa Bell joins us. Good to see you, Melissa. So, what's the latest on this first hearing, and what our legal experts saying about the likely outcome here?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to take the judge who is going to consider this initial part of the case several weeks to come back with his decision. And what we are going to be hearing more of is exactly strategy that the European Union plans to use.

Look, the E.U. has made, Rosemary, no secret of its disappointment, of its anger, of its frustration with AstraZeneca. It's been a very public, very unseemly row that has been going on essentially since January when it emerged that the company was simply not going to be able to deliver in the first half of the year the doses that it had promised to deliver.

So, what the European Union says now is, look, in the end, we were sold short by about a third. They received the third of the doses from AstraZeneca that they were meant to receive in the first half of 2021. And it is those remaining 200 million doses as the health commissioner points out that could have vaccinated 100 million people here in the E.U. that were not able to be vaccinated as a result of those shortages.

That really has led them first of all to carry out this legal action, but also really already, Rosemary, even beyond -- even before we have the result of it, to look elsewhere for its future doses. The European Commission has made it abundantly clear this last few weeks that it has really put aside the idea of looking for extra doses from AstraZeneca -- already, there was an option for an extra 100 million that it was meant to receive on top of the 300 million it had already purchased.

It has decided not to go down that route, looking instead much more to Pfizer, to Moderna, those products of that other for technology for getting the kind of vaccines that the European Union wants. It's even now negotiating with Astra -- with Pfizer, I'm sorry, Rosemary, a deal that would see it get 1.8 billion doses by 2023.

[03:15:04] So, strategically, commercially, already the E.U. has moved on. But it is looking, I think through this legal action to back up really that argument it's had these last few months, that AstraZeneca has simply not lived up to what was agreed in the contracts. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Right. And meantime, of course, as this all plays out, what is the latest on vaccinations, infections, and restrictions across many European countries as summer approaches?

BELL: Well, we are beginning to see a great deal of improvement in terms of the rollout, the pace of the vaccinations. Clearly, European countries are way behind countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. But the pace has improved and it is now on track in terms of the number of -- the number of doses being injected every day to get to those targets that it had promised.

And that's really is quite remarkable when you think back just a few weeks to how slow that pace was, those problems with supplies, those problems in terms of rollouts and getting vaccines into arms. They appear to have been for the most part result, and it is now every single day really injecting the kinds of numbers 2.5 million doses that it teases to, to get up to those targets for the summer. So that is the good news, Rosemary.

In terms of the situation in so many European countries, it remains difficult, France once again for the first time in many weeks passed -- sorry, in nearly a year, passed that 6,000 mark, 6,000 COVID-19 patients in ICU was passed from a day. It hadn't been the case for a year, Rosemary.

So still, ICUs under restraining countries like France but the beginning of some improvement. We expect Emanuel Macron to speak at some point in the next few days, we believe to announce good news, what we are hoping for is that this will be the progressive lifting of restrictions, the idea that perhaps be on Monday, when we expect internal travel restrictions to be lifted, that by the 15th of May we may see some return to some sense of normality.

So, cafes, museums, restaurants, shops open once again. It's been many months of fairly heavy restrictions, difficult for the economy, and of course so difficult for ordinary Europeans, Rosemary.

CHURCH: That is very good news. Melissa Bell joining us live from Paris, many thanks.

Well, South America is also struggling to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Cases are accelerating in Columbia, Venezuela, and Argentina, where new infections have continued to climb during the past month. In Argentina where presidential advisor says the government has resumed talks with Pfizer to purchase its vaccine.

Brazil has the second highest COVID death toll in the world after the U.S. And now, the Brazilian Senate is investigating the government's handling of the pandemic. President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of sabotaging isolation measures, threatening local officials who implemented restrictions, and discouraging the use of masks. The probe could lead to an impeachment vote ahead of next year's

election. The Brazil investigation will look into the country's vaccine rollout, which has been plagued by missteps and delays.

And now, as our Matt Rivers reports, Brazilian health officials are rejecting the Russian vaccine.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like so many other countries around the world, Brazil is in dire need of more vaccine. So far, it has managed to vaccinate just a small portion of its population. And there were many in Brazil who were hoping that that problem might have been alleviated somewhat with the introduction of the Russian developed a vaccine. In Brazil, some 66 million doses or so have already been agreed to in different contracts.

But it was Monday night that Brazilian health regulators actually denied emergency use authorization for the Russian developed vaccine, saying that it has grave concerns over the safety of this vaccine, the efficacy of this vaccine. It says that Russia did not provide enough data about quality control, about efficacy, and also that there were flaws throughout the clinical testing phase during the development of this vaccine. So, because of those reasons and more, health regulators in Brazil denying entry to Brazil, denying use of this Russian developed vaccine.

Meanwhile, the agency in Russia that is funding the development of that vaccine, that agency responded with the CEO basically saying that the decision in Brazil was a political one, saying that he believes that Brazil made the decision due to direct political pressure from the United States.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.

CHURCH: And while vaccines remain the best way to fight the coronavirus, a new option is in the works. The company famous for the little blue pill has begun trials for a COVID pill that Pfizer's CEO says could be ready by the end of the year. The hope is that those with the virus will be able to take the pill and avoid the hospital.


The kind of drug being tested is part of a group known as protease inhibitors which are used to treat HIV and hepatitis. Pfizer's CEO says the COVID pill could also be very effective against variants.

And just ahead, South Africa's president will appear before a corruption investigation in the coming hours, and it's likely he will face some very tough questions. We will go to Johannesburg for a preview.


CHURCH (on camera): Welcome back, everyone.

A remarkable moment is coming in the next hour in South Africa. The country's president is due to testify in a long running government corruption investigation. Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to appear in his capacity as president of the African National Congress. He was deputy president in the administration of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, whose time in office is the focus of the probe.

CNN's David McKenzie is covering the investigation and the president's appearance from Johannesburg. He joins us now live. Good to see you, David. So, talk to us about why this is so significant.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, any moment now, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa will arrive at this hearing. It's a long running corruption hearing that's been going on in South Africa. And eyewatering details of many bags of cash getting of state- owned enterprises, paid for weddings, Black farmers being really hurt by allegations of corruption, many of them involving the ruling ANC.

Now the president isn't directly implicated, but he has to answer questions. What did he know and why didn't he do anything about it? He was deputy president during what he calls the wasted years of Jacob Zuma. And so those questions will be running over two days now and two days in May. And South Africans will be watching closely to see if there is any real apology for the actions of the ruling party and any action taken to avoid this corruption, and importantly whether anyone goes to prison for these allegations, eventually. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And David, what all can we expect from Ramaphosa?

MCKENZIE: So, Cyril Ramaphosa is a wily individual when it comes to these kinds of forums. He has had to face them before. A former trade negotiator, a trade unionist, he won't be expected to be caught off guard, but he is in this difficult position because he tried to separate himself from his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who has refused to come to this hearing, these hearings, and may even face jail time for that.


And so, by separating himself, he can't do it fully, because he was deputy head of the ANC, deputy president of the country during this time. So, he'll have to have this balancing act. South Africans hope for the truth. He has promised to speak openly, but I would imagine he wouldn't want to give too many details and keep it -- keep it as vague as possible.

But you never know. This is an important moment for South Africa, an important moment. A few moments ago, I spoke to the head of the opposition who said they want to hear the facts and they want changes in this country of how the bureaucracy works and to stop the millions, possibly billions of dollars that have been stolen over the years allegedly by people very close to the top of the ruling party.

CHURCH (on camera): All right. David McKenzie joining us live from Johannesburg, many thanks.

Well, two Spanish journalists have been killed in an ambush in Burkina Faso. They have been identified as Roberto Fraile and David Beriain. An Irish citizen was also killed. Reports say they were traveling with an anti-poaching patrol near a nature reserve. The West African nation of Burkina Faso faces a deepening security crisis with increasing attacks by Islamic militant groups. The U.N. says the region is experiencing a critical humanitarian crisis.

Well, there are signs the crisis in Myanmar is turning into a wider conflict. Ethnic minority Karen insurgents attacked a Myanmar army outpost near the Thai border on Tuesday. The Karen National Union and Thai authority said the military hit back with air strikes. The Thai military moved 450 villages away from the border for their safety. Villagers said they heard heavy gunfire before dawn.


SUPART NUNONGPAN, MAE SAM LAEP VILLAGE CHIEF (through translator): I've never heard the sounds of guns like this. I've never seen people needing to flee like this. I'm really concerned for all the villagers. I am also afraid because we live along the border.


CHURCH (on camera): Meantime, a group that claims to be a new fighting force against Myanmar's junta released a video of members training in an area held by the KNU. A founder of the united defense force says they are protesters who fled the crackdown. She says they will train for three months to fight, but not for a party or an individual, but for the people.

The U.S. is hoping for a more stable relationship with Russia as it eyes a face to face meeting between the two country's presidents. We will hear from the U.S. secretary of state, just ahead.

Plus, the Saudi crown prince says his country has few differences with the Biden administration. But what is the U.S. saying about their relationship? We'll have that too.




CHURCH (on camera): A tragic coronavirus milestone in India. The country has just topped 200,000 COVID deaths as the pandemic there spirals out of control. Sounds of sorrow and pictures of people begging for oxygen have become an all too common sight in India. Many hospitals are out of beds and turning away critically ill patients. And health care workers are under tremendous strain.

The number of dead is overwhelming. Bodies are being cremated in makeshift crematoriums, in parks, and parking lots, but aide is already arriving as the U.S. and other countries pledged to help. Nepal shares a long and porous border with India and new COVID infections are surging there as well. The government reports more than 300,000 cases and 3,100 deaths since the pandemic began.

CNN's Lynda Kinkade has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): In parts of Nepal, hospitals are struggling to cope with the sudden surge in cases. We brought him to a hospital in an ambulance because he was having trouble breathing, says this woman, whose husband has COVID-19. But she says no doctor has seen him yet. Everyone is busy.

The medical staff are struggling to keep up with new infections. John Hopkins University data shows cases are rapidly rising across the country, with the highest number of daily infections since the October peak.

SHER BAHADUR PUN, SUKRARAJ TROPICAL AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE HOSPITAL (through translator): Now, the hospital beds are full. This is the beginning of another wave. We were a little surprised, as the people are getting infected and falling sick rather quickly, and are having to get admitted to hospitals.

KINKADE: Some public health experts warn that thousands of people may have caught for infectious variants first identified in the U.K. and in neighboring India. Now, some border cities have become hotspots, raising fears that the situation will only worsen.

BAHADUR PUN: I call that a mini India. If the same thing replicates in the densely populated cities like Kathmandu then it may give rise to a difficult situation.

KINKADE: Nepal's capital is one of a number of cities across the country imposing lockdowns starting Thursday. Local governments hoping to prevent infections from spreading as the vaccination campaign could soon be in peril. Nepal depends, in part, on India Serum Institute for vaccines. But India is prioritizing its own needs as infections there spiral out of control.

In Nepal, the decision to reopen Mount Everest to climbers is proving challenging. COVID-19 has reportedly reached base camp. The government, however, denies those reports and Nepalese officials say they have not received any official notices of that. Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


CHURCH (on camera): America's top diplomat says the U.S. and Russia are discussing the timing of a possible summit between President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's comments come one day after sources said the White House is working out details of a likely meeting which could happen as soon as early summer.

Blinken says it's important to speak directly with Mr. Putin, and he noted President Biden has made clear that if Russia continues to engage in aggressive actions, the U.S. will respond.


more stable predictable relationship. But that is ultimately up to Mr. Putin. If he continues to engage in this kind of conduct, we are going to stand up to it and respond to it. On the other hand, if he chooses not to escalate, then I think there are areas where we can work together out of our mutual shared interests.

For example, (inaudible) stability, we have extended new start. There is more to be done in that area. But all of that, whether it's making clear what we are going to do if Russia continues to act out, or what we could do if it chooses to get on to a more predictable and stable course, all that benefits from being able to speak face to face.


CHURCH (on camera): Secretary Blinken also discussed U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince. An intelligence report earlier this year implicated Mohammad Bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Still, the secretary says the Saudi relationship is an important one.


BLINKEN: Like it or not, we are going to need to continue to work with Saudi Arabia which remains a partner in many respects. And one of the things that we are trying to do is as you know, is bring the war to Yemen to an end. The crown prince is likely to be the leader of that country for a long time in the future. We have to work with leaders around the world who are engaged in conduct that we either object to or in some cases find reprehensible.



CHURCH (on camera): Secretary Blinken's comments come as the Saudi crown prince made his own remarks during a televised interview. Mohammed Bin Salman says his country has few differences with the Biden administration and calls the U.S. a strategic partner. He said the two countries are working to find solutions to things they disagree on, but also that they are quote, avoiding points of difference.

And CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now with more. Good to see you, Nic. So, and it doesn't appear to be very much of a difference between the way the Biden administration is dealing with Saudi Arabia and the way the Trump administration did. And that has surprised some people. What is the latest on this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Mohammed Bin Salman (inaudible) there are various difference of being less than 10 percent of their sort of overall relationship. 90 percent agreement, less than 10 percent disagreement, and they are trying not to make those disagreements any bigger. And it perhaps most surprising diplomacy that the precise nature of those disagreements or not public. President Biden came to office promising to make human rights an

important part of the United States relationship with other countries and that has come as a matter of discomfort to Saudi Arabia, the matter of discomfort for the crown prince particularly the CIA's assessment of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

What we don't hear from Saudi officials is what precisely the United States is pressuring them on in those areas of disagreement. But it does seem to focus on the detention of human rights activists, the detention of bloggers, and others who are held in Saudi jails. Now the Saudis have released some quite high-profile detainees.

But there does seems to be pressure from the U.S. administration particularly on some high-profile royal family member, detainees and that I think was evident in what we heard from the crowned prince saying that look, the kingdom wont be pressured on it's own internal matters. And that's something you hear or what I hear when I speak with Saudi diplomats.

They do believe they have a long and strong relationship with the United States. They do believe that's part of their strategic relationship going forward. The Saudis have responded to U.S. pressure for diplomacy to resolve the war in Yemen. They have called for a cease-fire there. That the Houthis have so far not accepted.

So, you can see how that relationship and dynamic is changing and reshaping under President Biden. But I think when you hear the crown prince say there are some differences that is a very real assessment. Those differences are genuine but they kept out of the public domain.

CHURCH: So, what are the critical remarks did the Saudi crown prince say in his televised remarks?

ROBERTSON: He spoke about Iran. He spoke about how they want a better relationship with Iran. And I think we have seen evidence of that recently. Iraqi officials have told CNN that Iraq was host to a meeting between Saudi and Iranian intelligence officials, relatively low level. Sources tell me that it wasn't as productive as it could have been. But it is the first step.

The Saudis so want to address their relationship with Iran. They are concerned about Iran's involvement in -- backing the Houthis in Yemen. They are concerned about Iran's ballistic missiles. They are concerned about what the crown prince calls the Iran backing rogue militias.

But it does seem to indicate, the crown prince on the record here, saying that they are trying to rebuild and repair relations with Iran. It's not going to be easy and they do want a stake and a voice in the ongoing nuclear negotiation that the United States and other parties are having with Iran. Saudi Arabia is not present at the table. They would like a bigger voice. And it seems they are trying to develop their own lines of communication for that.

CHURCH (on camera): Alright. Nic Robertson joining us live from Edenborough, Scotland, many thanks. Well, the U.S. Secretary of State is also responding to growing

concerns that the Taliban could seize on the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. Anthony Blinken told CNN's Jake Tapper, regional neighbors will have to use their influence to keep the country stable. But he also emphasized the U.S. will stay involved in diplomacy.


BLINKEN: Even as we are withdrawing our forces, we are not disengaging from Afghanistan. We are remaining deeply engaged in the diplomacy, in support for the Afghan government and its people, development, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, support for the security forces. We've trained over the years as you know very well. More than 300,000 of them.

So all of that remains. And I think that there are different actors at work now who, I hope, we'll keep moving this in a more positive than negative direction. But we have to plan. We are planning for every scenario.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: What happens to the girls and women of Afghanistan when we pull out?

BLINKEN: Jake, when I was in Kabul after the president's decision, I not only met with the President Ghani and other leaders. I spent some time talking to some remarkable women, a lawyer, an NGO leader, a teacher, a mayor, a parliamentarian. And I listened very carefully to their stories, to their concerns.

And yes, to their fears, but here is the thing. Our support for them will endure, and I can say very clearly and categorically that an Afghanistan that does not respect their rights, that does not sustains the gains we have made, will be a pariah.


CHURCH (on camera): The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says troops have already begun withdrawing from local areas. The U.S. plans to get all remaining troops out by September 11th.

And still to come, how a leaked audio tape of Iran's foreign minister is causing an uproar from Tehran to Washington. We will explain.


CHURCH: It is rare to hear positive words spoken between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but that is what we got a short time ago. Saudi Arabia's crown prince struck a conciliatory tone towards its adversary, saying all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran.

Meantime, the United States has accused Iran of again harassing U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. The latest incident came Monday night as three Iranian boats approached, and one U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots. It comes even as diplomats met in Vienna on the Iran nuclear deal and agreed to speed up efforts to bring Iran and the U.S. back into compliance.

Well, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says he regrets an audio leak that triggered an uproar from Tehran to Washington. But now, Iran's president has ordered a probe into that leak. Javad Zarif was heard criticizing the country assassinated revolutionary guard commander, Qassem Soleimani who is revered as a national hero and martyr.

Meantime, U.S. climate czar, John Kerry is vehemently denying that he told Iran's foreign minister about Israeli airstrikes on Iranian interest in Syria. The claim comes in that same leaked audio. And Kerry is taking a lot of heat from conservatives over this, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke to CNN earlier and defended Kerry.



BLINKEN: These things were so secret that they were all reported in the press at the time. So it is utter nonsense, and it's really unfortunate that people continue to try and play politics with this.


CHURCH (on camera): Joining me now from Washington is Karim Sadjapour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for international peace, with years of experience leading research on Iran. Thank you so much for talking with us.


CHURCH: So, Iran's president has launched an investigation into the leaked audio of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But there are already consequences with special envoy for climate change John Kerry categorically denying accusations from Republicans that he allegedly shared secret Israeli military operations with Iran's foreign minister apparently mentioned in that leaked audio. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says it is utter nonsense. So what do you make of all this?

SADJAPOUR: Well, I think that Iran's foreign minister, he has (inaudible) that is has a lot of adversaries at home, amongst his more hardline colleagues in the Iranian government who have sought to really destroy him. And my expectation is that he probably doesn't have that much of a future after his duration ends as foreign minister this summer.

I don't think that John Kerry will really be impacted by these allegations from these revelations. And at the end of the day, I don't think this leak really changes the dynamic of the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations either. United States continues to be committed to the deal, to reviving the nuclear deal, for security reasons and Iran continues to meet the revival of a nuclear deal for economic reasons. CHURCH: Alright. So, I want to get to the deal, because Iranian --

there were attacked boats that has harassed U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, Monday. And all this going on while efforts are underway to negotiate a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia agreeing Tuesday to try to fast- track efforts to bring the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with that deal. Where do you think this is all going?

SADJAPOUR: Again, I do think that there is going to continue to be a lot of haggling in the coming weeks and months. The Iranian government knows that the Biden administration is committed to trying to revive this deal. SO they are going to try to get as much sanctions relief as possible.

And you do also have, you know, other elements within the Iranian regime, and the revolutionary guard, so we going to continue to harass U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. They are going to, continue to oppose U.S. interest and allies in the middle east whether that's, you know, a tax against Israel or U.S. partners in the Persian Gulf. But at the end of the day, all of the -- (Inaudible) plus one, the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China, as you mentioned, all of these countries are committed to reviving the deal. And Iran really cannot reverse this economic decline and if it doesn't get sanctions relief. So, it is my prediction that we will see other fully partial return to the nuclear deal some time in 2021.

CHURCH: And I did want to ask you about this development. Because Saudi Arabia's crown prince on Tuesday struck a conciliatory tone towards Iran after sources said the rivals held secret talks in Baghdad. What do you make of that? What does it signal to you?

SADJAPOUR: You know, I think the Saudi leadership is going to continue to be very cynical about the nature of the Iranian regime. But publicly, they want to try to send a message that they are not inherently hostile to Iran. That they are willing to pursue diplomacy with Iran, and if Iran is willing to change its posture in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is willing to reciprocate and restore elation with Iran.

But I think that when you talk to Saudi officials privately, they are not terribly optimistic about these public statements or overtures by leadership will lead to a major diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

CHURCH: Alright. We will watch to see where all of this goes. Of course, Karim Sadjapour, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate. It

SADJAPOUR: Thank you for having me.


CHURCH: The British Prime Minister is facing damning allegations as he hits the campaign trail, and they could create a lot of headaches in the weeks ahead. We will take a look.


CHURCH (on camera): It's not quite a dump deal, but the European parliament is poise to ratify the E.U.'s post Brexit trade deal with the United Kingdom in the coming hours. The trade and corporation agreement follows years of fought negotiations and mistrust after the U.K. terminated nearly half a century of E.U. membership. European authorities say much hard work remains and a warning Britain that backsliding and breaches will not be tolerated.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISION PRESIDENT: This agreement comes with real teeth. With a binding dispute settlement mechanism at a possibility for unilateral remedial measures where necessary. And let me be very clear. We do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.


CHURCH (on camera): Well, back in the U.K., the British Prime Minister is trying to fend off an array of unsavory allegations, they include possible corruption and a cold hearted response to the COVID crisis. Isa Soares explains.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After a horrific year of deaths and lockdown, Boris Johnson had hoped for a triumphant spring, easing restrictions, opening up the economy, and taking credit for Britain's successful vaccine program.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I literally did not feel a thing.

SOARES: As the Prime Minister hits the campaign trail this week, he faces damaging allegations about his conduct that might cast a shadow on the months ahead. He is reported to have said he would rather let the bodies pile high than enforce a third lockdown, remarks set have been made during a heated discussion in Downing Street in October. A British tabloid and two broadcasters cite unnamed sources for the claims. Johnson denies using the words, but again and again, he is asked did he.

JOHNSON: No, but again, I think the important thing, I think, that people want us to get on and do as a government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.

MICHAEL GOVE, CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER: The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind.

SOARES: The Prime Minister approved a lockdown in October, and again as the U.K. faced its deadliest wave this year.

JOHNSON: The government is once again instructing you to stay at home. SOARES: But the claim could had haunt the leader of the nation, with

one of the worst COVID-19 death tolls in the world.

JOHN RENTOUL, CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, INDEPENDENT: It's a very horrifying thing to say, isn't it? You know, let the bodies pile up high in the thousands. But it was sometime ago and it was very much in the context of a difficult decision that the government faced at the end of October, when they really didn't want to lockdown. But they had to.

SOARES: It's not the only story that threatens the Prime Minister's trade mark optimism. A stack of claims, all denied, are piling up on Downing Street's door. There are demands for an independent inquiry into who paid for expensive upgrades to his Downing Street flat.


Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds have spent tens of thousands of pounds redecorating their home according to British news outlets. A former top aide turned critic alleged Johnson plan to have conservative Party donors foot the bill, although his trade minister said Johnson has paid for it.

Dominic Cummings was once Johnson's right hand man but left number 10 in November amid a power struggle. He is now at war with former colleagues who worry what secrets he is prepared to spill.

RENTOUL: There could be other stories that are embarrassing to the Prime Minister that have yet to come out. And if Dominic Cummings has that kind of information, it looks as if he is prepared to stop at nothing to use it.

SOARES: Cummings has denied being the source of the leak of text to the billionaire James Dyson. Johnson reportedly said he would fix the tax issue if Dyson's staff came to the U.K. to produce ventilators during the first wave of the pandemic last year.

JOHNSON: I make absolutely no apology at all. Mr. Speaker, for shifting (inaudible) and had a nerve on doing everything I possible could as any Prime Minister would in those circumstances to secure ventilators for the people of this country and to save lives.

SOARES: Meanwhile, the opposition leader says claims about bad behavior and misconduct cannot be brushed aside.

KEIR STARMER, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Every day, there is more evidence of this, and frankly, it stinks.

SOARES: Only a third of Britain's think Johnson is trustworthy according to a new poll. The worry from the Prime Minister is how to limit the damage and quell a row that shows no sign of simmering down. Isa Soares, CNN, London.


CHURCH (on camera): Britain's Queen Elizabeth the second has carried out her first public engagement since her husband's funeral. She held two virtual audiences to welcome ambassadors from Latvia and Ivory Coast. The queen was at Windsor castle, where the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral was held. The ambassadors were at Buckingham Palace.

Researchers have discovered a toxic waste dump off the coast of Los Angeles. Deep sea robots use to map the sea floor took this video showing roughly 27,000 barrels dotting the San Pedro Basin, after being dropped from moving ships. They are laced with toxic chemicals that have been harming wildlife for decades. One of the main culprits, the Montrose chemical corporation, has been out of business for almost 40 years.

Wm thanks for joining us. I am Rosemary Church. I'll be back with more news in just a moment. Do stay with us.