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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict; Ceuta Migrant Crisis; Variants Could Delay U.K.'s Return to Normal; IOC Shows No Signs of Postponing Olympic Games; Russia Insists Its Arctic Activities are Legitimate; Australia's Farmers Desperate to Protect Crops from Mice. Aired 12- 12:45 ET

Aired May 20, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the very clear, not so subtle message from Biden to Netanyahu, de-escalation now.

Dust off the passport, the E.U. set to ease the pandemic restrictions on international travel for fully vaccinated travelers.

And a mice plague of Biblical proportions across Australia and why a plague of snakes might be next.


VAUSE: After 11 days of unprecedented rocket fire from Gaza and an Israeli air offensive like no other, more than 230 dead, including dozens of children, with extensive and severe damage to infrastructure, both Israel and Hamas appear to be moving closer to a cease-fire.

Hamas officials, have told CNN an agreement could be imminent, possibly within 24 hours. Crucial to all of this, the very direct and blunt conversation it seems, the U.S. President had with the Israeli prime minister. Biden telling Netanyahu he expected a significant deescalation on Wednesday.

For the moment, Hamas continues to fire rockets. The most recent barrage aimed at an Israeli air force base. While the Israeli air offensive continues, targeting, they say, a weapon storages unit hidden in the Gaza home of a senior Hamas official.

Elliott Gotkine is in Tel Aviv with us this hour, he's live.

Elliott, the game-changer does seem to be that tough line coming from Washington. But in the past, Israel hasn't always done as Washington has asked, is Netanyahu going to be complying with what was demanded or will he continue on? ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly didn't give any specific pledges in that conversation with Joe Biden. There wasn't any statement to that effect from the Israeli prime minister.

Earlier in the day, he had expressed his gratitude to foreign ambassadors whom he met with, also to Joe Biden for their support of his rights to defend itself. And also on, Wednesday Netanyahu had said that this operation will continue, until it will have met its objectives. The objectives being restoring calm and security to Israel.

Certainly, Joe Biden's conversation with Netanyahu does seem to have given hopes for a cease-fire, a real shot in the arm. As you say, we heard Hamas officials heading at CNN, that CNN -- the cease-fire could be a possibility in the next 24 hours.

With talks, being brokered by the Egyptians and the Qataris. I should just add one thing, since about one o'clock local time, that's about 6 hours ago, for the past 6 hours, there have not been any rockets fired into Israel. This is the second kind of 6 hour, we'll see how long it goes for, the 6 hour lull that we've seen.

I've reached out to the Israeli Defense Forces to find out the timing of their last strike, to see if there is perhaps some coincidence in the timing. Certainly, optimism is growing and possibly at its highest point since the outbreak of violence about 10 or 11 days ago.

VAUSE: With that in mind, Elliott, back in 2014, there was a 50-day long confrontation, included a brief ground incursion by the Israelis. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The stated goal from that war was essentially to restore calm and peace to the southern border. That peace and quiet, last about 2 months.

Clearly, they didn't get what they wanted a 7 years ago, with over 50 days. How can they be 11 days into this and how can they expect to achieve something they didn't get around in 2014?

GOTKINE: Well, John, I don't know, both sides will say if and when there is a cease-fire that they have achieved their objectives and claim some sort of victory.

But I don't think anyone is under any illusions, even if there is a cease-fire this time around, it is temporary in the sense that it is not permanent. At some point in the future, whether it's another month, a year or 10 years, there will be another outbreak of violence.

Hamas is opposed to Israel's existence and Israel will not take rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups without retaliating.


GOTKINE: As we've seen over the past 10 or 11 days, there are many things that could spark outbreaks between the Gaza Strip and Israel. This time around, one of the sparks of course, was the court case over the possible eviction of Palestinian families from an East Jerusalem neighborhood. Next time, it could be something else. As I said, there's hope that there could be a cease-fire coming sooner

that rather than later. How long any cease-fire will last, is, of course, anyone's guess.

VAUSE: Elliott thank, you in Tel Aviv.

Israeli artillery has fired into Lebanon again in response to more rockets being fired from just over their northern border. This is the third time since Monday, there has been incoming fire from Lebanon.

Air raid sirens were activated in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, no reports of injuries or damage. They say one rocket was intercepted, another landed in an open area. 2 others fell into the Mediterranean Sea.

Well, President Biden is stepping up to pressure on Netanyahu for a cease-fire, the U.S. continues with its own strategy at the U.N., which seems to be counter to that pressure being applied by Joe Biden. We have details now from Richard Roth.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: The United States has made it clear, it objects to the proposed French resolution at the Security Council, designed to provide some momentum to end the fighting in the Middle East.

The resolution calls for a cease-fire and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into Gaza. However, the U.S. for weeks has even blocked a simple statement from the 50 nations on the Security Council, let alone the more significant, legally blinding resolution now proposed.

The French foreign minister in Paris, when asked about its chances, said, well, if they exist, it is not a done thing. The U.S. mission to the United Nations spokesperson said, we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to end this crisis.

The U.S. is Israel's biggest protector at the Security Council and believes once again that efforts to internationalize the situation, instead of direct diplomacy is not suitable. A spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said, he would have no comment in effect on this resolution.

But he did say the secretary general always favors a united and strong Security Council. On Tuesday, down the hall, the U.N. General Assembly will hold an open debate on the Middle East. Lots of speeches, no vetoes exist in the assembly. However, any action is legally nonbinding -- Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: Ambassador Dennis Ross served for two years as a special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama. Before that he was involved in Middle East peace negotiations for a decade.

Ambassador, good have you with us.


VAUSE: It's worth noting language used by the White House from the phone call between President Biden and prime minister Netanyahu. Here it is, part of it.

"The president conveyed to the prime minister, that he expected a significant de-escalation today, on the path to a cease-fire."

It's very direct, there's nothing left interpretation. What doesn't seem to follow is after that blunt language why the U.S. would for a fourth time, blocking Security Council resolution calling for a cease- fire.

What's going on here?

How do you explain it?

ROSS: I think we've seen an evolution of the last couple of days, where the president was making it very clear that Israel had the right of self-defense, which I think he deeply believed. After, all Israel has been hit by 4,000 rockets from an area that they actually withdrew from.

So part of this is reflecting genuine belief that Israel has the right of self-defense. But also I think, you had the conversations going on which the president was raising questions about what's the endpoint, how do you know when you've done enough, how do you know when you reestablish deterrence, how do you know when the targets you've hit are as much as you need to hit?

When will you know it's time to stop?

I think those kinds of questions are being posed, I think the prime minister saying, look, we still need to achieve a little bit more. I think yesterday was the president supporting a cease-fire, which was one step forward. It is important to wind this down.

I think today what you got, was the president being more explicit. Partly I think it's because the mood internationally has been shifting, obviously pressure from parts of the Democratic Party here as well.

I think the president has probably been telling prime minister Netanyahu, there's not a whole lot more time if you're going to achieve this, you need to do it soon. I think today, the message was very clear, both private and public time, to begin to wind down.

VAUSE: Publicly, the Israeli prime minister has not talked about de- escalation. He's talked about those targets which the IDF has been striking in Gaza.


VAUSE: Here's a statement which was put out on Twitter by the prime minister's office, listen to this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): I have just come from the Israeli army operational command center. It is very impressive. With every passing day, we are striking at more of the terrorist organization's capabilities, targeting more senior commanders, toppling more terrorist buildings and hitting more weaponry stockpiles.

Just as I told the ambassador here today, it is the natural right of Israel, I very much appreciate the support of these governments and especially the support of our friend, U.S. President Joe Biden, for the state of Israel's right to self-defense.


VAUSE: What do you make of those comments in the context of the phone call, between Biden and Netanyahu, with Netanyahu talking about Joe Biden's support for the Israelis' self-defense?

ROSS: I think he's emphasizing what I was suggesting before, which is Israel's right to respond to these rocket attacks. But he's also trying to send a message to Hamas at the same time, Israel won't stop before they have to. I think his feeling is that Hamas thinks right now, maybe they can hold out a little longer, maybe the U.S. is going to force the Israelis to stop.

Hamas will be able to portray that this is some kind of victory. I think he's trying to convey a very different message which is, yes, we were talking to the president and hear what the Americans say but we are still going to be guided by what we think are essential target that have to be hit before we're prepared to stop.

I think some of this is clearly posturing, I also suspect that this is, with multiple audiences, one Hamas, the other is probably his domestic audience as well.

VAUSE: You mentioned the increase in international pressure for a cease-fire, the Russian news agency Tass reports on a conversation between Israel's ambassador and the country's deputy foreign minister.

According to them, "In a frank exchange of opinion on the situation in the Israeli Palestinian relations, including the one in the Gaza Strip, the Russian side expressed extreme concern over the escalation of tensions and stress the impermissibility of steps fraught with more civilian casualties."

This seems to be building to some kind of pause, a cease-fire, on top of it, could happen in the next 24 to 48 hours.

What about any efforts to actually resolve the bigger picture, to end what is one of the world's longest running conflicts?

ROSS: I think what you're seeing from the Russians also a desire to suggest that they're having an effect, that they're also playing a role. Vladimir Putin likes to be seen as being relevant on any issue that is capturing international attention.

So I suspect part of what you're hearing is a desire for the Russians to show they're relevant to what's happening as well.

VAUSE: OK, Ambassador Dennis Ross, thank you for being with us, appreciate it.

ROSS: My pleasure, good to be with you.

VAUSE: Still to come, with just a few days of supplies of vaccines left, none on the way, Kenya will now warn, in the rest of Africa it's everyone for themselves.

Plus, the mutation spreading like wildfire in India, now spreading in the U.K. Why getting vaccinated is the best protection and we'll tell you, there is a catch.





VAUSE: Hundreds of migrants tried to force their way into the Spanish-controlled territory in Ceuta but this time by land of Morocco. Another larger group clashed with Moroccan riot police in that same area Wednesday night. About 8000 migrants have swum from Morocco since Monday.

One boy using plastic bottles to stay afloat and while he tried to run from police, when he reached shore, he was arrested. Spain says 5,600 migrants have been sent back to Morocco.

Kenya is set to run out of COVID vaccines in just a few days. Doctors say that shortage will cost lives. Fewer than 2 percent of Kenyans had their first shot in part because of the brutal second wave in India which stopped the country exporting vaccine doses to Africa and other countries.

Kenyan health minister says African countries must now realize it's everyone for themselves.


MUTAHI KAGWE, KENYAN HEALTH MINISTER: I think vaccine nationalism is something that has cropped up across the world. As a continent, we must stop believing that there is anybody out there who is a good Samaritan, a Biblical Samaritan, who's just about to come and help us. There is nothing like that. You know?

The situation where we are seeing it very clearly. It's everyone for himself or for herself and God for us all, clearly. Therefore, going into the future, the local production, local manufacturing for pharmaceutical commodities and products is an absolute must. LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How bad is it for Kenya that the

institute says on Tuesday that it will not resume vaccine shipments internationally until the end of the year?

KAGWE: I'm not just waiting for these donations that are coming to Kenya, we are in discussions with the Johnson & Johnson facilities in South Africa for what we think is going to be the new supply chain, rather than denying relying on AstraZeneca.

Given what's happening in India and given the difficulties that the Indian people are going through and the population of India, it's very unlikely AstraZeneca is going to be the vaccine of choice for the African continent going forward.

It's very likely that we are going to discuss and agree on Johnson & Johnson.


VAUSE: The African Union is looking for 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. It's already placed that order but the African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance warns of extreme delays. They're expected to receive 240 million doses this year.

The group's co-chair tells CNN world leaders need to look past geopolitics and share part of their stockpiles.


DR. AYOADE ALAKJIA, AFRICAN UNION VACCINE DELIVERY ALLIANCE: The rich countries of the world are ahead of us in the queue. Even though we order and we purchase vaccines, we are sort of behind the 10th person in line from, say, the U.S. or the U.K., the countries that have the most vaccines and have the most orders, who are now vaccinating 12 year olds when we still have, my grandmother and our health worker and my dad and parents and uncles and aunties who are elderly who have not been vaccinated.

It's morally wrong, it's what's been described as vaccine apartheid. It's not about choosing to go to AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson. It's let us have vaccines, period. We desperately need them and, without vaccination, we aren't going to stop this virus.


VAUSE: Dr. Anthony Fauci echoing that message, saying the U.S. has an obligation to help the world vaccinate. He says if it takes 2 to 3 years for low or middle income countries to be inoculated, millions of people could die between now and then.

Dr. Fauci says the U.S. needs to work with other wealthy countries like the U.K., Canada and Australia to ramp up and mobilize global vaccine production.

Some COVID restrictions in the U.K., COVID variants like the one intensified in India have experts worried that infections may soon be on the rise. CNN's Scott McLean has details.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the banks of the Ganges River, bodies is washed up daily. Victims, authorities believe, of COVID-19. The overwhelmed health care system unable to care for them and the packed crematoriums unable to take their bodies when they die.

India's newfound misery is thanks in part to a faster spreading COVID variant that's quickly making its way around the world, leading to lineups of people hoping to get vaccinated in the U.K., where it's fast becoming the dominant strain.


MCLEAN: Seems like the U.K.'s path to normality is in jeopardy?

DR. JEFF BAIRD, BRITISH SANGER INSTITUTE: I think we do have to look very carefully at what happens in the next few weeks.

MCLEAN: Dr. Jeff Baird runs the industrial scale COVID-19 genetic sequencing operation at the British Sanger Institute, which helped spot the fast spreading U.K. variant B.1.1.7 but could not prevent the massive spike in cases that followed.

MCLEAN: Are you sensing a bit of deja vu here?

BAIRD: Yes. I have to admit, I didn't think I was going to see these kinds of curves happen again. So because there isn't that much in India, we haven't been carefully watching this variant in the same way. That means we're playing catch-up now.

MCLEAN: There are 26 genetic mutations which make this variant different from the original virus. Most are pretty benign but there are five, Dr. Baird says, that could help the virus spread more easily. This one is also found in the U.K. variant, this is shared with the California variant. It helps the virus binds more easily with human cells.

There are also two suspicious deletions of DNA parts, which may change the shape of the virus. Then there are these two, which Dr. Baird says scientists honestly don't know that much about.

There is no evidence that any of these changes make the virus more deadly but there is concern that some, especially this one, may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

BAIRD: I think, at worst, it will be slightly less neutralized by the vaccines. But there is really no evidence at all that it could fundamentally escape what the vaccines will be not effective at all.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Sounds reassuring. But it won't help those who haven't got the vaccine at all. The British health secretary says, in one community, most people hospitalized with the new variant declined to get the shot when they were offered it. BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: It underlines again the importance of

getting the jab.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Despite infections of the new variant, doubling in just one week, restrictions on indoor gatherings were eased in England on Monday. Now the British prime minister is warning the final step towards normality may have to be delayed, depending on exactly how transmissible this variant turns out to be.

BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: If it's at the higher end we will certainly have to think about what extra measures we need to take to protect the public.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Scott McLean, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Dust off the passport, pack some sunscreen, find a good book, it seems summer holidays in Europe could soon be back. The E.U. says fully vaccinated travelers and visitors from countries on its coronavirus safe list will soon be welcomed.

An formal announcement expecting in the coming days. This comes amid a flurry of the lifting of pandemic restrictions. The Louvre reopened on Wednesday along with other cinemas in France. Restaurants and cafe terraces in France and Austria are now packed and the French president Emmanuel Macron celebrated the reopening by a grabbing a coffee at a cafe with the country's prime minister, why not?

The Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz marked the occasion alongside colleagues who went to a pub in Vienna.

The IOC showing no signs of bowing to public pressure to postpone Tokyo Olympics for even a second time or even canceling the games together. Opposition to the games has been growing in Japan for weeks, even months.

The country is battling a fourth wave of COVID-19. Many Japanese are worried the games will become a superspreader event. But the IOC president says he is confident both the Olympics and Paralympics will be safe. Blake Essig is live in Tokyo with more on this.

He says it will be safe, so many scientists and doctors say it won't be.

Who's to be believed here?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Take your pick. But John, a 3 day meeting of Olympic organizers is underway. As you said, during open remarks made yesterday International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach once again said that the Olympic and Paralympic Games would be held in a safe way and a big part of how they plan to do that is through testing.

All athletes and officials need to have a negative test 72 hours before they board a flight to Japan. And once they arrive here, they will be tested again. Once on the, ground they will undergo daily testing.

Organizers continue to talk about creating this so-called bubble at the Olympic Village for athletes and officials. But this bubble is going to have a lot of holes in it. And that's because, roughly, 70,000 volunteers are expected to work at the games. These volunteers will be given two masks, hand sanitizer and a request to socially distance as protection.

Some volunteers will be going in and out of the Olympic Village daily before potentially getting back on public transportation. President Bach announced the IOC has offered additional medical personnel and said that at least 75 percent of the people who plan to be inside the Olympic Village will have been vaccinated.

That will cover at least probably 11,000 athletes expected to compete but, according to reports from a public broadcaster, a possible 94,000 athletes and foreign delegates are expected to visit Japan. Only athletes and officials are allowed inside the Olympic Village.


ESSIG: So it's unclear where the foreign delegates and support staff will be staying or if they will be vaccinated.

Another big question is what happens if athletes test positive?

What are the quarantine arrangements?

How long do they have to quarantine?

Other major sports around the, world quarantine is roughly about 2 weeks long. The entire Olympics is only 16 days long.

What happens also, if a team from a player or a player from a team tests positive, does the whole team have to quarantine and forfeit matches?

These are all questions we don't know the answers to at this point. While IOC officials and organizers maintain they can hold a safe and secure Olympics, the reality, is there is just a lot of things we don't know at this point.

Perhaps, the biggest question for people here in Japan is, how are you going to protect the population?

Only 1.5 percent of people have been fully vaccinated. It's a topic which really was not discussed at all during the opening remarks made yesterday.

VAUSE: That kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Blake Essig there in Tokyo.

The top diplomats of Russia and the U.S. smiled and bumped elbows before tackling some issues. Their first talks and what it could mean for the Biden-Putin summit. Across Australia, it's a case of the unforgettable words of Mr. Jinx.

I hate meeces to pieces.




VAUSE: As tensions continue to simmer, Russia and the United States held their first high-level face-to-face encounter since the start of the Biden administration. Their top diplomats met on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Summit in Iceland.

U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, greeted one another warmly enough but barely, with deep divides looming large. Blinken raised concerns over issues like Russia's military buildup, Ukraine and cyberattacks. But he also pointed to areas of potential cooperation.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There are many areas where our interests intersect and overlap. We believe that we can work together in deep build on those interests. Whether it is dealing with COVID-19 and the pandemic, combating climate change, dealing with the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan, there are many areas of intersecting interest.

It's our view that, if the leaders of Russia and the United States can work together cooperatively, our people, the world, can be a safer and more secure place. And that's what we seek.


VAUSE: And according to Russian state media, Lavrov called the meeting constructive, said both sides understand, quote, "the need to overcome the unhealthy situation that developed between Moscow and Washington in previous years." But we're hearing there's no final decision yet on a possible meeting between President Biden and Putin.


David Sanger is a CNN political and national security analyst. He's also White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Time" and author of "The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age."

David, good to have you with us. It's been a while. Great to be with you. OK, well, during this two-day summit, the eight-nation Arctic Council is expected to decide on a strategic plan for the next ten years, developed some new regulations for mineral extraction by private enterprises, work on cooperation, but earlier this week, we had this statement from Russia's foreign minister, Lavrov.

He seemed to be laying down a marker here. It's been well-known to everyone that this is our territory. This is our land. We are responsible for ensuring that our arctic coast is safe. And everything our country does there is absolutely legal and legitimate.

That seems to be quite the statement given the militarization which is underway and disputes over the Northern Sea route and the fishing rights and a whole lot of other issues there, as well.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it has. And, you know, global warming has actually helped the Russians restore a bit of the old Cold War competition. Because they have been able to get ships, military ships, and submarines and so forth into places that they could not before.

We're hoping to open up bigger and bigger commercial routes that, of course, would cut a lot of time. But it's also really helpful for them in military terms.

So a few days ago, they actually declared that a big portion of the arctic was there. And you saw that in the way that Lavrov, the foreign minister, and made his claims here. So it was a pretty frosty beginning, sorry about that, to the Arctic Council. And it reminded me, in some ways, of the first encounter that Secretary Blinken had with the Chinese in Alaska, about a month and a half ago, which was also one that was pretty contentious, right from the start.

VAUSE: Yes, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, he raised some of the areas of contention, while talking about areas, rather, where both sides actually had agreed on in the past, as we said.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There has been cooperation on a number of important areas over the years, and education, oil spill response, search and rescue, pollution issues. And it is our hope that that kind of cooperation will continue, that the arctic remains an area of peaceful cooperation, peaceful collaboration.

At the same time, we've seen Russia advance unlawful maritime claims, particularly its regulation of foreign vessels. Transiting the northern sea route, which were inconsistent with international law. And that is something that we have and will respond to.


VAUSE: It would be fair to say that the areas where they agree on cooperating are kind of small beer, if you like. The areas where they disagree are pretty big, and huge. And there are a number of areas where they actually agree on, are dwindling, while the potential for dispute and confrontation, those seem to be growing.

SANGER: Yes, you've got that exactly right. And we had seen, time and time again, that the areas of agreement are largely on strategic issues, and certainly the land claims fall in that category.

But remember, you can't view the arctic disputes here in isolation. They're coming at a moment when the Russians have threatened waters in Ukraine, have conducted the biggest single and most sophisticated cyber-attack on the United States that we've ever seen.

Solar winds, getting into the supply chain of software used by major American companies and the federal government. We have seen lots of disputes, in a range of other areas, including submarines that go out and seem to be mapping out and perhaps threatening the undersea cable system that connects communications in the west, and of course, the Internet itself.

So we've got more areas of potential contention, than we do areas of agreement.

VAUSE: Well, this meeting in Reykjavik is seen as setting the table, if you like, ahead of the first presidential summit between Biden and Putin, Can those big issues be still (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here?

SANGER: Well, I think one of the areas where they certainly see some room, as for one of the few strategic areas where they see some room to make some progress, is absolutely in arms control.

You know, it was just a few weeks into the Biden presidency that they both agreed to extend New START, one major -- one major remaining arms control treaty, between the two countries. It had a onetime renewal in it of five years. President Trump was not really interested in doing that without getting some other concessions. President Biden just did it.

The question is, can you build on that now to move to greater arms control issues? Can you come up with a fairly common set of principles about what we will not use cyber to attack in each other's country. The U.S. has got plenty in Russia, and Russia certainly plenty here.

And then, of course, can you solve these territorial issues and get the Russians to stop harassing their neighbors. They've got a lot of complaints about us, too. And Foreign Minister Lavrov was not shy about those today.

I have a hard time imagining that this is going to be a very successful meeting. This is the first president in modern times that has not started off his administration by saying we would seek a reset with Russia. And all he's trying to do is keep Russia within some form of boundary, keep them in lane, so that the conflict is contained.

VAUSE: It seems a very modest ambition at this point, but maybe the only one that's practical. David, thank you. Good to see you.

SANGER: Great to see you.

VAUSE: NASA is congratulating China's national space administration, on receiving their first images from its rover on Mars. In this color photo, you can see the rover's solar panel and the antenna, while the black-and-white image shows the deployed ramp and the flat Martian surface, where the Chinese rover landed on Saturday.

China's rover may not be as technologically advanced as NASA's Perseverance, which is also on Mars right now. But it does show that China is catching up to the abilities in space, and NASA. Well, it's a reunion nearly 20 years in the making, the cast of

"Friends" coming together for another cup of coffee at Central Perk, and a highly anticipated special, to some. Details after the break.


VAUSE: This is the one about Ross, Rachel and the entire "Friends" cast getting back together for the first time in 17 years.


DAVID SCHWIMMER, CAST MEMBER, "FRIENDS": Rachel wrote Ross a letter and demanded he read it before they got back together. How many pages was that letter?



SCHWIMMER: Eighteen pages!


SCHWIMMER: Front and back is correct.


VAUSE: It's part of a reunion special on HBO Max, which is owned by CNN's parent company, WarnerMedia. The cast will revisit recreated sets of these NBC sitcom which launched their careers.

And they'll also be joined by stars like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, as well as actors like Reese Witherspoon, who played supporting roles on the show.

"Friends" has found a second life on streaming platforms in recent years. "The Wall Street Journal" reports HBO Max paid more than $400 million for streaming rights for five years.

"Friends," the reunion, it debuts next Thursday. Set your D -- VCRs. DVRs, I should say.

Well, the last word you won't want after the word "mice" is "plague" or "invasion." That's another one. Yet, it's happening right now across the eastern part of Australia.

The plague of little vermin are everywhere, in crops, in fields and running rampant in people's homes and beds.

CNN's Angus Watson explains us why in a report filled with video that some videos, well, you're going to find it icky.


ANGUS WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine turning down for bed and finding this. That is just what's happening in country towns in the Australian state of New South Wales: homes and farms overrun by mice.

SUE HODGE, PROFESSIONAL CLEANER: If you've got a couple of spots of poo in your bed, then you know that you've got mouse urine throughout your bed.

WATSON (on camera): There are mice in people's beds?

HODGE: Mm-hmm.

WATSON (voice-over): Sue Hodge is popular in the small town of Canowindra, four hours west of Sydney. A professional cleaner, trying her best to rid the mice from people's homes.

In the farms just outside of town, a household past becomes a threat to livelihoods.

MICHAEL PAYTEN, FARMER: Forty years plus I've been farming here. This is the probably the worst I've seen, yes.

WATSON: Three years of crippling drought here forced farmers to the brink. Relief came in 2020. Drought-breaking rains brought a bumper crop for growers like Michael Payton (ph).

PAYTEN: We had a really good year last year, a lot of grain. We all put a lot of hay in sheds, and we created these massive mouse hotels, you know?

WATSON: Full fields and groaning hay sheds, a buffet for mice now plaguing so many farms just like this one. Thousands of dollars' worth of sheep feed here that may now be unusable.

(on camera): Everywhere I walk, there are mice underfoot here. And there are mice all under this top hole (ph), and I can hear them.

(voice-over): A pair of mice can birth 500 offspring in a breeding season. A new litter every three weeks, according to Australia's National Science Agency.

(on camera): After months of rodent infestation, the heavy weaponry is being wheeled out, the state governments seeking regulatory approval for even stronger poisons.

But that comes with the risk of killing native animals and even tainting the food that the farmers are trying to grow.

(voice-over): The end to this mice plague won't be pretty. Winter is starting to bite. When food becomes scarce, the mice begin to eat each other. That's if the snakes don't get to them first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plenty of mice to eat.

WATSON: All fuel for a boom in the snake population, come summer.


WATSON: Angus Watson, CNN, in Canowindra, Australia. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Home sweet home. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. I'll be back with another hour of CNN NEWSROOM in about 15 minutes. In the meantime, stay with us, please. WORLD SPORT is up next after a short break.