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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict; Nepal Reports Highest Daily COVID-19 Deaths on Wednesday; Taiwan Expands Coronavirus Restrictions; U.S.-Russia Meeting. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 20, 2021 - 02:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome. Back you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Ahead this hour, after 11 days of fighting, Hamas say a cease-fire with Israel could be imminent.

Plus, Taiwan tightening COVID restrictions after daily case numbers in some cities have reached their highest point since the pandemic began.

Ahead of a possible summit with their presidents, Russia and U.S. held their first high-level in-person talks since Joe Biden took office.


VAUSE: We begin in the Middle East, where for almost 9 hours, there has been no rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip. This is the longest period of calm since the conflict escalated 11 days ago. It comes after officials told CNN a cease-fire agreement can be imminent within 24 hours.

International pressure has been building on Israel to agree to a pause. Most notable, the blunt conversation it seems, U.S. President had with the Israeli prime minister. Biden telling Netanyahu he expected a significant de-escalation and that was Wednesday.

Elliott Gotkine is live in Tel Aviv this hour.

One 9 hour pause does not a cease-fire make.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is optimism that a cease- fire could be happening soon. As we heard from Hamas officials saying it could be imminent. Adding it was a positive atmosphere with negotiations with the Egyptians and Qataris who are helping to broker a cease-fire.

The IDF would not be drawn on whether it had carried out any strikes during that time period. I don't think we're quite there. Optimism is building since Joe Biden's conversation with prime minister Netanyahu. He wasn't noncommittal, didn't make a pledge they would work towards a

de-escalation and a cease-fire. Earlier in the day he talked about continuing operations until Israel's objectives had been met, namely restoring calm and security to the people of Israel.

As I say, for now, the IDF is not saying anything in terms of a cease- fire. But there is hope we are as close to getting one as we have been over the past 11 days.

VAUSE: In the past, Hamas has had a rocky victory, if you like. Didn't win the fight but went the distance. They stood up to Israel. In this instance, if there is a cease-fire and Hamas gets to claim victory for, what?

GOTKINE: I think, in previous conflicts and in this one, one of the objectives of Israel and Hamas and other militant groups is to say to their people that this was worth it, that they've won.

What we've seen is, yes, cease-fires can come into play but violence would inevitably flare up again. So in terms of an absolute victory, there is never going to be one because, as we've seen in the past, although the arsenals of the militant groups in the Gaza Strip may be depleted, although they may have lost many of the senior commanders, they still have the ability to throw rockets at Israel and cause mayhem in the country.

Israel, for its part, has the ability to continue carrying out airstrikes.

The question is, at what price?

What point do the rewards offset the risks of continuing?

That's something going on the minds of both sides right now.

VAUSE: Let's hope so. Elliott, thank you. Appreciate it.

President Biden ramps up pressure on Netanyahu to end the conflict. U.S. continues to block moves by the Security Council to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire. The latest effort was by France. U.S. blocked 3 previous attempts claiming they would undermine diplomatic efforts to de-escalate.

The French foreign minister says his resolution still has a chance of success.


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. 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: A 12 year old child in Israel or Gaza has lived through four wars between Hamas militants and Israel, which means the sound of artillery, airstrikes, air raid sirens have been a near constant traumatizing part of life.

Israel reports at least 2 children have died from Palestinian fired rockets. The Hamas run Gaza health ministry says more than 60 children there have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

For the past, week a 10-year-old girl living in Gaza has documented her experience on social media. It's telling. Arwa Damon has the story.



NADINE ABDULLATIEF, GAZA RESIDENT: Hi, welcome to our video.

YOUS, GAZA RESIDENT: Hi, welcome to our video.

NADINE: His name is Yous.

YOUS: Her name is Nana or Nadine.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the juxtaposition that is perhaps the most jarring.

Between the clips, Nadine, an aspiring social media influencer, used to post about her life, often featuring her younger brother, Yous.


YOUS: Right here with my sister.


DAMON: And the clip that was posted of her that went viral.


NADINE: You see all of this.

What do you expect me to do?

Fix it?

I'm only 10. I can't even deal with this anymore. I just want to be a doctor or anything to help my people but I can't. I'm just a kid.


DAMON: She is just a kid. But at the same time, she's not. Not anymore.


NADINE: Are you having fun?

Oh. That was -- let's go. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just let me go. Let me go.

NADINE: No. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to go. We need to go home.

NADINE: It's not near. I promise. I promise. I promise. I was not laughing because it was funny. I was laughing because I was trying to keep my brother calm down. Like I said, I love you.

YOUS: Me, too.

NADINE: We're back again here and this is all the stuff we got for the school.


DAMON: This is what they should have been getting ready for. Instead --


NADINE: This is my bag in case anything happened -- happens or our house gets exploded. I don't really care about any of those things that are in the bag. As I said, I care about family. I care about other people. And that's it. When the explosion happens we all hang out in this room.

It's better to die all of us together. This is where is the explosion.

See right there?

There's the ambulance. And I think that's the house.


DAMON (voice-over): "Of course, Nadine gets scared," her mother says.

She covers her fear for her brother.


NADINE: Small potatoes. This is like breakfast-dinner.


DAMON: Nadine's mother watches her family as if she's quietly relishing the laughter of the younger generations, for laughter is more precious in times like this when you know, even if you are just a kid, that it can end at any moment -- Arwa Damon, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still to come, Nepal struggling with a lack of medical supplies as COVID cases skyrocket. The country's prime minister says the health care system hasn't collapsed yet. Another coronavirus success story turning into a growing concern. Taiwan takes new steps to keep a lid on a record COVID surge.





VAUSE: In India, at least 26 people are dead and dozens still missing after a barge sank during a cyclone earlier this week. The Indian Navy rescued 190 people so far after that monster storm that slammed the west coast.

This comes as India struggles to contain a surge in COVID-19. A daily death count fell on Thursday, a little more than 3,800, setting a new record the day before.

India's neighbor Nepal reporting its highest daily COVID deaths on Wednesday. Now facing a shortage of medical supplies. Officials in two districts say they don't have enough kits to test those entering from India.

Nepal's prime minister claimed over the weekend the health care system has, quote, "not collapsed yet."

Joining me now from Kathmandu, country director for Mercy Corps in Nepal.

Thank you for being with us. I'm wondering about the surge in cases in Nepal. It's been on a similar incline like in India.

What can you say about the trajectory of the outbreak?

There's concerns it could end up being a whole lot worse than what we saw in India.

CHRISTIE GETMAN, MERCY CORPS: Thanks for having me today. Absolutely. We have significant concerns about the trajectory. We are already seeing a positivity rate here between 40 and 50 percent, one of the highest in the world. We know many of those cases are under reported.

In a lot of rural areas and district levels, they don't even have tests to say what the positivity rate is there. Every time we talk to our staff, they talk about their family and neighbors in villages, who have many neighbors that are sick and they just have symptoms. They don't actually know.

So they are stuck at home, isolated. And some are dying without really being recorded. Knowing the number of migrants coming over from India, they are expecting as many as 400,000 to cross the border. This virus is going to spread and it's coming fast and it's making people significantly sicker than in the first wave.

VAUSE: Which is terrifying when you think about how about it was first go-around.

At this point, what can the government do it hasn't done already to try and slow the spread?

GETMAN: The Nepal government is doing everything they possibly can, as is the U.N. and a lot of international agencies like Mercy Corps. We are providing critical supplies both in Kathmandu and in provincial and district levels.

There is a significant need for a safety equipment at the border entrees, human resources at the border entries, health centers are short of human resource laborers, both trained and untrained.

Medical supplies, safety equipment and, of course, oxygen concentrators and cylinders. A lot of what we are trying to do is essential coordination, procuring what we can procure and distribute that locally and trying to import supplies from other countries.

We were heavily dependent on India because of the border we share, which is now very difficult to get supplies. A lot of what we are trying to do is negotiate a humanitarian corridor to be able to get supplies in other ways. There is a lot going on and, if we act quickly, we may not have to follow in the steps of India.

VAUSE: On the issue of vaccines, the U.S. is planning to share 18 million doses of vaccine with the world.

Is Nepal likely to get on the list for that?

GETMAN: We are hoping so. And we are advocating for that actively. Media attention like this is really helpful. We're a small neighbor next to India. So it's difficult to get the word out. We are doing active advocacy to the United States government and other governments that have surplus supplies of vaccines.

Now only 1 percent of the population here has both doses and so we do really think that if we can get the population vaccinated, that would go a long way to prevent the spread of this pandemic.

VAUSE: You seem to give the impression it is not inevitable that what happened in India will happen in Nepal, still a chance that the worst could be prevented?

What needs to be done to ensure that it doesn't get as bad as what happened next door? [02:20:00]

GETMAN: We need to start quickly. There is no confirmed additional supply of vaccines coming into this country. We do need to get those supplies confirmed. And here, even in the next week or 2, we also are doing significant distribution of those supplies.

So as we are starting to see more supplies come into the country and be procured, we think if we can move, them that can help quite a bit. There is no way to prevent people being sick and dying.

But we can potentially act quickly to prevent it from being as bad. Local coordination, distribution of supplies, being able to get critical supplies into the country, those are things that need to happen. And we are working closely with the United Nations and with donor communities as well with the government to make it happen quicker.

VAUSE: Christie, all your volunteers and staff and people in Kathmandu who are working on, this I wish you the best. Thank you for what you are doing and for being with us.

GETMAN: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Celebrating lifting some of restrictions in the U.K. But there are warnings COVID variant like one identified in India have experts worried that infections may soon be on the rise. 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: As the U.K. malls win in how to lift pandemic restrictions, it's a very different story in Taiwan. For 250 days last year, Taiwan did not record a transmitted case locally. Those days are long gone. That one-time success story is facing its worst outbreak so far. The government is expanding restrictions across the island. More now, Will Ripley live in Taipei.

Exactly what is the government doing to try and cut off the spread of the coronavirus?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a couple of things are doing to cut off not only the spread of the virus but also the spread of what they call misinformation, largely fueled by Beijing, they allege. They're having two press conferences a day instead of just one to try

to keep the public as informed as possible. So we have a new number of cases that was just released a few minutes ago, 295 additional local cases, I should, say 286 of those were locally transmitted.


RIPLEY: There are still getting in imported cases. But to see 1,700 or so total local cases for this pandemic; when I arrived here in Taiwan, their total cases was under 1,700 and that was a matter of days ago. It shows how quickly the numbers are rising here and that's a major concern to officials, who are going to hit the over 3,000 case mark tomorrow.

If these numbers continue, you're going to see the level 3 restrictions at least in places like New Taipei City, which continues to be a hot spot, move up to level 4, which is a lockdown, the first time they've had a lockdown here in Taiwan.

They've expanded the level 3 restrictions, which includes gathering -- limits on certain businesses, like gyms and adult entertainment venues that have to close. Those have been expanded beyond the capital to the entire island, John.

There are measures in place to get more jabs in arms. They received 400,000 additional vaccines yesterday and they are working overtime on the diplomatic front to try and speed up the arrival of foreign vaccines as the president points to late July as the target for Taiwan produced vaccines to be available to the public here.

They're hoping to vaccinate more people, hoping to test more people although they are telling folks if they don't have any symptoms they shouldn't go and get tested. Only people who show symptoms or had direct contact with a positive case should be tested.

In terms of misinformation, they are saying, if people spread misinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak here in Taiwan, they could face up to 3 years in jail and a fine of more than $100,000.

We've been talking a lot about the back and forth between Beijing and Taiwan, with the Taiwanese leaders accusing the mainland of trying to distract, trying to make disingenuous offers to help and, in fact, standing in the way of them getting the vaccines they need here.

It seems the government is trying to take this seriously, a whole new level, if you will, in terms of cracking down on what they consider misinformation as they speed up their efforts to get this thing contained.

There was one health expert quoted in local media today by a CNN affiliate, saying they're hopeful by mid June this current outbreak could be under control. And of course, they've closed down the borders to foreigners, they've banned for the time being even transit flights through Taiwan.

Similar measures they took at the beginning of the pandemic, they got cases down to zero for those 250 days, they're hoping to get back to that point as soon as possible. But there is a lot of positive test results between now and then as they continue to test more people.

VAUSE: A lot going for them but clearly this is a hard slog ahead. Will Ripley in Taipei.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer aiming to produce 6 billion additional doses of the vaccine over the next 1.5 years. The CEO telling the Axios news website, with vaccines from other drug companies, the output could be enough to inoculate the global population.

Until, now the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has required super cold storage but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now says it can be kept viable under normal refrigeration for up to a month.

Still to come, there were smiles, there was an outload buff (ph) but was there any progress?

We'll talk about the first major meeting between the U.S. and Russia in quite some time.





VAUSE: Welcome back. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

With tensions simmering, Russia and the U.S. held their first high- level face-to-face talks since the Biden administration took office. U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met at the Arctic Council summit in Iceland.

Blinken raised concerns over Russia's military buildup in Ukraine as well as cyberattacks but he did leave the door open for cooperation.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's also no secret we have our differences. And when it comes to both differences as President Biden has also shared, with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we will respond.

But having said that, there are many areas where our interests intersect and overlap. And we believe that we can work together in a deep build on those interests.


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." We are hearing there's no final decision yet on when or even if

meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin will take place.


VAUSE: David Sanger is a CNN political analyst and White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times" 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.


VAUSE: During this summit the Arctic Council is expected to decide on a strategic plan for the next 10 years, develop some new regulations for mineral extraction by private enterprises. Earlier this week, we heard the statement from Russia's foreign minister, Lavrov.

He seemed to lay down a marker. It's been well known to everyone, this is our territory, our land, we are responsible for ensuring that our Arctic coast is safe. 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 fishing rights and a whole lot of other issues there as well.

SANGER: It has. Global warming has helped the Russians restore a bit of the old Cold War competition because they've been able to get ships -- and military ships and submarines and so forth -- into places that they could not afford.

They're hoping to open up bigger and bigger commercial routes that, of course, would cut a lot of time. It's also helpful for them in military terms. A few days, ago they actually declared a big portion of the Arctic was theirs.

You saw that in the way that Lavrov, the foreign minister, went and made his claims here. 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 1.5 months ago, which was also one that was pretty contentious from the start.

VAUSE: And secretary of state Antony Blinken raised some of the areas of contention, while talking about what the sides have agreed on in the past. Here's what he said.


BLINKEN: There's been cooperation on a number of important areas over the years, on education, oil spill response, search and rescue, pollution issues. And it is our hope that that kind of cooperation will continue. And the Arctic remains an area, of peaceful cooperation and

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 are inconsistent with international law. And that is something that we have and will respond to.



VAUSE: Would it be fair to say the areas they agree on are kind of small beer?

The areas where they disagree are pretty big and huge and the number of areas where they actually agree on are dwindling, the potential for disputes and confrontation, those seem to be growing.

SANGER: You've got that exactly right. We have seen time and time again that the areas of agreement are usually somewhat logistical or environmental issues. And the areas of disagreement are largely on strategic issues.

Certainly the land claims fall in that category. Remember, you can't view the Arctic dispute here in isolation.

They're coming out at a moment when the Russians have threatened borders in Ukraine, have conducted the biggest single and most sophisticated cyber attack on the United States that we've ever seen, SolarWinds, 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 the internet itself. So we've got more areas of potential contention than we do areas of agreement.

VAUSE: In Reykjavik, sitting at the table of the first presidential summit between Biden and Putin, can those issues be stir-fried (ph) here?

SANGER: I think one of the areas where they see some room, one of the few strategic areas where they see room to make some progress, is in arms control. It was a few weeks into the Biden presidency that they both agreed to extend New START, one major remaining arms control treaty between the 2 countries.

It had a onetime renewal of five years. President Trump wasn't 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.

And can you solve these territorial issues and get the Russians to stop harassing their neighbors?

They've got a lot of complaints about us also and foreign minister Lavrov was not shy about those today. I have a hard time imagining 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 is trying to do is keep Russia within some form of boundary, keep them in their lane so the conflict is contained.

VAUSE: Seems a modest ambition at this point but maybe the only one that's practical. David, it's good to see you.

SANGER: Great to see you.

VAUSE: Ahead, a reunion nearly 20 years in the making. The cast of "Friends" back together for another cup of coffee at the Central Perk.

Guess how much they got paid for this little episode?





VAUSE: NASA has congratulated China's national space administration on receiving the first images from its rover on Mars.


VAUSE (voice-over): In this color photograph, you see the rover solar panel and antenna while a black and white image shows the ramp and flat Martian surface where the Chinese robot landed on Saturday.

China's rover may not be as technologically advanced as NASA's Perseverance, which is also on Mars at the moment, but it does show that China is catching up to the United States when it comes to its abilities in space.


VAUSE: The American singer and actor Demi Lovato has made a very personal revelation.


DEMI LOVATO, SINGER AND ACTOR: I'm going to take this moment to share something very personal with you. Over the past 1.5 years, I've been doing some healing and self reflective work. And through this work I've had the revelation that I identify as non-binary. With that said, I'll officially be changing my pronouns to they/them.

I feel that this best represents the fluidity I feel in my gender expression and allows me to feel most authentic and true to the person I both know I am and still am discovering.


VAUSE: Non-binary is a description that basically describes a gender that does not follow into a category of male or female. Lovato says she's doing this, they are doing this, for those out there who have not been able to share who they truly are with their loved ones.

Call it the one with Ross, Rachel and the entire "Friends" gang back together for the first time in 17 years.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rachel wrote Ross a letter and demanded he read it before they got back together.

How many pages was that letter?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Front and back is correct.

VAUSE (voice-over): The reunion special was shot by HBO Max, owned by CNN's parent company WarnerMedia. The old sets were rebuilt and the cast will be joined by stars like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Reese Witherspoon, who all had guest roles at some point.

During its heyday, "Friends" was seen as must-see TV, with the 5 stars earning $1 million per episode by seasons 8 and 9. They were reportedly paid $2.5 million each for the reunion special. In recent years, "Friends" has had a second life on streaming platforms.

According to "The Wall Street Journal" HBO Max paid more than $400 million for streaming rights for 5 years. Mark it on your calendars, "Friends" reunion debuts next Thursday.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "WORLD SPORT" is up next.