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NATO Leaders Discuss "Threat," China "Challenges"; U.S. Assessing Reported Leak At Chinese Nuclear Power Facility; U.K. PM Delays Easing Of COVID Restrictions On England; White House Pushing Back on Criticism of Putin Meeting; Belarusian Journalist Says He'll Cooperate with Investigation; U.S. Airlines Seeing Sharp Rise in Unruly Passengers. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, I'm John Vause. And in the coming hours, Joe Biden will say goodbye to friends in Brussels and head to Geneva for a face to face with a man who he says has no soul. The smiles and fist bumps among NATO leaders on Monday said as much about the future of this old military alliance as it did about the turmoil and chaos of the past four years. And the U.S. president will be leaving with a win, an agreement for a pivot of sorts to the east with a new focus on the emerging threat posed by China. But for now, Russia and Vladimir Putin are the next challenge for Joe Biden, the first presidential summit between two men who have known each other for decades. On Monday, Biden described the Russian president as bright, tough, and a worthy adversary.

Our reporters are setting by live in Hong Kong and Brussels. CNN's Melissa Bell has the early shift at E.U. headquarters. And Melissa, what's the headline after that NATO meeting?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first E.U.-U.S. Summit now in seven years and really friends once again uniting not only on questions like COVID and how to get the world vaccinated but also on how to work on technology and trade together to square off against China. It's been a long lonely battle until now for the E.U. as one of the last champions of democracy and multi-polarity. So, a lot of excitement at the E.U. here about that summit, John.

VAUSE: Melissa, thank you. Back to you in a moment. In the meantime, Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong where it's just gone midday on Tuesday. Ivan, what's the reaction been to this new hard line on China from NATO?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, john, Chinese diplomats are calling this slander as the NATO military alliance says it is recognizing a shift in the global balance of power, and increasingly recognizing China as a global competitor.

VAUSE: Ivan, Thank you. We'll be back to you also in a moment. Well, a military alliance, born in the early years of the Cold War with the sole focus on the Soviet Union, is now moving to confront China, described as a constant security challenge working to undermine global order. Just 18 months ago, the last time NATO met, the official line on Beijing talked about opportunities and challenges. The final communique for Monday's -- for Monday mentions Russia 62 times, and China just 10. It's a reminder that Europe's eastern front remains the main concern for many, but this new tough line on Beijing is seen as a big win for the U.S. president ahead of his summit with Vladimir Putin.

So back now to CNN's Melissa Bell live in Brussels with all the details on what comes out of that meeting and what we can expect next. Melissa.

BELL: Well, I think just to pick up first of all, John, on what you just said about the E.U.'s reluctance that we saw of with those European countries that are members of the alliance yesterday at the NATO Summit, their reluctance to make China as much of a priority or as aggressively a priority as the United States. They did, in the end, find a compromise from not communique.

But what they're going to be looking at today is creating a sort of council in E.U.-U.S. Trade and Technology Council. And the idea is that as well as confronting China militarily, that they might work to counter it economically by working together to try and bring themselves up to speed. So that is part of the same strategy, but much more on the soft side -- soft power side, European approach than the Americans had been talking about so far.

They're also going to be talking about COVID, how they can get as much of the world population vaccinated as they can and really a show of force I think, also ahead of this meeting with Vladimir Putin. Here are the European democracies, the United States getting together to say, look, at last we stand shoulder to shoulder and really are on the same line when it comes to things like promoting democracy in the world, fighting autocratic regimes and trying to ensure the democratic and multilateral values are upheld. I think it is a show of force that will matter ahead of what happens in Geneva on Wednesday, John.

VAUSE: Melissa, thank you. Melissa Bell there live in Brussels. Now, this headline from NATO represents back to back reviews for China. The weekend meeting of the G7 was highly critical of Beijing's record on human rights, in particular the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western Xinjiang province. But Monday's communique from NATO was notable.


It was blunt with a declaration to engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance. Back now to Ivan Watson, s o it seems Beijing may have given new purpose, a new life to an old military alliance.

WATSON: Yes, that's one way of looking at it. And certainly, China's embassy in Brussels accused the NATO military alliance of a continuation of a Cold War mentality in a response to NATO's final communique. I think, as you pointed out, in 2019, NATO issued a statement where it had a brief mention that China posed challenges. Now the language has gotten more tough. In one key sentence here, NATO writes, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rule -- rules based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security."

Now it goes on to cite a number of areas where NATO sees real challenges. It says that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, and with more sophisticated delivery systems. It says that China is cooperating militarily with Russia, including in military exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area. And it raises concern about China's "frequent lack of transparency," and use of disinformation.

Now in its response, the embassy in Brussels of China, it argued that, hey, NATO members have more than 20 times more nuclear weapons than China does. It says that people all over the world can say -- see which country has more military bases and flexes its muscles with aircraft carriers. That's a nod directly to the U.S. And you know, we can expect a lot more rhetoric coming from China, as the Chinese newspaper, The Global Times, pointed out, it's calling this President Biden's anti-China roadshow. So, I think we can expect more critical statements coming from Chinese officials in the days ahead, John.

VAUSE: Ivan, thank you. Ivan Watson live for us there in Hong Kong. Also thank you to Melissa Bell for reporting live very early in Brussels. Thank you. Thanks to both.

Susan Glasser is a CNN Global Affairs Analyst and Staff Writer for The New Yorker. Susan, it's good to see you.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thank you so much. OK. So here's the NATO Secretary General, justifying why the Alliance considers China a global security challenge. Here he is.


JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY GENERAL, NATO: China's growing influence and national policies presents challenges to Alliance security. Leaders agreed that we need to address such challenges together as an alliance, and that we need to engage with China to defend our security interests. We are concerned by China's coercive policies, which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty.


VAUSE: So for a 72-year-old military Alliance, which was desperately seeking some kind of relevance, China might just be that unifying focus it needs, but how does NATO actually project power in a way that might actually make Beijing, you know, decide on making some good choices?

GLASSER: Yes, that's the part of the strategy they haven't filled in yet. You know, look, these summits are often, you know, primarily about messaging, about, you know, sort of big picture issues. And in that sense, it is a big difference from the last NATO Summit. There's no question. There's a lot more about China a much more focus. And, and really, it's an amplification of the message that U.S. President Joe Biden, you know, has urged his European allies and partners to adopt, you know.

This really comes from the Biden administration, saying, you know, we identify China as the sort of overriding foreign policy challenge of our times, although if you actually look at that NATO communique, one thing that struck me is that the language is actually even sharper when it comes to Russia. And you know, that is the threat, of course, that is near and present for most NATO allies, even more so than the China one.

VAUSE: Well, when it comes to China, NATO stopped short of declaring China threat. But this agreement is seen as a bit of a win for President Biden, but the unified said it comes with a "but". And here it is.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think when it comes to China, you've got to -- I don't think anybody around the table today wants to descend into a new Cold war with China. I don't think that's where people are, but I think people see -- they say they see challenges, they see things that we have to manage together, but they also see opportunities, and I think that what we need to do is do it together.


VAUSE: There was also the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was talking in a much more dovish approach when comes to dealing with China. Not really a crack in the dam if you like, but is this potentially a stress point which Beijing could exploit?


GLASSER: I -- look, there's no question that I think there's a little bit of concern among European allies. Then in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans have gone much farther down the road of revisiting their old policy toward China, the idea of integrating China into the global system, that's sort of been abandoned across the board in Washington, and you see, Europeans much more wary of this new hawkishness that comes not just from the Biden ministration, but the Trump administration that preceded it. And so I think there is that reluctance.

But one thing I'd point out is that Europe is also not really right now politically in a position where major foreign policy pivots are going to be executed beyond the level of rhetoric. Angela Merkel is always a proponent of diplomacy and engagement. This is her last round of the summit, her very last G7 summit. She's had a remarkable run, and now she's leaving the stage. Who's going to replace her? We don't know yet. Same thing in France where Emmanuel Macron is facing -- he may be more hawkish, perhaps than Boris Johnson on China. But my problem is facing a major reelection fight next year in France. And until that is established, it's hard to see France and Germany, moving forward with big global pivots.

VAUSE: Well, this -- the next stop for Joe Biden will be a face to face with the man who he says has no soul, that will be Vladimir Putin, who apparently laughed when Biden called him a killer. Here's Joe Biden.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm laughing, too. I believe he is in the past, essentially, acknowledge that he was -- or certain things that he would do or did do. When you write treaties with your adversaries, you don't say I trust you, you say this is what I expect.


VAUSE: So after the summit, what can Biden expect from Putin? And how much of a help will the unity among the Western allies, which has been shown over the last couple of days, how much will that help Biden?

GLASSER: Well, look, I think that, you know, for last few years, what you've seen is Vladimir Putin openly taunting the West, and, you know, Europe and the United States essentially saying liberal democracy is over. And your time has passed. And so I think, you know, Biden having a very robust answer to that and bringing along partners to say, hey, wait a minute, not so fast, you know, is certainly not the kind of opposition Biden wants to project in Putin.

But I got to tell you, Vladimir Putin is now on his fifth United States President. And, you know, he's been around a lot. He has no jaded expectations about what's going to happen from this, nobody's expecting some kind of transformation in U.S.-Russia relations, it's really just a chance for both of them to look each other in the eye and to speak, frankly, because I don't see that there's a big substantive agenda that's going to be changing the trajectory that we're on in any way.

VAUSE: Susan, good points to finish on. Thank you so much. Appreciate you being with us.

GLASSER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Now to update on a CNN exclusive earlier reporting about the U.S. government assessing reports of a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear plant. After a French company, which is part owner and operator, warned of an imminent radiological threat. CNN's Steven Jiang has details now live from Beijing. So I guess -- what are we looking at here, performance issues or something more serious?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in the past 24 hours, we have heard much from the French side of things because remember, this nuclear power plant is a Chinese French joint venture. Now the Chinese state-owned energy conglomerate CGN did issue a statement earlier, of course, saying their continuous monitoring of environmental data, both outside and in the surrounding area indicate everything is normal, and also that the company has always been operating this plan in strict accordance with nuclear safety regulations and technical procedures.

But we have since heard a bit more details and clarification from EDF. That's the French utility company that owns a 30 percent stake in this power plant. Now EDF says it's aware of the increased level of concentration of noble gases in the primary circuit in one of the two reactors on site and officials from the company say this increased level of radiation were caused by a degradation of the housing fuel rods.

Now they say the housings, the fuel rods, were actually just the first of three containment barriers between the housings actually, the first of the three containment barriers between the rods and (INAUDIBLE) sphere, and this delicate this degradation happened, because these escaped gases, mostly Xenon and krypton, escaped from this housing, but they weren't dissolved within the water in the system. And there was no increase in pressure within the system.


They also said, of course, they were aware of the readings and they are still below the Chinese government threshold. But this company, the French company, EDF, did acknowledge that this issue of a potential leakage was actually first discussed as early as October 2020, following a planned refueling outage, but the official stressed without a full analysis, it's still too early for them to say whether or not a complete shutdown of the reactor is needed.

So, even with all these explanation, that information there's still a lot of pressing questions remain unanswered, especially because it's a -- this French company, a subsidiary of EDF that informed the U.S. authorities a few weeks ago about this imminent radiological threat, as you mentioned, in a memo, dated June 8th, this French company said Chinese Safety Authority had been raising the acceptable limits of radiation around the power plant to avoid having to shut it down.

Now, of course, they also said that risks -- or the potential risks were not only to inside workers, but also people living in the surrounding area, because the new revised level were more than double the initial threshold and have also exceeded French standards. So, these are questions we yet to see either Chinese or French authority address. And of course, we want to pose these questions to Chinese officials in the coming hours since they -- the government has just reopened after a three-day national holiday, John.

VAUSE: Steven, we'll leave that with you. Thank you, Steven Jiang, live in Beijing. When we come back, reopening delayed.


JOHNSON: Since today, I cannot say that we have met all our four tests for a proceeding with step four on June the 21st. I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.


VAUSE: Find out how England's timeline has changed before ending the pandemic lockdown. Also, the Trump White House secretly tried to obtain phone and email records from just a handful of journalists, including CNN's Pentagon Correspondent. Barbara Starr. She talks to us about that experience in a moment.


VAUSE: Well, plans for easing the last COVID restrictions in England are on hold for now. Almost all social restrictions were set to end this coming Sunday, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a delay of a month because of the spread of a COVID variant first identified in India. CNN's Scott McLean has details now reporting from London.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the freedom will have to wait just a little bit longer, four weeks longer. That's how long the Prime Minister is delaying England's final lifting of restrictions for because of the much more transmissible Delta variant which now accounts for 96 percent of new infections. Johnson says the link between infection and hospitalization has weakened, but has not severed completely, and that being cautious now could save thousands of lives.


A new study from Scotland suggests the variant doubles the risk of hospitalization, government scientists say that the vaccine is still very effective against the variant in preventing hospitalization but less effective in preventing infection compared to other variants. Johnson says the extra four weeks will allow everyone over 50 and two- thirds of the adult population to have both vaccine doses, plus everyone over 18 to have their first one.

The announcement prompted protests outside parliament and backlash from inside of it because MPs were not consulted. The Prime Minister says he is confident that all restrictions can be lifted after four weeks, but made no promises that a new variant won't delay things once again. Scott McLean, CNN, London.

VAUSE: Actually, so as Scott mentioned that, there was backlash from Parliament, it was swift. The Speaker of the House of Commons delivered a stinging rebuke.


LINDSAY HOYLE, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF COMMONS: This house needs no needs to know first, I find it totally unacceptable that once again, once again, that we see Downing Street running roughshod over members of parliament.


VAUSE: Meantime, Novavax announce its COVID vaccine was 90.4 percent effective in phase three trials in the US and Mexico. Of nearly 30,000 participants, doses were well-received and side effects lasted less than three days. More importantly, Novavax says the vaccine was 91 percent effective in high-risk groups, works just as well when given at the same time as an influenza vaccine. Company is planning to apply for emergency use authorization in the U.S. later this year.

Executives from CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post met with the U.S. Attorney General on Monday, after revelations the Justice Department tried to secretly gain access to records from journalists during Donald Trump's presidency. Merrick Garland says he'll work to put the department's new pledge against spying on journalists into regulation so the promise has teeth. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr was one of those targeted during the Trump years. She's now speaking out about her experience. Here she is.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, even his top executives from CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post met with the Justice Department. As I'm talking to you, I still do not know why the Department of Justice sought my email and phone records. Originally, they wanted something like 30,000 of my emails, business email, business phone records, and my personal email records and my personal phone in my home.

I'm lucky to have a legal team that was able to push back and the judge drastically cut back on the government's request. At one point in the proceeding, we got the transcript. And so at one point in the proceeding, the court says the following. "The court has to conclude the theory of relevancy upon which this request is made is not based on sufficient specific and articulable facts, but rather, on more speculative predictions, assumptions, and scenarios unanchored in facts."

We believe it's likely the Justice Department was seizing records from so many people as part of a leak investigation. But they did not really narrow it significantly until they were forced to. They saw my records across a broad swath, but the judge limited it to records from June and July of 2017. But here's the key fact. This did not go to a secret court proceeding until the middle of last year 2020. And it was not until this May that I was even allowed to know that these secret court proceedings had happened. They'd take place without the person being involved, being allowed to attend.

CNN lawyers represented me, they'd represented CNN, but it was a pretty grim prospect to learn that there had been these secret courts, and I had no knowledge of it. You know, when you cover the U.S. military, you're very aware that U.S. troops raise their hand, they swear to protect the Constitution. And as part of that, they swear to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution in the United States. That first amendment assures protection of a free press. U.S. troops swear to do that. They will die on that hill to protect the Constitution of this country. A lot of people think maybe the Justice Department needs to take a page out of that book, John.

VAUSE: And Barbara, thank you for that. And you can read a lot more about Barbara's experience on our website, Please read that. It is well worth your time.


When we come back, Joe Biden takes a tough line at the NATO Summit ahead of his high stakes showdown with Vladimir Putin. Spoiler alert, chances are this coming summit will be nothing like the ones we've seen over the past four years. And the journalist who was arrested after his flight was diverted to Belarus makes another public appearance, the opposition saying cannot believe what he's being forced to say.


VAUSE: Well, the U.S. president said this NATO meeting was incredibly productive. It was also reassuring to allies that America has their back to Biden's push to repair alliances tethered by former President Donald Trump comes just ahead of his highly anticipated talks with the Russian president on Wednesday. This will be President Biden's first face to face meeting with Vladimir Putin since taking office and CNN's Phil Mattingly has details.


BIDEN: I have found that he is a, as they say, when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, President Biden now deep into preparation for his high stakes sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


BIDEN: I'm going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses. And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cyber security and some other activities, then we will respond.


MATTINGLY: Even as he seeks to reestablish and tighten us bonds with traditional allies at the NATO Summit in Brussels, the Russian leader never far from his mind.


BIDEN: I'm hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest in terms of his own interest in changing the perception the world has of him in terms of whether or not he will engage in behavior that's more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behavior for head of state.


MATTINGLY: And responding this way when told Putin laughed at Biden referring to the Russian leader as a killer.


BIDEN: Answer the first question? I'm laughing, too. The answer is I believe he is in the past, essentially, acknowledge that he was -- there are certain things that he would do or did do. But look, when I was asked that question on air, I answered it honestly.


MATTINGLY: A lengthy list of items on the agenda in Geneva for firmer warnings on cyber attacks, political prisoners and aggression in Ukraine to areas of potential cooperation like Afghanistan, arms control and the Iran nuclear deal.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should decide where it's in our mutual interests and in the interests of the world to cooperate and see if we can do that. And, the areas where we don't agree, make it clear what the red lines are.


MATTINGLY: Biden meeting privately with Baltic and Eastern European leaders over the course of the day, soliciting their positions in advance of the meeting, and reassuring allies, officials say. Their answers factored into weeks of preparation for the famously unpredictable Russian leader. What (ph) he thrives off hijacking substantive conversations, including continued denials of hacking efforts confirmed by U.S. intelligence.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Where is the evidence, where is proof? It's becoming farcical, and we know it well.


MATTINGLY: Biden's preparation has included an emphasis on ways Putin may try to pull the meeting off-track, officials tell CNN, as the Russian leader previewed those potential lies in his most recent interview.


PUTIN (through translator): The U.S. is a high-tech country. NATO has declared cyberspace an area of combat. That means they are planning something, they are preparing something. So, obviously, this cannot but worry us.


MATTINGLY: Biden looking to enter the meeting with more than just his agenda in hand, spending his first full day in Brussels seeking to rally leaders in a show of unity heading into the Geneva sit-down. The intended message to Putin, officials tell CNN, western democracies are once again aligned against Russian malign activity.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MATTINGLY: And for weeks, White House officials have pushed back on criticism that perhaps the meeting itself elevates President Putin and his role as status in the world, perhaps happening too early in the Biden administration.

Perhaps the president didn't have enough clear outcomes to shoot for to even justify the meeting itself. They've made clear, they believe that the fact the relationship is at such a low point, the fact there are such significant differences is precisely why President Biden, who often prefers, almost always prefers face-to face meetings on anything, whether it's on Capitol Hill or with world leaders, wanted to sit down with President Putin.

And the president addressed this idea, as well, at his press conference in Brussels.

There has been some uncertainty from some allies about whether or not this was happening too soon. The president made very clear, every leader he said that he'd spoken to in Brussels, at NATO -- there's been more than a dozen -- in the words of the president, found it, quote, "thoroughly acceptable."

Phil Mattingly, CNN, Brussels.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Just a quick reminder: the NATO stance for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance established in 1949, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

Members agreed to mutually defend each other in the event of an attack. NATO started with 12 members but has now expanded to 30 countries. And many of those new members are Baltic republics, where when the Soviet Union collapsed, it brought to an end decades of often cruel and brutal occupation.

As Lithuania's president arrived at the NATO summit, he renewed his country's warnings about Russian aggression.


GITANAS NAUSEDA, LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT: What is also very important, that we see the efforts of Russia to swallow this country. Belarus is losing the last elements of independence. And this is -- those tendencies, those trends, are very dangerous, and we have to be aware of them.


VAUSE: CNN's Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Geneva, where Biden and Putin's summit will take place on Wednesday. So Fred, to state the obvious, this summit will be starkly different from what we've seen in the past between Trump and Putin.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly will be. And I think one of the things that -- that is a main differences that there's not going to be a press conference after the summit takes place.

Of course, one of the things that in Helsinki really caused a big stir, and I was actually there four years ago. It was the fact that he did have that press conference between President Putin and president Trump at the time, where many people felt that President Trump didn't exactly conduct himself very well. Of course, siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as far as election meddling was concerned.

So it's going to be a very different tone coming this time. I think one of things that we've seen in the run-up to all this, and we heard some of it there in Phil's report just now, as you see both leaders really trying to walk back some of the tensions and putting all this on much more respectable footing, then I think it may have been only a week or 10 days ago.

You had yesterday at that press conference President Biden, saying that yes, he made those remarks about Vladimir Putin being a killer, answering in the affirmative. But he also felt that that really wouldn't play a major role here at the summit, as far as setting the tone is confirmed.

And Vladimir Putin, for his part, essentially doing the same thing, saying that he had brushed off those remarks, and he felt that that was part of U.S. political showboating that he knows is the case that they respect President Biden as a leader and someone who's been in politics for an extended period of time.

So that means the two leaders, when they get here, they're on that respectable footing, and they can really try to get down to business.


And certainly, there are a lot of areas where it's going to be very difficult to come to terms with one another, where the two sides are very far apart. And where the Russians, quite frankly, are not necessarily willing to budge.

Ukraine, of course, is one of those areas. Also, the opposition in Russia is another one. We heard President Putin talk about the case of Alexei Navalny, not even going to mention his name, whereas President Biden says if something happens to Navalny, that would be a tragedy -- John.

VAUSE: Fred, also there's the issue with the jailed Belarusian journalist who says -- who's actually facing some charges. He now says he will cooperate with the investigation into his alleged role in organizing anti-government riots.

State-owned media had video of Raman Pratasevich at a news conference. He was there with a number of officials. He said he felt fine. He'd not been physically beaten. The opposition claims it was another public appearance which was made under duress.

Pratasevich was arrested, you may recall, after his flight was diverted to Belarus last month. He admitted to plotting to topple President Alexander Lukashenko, in a confession which, notably, the opposition said was forced.

So Frederik, does anyone believe that this is anything other than state-managed propaganda?

PLEITGEN: Well, very few people seemed to believe that. And yesterday, there were actually two public appearances by Raman Pratasevich. One of them was at that press conference, which was really quite a bizarre scene, because you had Raman Pratasevich sitting next to Belarusian security officials, including military officers at that press conference, essentially saying that he was fine and reports about his health being bad were not true, and that his health was being instrumentalized, his parents were being instrumentalized.

Of course, they've been very critical about all this.

And then later, he also answered questions from some reporters there in that similar setting, as well, also broadcast.

And you know, so far what we've seen is the reaction from the Belarusian opposition saying he's essentially a hostage. They believe all this is done under duress and that he's been paraded out like trophy.

But you've also had pretty much all of the European Union countries, of course, still very angry about the fact that a Ryanair jet was forced to land in Minsk, to detain Raman Pratasevich. All of them had said they don't believe there's any credence to any of the things that the Belarusian authorities are saying, that the government of Alexander Lukashenko is saying.

The U.S., of course, siding with its European allies, as well. So right now, there are not many people who give a lot of credence to the fact that he's being put out there.

And, you know, if you look at, for instance, one of the other appearances that he had, where he still had marks on his wrists that clearly looked like he had had handcuffs put on him in a very, very tight fashion.

And his parents also said that he was being physically and mentally tortured, and it certainly is something that that situation, seeing Raman Pratasevich out there is causing a lot of concern on European countries, of course, with the Belarusian opposition, as well, John.

VAUSE: Thank you for coverage of those stories. Big day ahead for you. Fred Pleitgen there, live in Geneva. Thank you.

In Nicaragua, a crackdown on the opposition has swept up another adversary of President Daniel Ortega. Former deputy foreign minister Victor Hugo Tinoco was arrested on Sunday. He's among at least 13 high-profile opposition figures arrested over the past two weeks.

Several of those detained were set to run against Ortega in November's election. They're all being charged with threatening national sovereignty.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights says the president is using terror to stay in office.

Well, flying the not-so-friendly skies for U.S. airlines. As America's air travel industry picks back up with lots of problem passengers skyrocketing. We'll explain when we come back.


VAUSE: It seems it was bound to happen. As pandemic restrictions come to an end and Americans take to the skies, airlines are seeing an unprecedented rise in unruly passenger behavior.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it's received 3,000 reports of disruptive passengers this year. And as CNN's Dan Simon reports buckle up it could get a lot worse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help me! Help me!

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The struggle and screams coming from the most unlikely of passengers. An off-duty Delta Airlines flight attendant, aboard a flight Friday night from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

The pilot asking for, quote, "all strong males" to come to the front of the aircraft to handle a problem passenger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am very thankful that it did not end badly.

SIMON: Passengers saying the man who police identified as 34-year-old Stefan Jamar Duncan (ph) of Atlanta, made an announcement over the plane's P.A. system, telling everyone to take their seats and prepare to put on oxygen masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That created quite a stir. Everyone around us became very tense.

SIMON: The plane safely diverting to Oklahoma City. According to the police report, the off-duty attendant making statements about being seated next to a terrorist and stashing his personal items like tennis balls in various places throughout the plane.

Ignoring orders from a flight crew, the report says he allegedly assaulted a crew member. And when another off-duty crew member tried to intervene, he pushed her against the wall and put both hands around her neck and began choking her.

CNN has reached out to Duncan. It's not really clear if he has legal representation.

On Thursday, another Delta flight, this one from L.A. to New York, was forced to land in Detroit after another passenger became disruptive.

And earlier this month, a third Delta flight from L.A. to National forced to make another emergency landing, when a passenger tried to breach the cockpit. These incidents just the latest in a string of unruly behavior in the

nation's skies. The FAA reporting it's received more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers since the beginning of the year, the majority related to people not wanting to mask up.

SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: What we're seeing on board really is an outcome of the stress of this pandemic. People have been stretched to their limits.

SIMON: For now, the questions of whether things could get even uglier, with summer travel season picking up and passenger numbers starting to approach pre-pandemic levels.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


VAUSE: Getting there is half the fun, huh?

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