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Putin Prepares For Putin Meeting; China Blasts NATO Statement As Cold War Mentality; IOC V.P. In Japan To Coordinate Preparations For Games; Biden and Putin Share Contentious History Ahead of Talks; New Government Approves Far-Right March in Jerusalem. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to all of our viewers joining U.S. from around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow here in Atlanta. So ahead on CNN, the U.S. president is shifting his focus to his meeting with Vladimir Putin while leaving behind the United NATO alliance ready to face threats from Russia and challenges from China. It comes as the U.S. looks into report about a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant, what plants operators are saying about that.

And Israel's new government vows to work together even though the two men running at hold very different views.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Thanks for joining me this hour. So, Joe Biden will say goodbye to Brussels in the coming hours taking his global diplomacy to Geneva for talks on Wednesday with Vladimir Putin. Now the U.S. president and NATO allies wrapped up this summit on Monday largely seen as a reaffirmation of America's leadership role in the alliance. Mr. Biden called on world leaders to reject phony populism.

That's thinly veiled swipe at his predecessor Donald Trump. Now NATO's final communique focused on countering Russia's aggressive actions which it said threaten European security. And a call full cooperation against China's growing influence and international policies.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We heard a strong message from President Biden on America's commitment to NATO. And an equally strong commitment from other allies in return. All he disagreed that in an age of global competition, Europe or North America must stand strong together in NATO to defend our values and our interests. Especially at a time when authoritarian regimes like Russia and China challenge the rules based international order.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW: Well, CNN is covering events in Europe with reporters around the globe. Melissa Bell is at the E.U. headquarters in Brussels. Fred Pleitgen in Geneva ahead of that summit between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin. And Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong with reaction from China. Melissa, I want to go to you first. Certainly, that was a pretty strong statement there from the NATO Secretary General, echoing the American president.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What we've seen is in this sort of diplomatic sequence over the course of the last few days, the success of the G7 or at least the enthusiasm and the return to the international thoughts of the multilateral fold of the United States. At NATO, some disagreement over what focus should be placed on China or not, with Europe and America and United States slightly divided on that.

But really, probably the warmest, coziest, friendliest series of meetings we're going to have are the ones that are going to happen here at the institutions in Brussels behind me, between the E.U. and the American President. It has been, Robyn, let's speak here, a very long and lonely few years for Europe. One of those champions globally of the promotion of democracy and human rights and the fight against authoritarianism.

Now it feels that it has found its ally, its old transatlantic ally in terms of all of those issues. And I think the words of Joe Biden spoken yesterday will have been music to the ears of many European leaders here.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By pointing out we have to prove to the world and to our own people, that democracy can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs of our people. We have to root out corruption that siphons off our strength. Guard against those who would stoke hatred and division for political gain is phony populism.


BELL: Now, what we should hear when Charles Michel, the President of the European Council sort of underlay in the present European Commission meeting with Joe Biden after those meetings. There are some very concrete measures. For instance, A, economic trade and technological task force council that will allow the E.U. to work with United States to try and promote technology trade in order to counter the growing economic power of China.

Europe is much softer on China than the United States. Much more determined to try and make the relationship work by countering it where it needs to but working with it where it can. And I think that idea that not only by taking it on militarily as was discussed yesterday at NATO, but in trying to match it in order to kind of create a power balance that functions better is going to be at the heart of the discussions that we're going to see here in Brussels today. [02:05:11]

CURNOW: Melissa, thanks so much for that. Ivan, I just want to go to you quickly in Hong Kong there because Melissa was referencing how Europe and the U.S. NATO at larges see China, they framing it as the West -- the democracy -- Western democracies versus authoritarian regimes. Has there been any reaction from China?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We've heard from the Chinese Embassy in Brussels that basically accused NATO of slander in its final communique. I'm going to go on and read some additional experts because the NATO communique highlighted the accusation that China is growing its nuclear arsenal. It's one reason to view China more as a competitor.

And the Chinese Embassy in Brussels wrote, "the number of nuclear weapons in China is not at the same level as that of NATO countries, such as the United States." Going on to say that people all over the world can see clearly whose military bases are all over the world and whose aircraft carriers are showing off their military power. The Embassy accused NATO of a continuation of a Cold War mentality.

And we've heard echoes of this criticism coming from the Chinese Embassy in London during the G7 Summit that was taking place in the U.K. over the weekend. And in the Chinese press, with the Global Times in Beijing publishing articles accusing President Biden of running an anti-China road show while traveling across Europe. And I think we'll probably hear more criticism and more reaction coming from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which is expected to give a briefing in a couple of hours now.

There is a fact though and that is that that Biden has successfully managed to get both the G7 and now the NATO military alliance to put forward more criticism of China at the G7 highlighting human rights abuses or allegations of human rights abuses. And this is not a strategy that China had to face over the course of the last four years of the Trump administration.

It was able to frame disagreements on these very same subjects as a kind of us versus China thing. And now it's facing a bigger coalition. That said, some of these European countries really rely on trade with China. And we're getting some pushback to Biden in the negotiating rooms, as we can see from the final communiques, he's still got his tougher line on China through in these larger multilateral venues. Robyn.

CURNOW: Ivan, thanks for that. And now I want to go to Fred Pleitgen. Fred is in Geneva. And I want to look ahead at this pretty critical meeting between the two leaders of Russia and the U.S. What is expected?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think it is certainly a very critical meeting. And I think it could set the tone not just between the U.S. and Russia for the next couple of years, but quite frankly, between Russia and NATO and Russia and other European countries as well. And I think one of the things that we've seen ahead of this summit, which is really interesting, is you've seen both President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin really sort of tried to take the emotions out of the run up to this summit and really bring this on a very professional footing.

It was quite interesting yesterday to see President Biden in that press conference when he was asked whether he stood by those remarks, insinuating that President Putin is a killer, he said, yes, he spoke honestly, when he made those remarks. However, he also says he doesn't believe that that's going to play any role at the negotiations and discussions that are going to take place here.

At the same time, you had Vladimir Putin, who was asked whether or not that's something that could overshadow the summit here? And he said absolutely not. He said he believes that's all just us showboating part of U.S. politics, that he respects President Biden, as someone who's been in politics for a very long time. Of course, President Biden then said that he believes that Vladimir Putin is a worthy adversary.

And so both sides really are go into it's really an interest based way. The U.S. says it wants to cooperate with Russia words, and America's and its allies' interests. And the Russians are essentially saying pretty much the same thing. And there certainly are some area where cooperation or any sort of headway seems almost impossible. Ukraine is a very difficult topic. And then also, for instance, human rights inside, Russia in the treatment of the opposition.

One of the times when President Biden did become very forceful, it was when it came to the way that Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia is being treated and what would happen if Alexei Navalny died while he was in prison. I want to listen to what President Biden said then.


BIDEN: Navalny's death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic, fundamental human rights.


BIDEN: It would be a tragedy. it would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.


PLEITGEN: So there you have some of those areas where things are going to be difficult. There's others, however, Robyn, where I think both sides believe that headway could be made arms control, of course, being one of them. The situation in Afghanistan, the Iran Nuclear Agreement. The really interesting one that I think many people are going to be looking towards is the realm of cyber, of hacking and of cyberattacks.

That's where there is a degree of disagreement but there does also seem to be a willingness to at least try and move forward the discussion on that topic, Robyn. CURNOW: OK. Thanks for that. Fred Pleitgen there in Geneva. Melissa Bell in Brussels. Ivan Watson in Hong Kong, thanks to you all.

Joining me now is former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder. He's also the co-author of this book, The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership. Good to have you on the show, Ivo. You wrote that book during the Trump administration looking at what we've seen over the past few days with the G7. Now, with NATO. Do you feel like Mr. Biden is trying to reclaim America's global leadership and has he been successful?

IVO DAALDER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, it's clearly the reason why he made his first foreign trip to Europe, the most important alliance that we have had, in order to, as he said, take our seat back at the head of the table. And he's done a pretty remarkable job. A very good and productive meeting with the G7. And then this NATO summit meeting which really demonstrates the differences in style and leadership and commitment.

If you go back just four years ago with President Trump's first meeting at NATO headquarters, he stood there and excoriated the allies for not doing enough on defense. Told them that the building they had to -- that he was there to open, the new headquarters was too expensive, and even shoved the Montenegrin Prime Minister aside to take the front row. Here, Biden comes with an outstretched hand, and importantly, allies who are looking at him and welcome back a long lost friend in their midst.

And I think those images just tell the story that the United States under Joe Biden wants to be back as a global leader but wants to do it, not just to take a leadership role for its own sake, but just try to help bring countries together to solve the big problems in the world and to do it together, knowing that the United States alone is not able to do that.

CURNOW: And certainly there has been a lot of hand wringing with regards to NATO's focus, you know, how it embraces its role within the 21st century. It's the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was essentially set up after the Second World War as a bulwark against communism, about European unity. And now the focus seems to be in is very clearly being messaged by Mr. Biden, and many of the others is Asia.

How much of a new era is that? And as the former ambassador to NATO, how important do you think this this realigned focus East is?

DAALDER: Well, it's important to understand that NATO as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization operates on a much glow -- larger global scale. And China, which used to be a power that was very much focused inwardly to rebuild its own economy has emerged over the last decade or more, not just as a major economic power in the world but increasingly as a political and strategic power equal only to the United States.

It is in Europe, it is investing in Europe, it's building the part of the Belt and Road Initiative into Europe. It is being welcomed for its investment and infrastructure building by some European countries, including some NATO countries. But it is also deploying its military forces up in the -- in the arctic, down in the Mediterranean Sea. It has a base in Djibouti. It is becoming a player that will affect the future of European security.

So inevitably, NATO as an alliance that is concerned about the security and political independence of its members in North America and in Europe is going to have to focus on China as a major systemic challenge, which is how the NATO leaders put it today to the world order and of course, to security in Europe.

CURNOW: There's also been a lot of focus, a lot of the questions were about Russia. How does the U.S. and particularly NATO view Russia and how important is this meeting with Mr. Biden? Because it certainly has been signaled or telegraph that the focus is about a rising China and a concern about more of a declining Russia.


DAALDER: Well, it's clear that in the -- in the NATO thinking which reflects also, I think President Biden's thinking that major immediate threat that Europe and NATO face comes from Russia. The biggest challenge comes from China. But the threat comes from Russia of direct to military confrontation. Russia, of course used military force to invade Ukraine annex Crimea and has its forces inside Ukraine today in support of separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.

It deployed 100,000 troops just a few weeks ago, at the border of Ukraine, it has modernized its military, deployed new nuclear missiles that are capable of reaching targets deep inside Europe. And as a result, Europe has responded, NATO has responded, deploying forces forward, making sure that an unmistakable message is being sent to Moscow to Vladimir Putin that the territorial integrity and political independence of the NATO countries will not and cannot be violated.

CURNOW: It's certainly been a huge week and will continue to be a huge week with geopolitics. Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Thank you as always, for your perspective.

DAALDER: My pleasure, Robyn.

CURNOW: I also ask the ambassador what he thought about President Biden's comments on Ukraine, possibly coming a NATO member. I'll have his response to that later on in the hour.

And now to an update on an exclusive report we bought yesterday on the U.S. assessing reports of a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear plant. That was after a French company which is a part owner and operator warned of imminent radiological threat. At the center of concern is the Tai Shan nuclear plant. It's located in Guangdong Province, home to more than 126 million people. Steven Jiang has the latest. Steven?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: We haven't heard much from the French side in the past 24 hours because remember, this power plant is a Chinese-French joint venture. Now the Chinese state energy conglomerate CGN, which owns a 70 percent stake in this joint venture did issue. An earlier statement saying there are continuous monitoring of environmental readings are both on site and in the surrounding area indicates.

Everything is normal and that the company has been operating this plan in strict accordance with nuclear safety regulations and technical procedures. And we have since heard 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 an increased concentration of noble gases in the primary circuit in one of the two reactors.

And it says that the increased levels of these noble gases xenon and krypton indicate a degradation of the housing of the few rods. Now they say there was no increasing pressure within the system and the escaped gases were dissolved within the water in the system, and then collected and extracted. And also that these housings affected are just the first of three containment barriers between the rods and the atmosphere.

But the company didn't acknowledge that this issue of a potential leakage was first discussed last October after a planned refueling outage but the company says without a thorough analysis, it's still too early for them to say whether or not a complete shutdown of the reactor is needed. And the company also said the current readings, the current levels of radiation on site are still below the Chinese government threshold.

But all this information and explanations still do not address some of the more pressing questions raised by EDF subsidiary in their memos to the U.S. Department of Energy early this month. Now, it is in a memo dated June 8th this French company said there -- the situation in Tai Shan posed an imminent radiological threat and that the Chinese Safety Authority has been raising the acceptable limits of radiation for the area surrounding the plant to avoid having to shut it down.

And the revised level was more than double the initial threshold and also exceeding the French standard which is why the French company was concerned about the potential risks. So all these --


CURNOW: -- before England can fully come out of lockdown.

Plus, a race to the starting line for the Tokyo Olympics. The games are set to kick off next month despite widespread criticism. We're live from Tokyo after this.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: By July the 19th we do think that we will have built up a very considerable wall of immunity around the whole of the population. And at that stage on the basis of the evidence that I can see now, I'm confident that we will be able to go forward with the full step for the full opening.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW: That was Mr. Johnson there pushes back further opening, reopening plans. The British government is hoping that delay will buy time to get more people vaccinated. And to starting today they're opening up vaccinations to 23 and 24 year olds. Mr. Johnson had hoped to remove most social restrictions by the 21st of June but on Monday, he did push back that date citing fears over the spread of the variant first identified in India.

Well, Scott McLean has more from London.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the freedom we'll 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 M.P.s 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 will delay things once again. Scott McLean, CNN, London.

CURNOW: And it is full steam ahead for the Summer Olympics despite a chorus of criticism. International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coats has just arrived in Tokyo as you can see there, as organizers are set to roll out the latest playbook of rules to control COVID during the games. Now this comes amid widespread calls to cancel the event as Japan reels from a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Well, Blake Essig joins us now from Tokyo with the latest on all of this. Blake, hi.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Robyn, yes. We're just 38 days to go before the start of the games. John Coates' arrival really signals the start of the operational phase of the Olympics and offers the clearest sign yet that even though again that we are 38 days away that these games are in fact going ahead on schedule.


ESSIG: Now despite all the concern from the public and medical professionals just last month, it's important to remember that John Coates said that the games would be held even if there was a state of emergency order, in effect, and of course there currently is that current state of emergency order is set to be lifted next week, but local media are reporting that a quasi-state of emergency could be put into effect throughout the course of the Olympics.

We'll find out more about that from Prime Minister Suga later this week. Now, as you mentioned, Robyn, Olympic organizers are set to release the third and final version of the playbooks outlining COVID- 19 countermeasures that will be put into place to ensure a safe and secure games. To this point Olympic organizers have already banned overseas spectators and have the number of foreign delegates allowed to enter Japan.

But despite those efforts, the medical community continues to express doubt. Recently, a British Medical Journal, The Lancet published an editorial saying that the Olympics could lead to the virus not only spreading here in Japan, but all around the world. And they call for a global conversation to be had and say that the silence from organizations like the WHO is a deflection of responsibility.

Now ultimately, the decision to hold the games or cancel them is up to the IOC which doesn't sit well with the majority of the population here in Japan who continue to express concern for their own health and safety. While Olympic organizers say that more than 80 percent of the athletes entering Japan will be vaccinated. Still, only five percent of Japan's population has been fully vaccinated. And that number though, is expected to increase in the coming days.

As large scale vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka start offering shots to younger people in an effort to fill empty slots and speed up the vaccine rollout that to date, Robyn, has been painfully slow.

CURNOW: Yes. It certainly has. Blake Essig there, good to see you. Thanks so much live in Tokyo.

So Joe Biden takes a tough tone at the NATO summit as we've been reporting before his big showdown with the Russian president. We look back at their long history. Plus.


STOLTENBERG: Our relationship with Russia is at its lowest point since the Cold War. And Moscow's aggressive actions are a threat to our security.



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.

The U.S. president has been rebuilding European alliances as momentum builds for his high-stakes summit with the Russian president. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on Wednesday.

Brian Todd takes a closer look at their relationship. Brian?


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was 20 years ago after then-President George W. Bush met with Vladimir Putin for the first time that Bush uttered this now infamously naive take on the encounter.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

TODD: Bush called the Russian president, quote, straightforward, and trustworthy. Almost immediately, then-Senator Joe Biden reacted by saying quote, I don't trust Putin.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I caution the administration from being excessively optimistic about Mr. Putin and his intentions.

KEITH DARDEN, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Joe Biden is one of the American politician who identified very early the type of man he was dealing with, with Vladimir Putin. He did not trust Putin.

TODD: Ten years after his initial warnings about Putin, Biden met the former KGB lieutenant colonel in Moscow face to face. Biden told a journalist that he said to Putin, during the 2011 encounter, quote, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul. Biden claimed Putin smiled and replied, quote, we understand one another.

Putin was asked about that in a new interview with NBC.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: I don't remember this particular part of our conversations, to be honest with you. He probably has a good memory.

TODD: But Putin likely does remember Joe Biden visiting Georgia in 2008, to show solidarity with that nation after Putin invaded it. Putin probably remembers Biden being among the leaders of America's efforts to punish Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Biden was asked three months ago on ABC, if he thinks Vladimir Putin is a killer.

BIDEN: I do.

TODD: Asked on Monday, if he thinks Putin is a killer, Biden was less emphatic, even awkward.

BIDEN: I believe he is, in the past, essentially acknowledged that he was, or certain things that he would do or did do. But, look, when I was asked that question on air, I answered it honestly.

TODD: But Biden also, on Monday, called Putin, quote, bright, tough, a worthy adversary. Biden has also, said recently that no matter how tough he gets with Putin, he doesn't necessarily expect Putin to change his behavior.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think there is absolutely no allusions that Joe Biden has about Vladimir Putin at this moment in time, there is no starry eyed hopes of a new reset here.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD (on camera): But even with their level of mistrust at new highs and the overall U.S./Russia relationship at new lows, analyst say both men will still benefit from meeting in Geneva, however cold it might be. Biden can look like he is not Donald Trump and is being tough on Russia, one expert says. And Putin gets to look like a world statesman, which he really craves.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

CURNOW: The NATO members are united on Russia's aggressive actions, including military incursions into Eastern Europe. But President Joe Biden suggested on Monday that Ukraine still need to prove itself and clean-up corruption in order to join NATO. Ukraine is long sought to join NATO and its military protection, of course, and move vehemently opposed by Russia. Russia and Ukraine have been locked in conflict for years after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, and began supporting separatists in the country's east.

While earlier, I spoke with Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO about Russia's influence, and NATO's challenges with Moscow.


IVO DAALDER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Russia remains a primary concern for NATO, it remains a primary concern for the United States. And now Joe Biden will go to Geneva in the next few days and meet with Vladimir Putin. And he will have been backed by 29 NATO members who stand united with the United States as an alliance of one to tell Vladimir Putin there are certain things that are completely unacceptable when it comes to this behavior, whether it's Ukraine, whether with regards to cyber intrusions in our democracies, in our own economies, or other measures that clearly need to violate while at the same time sending the message, if you would like to cooperate with us, there are ways for us to do that on arms control, on strategic stability and perhaps on issues like climate change.

CURNOW: Conversely though, nothing perhaps infuriates and threatens Russia and Vladimir Putin more historically than what he sees as an encroachment of NATO into Russia's sphere of influence. What do you make of the tweet that came from the Ukrainian leader and then this comment by Mr. Biden when it came to the conversation around Ukrainian membership?


Take a listen.

BIDEN: The fact is they still need to clean up corruption. The fact is that they have to meet other criteria to get into the action plan. And so it's, you know, school is out on that question.

We will do all that we can to put Ukraine in the position, to be able to continue to resist Russian physical aggression and it will not just depend on me whether or not we conclude that Ukraine can become part of NATO, it will depend on the alliance.

CURNOW: When Mr. Putin sees Ukraine joining NATO, or any speeding up of that process, as an almost direct threat?

DAALDER: No doubt Mr. Putin would see that. But, of course, it is important to stress that the decision on whether one joins an alliance or not is a sovereign decision, in this case, Ukraine, it's not a decision to be made in Russia.

But I think what President Biden said is important here as well. Yes, the door to NATO membership remains open, yes, the 2008 commitment to Ukraine that one day it will be a member of NATO remains, and was reiterated. But, and the but is important, and he stressed two things. One, Ukraine has quite a way to go to deal with its internal problems before it is ready for membership and a decision, ultimately, on NATO membership is not only dependent on what Ukraine wants but what the 30 members of NATO decide. And on that, unfortunately, there is no agreement in NATO today to open up the alliance to allow Ukraine to come in.

So, I look at president -- the Ukrainian president's tweet as a sort of a shot on the (INAUDIBLE), it is a designed to say, listen, we got closer than ever on NATO membership, when, in fact, what NATO agreed to was what it had to agree to a very long time ago in 2008, and much of the work in the future remains to be done by the Ukrainians, as President Biden underscored.


CURNOW: Thanks to Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO for his perspective.

Now, Russia's deputy foreign minister says that Moscow is ready to hand over jailed Americans, but for Whelan will not be among them. The U.S. Marine veteran is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, a charge he denies. The Russian diplomat suggests the idea of a prisoner swap with the U.S. has resurfaced, ahead of the Biden/Putin summit and could be worked out easily. But it's not clear why Whelan would be excluded.

Coming up on CNN, Israel's new government begins work, how the friendship between its two leaders could be key to the coalition's success.


CURNOW: In the coming hours, far-right Israeli groups are expected to march in Jerusalem's old city. The march was approved by Israel's new government despite the risks of reigniting tensions.


Palestinian groups have called for a day of rage in response.

And Prime Minister Naftali Bennett got just a 30-minute handover from his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. Afterwards, Netanyahu vowed to, quote, overthrow the government at the first opportunity.

While the diverse coalition, appears to be united on just one goal, and that was ousting Mr. Netanyahu, whether it succeeds and governing will depend on its two leaders, politicians who've been friends, despite their different views, as Oren Liebermann now explains.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT (on camera): They called it a brotherhood, a pact that looked like the odd couple, the religious high tech millionaire and a secular television host.

Naftali Bennett came into politics on the right advocating for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER: There are no two narratives, there are no two truths, there is one truth, and that truth is very simple, greater Israel belongs to the Jewish people.

LIEBERMANN: His rollercoaster political journey took him through a series of different parties since 2008, a constant right-wing thorn in Benjamin Netanyahu's side.

BENNETT: It should be clear we will not allow the Israeli government to recognize a Palestinian state under no circumstances. We will not allow Israel to hand over, not even one centimeter of land to the Arabs. This is what we are here for, to guard the land of Israel, as we have always done.

LIEBERMANN: Now, he leads the Yamina Party, with a mere six seats, 5 percent of Israel's parliament but enough to become Israel's prime minister.

Former TV Host Yair Lapid entered politics in 2013, the surprise story of the election, getting 19 with his Yesh Atid Party. The two rookie politicians formed an alliance then based on a genuine friendship and a commitment to not lie to each other. According to those familiar with their relationship, they use their new found powerful leverage against Netanyahu a taste of what was to come.

Through the years, they found themselves on opposite sides, but the friendship upheld, and the alliance reemerging after the last election, a return of the bromance. The two are selling a different future for politics, not the divisive, polarizing politics of Benjamin Netanyahu but politics based on agreements, in unity, where your opponent is a patriot with a different view on how to best help the country.

Their success depends on the most diverse, disparate coalition in Israel's 73-year history, a grand experiment in politics based on a brotherhood that has lasted so far.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): Their alliances made possible by the nature of their parties. Naftali Bennett hopes to pull votes from the right while Yair Lupid hopes to pull votes from the center and the left. So their success isn't mutually exclusive. Because of that, they saw an opportunity with Benjamin Netanyahu's continued failure form a government to try something new, something different, where one and one made more than two.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

CURNOW: Thanks, Oren, for that great piece. I'm Robyn Curnow, thanks so much for joining me this hour, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @robyncurnowcnn, there it is on your screen. I'm going to hand you over to World Sport, starts right now.