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High Stakes Summit with Biden and Putin; Richard Haass is Interviewed about the Summit. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 09:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're so glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto, live in Geneva, Switzerland.

Happening right now, as we speak, President Biden meeting face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in, arguably, the most significant meeting of Biden's long, decades-long political career.

HARLOW: The two leaders greeting each other with a handshake this morning on the steps of the Villa La Grange, a site that carries much weight and much history. Officials celebrated there after signing the original Geneva Convention. After their handshake, Biden and Putin turned, they walked inside and that is where they are with their talks underway right now.

SCIUTTO: For Biden, this summit is about opening lines of communication with hopes of working in harmony with Russia on some issues, but also delivering stern messages on the many issues of disagreement, continuing Russian cyberattacks on the U.S., its continuing occupation of Ukraine. They have much that they disagree on. They will be looking for the few areas they might find agreement.

Our team is covering every aspect of this critical moment in U.S./Russia diplomacy.

Let's begin, though, with CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny, also with me in Geneva this morning at the site of this summit.

Jeff, they've been inside that room there speaking for a couple of hours now. Walk us through how the day will unfold going forward.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, these historic talks have been underway for about 90 minutes or so. And this is just the first piece of what is scheduled to be two meetings between the U.S. delegation and the Russian delegation.

But this first meeting, which we got a glimpse of just a little while ago when it started, is between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. There are only two aides in the room, our Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. So this is the smaller of the two meetings.

After this meeting, however long it may go, then five officials from both sides join these two leaders.

Now, it certainly was a bit of a chaotic start after that handshake in the front of Villa La Grange there. A bit of scrambling between reporters from the U.S. side and the Russian side. Who knows if that was intentional, if it was just part of this orchestration of this or just by accident, but it certainly created some uncomfortable moments there between the two leaders.

But let's not read too much into that. Let's see how their actual meeting goes.

But we did get a glimpse of what President Biden said briefly, like this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said it outside, I think it's always better to meet face to face.


ZELENY: So saying it's always better to meet face to face. And that really frames the entire summit here which is coming at the end of a week-long trip across Europe. President Biden has been leading the way here in wanting to meet with President Putin. Of course he wants to open the door to see if dialogue is possible, to see if normalizing relations is possible up and to a point.

The list of grievances between the U.S. and Russia far longer than the list of potential agreements. But both of these items will be on the agenda.

So, again, this is the one on one meeting here. And one of these interesting times we, as well as White House aides and officials, are just left to wait and wonder how this meeting is going before they move on into the second meeting. This all could last hours here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. And, yes, perhaps an awkward start there. But the fact is they are meeting. Both of them came to Geneva to discuss these issues face-to-face. We'll see what comes out of it.

Jeff Zeleny, there at the site.

The Kremlin says that Vladimir Putin was in a constructive mood, their words, heading into the meeting with President Biden.

Joining me now, CNN Moscow correspondent Matthew Chance, covered Russia for some time.

Listen, countries in situations like this, they both color both the expectations in advance and how things are playing out during the day.

But how did Russia characterize President Putin's expectations going into this meeting with President Biden?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, they set the bar pretty low, Jim. I mean think, as the White House did, fairly -- you know, in fairness. They said that, you know, look, you know, the fact there's a meeting taking place at all, given the poor state of relations between Moscow and Washington, was in itself an achievement.

And, you know, what -- I mean I think there is a sense in which, you know, Vladimir Putin's going to take that win because I think one of the overriding, you know, things that he wants out of a summit like this is to show that he is a global leader on the international stage. We saw those incredible scenes earlier on today with the two presidents, along with the Swiss president as well, three presidents, standing on the front porch of this Villa La Grange on the banks of Lake Geneva. They shook hands. They went inside to start the summit that is still underway.


And, you know, there was -- there was a few words between the two of them as well. I think at one point President Biden spoke of two great powers. The context of that isn't exactly clear because there was muffled -- you know, muffling on the -- on the microphone. We couldn't exactly hear the context of it.

But, you know, it talks that idea that the symbolism of this moment is for Vladimir Putin, what's one of the most important things that play very well domestically at home and also play well around the world where people will be watching this summit and they'll see Vladimir Putin, you know, as a sort of enhanced figure as a result of it. And that was, of course, one of the criticisms leveled at Joe Biden for initiating this summit in the first place.

In terms of what, you know, can be agreed, the Kremlin have set out certain areas, as has the White House, that are common ground, climate change, arms control, regional conflicts like Syria and Libya and things like that. But on the big key issues, the core disagreements, don't expect any compromises from the Kremlin, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Matthew Chance, that language you note there, not insignificant for Biden to describe Russia as a fellow great power. That's something that Putin has been making every effort to establish and prove to the world for a number of years now.

Matthew Chance, thanks very much.

Back now with CNN's Natasha Bertrand, as well as our chief international correspondent Clarisse Ward.

Natasha, if we can begin with the short list of issues where there could be potential alignment and progress today. One of them is the possibility of a prisoner exchange. What else is on that list and what are the expectations at least in the prisoner category? NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. So Matthew touched on

a few there. One of them, of course, is climate change. Another is the Iran nuclear deal. Of course, Russia was a party to that deal and the Russian and U.S. delegations actually just met in Vienna to further talks on re-entering the Iran nuclear deal.

Another area of potential cooperation is Syria. The U.N. has been pushing to allow a border crossing to be -- remain open for humanitarian assistance to go into northwestern Syria. The Russians are potentially going to block that in a critical vote next month. So working out some kind of deal there for that aid could come out of these talks.

Of course, the exchange of ambassadors again. Neither country has an ambassador stationed at their post currently. The U.S. ambassador to Russia was sent back in April following Biden's "killer" comment, calling President Putin a killer. And the Russian/U.S. -- the Russian ambassador to the U.S. has also been back at his post. So hopefully coming out of this meeting one of the big, concrete things they'll be able to do is replace those ambassadors back in -- back at their posts.

And then finally, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. That is something that U.S. officials are confident they can cooperate on in some way. But, obviously, expectations for a prisoner swap here are not particularly high because the Russians are demanding something that U.S. officials say is just really unrealistic. They want a pretty hardened Russian arms dealer that's been in U.S. prison for years and years in exchange for two American former Marines who have been held there on trumped up charges.

SCIUTTO: Which, yes, the U.S. administration views those charges as -- I think the trial was referred to as absurd. So not exactly an equivalent there.

Clarissa, OK, long list of disagreements between these two countries here.


SCIUTTO: Enormous amount of expectations management in advance by both sides to say they don't expect to solve those problems. But specific to cyber, if we can for a moment because that is such a source of tension and genuine damage to the U.S. We've seen these attacks in the last several weeks. What is the best we can expect besides message delivering or perhaps that's the best?

WARD: I think message delivering might be the best, Jim, because the reality is, while this seems to actually be probably the most pressing item on the agenda for the Biden administration --


WARD: I can guarantee you what President Putin is going to do. He is going to deny, deny, deny. And how can you really have a conversation about something if you don't even start with the premise where you acknowledge having done it.

Now that said --

SCIUTTO: Could you, though --

WARD: Yes?

SCIUTTO: Have an instance where President Biden says, let me show you the goods here, right? I mean you will -- if it serves the interests of the U.S. to sort of show some intelligence or something to say, this is why I know you're not telling me the truth here.

WARD: Right. And also President Biden can still deliver that message.


WARD: We see it. We know it. And these will be the consequences if you don't cut it out.


WARD: And can we, by the way, find somewhere else where we can work together, where we can agree within the sort of cyber criminality realm, for example, which both sides have kind of been floating as a potential issue.


WARD: And even if they do come to some kind of consensus on cyber, how do you go about monitoring that?


WARD: This isn't like nuclear weapons, right?


WARD: It's a completely different era.

SCIUTTO: You can't show pictures of the missiles being dismantled and -- yes.

WARD: Verification. It becomes really complex.

The number one thing that I think we can expect or hope for from this is a word that's being used by both sides, which is predictable.


Trying to inject an element of predictability into a relationship that has really deteriorated very, very quickly in a relatively short amount of time. And the way to do that probably won't be with the big marquee things like human rights and cyber, but more with some of the smaller issues where they can find some consensus.

SCIUTTO: I want to talk more about that. But before I do, because you've had enormous involvement in covering the story of Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who the U.S. believes, under Vladimir Putin's direction, Russia tried to poison and kill and now they put him in a penal colony again on what we, the U.S., views as trumped up charges.

You went to Moscow in December to track down the men suspected in his poisoning. I want to play a clip for our viewers who may not have seen it and then I want to get you to comment on it.

Have a listen.


WARD: (speaking in foreign language).

My name is Clarisse Ward. I work for CNN.

Can I ask you a couple of questions?

(speaking in foreign language).

Was it your team that poisoned Navalny, please? Do you have any comment?

He doesn't seem to want to talk to us.


WARD: Yes, I mean there you have it, Jim, he didn't want to answer my question. He slammed the door in my face. And I think, proverbially speaking, that is probably what president Putin will do at --

SCIUTTO: Right. He does not want to discuss it.

WARD: He does not want to discuss it. He has made it abundantly clear that he views this as being an domestic, internal Russian political issue.

But one thing that's interesting, you know, the Biden administration has talked a lot about how they intend to raise it, about how it would be a travesty if Navalny was to die in custody.

I think the Russians believe, though, at this stage that there's a limit to how much the Biden administration is willing to push this issue. They look at the sanctions that were implemented in response to Navalny and they saw them as being largely symbolic. That doesn't mean it's not an important issue for the U.S.


WARD: It just means it's not a game changer -- it's not a deal breaker for the U.S., and they know that.

SCIUTTO: See, that point, Natasha, before we go back to Poppy in New York, that is an issue with a whole host of the disagreements between the U.S. and Russia in that the U.S. has tried to penalize Russia to deter attacks in cyberspace, to deter the occupation of Ukraine. You know, all of them generally in the same category. Sanctions on individuals and entities. That has not stopped those behaviors.

In covering the White House, what has the Biden administration suggested will be new? What is their new strategy to get a better outcome, frankly?

BERTRAND: They say that they're not expecting that Vladimir Putin is going to change his stripes any time soon, right? He is the same person that he has been for the last two decades. The only thing that they're trying to do right now is to inject that line of communication, that line of predictability so that both countries have that channel open to avoid miscommunications, to avoid some kind of catastrophic incident, right? I mean this is -- really the bottom line for them is diplomacy so that they can avoid really terrible incidents here between the countries. But they don't expect to have any major breakthroughs here because, of course, Putin is the same person he's always been.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

And that does speak to the seriousness with which they're taking this crisis and the relationship that both of them acknowledging, in effect, we need a red phone, right? I mean we certainly -- we sort of -- an ability to de-escalate when we run into each other head-to-head in a number of these -- of these areas.

Natasha Bertrand, Clarissa Ward, thanks so much. Please, stay with us.

And there is still much more to come this hour here in Geneva as we monitor the developments coming out of this important summit between President Biden and Vladimir Putin. They're still behind closed doors. Eager to hear how those conversations are going.

Please, stay with us. Our special, live coverage continues, next.



HARLOW: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Biden/Putin summit. Jim is live in Geneva for us.

Right now, President Biden and Russian President Putin are meeting behind closed doors. Their long anticipated summit underway in Geneva.

Richard Haass is with us, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, it's great to have you, particularly on a day like this.

Just a very -- a very basic, but I think critical question from everyone this morning is, how precarious and dangerous are relations between the U.S. and Russia now? And what is the best case scenario for the world, right? That was the introduction was, we hope this is fruitful for the world, not just your two nations. What is the best case outcome for the world after this?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Relations are pretty precarious. Russia is a nuclear superpower and it showed in both Europe and the Middle East that it's both able and willing to use military force. It's also shown repeatedly its willingness to use cyber-related tools very aggressively. So that's -- you know, that's the bottom line.

I think the goals of this summit and the relationship more broadly is less what we can accomplish together. You know, maybe at the margins we can find some small areas to work together. The real question is what we can avoid. Can we avoid further aggression in Europe? Can we deter Russia from say doing towards a NATO country what it did towards Ukraine? Can we get Russia to use force less indiscriminately in Syria? Can we get Russia to back off some of its use of cyber? That, to me, is a realistic agenda.


It may not seem like a lot, but to keep a bad situation from getting worse is sometimes all you can do in foreign policy.

HARLOW: Just a sad reality. You're so right.

Richard, you were interviewed recently about this. And one thing I read that you said that was so important and pertinent here is, you know, when it was the Cold War, you were dealing with actual nuclear arms that the U.S. knew the location of every single one, right? And it's so different when the war is a cyberwar and when you don't know exactly where it is coming from. And Putin can, ostensibly, you know, wave its hands and say, I know nothing, right? That makes this more difficult, in your mind?

HAASS: Oh, absolutely. With nuclear weapons, you pretty much know where they're coming from. And as a result, you could retaliate. And that's the heart of deterrent that essentially -- it's what kept the Cold War cold for four decades. There was no incentive to shoot first because you knew the retaliation would come and it would be devastating.

But with cyber, this whole question of what's called attribution, it's almost impossible to know exactly who is doing it and when you use these so-called non-state actors, these shadowy groups, there's often a space or some distance between them and government. So Putin will basically say, hey, I knew nothing about it. I had nothing to do with it. Well, it's what in the intelligence business is called plausible deniability. So it makes the whole question of response more difficult. It makes the whole challenge of deterrence more difficult. And right now we're living in a world, quite honestly, where there are virtually no rules, there's virtually no deterrence when it comes to the aggressive use of cyber space.

HARLOW: What about the press conference? It's notable and intentional, obviously, that they're not having a joint press conference. Secretary Blinken addressed that with Dana Bash on Sunday as to why, talking about the importance of a free press and letting the American reporters get as many questions in as possible.

But when you also come to the reality that Putin is very aware of what he is going home to, right, and someone who plans to be in power, as you wrote, until 2036. But someone who, although he likes to appear as strong as possible to his domestic audience on the world stage goes back to real economic problems and a real lack of a plan for the economic future and political future of Russia.

How does that play in here?

HAASS: Look, I think a press conference would have been something of a risk for each of these two men simply because they can't control what the other person does. And, as a result, if they have their own press briefing, they -- they're in much more control.

I think particularly for Biden it wasn't clear to me what a joint session would accomplish because Putin would go on the offensive and then get into a public competition basically to get down in the mud with Putin. Not clear how that works if Biden's goal is to calm this relationship so he can focus more on domestic issues or on China.

I don't think for Putin, though, it would have been all that much of a risk because he likes the image of himself standing next to the American president. Biden could have said some things about Navalny and all of that. That would have been the one down side. The criticism of what was going on. But Putin is -- you know, has basically dealt with such things for several decades.

HARLOW: Richard Haass, always good to have you, as I said, especially on a day like this. And I'm remiss in not mentioning your book, so let's show it, "The World: A Brief Introduction," newly revised edition is out.

Richard Haass, thank you.

HAASS: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, Geneva, no stranger to significant summits. The Swiss city has been in the spotlight numerous times over the last 75 years. The site of today's summit notably played a part in the first Geneva Convention. Then at a different site in Geneva, in 1955, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower met with leaders of France, the U.K. and the Soviet Union. That meeting was designed to defuse tensions that threatened to pitch the world back potentially into war. Thirty years later, there was the first meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union Leader Mikhail Gorbachev gathering focus on arms control but also helped both leaders develop a personal relationship.

Jumping forward to 2013, Geneva was one of the cities that hosted talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal. And that leads us to this moment where President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in this villa on Lake Geneva right now.

We're on top of all of it. Stay with us.


HARLOW: We are keep a very close eye on the summit in Geneva.

Now other headlines.

U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. Police and local officials asked for support from the D.C. National Guard 12 times during the January 6th attack on the Capitol. That is the latest troubling revelation from the investigation by The House Oversight Committee. During the panel's latest hearing Tuesday, lawmakers pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray and two Army officials about the response to the riot, including how long it took for National Guard officers to arrive on scene.

Our Whitney Wild is following all of this and joins us with more takeaways.

Whitney, 12 -- 12 requests -- 12 separate requests from all of these entities. What more can you tell us?


WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the -- you know, members from the Department of Defense continue to double down on this idea that even though there were so many requests and to, you know, people outside the Department.