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CNN NEWSROOM

Likely New Iranian President is Hardliner; Taiwan's Medigen Seeking Green Light for Vaccine; Japan to Lift Most States of Emergency on Sunday; Israel Strikes Gaza a Second Time Over Incendiary Devices; Kim Admits North Korea Faces Food Shortages; Right-Wing Media, GOP Lawmakers Peddle Theory that FBI Was Behind Insurrection; UEFA Reminds Teams of Contractual Obligations. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired June 18, 2021 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John Vause.

[00:00:38]

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, it's election day in Iran. All seven presidential candidates were hand-picked by the supreme leaders in a circle. The most likely winner is an ultraconservative with the reputation for crushing dissent.

Oh, and there's a fourth wave of COVID virus. Voter turnout expected to be low.

With North Korea facing a food shortage, a notably thinner Kim Jong-un appears at an annual meeting of the ruling political party, directing all efforts to farming, adding a good crop is now a top priority.

And amid accusations that Beijing is blocking vaccine shipments to Taiwan, the self-governing island may just have its own homegrown solution. And CNN speaks exclusively to the head of the company which has developed Taiwan's first COVID vaccine.

Well, barring a last-minute surge in voter turnout, the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran will most likely be an ultra- conservative cleric, hostile to engagement with the U.S. and diplomacy with the West. A man who human rights groups say played a leading role in a political purge which left thousands dead.

Ebrahim Raisi is the head of Iran's judiciary. He ran for president in 2017, losing to Hassan Rouhani. He says he supports reviving the nuclear deal negotiated by Rouhani, but in tandem with the lifting of U.S. sanctions which have devastated Iran's economy.

Raisi is not also close to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei but is also seen as a contender to replace him in the coming years.

For many in Iran, this election is marred by disillusionment of the government's ability (ph) to end those U.S. sanctions, and a sense of cynicism that the fix is in. And there have been calls for a voter block -- for a voter boycott, nationwide. CNN's Fred Pleitgen in the Iranian capital, Tehran, at a polling location right now. I believe it's just gone 8:30 on a Friday morning, which is effectively on the side of the weekend.

Voting in Iran is often slow in the morning. It picks up speed, possibly later in the day.

So It could be awhile, I guess, before -- if we know this boycott is taking place or if it's not taking place.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.

Well, it certainly doesn't look like there's a boycott taking place here. We're, as you noted, in a mosque. It's a polling stations. Nice, actually. You can see here the setting that all of this is in.

I want to walk you through sort of what the process is here in these polling stations. This is where folks are casting their ballots, and then people sign up right over there to actually be able to cast their ballots.

There's actually four different elections taking place here, the presidential election obviously being the most important of them.

But you're absolutely right. There's a big fear here that turnout would -- could possibly be very low, because so many candidates were disqualified in the run-up to the election, leading Ebrahim Raisi is by far the front runner in the election.

So far, from what we're seeing here -- and I can walk you through this a little bit -- you can see that there are actually quite a few people here who are sort of lining up to vote. And I think one of the things, John, that you said that's absolutely correct is that the COVID wave that's currently still going through -- and it's obviously also having a big effect on folks here. There are social distancing measures in place. Everybody has to wear masks. We'll wait and see how many people actually turn up after the polls.

The supreme leader, as is customary here in Iran, in elections, was one of the first to vote at 7 a.m. this morning. And when he did vote, he urged people to vote. It's something that he's been doing over the past couple of days. It was interesting, because as we've noted, a lot of candidates were disqualified from running in the election.

But he actually even criticized that. And he said that some of them may have been disqualified in an unjust manner. Possibly also trying to get the vote out. He said the same thing again today. He said it was very important for folks to cast their ballots, that otherwise the enemy would be strengthened, obviously, referring to the United States.

But there are a lot of issues that are more in this country that are very difficult for folks in this country. The economy certainly is, by far, the most important. And one of the main factors of that is, of course, these crushing sanctions that were put in place by the Trump administration. But also, there is a lot of disillusionment, I have to say, among people with some of the economic policies that were put in place by the Rouhani administration. People think that he was not successful in reviving the economy, of course, in a very critical setting. But nevertheless, a lot of disillusionment with that, as well -- John.

VAUSE: Fred, thank you. We know that you have a very busy day. A couple of busy days to wait. So Fred Pleitgen there live in Tehran. We appreciate it. Thank you.

[00:05:10]

Robin Wright is a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a columnist for "The New Yorker." She joins me now from Washington.

Robin Wright, good to see.

ROBIN WRIGHT, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORKER": Nice to be with you.

VAUSE: There was a lot of really interesting details in your piece for "The New Yorker." And this line, this paragraph in particular, really stood out to me. "Last month, almost 600 Iranians, including 40 women, registered to run for president. Only seven were approved by the conservative, twelve-man Guardian Council; even regime loyalists were shocked. It rejected a former president, a current vice president, a long-serving former speaker of the parliament, and the current mayor of Tehran. Five of the candidates approved were hard-liners deeply hostile to the west."

So why did they stack the deck so blatantly this time?

WRIGHT: There's a lot at stake in this election, and far more than the presidency. This is an election that will select the man who may oversee a transition of power from the current supreme leader, who's been in power for more than 30 years.

People know that the person they elect will have an enormous say on who the supreme leader is and may even be the next supreme leader. So he may rule for more than four or eight years.

So the system tried to engineer, basically, the outcome by offering very few alternatives. As you pointed out, five are hard-liners. And one moderate, one reformer who dropped out of the last minute. So there isn't much of a choice for Iranians.

VAUSE: And actually, too, a lot of expectations that the voter turnout will be quite low for this election. Here's how the supreme leader explains why there is that explanation of a low voter turnout. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER (through translator): It has been a few months for this upcoming election on Friday. American and English media and those mercenaries who are operating under their flags and work in these media groups are doing everything they can to possibly bring the election into question and reduce public turnout and undermine the elections of the Islamic republic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: To be clear, it's that list of approved candidates on the ballot which is not inspiring a lot of enthusiasm. But for the supreme leader, surely, a low voter turnout is kind of what he wants, right?

WRIGHT: Well, in some ways yes, because when there's a large turnout, the dark horse candidates often win. And that's been true of the last three presidents since 1997. They were all upsets.

And the main candidate against the most obvious front-liner and hard- liner, the chief of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is a moderate, is a former central bank chief. And he doesn't -- he would -- if people turned out, he would have more of a chance to win. If people turned out, there might be a runoff, because there are four remaining candidates.

But people, I think, are kind of deflated about the system. There is more at stake, again, politically than just the presidency. It's really -- the turnout that will determine the enthusiasm and support for the system in general.

So the supreme leader has a vested interest in urging, even appealing to people to turn out, because he wants to show that the system is legitimate. And if they don't turn out, that is a black mark on the system, 40 years after the revolution.

VAUSE: Yes. When Hassan Rouhani first ran, his polling numbers, I think, initially were in the single digits. And then, just two weeks before the election, they shot up. It was huge approval rates, 75 percent. He won, you know, with a clear majority, I think. A very small majority, but a clear majority.

So what is the chances that something similar will happen this time around? It just does seem a lot of people are disillusioned with how all this is going to play out, especially given the fact that, you know, the nuclear deal was ripped up by Donald Trump, and that damaged Rouhani in such a major way.

WRIGHT: Yes, so I think the public opinion polls indicate that Iranians are angry about the fact that the nuclear deal was torn up, that the economic benefits promised to them under the nuclear deal were not realized.

There's also rampant corruption in Iran, many by -- a lot of it by the system and those in power. And there is a sense that those who vote want to see the system perpetuated. And those who don't vote feel that they're really not much of an alternative for them.

VAUSE: You know, just talking about the long shadow here of Donald Trump. Because he -- you know, he withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal, from the agreement. And that proved the hard-liners right. They said all along you can't trust the United States. That was a blow for the moderates.

But was it more the blow, the 1,000 -- more than 1,000 U.S. sanctions which followed, which you know, really crippled the economy?

WRIGHT: It crippled the economy, and it intersected with the pandemic. Remember, Iran was one of the epicenters, early epicenters of COVID- 19. And so they just suffered enormous hardships.

[00:10:02]

It's still in the middle of a fourth wave, and a very small percentage of the population has been vaccinated, so that may be another factor in terms of the turnout. Who wants to show up when you might come back with a fatal disease?

I think there are a lot of precautions being taken. People are even being asked to bring their own pens to fill in the ballot. But there is a sense that the reformists did not deliver what they promised. President Rouhani won two landslide elections, promising to deal with the outside world, to engage in reforms at home, and create economic wealth. And none of that has happened.

VAUSE: And at the same time, Joe Biden, the new U.S. president, is looking to negotiate with a round to get back into the nuclear treaty to restart that. He's most likely to be facing a hard liner.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. This is at a very sensitive time in terms of what the United States, a new administration, wants to achieve. It wants to go back to the nuclear deal, to contain Iran's program, to ensure that it doesn't -- it takes more than a year to build a bomb, if it decides to do so.

And the fact that you have a new administration coming in that's been much more hardline and a president who has been sanctioned by the United States for support or involvement in the execution of minors and thousands of dissidents. So this is going to make it much harder for the United States, for President Biden to justify dealing with Iran. And to kind of get over the hump of the current negotiations in Vienna to try to renew the nuclear deal, one of the most important non-proliferation agreements in more than a quarter century.

VAUSE: Robin Wright, great piece in "The New Yorker." And great to have you with us. Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Taiwan's battle to contain its most severe outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began has become a battle over vaccines. A critical shortage of vaccines has forced the self-governed island to try and secure supplies from other countries. It has accused Beijing of blocking those shipments.

But now comes word of a homegrown vaccine which could be ready for distribution by next month. CNN's Will Ripley, in Taipei, with an exclusive report -- Will. WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the issue of

vaccines is dominating the headlines here more than anything else. You turn on every single channel, every news channel here, and every night they're talking about vaccines.

And when you look at the numbers, you can see why. Let's compare the total cases and total deaths, one month ago versus today. There has been a six-fold increase in total cases just in the last month and a stunning 41-fold increase in total deaths.

There is a Taiwanese-developed vaccine that has applied for emergency use authorization. It uses a new technique called immuno-bridging. And the Taiwanese president had expressed -- had expressed optimism that this vaccine might be available by late July.

But there are now growing concerns that that might be delayed, which also means a delay in getting shots in arms that are badly needed here on this island.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY (voice-over): At Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation --

(on camera): You must be so busy right now.

(voice-over): -- you can feel energy in the air. This company is the first in Taiwan to submit its COVID-19 vaccine to government health officials for emergency use authorization.

Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, hopes locally-made vaccines will be ready for the public by late next month.

Taiwan is battling its most severe outbreak of the pandemic. The government is struggling to get enough foreign vaccines, in a region where China often calls the shots. Cross-state tensions are high. Taipei accuses Beijing of blocking access to foreign vaccines, a claim China denies. That makes the work happening here crucial.

(on camera): This is the room with a package and label box after box of these single-dose syringes. Each box contains 100 of these. The company says they can scale up production and eventually produce 40 to 50 million doses a year.

CHARLES CHEN, CEO, MEDIGEN VACCINE BIOLOGICS: On one hand, I feel excited that our vaccine is coming. But on the other hand, I also feel very sad. One month earlier, maybe we would be able to save more people's lives.

RIPLEY (voice-over): This is Medigen CEO Charles Chen's first interview since his company applied for emergency use authorization.

(on camera): What would you say to people here in Taiwan who might be reluctant to take a domestically-produced vaccine?

CHEN: One is the data and the result is transparent and convincing. I think people are very much -- they've been convinced.

RIPLEY: Chen says that data shows their vaccine is safe. It produces antibodies in 99.8 percent of patients. What they don't know is the efficacy rate. Taiwan had almost no active cases until just over a month ago.

[00:15:07]

(on camera): How do you develop a vaccine when you don't have active cases?

PAUL TORKEHAGEN, OVERSEAS BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, MEDIGEN VACCINE BIOLOGICS: This is a difficult question.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Overseas business development director Paul Torkehagen says Medigen just finished Phase 2 clinical trials.

TORKEHAGEN: So what we did was we designed a really, really large Phase 2. Usually, a Phase 2 is about a few hundred people. Our Phase 2 was 3,800 participants. So we wanted a very large amount of safety data.

RIPLEY (on camera): Since you don't know efficacy, is it too soon to get emergency use and start vaccinating people?

TORKEHAGEN: What's the consequence of not vaccinating and being not protected?

RIPLEY: Will you be getting your vaccine, your company's vaccine --

CHEN: Yes.

RIPLEY: -- when it's available?

CHEN: Yes.

RIPLEY: No question?

CHEN: No question.

RIPLEY (voice-over): But there are questions. How effective is Taiwan's vaccine? Here, it's a matter of life or death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: Taiwan's president has said that this island will rely on international standards to evaluate whether this vaccine is safe for use. But because the U.S. FDA has yet to make a decision, and it may not come anytime soon, it's unclear whether this island will proceed in allowing these doses to be made in mass and distributed here.

So it really is a tough question for the people of Taiwan, John, even if this is made available to them. If you don't have the efficacy rate, you just get the shot because you figure you have nothing else to lose? Or do you wait, possibly months, and months, to get enough foreign vaccines that have already been approved for emergency use here?

RIPLEY: Yes. There's a couple issues there, which are big questions for them to be dealing with right now.

Will Ripley, thank you. Will Ripley, live with that exclusive in Taipei.

Well we'll take a short break. When we come back, Japan says it's getting a handle on the coronavirus ahead of the Olympics, but now the challenge is figuring out how many spectators can safely fill our Olympic venues. More on that in a moment.

And Israel and Hamas testing the limits of their fragile cease-fire. Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza for a second time in response to incendiary balloons which set off dozens of fires in Israel. The latest in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Well, copies of Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper, "The Apple Daily," are selling fast just a day after its chief executives and top editors were arrested.

The front page quotes the CEO saying, "We must fight on."

Hong Kong officials say the executives and journalists they arrested were involved in a conspiracy to compromise national security, the latest escalation in Hong Kong's crackdown against pro-democracy activists and journalists.

The paper's founder, Jimmy Lai, is serving a 14-month prison sentence in his involvement in two protests in 2019.

Usually, the number of spectators at an Olympic event is determined by the number of seats in the stadium. But in Tokyo, like almost everything else to do with these Olympics, a global pandemic means it's just not that simple.

[00:20:04]

Right now, the number of spectators is capped at 5,000 total, all locals. But medical advisers say the cap could be doubled to 10,000, but only where there is no government-ordered state of emergency.

Selina Wang, in Tokyo, sorting all of this out for us. Right now, let's get this straight. There are nine prefectures which are under a state of emergency. That's expected to expire on Sunday. It would seem to be a very straightforward equation, but then again, this is Tokyo. So what's the deal?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So John, when it comes to spectators, they're supposed to make the official decision in any number of days, but we still don't know. But if we go by the current government guidelines, if a state of emergency measure is completely lifted, it would allow maximum of 10,000 people at venues. But to put that into perspective, that would still mean that more than

80 percent of the seats at the Olympic opening ceremony would be empty. And some medical experts in Japan still think no spectators should be allowed. We already know that foreign fans have been banned.

In fact, there was a study done by a group of Japanese researchers that found that, if you allowed spectators into the stands, versus no spectators, it could result in an additional 10,000 cumulative cases over the course of the games.

Now, some medical experts also think that this state of emergency is being lifted too early. After it expires on June 20, Tokyo and other parts of the country, however, will be shifting into, John, what is called a quasi-state of emergency.

None of these declarations are a hard lockdown. They've asked some businesses to close, or to shut shop early. So, under quasi-emergency measures, restaurants still need to close early but will be able to serve alcohol until 7 p.m.

Now the prime minister last night, did address these concerns about a rebound of COVID-19 infections as a result of the games, and he said, in a press conference, to urge people to watch the Olympics at home. Take a listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YOSHIHIDE SUGA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I would like to show the world that Japan can overcome a difficult time through people's efforts and wisdom.

For that, I think it is important to hold a safe and secure Tokyo games; curb the spread of infection in Japan during the period of the games; and to prevent infection after the games. I would like to ask everyone to support the athletes at home by watching the games on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WANG: And John, as we speak, there is currently a press conference going on with Tokyo organizers about COVID-19 countermeasures. And I have heard the Delta variant mentioned, several times. Organizers say this is a key concern, so there are going to be stricter measures on athletes coming from India. They are going to have to quarantine and be tested daily, for seven days before they arrive to Japan.

And also against this backdrop, John, is the fact that we only have about six percent of the population here in Japan fully vaccinated. It's not a supply issue at this point. It's a lack of medical staff to administer these doses.

The prime minister has pledged, however, to reach one million doses per day, so they're trying to super accelerate it. But the question is, is it too late -- John.

VAUSE: OK. Just getting back to, you know, where the state of emergency is lifted and the number of spectators could be doubled, that kind of stuff.

We're talking nine prefectures. And not every Olympic venue is in the one prefecture, right? So it could be a case that one prefecture remains under a state of emergency, and they're under the old cap. Another one is lifted from the state of emergency, and they get to increase the number of spectators? Is that the sort of confusion that we're heading into now?

WANG: Well, actually, I was just listening in the press conference. Organizers say we need to be, quote, "flexible" about -- throughout the games managing the number of spectators at each venue. So, I don't expect there to be a hard cap against the board.

And you were right -- these games aren't just happening in Tokyo. You have the marathon happening hundreds of miles north in Sapporo. It was moved there because of concerns of heatstroke.

So, we're going to have to see what happens as we get closer to the games, because, John, if there is a rebound after the state of emergency is lifted, a quasi-emergency is put into place, they could then reinstate these COVID-19 restrictions -- John.

VAUSE: OK. Could they make it any more confusing? That's the question. Selina Wang there, in Tokyo. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate that.

Well, everyone 18 and older in England is now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. While more than four out of five adults have already had at least their first dose, a new study has found young adults and children are causing exponential growth in COVID cases.

The U.K. recorded more than 11,000 new infections on Thursday. That's the most since February.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is now dominant in the U.K.

And this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed it as a variant of concern, meaning it's more transmissible, and causes more severe disease. Listen to how a senior White House adviser described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR FOR COVID RESPONSE: This is a more virulent strain. This is COVID on steroids. You can be around people for less time and still get exposed.

I think what you will see is in communities, perhaps in the southeast, where vaccination rates are lower, I think you'll see outbreaks, particularly come fall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, says those who are vaccinated, immunity may not last against some of the more dangerous variants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[00:25:05]

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: As the virus spreads more and more, one of the issues will be that it will mutate more, and eventually, the concern is will one of those mutations start to escape the immunity of the vaccines? That has not happened yet, to be clear, but that's why you want to reduce the spread of the virus, period, for everybody, vaccinated, and unvaccinated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So far, this variant found in India makes up approximately 10 percent of all COVID cases in the U.S. That's according to the CDC.

And you can see it has spread around the world.

The new Israeli government's hard line towards Hamas was again on display late Thursday with a military strike in Gaza ,the second in days.

Israel says it targeted Hamas military sites in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza, setting dozens of fires in Israel. No casualties have been reported in either Gaza or Israel.

The balloons are an old Hamas tactic, but one the new government will no longer tolerate, it seems. The former Israeli finance minister says Israel decided to change the rules after its last deadly go-round with Hamas in May.

There's a lot at stake, beginning with the survival of a brutal cease- fire, broken last week. Less than four weeks ago, I should say. CNN's Hadas Gold has more now from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, the Israeli military saying it's in response to a barrage of incendiary balloons that have been launched from Gaza into Israel.

They say that these balloons that often look like party decorations, that are attached to either explosive devices, or other items that are set on fire. They said that these have set off at least 30 fires in southern Israel.

Tonight, the Israeli military saying that it struck a rocket launch site and military compounds. This comes after other air strikes had happened overnight on Tuesday when the Israeli military says it also struck Hamas military targets.

So far, we are not hearing reports of any casualties, and after Tuesday night's airstrikes passing, the media said that it was just structural damages. But the idea of chief of staff was actually supposed to fly to the

United States on Saturday night for a visit, is -- is holding a situational assessment, where he instructed the Israeli military to increase its readiness and preparedness for a possible resumption of hostilities.

Keep in mind, we are less than a month into the ceasefire with the Hamas militants in Gaza after that 11-day bloody conflict last month.

Hamas, so far, as far as we know, has not launched any rockets from Gaza into Israel, but the situation right now is very fragile. And any sort of move, any which way, from either side, could really cause the situation to even further escalate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Our thanks to Hadas Gold there, reporting from Jerusalem.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, North Korea's leader notably thinner, acknowledging a food shortage in his country. But, he implies, his regime is not to blame. That's ahead.

Also, some Republicans and right-wing media are latching onto a new baseless conspiracy theory about who was behind the Capitol Hill insurrection.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:30:27]

VAUSE: Hardline Shiite cleric Ebrahim Raisi is the frontrunner in Iran's presidential election. Voting is underway at this hour. He's a close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is under U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses. But he supports talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

Crippling sanctions by the west and the coronavirus pandemic have hit Iran's economy hard. Many blame the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani.

The ayatollah is appealing for a large turnout, but experts say it could be a record low because of a voter boycott.

Well, there's been a stark admission from North Korea's leader, as the U.N. predicts food shortages could mean a lean few months later this year.

Kim Jong-un admits the nation is facing a tense food situation, according to state news agencies. He did not say how serious the conditions are, but he blamed the scarcity on last year's typhoon and floods.

At the same time, he's also taking stock of the Biden administration. And his conclusion? Pyongyang must be ready for both dialog and confrontation.

For more on the signals coming from Kim Jong-un, we're joined by Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

That sort of gets lost in the mix of the whole food shortage and stuff, that he was actually talking about being ready for talks as well as confrontation, which seems to be some kind of progress, I guess?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, he didn't give any indication as to which one he would prefer at this moment, but as you said, he is saying that there's a possibility.

Now, this was at the key Workers Party meeting that's been going on all week. And experts have been watching very closely for any indication of what he's saying about the Biden ministration.

We know the Biden administration has reached out. They have admitted that. And there has been nothing forthcoming from the North Korean side.

They have been saying publicly that they believe the Biden administration has a hostile policy against North Korea, and that has to change first of all.

But what we have heard this week, as well, is that North Korea is really very focused on food shortages, more so, it appears, than the geopolitics at this point. We heard earlier in the week Kim Jong-un admitting that there is -- the people's food situation is now getting tense. It's not unprecedented for him to say something like this, but it is certainly unusual, especially in such strong terms.

And he spoke about the agricultural sector not reaching its goals, but also, there were a number of typhoons last year that hit North Korea very hard. There was flooding that destroyed crops.

You have the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut the border completely. Officials there shut it very early on and have not opened it to China, its main trading ally, since. And of course, on top of that, you have sanctions.

So there is a number of elements to this. And we are seeing the staples, the food prices of sugar, of oil, of flour, rising significantly within North Korea, as well, making it even more difficult for the people within the country -- John.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul, Korea. Thank you.

Well, it seems the U.S. president, Joe Biden, made a strong and favorable impression on Vladimir Putin at their summit in Geneva. In an extraordinary public statement, the Russian president seemed to have found new-won respect for Mr. Biden, even when they disagreed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This image of President Biden, which is pictured by Russian and U.S. media, does not correspond to reality. This image of him can feel discouraging, but there is no need to be discouraged, because President Biden is a professional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Some have noted it could be a backhanded compliment, but it is noteworthy that the assessment came so quickly after the summit just a day earlier.

Well, at the end of the summit, President Putin was asked about the crackdown on Russia's opposition. He deflected the question by mentioning the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PUTIN (through translator): They went into Congress and the U.S. with political demands, and many people were decried as criminals. They were threatened with imprisonment for 20 to 25 years. And these people were immediately arrested after those events, and one of the participants was just shot on the spot, and unarmed, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The Russian president's comments come as right-wing media in the U.S. and some Republicans try to recast what happened on that day. Their new assertion? The FBI was behind the riot.

Even though every piece of evidence debunks that claim, it's not stopping some lawmakers from voicing it inside the same building where the attack took place.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as new video shows more of the raw violence at the Capitol, a new conspiracy theory is raging on the right, that the people driving the insurrection were not Trump supporters but FBI agents.

[00:35:13]

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The government knows exactly who these people are but has refused to charge them with crimes. Why is that? Federal law enforcement appeared to have played a role in what happened that day.

FOREMAN: The right-wing website Revolver News launched the notion with an article suggesting undercover agents might have been hiding in the mob, encouraging the assault. Legal analysts say that is a laughably bad misunderstanding of court documents, which in no way confirm such a claim.

But Arizona Republican Paul Gosar ran with it anyway.

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): I would like to ask for unanimous consent to enter into the record a report from Revolver News. FOREMAN: Yet, he's the same congressman who says Capitol Police

executed rioter Ashli Babbitt; the same lawmaker whose own siblings are rejecting him.

DAVID GOSAR, PAUL GOSAR'S BROTHER: We apologize on behalf of our family to him for his despicable comments and disgraceful conduct.

FOREMAN: That plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan? Representative Louie Gohmert has falsely implicated federal agents in that, and he's all over this utterly unfounded theory, too.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-MI): We need to know how much participation did any of our federal friends, either at DOJ, FBI, or any of the intel community, what kind of role were they playing?

FOREMAN: It all comes as 21 Republican lawmakers have voted against honoring the Capitol Police who defended them that day, as Officer Michael Fanone says he tried to shake hands with one of them, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia --

MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: I explained to him some of the injuries that I suffered as a result of that. He just stared at me. Turned away.

FOREMAN (on camera): Clyde's office has yet to say anything to CNN about that incident, but make no mistake. this is just the latest effort by Donald Trump supporters to embrace any wild, unhinged theory and shield the former president from the blame for what happened that day, which most Americans in polls say he deserves.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. When we come back, sponsors pushing back after athletes removed their products from press conferences. We'll tell you what Europeans football's governing body has to say about that little move over there.

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VAUSE: Four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka is withdrawing from yet another major, this time Wimbledon. According to her agent, she's taking some personal time with friends and family.

The Japanese tennis sensation recently withdrew from the French Open after being fined for refusing to talk to the media. Ms. Osaka revealed she's been dealing with anxiety and depression since bursting into the limelight after winning the U.S. Open in 2018.

[00:40:10]

Her agent adds that she will be ready to play again at the Tokyo Olympics. European -- Europe's football governing body is reminding players that corporate sponsors matter. This week at the Euro 2020 tournament, a number of big names removed

bottled drinks provided by sponsors at a news conference. CNN's Clare Sebastian has more on what UEFA is now telling the teams.

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CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: European football's governing body, UEFA, has made it clear it's had enough of players removing the branded bottles of sponsors from the tables at press conferences. This was started, of course, with Cristiano Ronaldo, who with one skillful double-handed move, managed to not only snub a top sponsor, Coca-Cola, but set off a trend.

The next was Paul Pogba of France, who removed a bottle of non- alcoholic Heineken from the table at his press conference. He is known, of course, to be a teetotaler.

And that was followed up, making up the hat-trick, by Manuel Locatelli from Italy, who also removed the Coca-Cola bottles.

UEFA later put out a statement today saying, "UEFA has reminded participating teams that partnerships are integral to the delivery of the tournament and to ensuring the development of football across Europe, including for youth and women."

Now, teams do have a contractual obligation, of course, but marketing experts have said that this has also been a wake-up call for sponsors in terms of how they do their marketing around events like this.

DAE HEE KWAK, DIRECTOR, CENTER OF SPORTS MARKETING RESEARCH, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Going forward, when the product, the sponsored product itself doesn't really fit with the tournament, or athletes don't really endorse those products, then you probably want to use an alternative approach to leverage those sponsorship opportunities, by telling more, you know, authentic stories why you are supporting this event; why you are behind this tournament; how excited you are, so that you can tap into the fan passion, not like in your face approach to, Here's a Coke bottle! You know?

SEBASTIAN: Coca-Cola hasn't commented on this. They referred us to a statement from UEFA, which explains that players are offered a variety of drinks at press conferences, including Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, and water.

And this has, of course, revived the debate around whether unhealthy food and drink brands should, in fact, have commercial partnerships with sports franchises.

Now, experts say the likelihood is brands like Coca-Cola are not going to disappear from sports sponsorships. But Bottlegate, as it's now being referred to, could prompt them to change their strategy.

Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thank you, Clare.

I'm John Vause. I'll be back at the top of the hour with another hour of CNN NEWSROOM. In the meantime, please stay with us. WORLD SPORT is next after a short break.

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