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Biden Aims to Elevate Global Agenda At UN Meeting; Freed Americans Back On US Soil; El Paso On Cusp Of Third Wave Of Migrant Arrivals. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 09:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Finally, back home. Five Americans back on US soil and back in the arms of their families. The homecoming years in the making after their wrongful detention by Iran, the new video and the new reporting.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: And waiting for help, El Paso it's at capacity and now on the brink of an even bigger disaster as officials warn a third wave of migrants will flow over the border.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In just minutes, President Biden arrives here at the United Nations to deliver a -- the whole world watching at this crucial moment for Ukraine and democracy. I'm John Berman at the United Nations with Sara Sidner and Kate Bolduan, this is CNN News Central.

All right. Happening now right behind me, the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. We are waiting to hear from President Biden in what could be one of his most important speeches here at stake, global support for the war effort in Ukraine. He is addressing this crowd just a few hours before Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The president of Ukraine will walk into this all for the very first time since Russia invaded his country nearly 600 days ago.

Obviously, both addresses have major implications for President Biden implications here domestically as well as implications abroad. And for President Zelenskyy, as he is trying to hold on in his country, also such an important day, a dramatic moment for Presidents Zelenskyy but it will be before a diminished audience.

Missing this week, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and for the second year in a row, Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping. Their absences and rising global tensions prompted alarm from the United Nations' director for the International Crisis Group who, "the situation at the UN is now bleak. We are a lot closer to a cliff edge in UN diplomacy."

With me here at the United Nations, CNN senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche and CNN senior United Nations Correspondent Richard Roth. Kayla, the President will be walking in here any moment. What will he be saying?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We'll hear a lot of familiar themes from the president, John. The need for the global community to continue supporting Ukraine's defenses against Russia, the importance of democratic values in a world where authoritarian regimes are on the rise, and the priority of marshaling resources around the world for sustainable development, infrastructure and climate goals.

And while all of those things are things that President Biden has talked about on the -- before and talked about on the world stage before, including just weeks ago with the G20, the backdrop of this speech is a little different. You mentioned the notable absences for many of those world leaders. That, of course, is casting a little bit of a pall on the audience here.

There's some form fatigue because of the G20, COP28, APEC. Many of these multilateral summits are happening in succession in a way that hasn't really happened in the calendar before. There's also some war weariness with many countries, including those in the Global South, frustrated, that, essentially, the discussion around Ukraine they feel is taking much of the oxygen out of the room.

And then, of course, there's the fact that President Biden is now a candidate for reelection. He's been on the fundraising circuit here in New York City before and after his appearances here at the UN. And he's also gotten some notable endorsements from members of the international community. I'm thinking of Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said throughout the summer that he believes that President Biden should and will win reelection.

So, President Biden wants to essentially play the role of the leader of the free world when he takes the lectern here at the United Nations. That's what his advisers hope he will do and hope that he will be able to essentially retake the mantle of global leadership in the absence of many of those other leaders.

BERMAN: And he says who he will be speaking to. What are you hearing from White House aides on that? Is it the people who will be in this hall, the world leaders, or is it to the domestic audience?


TAUSCHE: Well, I think it's a little bit of both, but it's primarily the international audience. We've heard that the President is going to be meeting with five leaders of Central Asian nations that he hasn't met with before. They're calling it that C5+1. They're primarily going to be having a discussion about how they can collectively counter the influence of China in the Indo Pacific.

We also know that President Biden is going to be speaking with the Secretary General of the UN today. He'll be meeting tomorrow with the president of Brazil. They're going to be talking about labor issues. And then we'll also be meeting with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in their first meeting since Israel passed its controversial judicial reform laws. But perhaps the biggest meeting this week is not happening here in New York. It's happening Thursday at the White House, when President Biden is going to be hosting Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Of course, they are trying to gin up even more support for tens of billions of dollars in new aid to Ukraine. We'll see if that can happen.

BERMAN: Yes. Both Biden and Zelenskyy here today, then they'll do their own things and meet up again back in Washington. Kayla, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Let's go inside now to Richard Roth, our United Nations reporter who will be there for this address. What are the expectations inside, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: The US ambassador last week, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the US is reaching out here at this UN General Assembly to engage and dialogue even with people and countries that don't normally agree with the United States. A lot of talk about the smaller countries, they need money, they want money, the Black Sea Green Deal stalled with Russia out of Ukraine has hurt them. There is a lot of discussion about the rich countries versus the poor countries, north south. This has happened before but it just seems very intense now considering the world developments.

BERMAN: All right. Richard Roth for us in the United Nations, thank you so much.

Obviously, this comes at a crucial moment -- all right. This comes at a crucial moment for Ukraine as they are in the midst of this counter offensive. Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived here in New York last night. He was seeing meeting with some people here before this major speech today.

With me now is former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and CNN military analyst Wesley Clark, also with me very shortly is my friend, CNN Anchor and chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto. Jim, let me start with you here.

Look, talk about this moment for Ukraine. What Volodymyr Zelenskyy needs to leave here with and what President Biden wants to help him get this week?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Biden wants to continue international support for Ukraine, and that's going to be part of his message from the podium today. But President Biden knows, as do allies in Europe, as does Zelenskyy , frankly, that that is not rock solid right now that there's some, as you know, Republican opposition to continuing support at this level.

It's not going anywhere, so has bipartisan support. But there is concern that the timeline is finite, particularly with an election coming up. There's worry in Europe, there's worry in Ukraine that there might be a change of leadership here that would be less friendly to Ukraine. It CNN is reporting that Vladimir Putin is hoping for exactly that outcome. And what that means is that, this next year, year and a half or so, no one is expecting one either side to get what it wants. They don't expect Russia to win, certainly, but they also don't expect Ukraine to gain back all the territory that Russia has taken. But they also don't expect either side to want to sit down at the table.

Russia is waiting out the next election, and Zelenskyy does not want to give up, right, and he understandably wants to gain back as much territory as possible. So I think you'll hear a message from Biden as well to say, we got to stick with this right. I mean, that as long as it takes phrase you've heard for so long, we're going to be with him for as long as it takes.

But privately, and I speak to senior US officials, I spoke to General Milley just last week, they will say, privately, we don't see a victory in this war anytime soon for Ukraine.

BERMAN: As long as they take that day, as long as it takes might be changing or that timeline might be reducing somewhat. General Clark, leaders of Great Britain, France, China, Russia, India, not here. So, who does President Biden need to convince in this hall to sustain the efforts and support for Ukraine?

WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You need the Gulf, you need the rest of the Brit nations, you need the Global South basically behind it. We need support for the sanctions regime, we need understanding for the value of what the United States is doing.

What we're saying to the rest of the world is, nations can't cross borders and seize territory. That's not permitted in the modern world. That's what this fight is about. It's much bigger than Ukraine. And so, what we need is the support not of 140 nations in the United Nations, but 220 nations in the United Nations. And they all need to get on the team to pressure Russia.


We're in competition in Africa, we're in competition in Asia and China is out there lurking trying its own efforts to win friends and undercut the United States and democracy. So this is about democracy, it's about global leadership, and it's about the principles of international organization that the United States and the victors of World War II established through the United Nations.

It's time to go belly up to the bar, and that's what President Biden has to convince these leaders of.

BERMAN: And, Jim, it's interesting, President Zelenskyy, this will be his first time in this hall since the Russian invasion nearly 600 days ago. He began traveling around the world about last December, a little bit before that. First stop here, I mean, that will be a moment.

SCIUTTO: It makes a difference to me in person, you know? I mean, he had to do it because of security reasons but -- and by the way, the war is still going on in Ukraine. But to meet in-person, to take his case to world leaders in-person that can make a difference. But he also knows that he has challenges here, right? Challenges in the US, challenges in Europe, and challenges at home. I spoke to the Canadian foreign minister last week, she made a very smart point. She said, we talked about political pressures here in the country, say Republicans who are opposed to say continuing aid. His biggest political bloc and pressure point are veterans in his country, and not just veterans but people who've lost veterans in the war.

That's a powerful bloc. He's got to answer to them to say, what has this fight been for and are we going to give up where we are now after all this bloodshed and all this loss? And, of course, his answer to them is going to be no. And I'm certainly he's communicating that same message as he meets with world leaders here as well.

BERMAN: General Clark, President Biden, obviously has his own domestic concerns. He's running for reelection, approval ratings are sagging, there are a lot of people who are concerned about his age. The rest of the world, how closely are they watching the US election? How closely are they watching President Biden, the person (ph)?

CLARK: They are watching very closely, because really, the world's democracy, the power of democracy, the value the magnetism of democracy, it really emanates from the United States. And so, it's not just President Biden they're watching but they're watching what's going on in the US Congress. They're watching the dysfunction. They're watching a former president being charged with crimes. And they're looking at all of this and saying, how strong is the United States as credible as its deterrent? Can we trust the United States with the security of our country? And what about the American dollar? What if we put our faith in the dollar? So there's a lot riding on this, John.

And I want to just say one more thing. I think it's been a persistent element of Russian disinformation since the President was elected, really, that he's too old. And, you know, he's only four years older than Donald Trump, and we keep making age an issue for this President. But really, both major contenders are in their 70s, going to be in their 80s if they're either one is elected in office.

So, this is a time for American citizens to look at the performance. Not look at the numbers, look at the performance. President Biden's got a showcase this morning to demonstrate that. And the whole world's watching. They want American leadership, they're hungry for it, we have to deliver

BERMAN: Indeed, the whole world is watching. General Clark, our thanks to you. Jim Sciutto, you'll be here all morning watching this alongside, we don't go far. Kate, let's go back to you in the studio.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. We're going to get back to John at the UN and President Biden's important speech very soon.

But we're also tracking this huge story. The tearful reunions, five Americans officially free and back on US soil this morning wrongfully detained in Iran. For years, they touched down to the hugs from their families just before sunrise today. The new details of the release, the new video that we're getting in from just this morning. Plus, migrant shelters in the US border city of El Paso have been overcapacity for weeks. Why locals are now warning of being "on the cusp of a third wave." CNN is there.

And India has expelled a Canadian diplomat after explosive allegations coming from none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linking India to the killing of a citizen on Canadian soil. We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: Home at last. Five Americans freed after being wrongfully detained in Iran, touched down on US soil just before sunrise this morning. You take a look. These are their first moments as they're descending the steps. You even see Siamak Namazi kind of taking a deep breath before climbing down the stairs.

They're climbing down the stairs off this plane and straight in to the arms of their families. Here is how the US envoy for hostage affairs describe the flight over


ROGER CARSTENS, US SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: I can say probably I haven't cried this much since I was a little kid. It was a chance to watch five different people interact, seven people in total, interact in a way that was very amazing. I mean, this is the first time that they've had a chance to talk without being surveilled by the Iranian government in years. So, to watch them kind of relax, lighten up, share laughs.


BOLDUAN: For Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, it is the first time in more than five years that they are back in the United States. You seen Namazi there, I think that's with his brother. Siamak Namazi had been wrongfully detained in Iran for eight years.

Let's get over to CNN's Natasha Bertrand. She has more for us from Washington. Natasha, the video, the images I'm looking of Emad Shargi right here, and seeing their smile. I mean, you really can't even put words to it. But what more are you learning about their homecoming and what now is next for them?


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Kate. So they arrived at Fort Belvoir early this morning around 5:30 AM Eastern Time after a very long journey, of course, from Doha, Qatar. And they arrived to family and friends waiting on the tarmac, many of them waving American flags as they kind of ran up to greet them.

And Emad Shargi, who you mentioned there in that photo, he actually said, I can't believe it. He, of course, is one of those Americans who had been imprisoned in Iran for five plus years and another American, Siamak Namazi, had been imprisoned for eight years. So, many of them have not spoken to their family and friends in over five years, as long as eight years. And so, this was a really emotional homecoming for them landing on US soil after so much time in Iranian captivity.

Now, the President's Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, who we just heard from there, he encouraged these Americans to take advantage of the Army's post-isolation support programs to better allow these Americans to reintegrate into society because, of course, they have been isolated and in detention for just so long. But he also said that he really encourages them to keep working, along with US officials, of course, for the release of American hostages globally, and that he knows that they won't forget about them.

Now, in the backdrop of all of this, of course, there have been a lot of questions about what this means for the broader US-Iranian relationship, does this kind of reopen negotiations between the countries when it comes to other issues like the Iran nuclear deal, for example. Well, White House official, John Kirby, he spoke to this last night and he said, look, this release of American prisoners, release of Iranian prisoners in exchange, it does not signal that we are prepared to reopen talks on any other issue, particularly the nuclear deal. Here's what he said.


JOHN KIRBY, US NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: It's important to remember that this deal to get these Americans home is a separate issue done in a completely separate environment through a separate set of diplomatic initiatives, not tied at all to the JCPOA. This is not about trying to build some sort of rapprochement with Iran or to get us back into the Iran deal.


BERTRAND: Now, Kate, as you've heard, there has been already a lot of criticism from Republicans about this deal, particularly that $6 billion that Iran will now receive to use for humanitarian purposes. But Roger Carstens, the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, He reiterated earlier this morning that this is a "good deal." Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. I'm just stuck watching Emad Shargi seeing his daughter's running to him early this morning is a very sweet thing. Much more to come on this. Natasha, thank you. Sara?

SIDNER: The migrant crisis at the southern border is exploding once again this morning. Officials in El Paso say the Texas City is on the cusp of a third wave of migrants and local shelters are already overcapacity. The region has seen a spike in migrants at the Texas Mexico border averaging about 1,200 encounters per day. CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the ground in El Paso.

Ed, what are you seeing there? And what do officials say they need to be able to handle this influx?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN Senior National Correspondent: Well, they are really using all of the homeless shelter capacity and migrant center capacity that nonprofits have set up here for that had been set up for many years now, Sara. But, you know, the numbers that you're seeing here in El Paso are not numbers that we have seen since Title 42 ended, which really de escalated a lot of this for some time. But we are now, as one official here is warning, perhaps on the cusp of another wave of migrants here in the city.

And it's been a while since you've seen the number of people having to sleep here on the streets. We're just outside one of the shelters that many migrants use here, and as we've been reporting -- and these officials and city officials have been reporting to us, that a lot of these shelters are at capacity. They're having to use hotel space in town, as well about 1,200 encounters per day here in El Paso. And across the US southern border, the numbers are up to about 7,000.

So, definitely some of the highest numbers we've seen since the end of Title 42, which is causing alarm in many places. Why exactly this is happening now is difficult to pinpoint. You know, a lot of this stuff is cyclical in terms of the way migrants move, leaving countries in desperate situations in their home countries, as well as great deal of misinformation and disinformation that human smugglers and cartels use to convince people to make the journey north into the United States.

But regardless of what the reasons are, many of these people here are turning themselves into Border Patrol agents at the border wall. You might be able to see it just beyond the roadway behind me over there. And that is an area where a lot of these migrants, Sara, have been arriving turning them selves in getting processed by border patrol agents.


There are more than 20,000 migrants in the custody of Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection right now. So a great deal of concern as to what exactly this means and how long this surge might last.

SIDNER: Yes. It's a really good picture that you and your photographer is showing us. You're right next to the shelter and yet there are people out there on the streets, those look like a blanket that had been given to them from the Red Cross. Thank you so much for your reporting there and appreciate you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And coming up still for us, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has a mess on his hands over keeping the government funded and open, and running, or as one Republican put it, it is a clown show. What the infighting is now threatening on Capitol Hill.

And Evan Gershkovich, the US reporter wrongfully detained in Russia, he was in a Moscow courtroom this morning. The very latest on his case and why the US ambassador there said just now that he's fully aware of the gravity of his situation. We'll be back.