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CNN International: Blinken on Second Day of Ukraine Trip; Rescuers Race to Save American Trapped in Turkish Cave; Fallout From Controversial Abaya Ban in France; Pence Trails Trump in Republican Contest. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2023 - 08:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead, the U.S. Secretary of State continues his visit to Ukraine as Russia slams Washington over the decision to send depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine more on the controversial weapons also ahead.

Bad news for President Biden a new CNN poll reveals numbers that could spell trouble for his hopes for re-election in 2024. And a rescue is underway for an American man trapped in one of Turkey's deepest caves. America's top diplomat is striking a positive tone when it comes to Kyiv's grinding counter offensive now in its fourth month.

A U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a second day of his trip to Ukraine. His first stop was a border guard facility on the outskirts of the capital. He later visited a de-mining center. Blinken says that Washington agrees with Kyiv that its forces have been making real military progress in recent weeks.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins me now live in the Ukrainian capital. They keep emphasizing this progress, because it's so slow, isn't it? But they don't want to give the impression that Ukraine is falling back in anyway.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right and in fact, and Secretary Blinken had arrived here with the American assessment, Max, that real progress was being made. He was here he said to hear from the Ukrainians himself President Zelenskyy had been to see the troops in the eastern front on Tuesday.

And what he reported back to Antony Blinken was positive progress. So a much more upbeat assessment from the Americans than we've had over the last few weeks when there had been criticism of the way the Ukrainians were going about this counter offensive and the progress that they were making.

What Antony Blinken also announced was this fresh package, a billion dollars, Max, of American aid, part of it military aid, some of that made up of Pentagon stockpiles of the kinds of munitions that the United States believe and equipment that will help the Ukrainians make progress against those formidable Russian defenses.

We've been speaking so much about these last few weeks. In that package, of course, as you mentioned, those controversial depleted uranium munitions. Now, when the United Kingdom had announced that it was going to send some last March, Vladimir Putin had reacted in person.

There would be a reaction to this, it would not go unnoticed. And so inevitably, a reaction came today to the latest announcement by the United States. It came from Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Foreign Minister who slammed the decision, calling it a criminal act and showing that the United States had no regard at all for the environmental consequences of what he was doing in Ukraine.

What the American administration believes is that these kinds of munitions which really allow the penetration of the kind of armor that surrounds tanks, for instance, could help Ukraine make a difference. It follows of course, just a few months after their controversial decision as well to send cluster munitions.

It is up for Western allies all about helping Ukraine now at this critical juncture, and its counter offensive, Max, to penetrate those deep Russian defenses, and help Ukrainians make the progress that they need, Max.

FOSTER: Melissa in Kyiv, thank you. As Melissa just said, the billion dollar aid package Antony Blinken did announce includes, for the first time depleted uranium munitions. Nic Robertson is here with more on the potential impact. First of all, I mean, it's quite an abstract term. But what exactly are they?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, I think when a lot of people hear the word uranium, they automatically assume that they're going to get cancer and there'll be irradiated from it. But studies show that actually, the uranium that's used in depleted uranium shells is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium.

And naturally occurring uranium then has to be enriched to put it in a state where it can be used in nuclear power stations and all these sorts of things. So there's that word, and this is what the Russians are reacting too, as we heard them react to over cluster munitions when the British then they're challenged to tanks.

They come with depleted uranium shells, as Melissa was saying, depleted uranium shells punched through heavy battle armor and concrete too. This is a stuff of that --


ROBERTSON: That denser, it's 70 percent, depleted uranium is 70 percent more dense. It's a byproduct of uranium enrichment. 70 percent more dense than lead, OK, most bullets that we know, traditionally they were led. This is something that can get in to the defensive structures be the tanks, be the heavy armor that the Russians have.

So that's why it's useful, and that's why they want it. Now, why is the American announcement come just now? Well, perhaps because they're Abrams tanks. The ones that they President Biden said commit earlier on in the year are finally about to arrive in Ukraine in the fall, and they use these depleted uranium shells.


And the Russians are saying, well, look what happened in Yugoslavia in 1999 when NATO went after Serbian forces there refused to pull out of Kosovo. The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today said we had independent studies done. There were no harmful effects to the troops handling those munitions.

And that's the same as what the International Atomic Energy Agency say that the study is done, of troops handling. So this is not like the shell is fired, and it's lying out there in a field or scattered and bits of it in the field. This is the soldiers who are handling it. So they're getting the full impact of whatever the effect would be no noticeable effects on their long term health.

So that's NATO's position, International Atomic Energy Agency's position. For Russia, these shells constitute a very big threat to their defenses. There, they're concerned.

FOSTER: OK, Nic, thank you. Huge victory for abortion rights advocates in Mexico, the country's Supreme Court has ruled that federal criminal penalties for abortions are unconstitutional. Restrictions on abortions still exist in some Mexican states, though 12 of them have already decriminalized it.

CNN's Rafael Romo is following the story for us from Atlanta. There's a difference here, isn't it between the regions and the Federal hospitals effectively?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's most definitely, Max. And the reality is that the effort to decriminalize abortion in Mexico has been going on for years, especially in major cities like the capital Mexico City where abortion rights groups have taken to the streets to say things like my body, my decision, we've heard that for many years now.

In fact, by the time the Mexican Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday to criminalizing abortion at the federal level, and you mentioned this at the beginning, 12 states out of, a total of 32 had already invalidated laws banning abortion. In a statement announcing the ruling, the court said that banning abortion is unconstitutional because, "it violates the human rights of women and people with the capacity to gestate".

Pro-Life groups in Mexico blasted the ruling as you can imagine, saying that there are millions more Mexicans who are in favor of life from the moment of conception until natural death. On the other hand, the so called Green Wave groups in favor of abortion said that they were celebrating the decision and call that a major step in advancing women's rights.

Now, Max, the Supreme Court's first ruled that it was unconstitutional to criminalize abortion in 2021 in September of that year in 2021. As a matter of fact, exactly two years ago today, the Court issued a decision on a law enacted in the Northern State of Guatemala which said that women who get an abortion may be punished with up to three years in prison and a fine.

But in any case, and many pro-abortion groups celebrating today in Mexico, Max, back to you.

FOSTER: Rafael Romo, thank you so much for joining us. A massive rescue operation underway right now in Turkey, a team of 150 rescuers trying to save an American trapped inside the country's third deepest cave. Mark Dickey as part of a research team in Morca Valley is suffered gastro intestinal bleeding about 1100 meters into the cave.

The Turkish Caving Federation says reaching him is a complex operation that could take days. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins us live from London with a very latest. Just explain a bit more about how he ended up there, Jomana?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, we still don't have a lot of information about how this all transpired. But what we do understand, as you mentioned, from the Turkish Caving Federation is that Mark Dickey was part of this local and international research team.

They were in this cave, which is Turkey's third deepest cave, and we understand that earlier this week, potentially it was last weekend. Still unclear on that he felt ill. And as you mentioned, it's the Hungarian cave rescue service that is involved in this operation that says that he suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding and that he lost a lot of blood.

The Turkish Federation is saying that right now he is in stable condition. His condition is continuing to improve. He's no longer bleeding. He received at least six units of blood and he's able to walk on his own but right now he's in basecamp, which is still more than 1000 meters from the surface.

And it is a very complex operation to try and get him out of there to try and get him on a stretcher out of there because again, Turkey's third deepest cave. We're also talking they say about very narrow and winding passages. So very, very complex operation that now involves more than 150 rescuers from different countries.


Turkey has its emergency and disaster management agency I thought involved in this but you also have rescuers from countries including the U.S., Croatia, Hungary, and Poland and the list goes on who are trying to work on getting him out of there. This is a man according to his own bio, a very experienced caver.

He's been doing this for decades since the 90s. He's been caving in 20 U.S. states in 10 countries. He is also a rescue instructor, himself. And right now we'll have to wait and see what happens. According to the Turkish Caving Federation, they say that this could take days because it takes ideal conditions.

About 15 hours for an experienced caver to reach the surface and now they're consulting with doctors to see if they will be able to put him on a stretcher and get him out of there, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Jomana, back with you with any updates. Thank you. A short while ago, Britain's Justice Minister announced he will launch an independent investigation into the prison escape of a Former Soldier turn terror suspect. Daniel Abbott Khalife escaped from London's Wandsworth prison on Wednesday by strapping himself to the bottom of a food delivery truck.

The hunt for him is impacting travel in the U.K. there are long lines at airports and ports as please check out going travelers in their search for Khalife.


COMMANDER DOMINIC MURPHY, LONDON POLICE COUNTER-TERRORISM COMMAND: He could be anywhere in the country at the moment and yes, of course, we're mindful of the risk of him potentially leaving the country. We're focusing our efforts in London at the moment.

So we have counterterrorism officers now deployed across London, working with colleagues from across the Metropolitan Police and our partner agencies to try and find them here.


FOSTER: Well, we have a dramatic new video that shows how a convicted murderer escaped from a Pennsylvania prison. Last week the video shows Danelo Cavalcante crab walking his way up a wall in an exercise area. He then pushed his way through some razor wire to make his escape.

Cavalcante has been spotted several times since his escape, but the manhunt for him has been complicated by woods in the area which could provide numerous hiding places. Let's go to CNN's Danny Freeman outside the Chester County Prison in Pennsylvania, when extraordinary to see that video.

But even more extraordinary that is still hasn't been caught, despite the fact we've even seen him on camera.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Max, listen, there have been two questions that have really been on everyone's mind since eight days ago, Danelo Cavalcante escaped from this Chester County Prison behind me the first of course, where is he now?

But the second was how did he get out of there and yesterday afternoon? -- , we get an answer to that second question. I want to go a little bit in depth into that video, Max. It's all right. You can see it was released by local law enforcement just yesterday for the first time.

Cavalcante putting his hands up against one wall, his legs up against another and as you said, crab walking up to the roof. Law enforcement officials say he ran across the roof, push through multiple layers of razor wire up there and ultimately escaped.

And law enforcement said the tower guard on duty did not see the escape or report it which means that basically Cavalcante had an hour head start after he escaped out of the prison last Thursday. And Max, there's also an interesting point that I want to mention here.

This escape that happened just a week ago is very similar to an escape that happened at the same prison about four months ago back in May. Law enforcement officials say that they put in security measures to prevent further escapes after that one in May. But obviously that did not work out.

Now after that second big question. Where is he now? State police here are still searching the area they have actually expanded their search area from what was a somewhat limited search radius over the weekend. There have been multiple sightings, the last setting though on Tuesday night the manhunt right now still underway.

But honestly intense heat and humidity have been challenges for law enforcement as they continue this search, Max.

FOSTER: Danny Freeman, thank you so much for that. Now still to come, they say that numbers don't lie. But the latest polling figures on Joe Biden might make the President wins. We'll analyze what's actually going on when we return.



FOSTER: Around the world September brings the site of a new school year but in France this isn't without controversy. The government has banned the wearing of buyers in classrooms saying it breaks the rules on secularism in education. Muslim headscarf already banned following a 2004 law which prohibits wearing outfits showing religious affiliations in schools. CNN's Anna Stewart has more details.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Daily ritual for some students in France. You can attach it to your bag that's the rule inside putting the headscarf in the bag this teacher tells a student at the school gates removing any sign of their Muslim faith before entering the classroom.

But as summer vacation ends France's 2004 law banning conspicuous religious symbols and state run schools will be applied to loose fitting full length dresses known as Abayas for the first time.

GABRIEL ATTAL, FRENCH EDUCATION MINISTER: The abaya has no place in our schools and neither do religious symbols.

STEWART (voice-over): The free flowing garments worn by some Muslim women and girls now prohibited in the name of French laicite or secularism. This policy is a new interpretation of the controversial 2004 law from France's ambitious new Education Minister. Nearly 300 students wore an abaya to school on Monday 67 were sent home for refusing to take it off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say that the abaya is a religious dress, but it's not at all. It's not a religious dress. It's a traditional dress.

STEWART (voice-over): A Muslim Rights Group has already brought an appeal against the ban to the country's highest court with their lawyer saying the ban doesn't legally define what an abaya looks like.

VINCENT BRENGARTH, LAWYER: The ban is not based on any legal text. It's purely a political announcement.

STEWART (voice-over): Another lawsuit is being prepared after a student wearing a kimono in jeans was expelled from class. Disproportionate is how one teaching union describe the abaya debate when issues like funding and bullying also need to be addressed. At least one other major union has supported the government's ban.

And that division gets to the heart of the secularism debate in France, life debate, a principle upheld by many across the political spectrum as France's blind defense against religious discrimination. But critics condemn it is a veiled attack on Muslims in France, hijabs, bikinis, now abayas falling under the glare of an unyielding French State.

Exactly, what Macron, asked him as teachers faced with resistance students this month.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: We know that there will be cases because we know that there will be some through negligence perhaps, but many to try to defy the Republican system. We must be uncompromising.

STEWART (voice-over): France remains an outlier among Western nations moving into wider acceptance of civil liberties around religious dress with a hijab embraced elsewhere by Muslim politicians and major brands like Nike. For schools in France though a new year means new rules. Anna Stewart, CNN.


FOSTER: And we'll be right back after this short break.



FOSTER: Alarm bells should be ringing at the White House this morning. If they've seen the brand new CNN polls that is on President Biden. We can't sugarcoat it, they are tough Mr. Biden's approval rating is at 39 percent is extremely low. As far as the economy is concerned, nearly 60 percent of voters think the President's actions are making things worse.

And here's one more bitter pill even Democrats don't really want Mr. Biden as a candidate. Almost 70 percent of Democratic and Democratic leaning voters would support somebody else, anybody else as the Democratic nominee. Voter fatigue is certainly present.

So is President Biden a liability for the Democratic Party? Let's bring in CNN Political Director David Chalian to break down all of the numbers. I mean, it's really depressing, isn't it for the White House to see these numbers when even their own party that support their candidate?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN HOST AND POLITICAL BRIEFING PODCAST: Yes, no doubt the White House is banking on the fact that when he's up against the Republican, those Democrats will come home. But you are right, Max, this is there's very little good news here for Joe Biden in the White House.

He is in a tough spot for re-election. And it's not just the economic concerns that you cited. There's also real concern among about his age. So we asked among Democrats and Democratic Leaners. We'll open ended question, what's your biggest concern about Biden as a candidate.

49 percent say that his age, 7 percent mental sharpness, 7 percent health, all sorts of interrelated there. Also, we asked more broadly beyond Democrats to Americans overall, if there are serious concerns that his age might negatively affect his ability to serve as President, look at that nearly three quarters of Americans say yes.

That's a serious concern, serious concerns about his mental competency, and about understanding the next generation's concerns.

FOSTER: You mentioned how this might change later on when it comes to the actual general election. So how would you think this means he matches up against his potential Republican opponents?

CHALIAN: So we're 14 months away from the actual election, but this is CNN's first look at these potential general election matchups. And he is in a real sort of margin of error race. We matched him up against a whole slew of potential Republican candidates.

And you see, they're only Nikki Haley, the Former Ambassador to the United Nations is outside the margin of error with a lead of six percentage points 49 to 43 over Biden, he's in a near dead heat race with Trump with DeSantis within a couple of points of Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy.

These are all within the margin of error with no clear leader. So it shows what a battle he has ahead of him, including the enthusiasm factor, we asked people, are you extremely motivated to vote in next year's election? And what you see right there in that top line where it says now 61 percent of Democrats describe themselves as extremely motivated.

71 percent of Republicans do, that's a deficit that the Biden campaign is going to need to make up in the months ahead.

FOSTER: A lot of people told me outside the country, David, that they can't believe there isn't an alternative candidate to Joe Biden. And that's even more salient, isn't it? When you find out from this poll that many Democrats don't support Joe Biden? Just explain why there isn't any sort of succession plan here?

CHALIAN: Yes, there are a couple of Democrats running Marianne Williamson, Robert Kennedy, Jr. But they're not galvanizing support among Democrats, and they're not a real threat to Biden getting the nomination, Max. And there is a real difficulty in taking on an incumbent President.


It also as we've seen in the past with Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush, it weakens the incumbent President preps puts them in a tougher position. Let's say Donald Trump's the nominee to actually defeat Donald Trump next year. So that's why no major democratic sort of stepping forward to take Biden on because it may not be successful, and it may ultimately weaken and harm Democrats chances at maintaining the Oval Office.

FOSTER: David Chalian, appreciate your insight as ever, thank you so much for joining us.

CHALIAN: Sure, thank you.

FOSTER: David mentioned the gap between President Biden and the Republican field of candidates is very narrow. Our CNN poll says that if it came to a race between Joe Biden and Former Republican Vice President Mike Pence. Pence, leads 46 to 44 percent, though that's within the margin of error.

It's a different ballgame in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is what Pence had to say about this morning's Biden poll just moments ago.


MIKE PENCE, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden has weakened this country at home and abroad, the American people are done with the failed policies of President Joe Biden. And now I think Republican primary voters and frankly, many independents and many Democrats around the country are looking for that leader and looking for that agenda.

That will really restore our economy and ensure our national security and generations to come.


FOSTER: U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Pence there and finally, even 80 years old Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones just won't quit. Angry is the featured single from the upcoming album Hackney Diamonds it marks the stones 24th studio album and their first new music in 18 years.

Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and the late Stone's drummer Charlie Watts also appear on several tracks. Hackney Diamonds goes out on sale next month. Thanks for joining us here on CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. "World Sport" with Amanda is up next.