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U.S. Congress Resumes Work as More Democrats Call Out Biden to Step Down from the Race; Left-Wing beats Far-Right Coalitions in the Shocking French Election Results. Indian PM Expects to Meet Russian President; Italy's Etna and Stromboli Volcanoes Erupt. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 08, 2024 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on "CNN Newsroom," Congress returns to work in the coming hours for the first time since Joe Biden's debate disaster, and with calls growing from within his own party for the president to end his reelection campaign.

And in France, a shock result from a snap election. Voters deliver a win for the left and a stinging rebuke for the far-right. We're live in Paris with the latest developments.

Plus, Beryl strengthens to a hurricane once again as it approaches the Texas coast. We're tracking the storm as it prepares to make landfall.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from Atlanta, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Good to have you with us. Well, a handful of House Democrats are joining the growing chorus calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to abandon the 2024 presidential race after his poor debate performance against Donald Trump. Lawmakers will be returning to work in the coming hours after they likely heard from constituents over the holiday weekend about whether the president should stay in the race.

There's deep concern over having Joe Biden at the top of the ticket this November and what it could mean for the Democrats chances of retaking the House. Polls show Biden's support slipping. One Democratic senator says the president needs to do more to ease skepticism among voters.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I'm not advising this campaign, but if I were, I would probably suggest that the president get out there and do a town hall, that he do a press conference, that he show the country that he is still the old Joe Biden, one of the best retail politicians this country has ever seen. The president says he can do that. I trust that he can. And I think this week is going to be really critical for him to answer those remaining questions. And let's just be honest, I think there are still questions out there in the minds of many voters.


CHURCH: But Senator Bernie Sanders says politicians need to filter out the noise and get back to policy.


SEN. BERNIE SANDER (I-VT): What we have got to focus on is policy, whose policies have and will benefit the vast majority of the people in this country. This is not about how I feel. It's not about you feel. It is not even about how Joe Biden feels. It's about how we win this election. And maybe what we should be doing is creating a Democratic Party with Biden at the top that stands with the working class of this country.


CHURCH: Natasha Lindstedt is a professor of government at the University of Essex. She joins us now from Colchester in England. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So calls for President Biden to step aside continue to grow with about 11 out of 213 House Democrats now saying it's time for him to go. But the president remains defiant. So what more should he be doing to turn this around and when does he run out of time to do that?

LINDSTAEDT: I would agree that the next few weeks are critical because you've got the Democratic Convention in August. There's not a lot of time left. I mean, time is really running out. This is a horrible situation for the Democrats because they don't seem like they have their act together. And I'd also agree with the remark that he probably has to get out there more and do something like a town hall.

A town hall might play to his strengths because he has some likability when he's just sort of talking unscripted and just being his normal self where he doesn't tend to do well is when he has to memorize a lot of facts. But he has a lot to overcome. You know, there's a "Wall Street Journal" poll just came out right after the debate that showed that 80 percent of those polled felt that he was too old.

And that debate was a really critical moment because he was already a little bit behind in the polls to Trump, particularly in some of these swing states. And so he had a lot of ground to make up. And the debate was supposed to showcase that he was mentally and physically fit. And instead, it just went in the completely wrong direction.


So he has a lot of work to do. And this has been a president that hasn't really spoken to the press as much or given as many press conferences and has admitted that he's not that good at debating. Well, that isn't great for a candidate, particularly one that's going against Donald Trump and with so much at stake in this election.

CHURCH: And sources revealed to CNN that Donald Trump and his campaign want President Biden to remain as the nominee. What does that tell you?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, I think it reveals that Trump thinks he can be Biden and he thinks he can be Biden much more easily than some other candidate. And we don't have a lot of good polling data in terms of the heads to head, head-to-head matchups with -- with other candidates. And unfortunately for the Democrats, there isn't a candidate that shows that they could really be Biden.

But if you look at the head-to-head between Trump and Kamala Harris, though, she doesn't have a very good approval rating or favorability rating. She would do about two points better than Biden. So I think what Trump fears is if the Democrats get a new candidate, there's going to be a lot of momentum and energy and maybe excitement around this new candidate. And that person could be really good at debating and picking apart Trump's weaknesses.

You know, Kamala Harris is a sharp debater. She had one of the best performances when she was running for president herself. But of course, she has some of her own liabilities. So I think Trump feels this is going to be incredibly easy if he goes against Biden, because he's leading in all the national polls, but also in some of the key swing states, as I already mentioned. And those three states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are absolutely critical for Biden to win. And as things stand now, if the election were held tomorrow, Trump would probably win.

CHURCH: And Nancy Pelosi, she says the question that needs to be asked is whether President Biden's poor debate performance was an episode or a condition. Do we need to hear more about that before a decision is made on what the next move needs to be?

LINDSTAEDT: I think this is really critical as well, because there's going to be another debate in September and Biden would have to perform, you know, amazingly and convince people who have doubts. But the problem is there's just been so many leaks of information that his condition has worsened. We don't know if that's true or not, but these are some of the rumors that are circulating and that he has been protected by his inner circle. And that, of course, is concerning if he has to go and debate Trump again and things only get worse.

And he didn't want to agree to some kind of cognitive test. So there's a lot of questions about his age, which in some ways is ridiculous. You think about the fact that he's running against a convicted felon who has all kinds of other issues that, you know, staging a coup, et cetera, et cetera. But the Democrats now have the attention off of policy. That's not good for them. It's all the attention is on Joe Biden's age instead of what Bernie Sanders mentioned, which is focusing on the policies that make the Democrats popular. And this, of course, is another concern that if all the attention is

on Joe Biden's age, that could affect the other races like the races in the House and the Senate.

CHURCH: Natasha Lindstaedt, thank you so much for joining us. I Appreciate it.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: And now to France, where the left wing coalition has won the most seats in the parliament, defeating the far-right in a stunning upset. My colleague Max Foster is in Paris with the latest. And Max, what a turnaround.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we weren't expecting that, were we, Rosemary? A New Popular Front or the New Popular Front, a coalition of several parties won 182 seats in the National Assembly, making it the largest bloc. But it fell short of an absolute majority, as did all the blocs. In fact, President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Ensemble Alliance got 163 seats.

Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally and its allies got 143. But it's worth noting that although the National Rally got 143 seats, it will be the largest individual party in the new parliament.

Now, after the first round of voting, the far-right's run to power was undone by tactical deal making between centrist and leftist opponents. There was also a massive turnout. More than 200 candidates withdrew from the second round to avoid splitting the anti-National Rally vote.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal says he'll submit his resignation today, but he'll continue his duties, he says, as long as they're needed.


GABRIEL ATTAL, OUTGOING FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): My commitment in this campaign was for me a duty. From the start of this campaign, I've been alerted of three risks. The risk of an absolute majority dominated by France unbowed. The risk of an absolute majority dominated by the National Rally and the risk of disappearance from the movement that represents our ideas and our values. Today, these three risks have been eliminated by the French. Tonight, no absolute majority can be driven by the extremes.


FOSTER: Jim Bitterman joins me now. Jim, I know this is a loaded question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Who's going to replace him as prime minister?


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's going to be the big question, Max. But I thought I'd show you first off what the big prize is, and that is access to those blue gray doors back there. The deputies who won yesterday will be coming here this morning and you can see they've put up a sign here that says, the press entrance. But there's another sign, another part of the sign, there's a lady taking a picture of it. Another part of the sign says, Welcome to the deputies. And some of these deputies have never been here before. They've never been here, certainly as deputies.

And some of them come from a long way away, parts of France, remote parts of France, but also parts of the French territory. So they may be arriving, trickling in here in bits and pieces, or maybe coming in blocs, but we'll have to see how that works out. Now, as you mentioned, Jean-Luc Melenchelon, who led, was one of the leaders of this far left alliance, basically is claiming victory for the alliance. But there are a lot of people in the alliance who don't agree with this. Five major parties in the alliance and some of them just do not agree with Melenchelon. They think he's too radical. But nonetheless, here's the way he claimed victory last night.

JEAN-LUC MELENCHELON, FRANCE UNBOWED LEADER (through translator): Now, the will of the people must be strictly respected. From now on, no tricks, backroom deals or combinations would be acceptable. The lesson to be taken from the vote is definitive. The defeat of the president and his coalition has been confirmed with clarity. The president has the power. The president has the duty to call on the new popular front to govern.


BITTERMAN: And Max, I think the award for the headline of the day and probably the understatement of the day has to be the Parisienne, which the headline was. And now what? What do we do? What do we do now? That's the question that Mr. Macron has before him, because he has to decide how he's going to cobble together some kind of a government out of the results that we saw yesterday, Max.

FOSTER: Jim, thank you so much. Let's get some international reaction then to all of this. Nic Robertson has been following things. He's got the NATO summit, hasn't he? It's going to be a real stark reminder of how damaged he is there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, I think that's also going to be a question on the lips of many international leaders is going to meet in Washington this week. Another 31 of them will be gathered for that big historic summit. And one of the hopes of that summit had been that they would have a bigger package, financial package on offer for Ukraine. And it looks like being something short of a multi-year deal and perhaps just perhaps as much as 40 billion over a single year.

Why do I mention that? Because that kind of underscores the -- the sort of tremors that have been passing through NATO as all these sort of political changes with huge implications for NATO wrap up across Europe or roll out across Europe.

And the French, the possibility of the far-right coming into power in France would have had a huge impact. So I think for that reason, there's a sense of relief in Brussels at the moment, but it will be tempered, of course, by the reality that there's a real possibility of a hung parliament, of sort of political inaction domestically, that rippling out to foreign policy, despite that's the purview of the president overseas. You know, we've heard from one significant European leader, Donald Tusk, the prime minister from Poland today. Of course, he was once the council president at the European Union.

And he said this in Paris, enthusiasm in Moscow, disappointment in Kyiv relief. And he said, for us in Warsaw, that's enough. So it really does kind of capture that spirit that this is better than it could have been, but it's still not necessarily good.

And rather, Washington and the NATO summit is one place where these things will get discussed, the sort of turmoil, the left-right pull, the unpredictability of what's going on in many of the significant European powers, because that affects NATO. It affects policies towards Ukraine.

And it also affects the direction that the E.U. can take. And Macron and France has played a strong and important role there, something that's important to the French as well.

FOSTER: I was interested to see Spain's prime minister making a comment that he was effectively hailing voters in France and Britain for voting against the far-right this week. But, you know, is it as simple as that?


You've seen the far-right gain seats in a way they haven't gained them before in both Britain and France. So their authority, their power is only growing.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, perhaps the broader perspective is the stability of politics. You know, Macron is a fairly seasoned political player, although a bit of a risk taker. And he took a risk challenging the far-right's seeming supremacy in the European elections to strengthen his domestic hand as president. But it hasn't worked out that way.

And so for an experienced politician to call it so wrong underscores, you know, what Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, will be looking at in similar results in the European parliamentary elections, which show him potentially how weak his governing coalition is in Germany and therefore to the enemies of NATO and the enemies of the European Union.

And just look here over the border towards -- towards Russia or, for example, in Belarus today, where China has put its troops on a military training exercise in Belarus. What is that about, if not signaling to what some of these countries may think is a weakened European alliance?

So, you know, I think, you know, when you hear from the Spanish president and you look at it in terms of, you know, of the political map across Europe and that instability that sort of is now is now the sort of unwritten message of the situation that enables the enemies, if you will, of these Western democracies. FOSTER: OK, Nic, thank you very much. Rosemary, I think one thing that's certainly come out of this is it's going to be a certain amount of deadlock now in the French parliament, which, you know, is a problem for one of the major economies in the world where you can't get things done in the same way. But, you know, it was a big turnout and the people really spoke.

CHURCH: Yeah, they certainly did. Our thanks to Max. We'll come back to you very soon.

And we continue now to monitor Hurricane Beryl, which is still gaining strength as the storm center approaches the middle Texas coast. The category one storm is expected to make landfall in just a matter of hours. Coastal residents are being urged not to underestimate this hurricane and to be prepared for a potentially dangerous storm surge, flash flooding, strong winds and power outages. Beryl has already done major damage in the Caribbean, killing at least nine people throughout the region and Venezuela last week when it became the earliest category five hurricane in the Atlantic on record.

And the sweltering heat plaguing the U.S. from coast to coast isn't losing any steam. More than 250 temperature records could be set in the coming days, and nearly 40 million people could experience temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius this week. The Western U.S. in particular has been dealing with an unrelenting and dangerous heat wave. Excessive heat alerts remain in effect for more than 50 million people across the region through this week. And there's very little relief with high temperature records being broken both during the day and at night.

When new optimism about a ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas, we will explain why just ahead here on "CNN Newsroom."




CHURCH: We're seeing renewed optimism for a ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas. CIA Director Bill Burns is heading to Qatar for a new round of talks later this week. Israel's head of Mossad is also expected to attend. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his refusal to stop Israel's Rafah offensive brought Hamas back to the talks.

Over the weekend, a senior Hamas official told CNN the group is ready to reconsider its insistence that Israel commit to a permanent ceasefire in Gaza before signing a temporary truce and hostage release agreement. In Gaza City, an Israeli attack on the Holy Family School killed at least four people. Gaza civil defense says one of those killed was the Hamas government's deputy minister of labor. Israel says it struck a complex where militants were hiding. But CNN cannot independently verify either claim. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us now live from London with more. Good

morning to you, Salma. So what's expected to come out of this round of ceasefire and hostage release talks set to resume in Qatar with CIA Director Bill Burns also joining those negotiations?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary. So there seems to be some hope, some optimism this time around. Talks had stalled for many months. There was a key stumbling block in language. But the U.S., U.S. officials say that they were able to have a major breakthrough last week when a call was held between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu that was described as a very focused 30 minute call, focused, of course, on the release of hostages and this deal.

The U.S. had proposed a change in language. You mentioned that around Hamas' insistence that there be a more permanent end to hostilities. Israel, for its part, of course, says it wants to retain the right to continue its military operations to end Hamas.

The U.S., again, had proposed this language to allow for those negotiations around a more permanent end to the war to take place during the first phase of this deal. So remember, it's a three part deal. The first phase is this six week ceasefire where we could potentially see hostages, Israeli hostages that are among the most vulnerable. So women, elderly, weak, exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. But the details here are, of course, what is left outstanding, Rosemary.


As you mentioned, the CIA director on the way to Doha this week, he will meet with the other four key counterparts, Egypt and Qatar, the mediators, of course, Israeli officials, the head of Mossad will be in place in Doha, as well as Hamas officials, of course, and they're going to need to work out the technicalities here.

Which Palestinian prisoners will be released? What are their names? In what sequence will they be released? What will be the ratio of Palestinian prisoners to Israeli hostages released? How will that take place? So all of this is going to be very difficult to bring these two parties on.

We expect that this could take a few weeks time. But on the other side of this, we could see a major breakthrough, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Our thanks to Salma Abdelaiz bringing us that live report from London.

And Benjamin Netanyahu's office is asking that his trial on corruption charges be delayed because of Israel's war with Hamas. But the prosecutor in the case says the court should reject the request. The prosecution wants Netanyahu to testify as early as November. However, the prime minister's office wants the trial pushed back to March of next year.

A result that surprised the world. The left comes out on top in a vote the far-right was expected to win. We'll go back to Max Foster in Paris for more on the French election. That's after the break.


CHURCH: Welcome to Paris. A leader in France's left wing alliance says voters, quote, "rejected the worst case scenario" in parliamentary elections after the far-right failed to reach a majority last night. There were celebrations in the streets when the results were announced. The outcome was a reversal.


Quite a stark one to the first round of voting a week earlier that saw a national rally actually at the top of the poll. But after the second and final round on Sunday, the far-right came in third.

The New Popular Front coalition came in first with 182 seats, making it the largest bloc, though it does not crucially have a majority. Emmanuel Macron's Centrist alliance came in second.

Part of that alliance, Christopher Weissberg, newly elected member of the French parliament. You're close to Macron. I know no one's really spoken to him. We haven't heard from him. But how do you think he's feeling today?

CHRISTOPHER WEISSBERG, NEWLY-ELECTED MEMBER, FRENCH PARLIAMENT: It's probably a very strange feeling, although he did much better than he could have expected last week. You know, we have two rounds last week. We all felt that the French National Rally could win for the first time and be in government for the first time in France over the last 80 years.

And it did not happen. So it's a major relief. And somehow, even if we were supposed to be pretty low, we did -- we did pretty well for -- for an election where we were supposed to be the challengers and be defeated.

FOSTER: You very successfully organized tactical voting, effectively, with the whole of the left just to squeeze out the right from any seats. So how much of a win actually is that? Because now you have to work together and actually find some policies you can all agree on. Not least, who's going to be prime minister?

WEISSBERG: This is going to be the most challenging thing for the next few months. There is no clear winners. There's probably a real loser as the national front, the National Rally, but there's no clear winners today.

Most blocs you spoke about, the bloc, the left bloc, is supposed to be the first one, but they're very divided. They're very scattered. There is a whole part of their group will not be part of the same caucus. So in the next few days, we're going to have different caucuses.

FOSTER: And they'll have to form into a coalition, effectively. And then (inaudible)

WEISSBERG: Right, cause there are coalitions. But then you have groups, you have parliamentary groups. Which you would basically call a caucus. And you'll see there'll be like two different caucus, at least maybe three. And it's inside the left bloc and extreme left of this bloc is going to be extremely hard to get into any kind of coalition.

The best scenario that could happen. And this is the one I've been pledging for many years, is that we get a very broad coalition of people who want to work together, just like we did after World War II. And we actually delivered the best things that this country ever had after this, because there were communists, there were people from the right-wing. And we need to build up this major coalition in order to move on and move forward.

FOSTER: Can you be honest with me about how everyone in your party is feeling about Macron's decision to have a snap election?

WEISSBERG: Yeah, sure. I think, you know, it was -- it was very hard to understand. So most of my colleagues felt surprised and a little, a little sad about not being involved in such an important move.

FOSTER: You've lost colleagues?

WEISSBERG: We've lost almost 100 colleagues, you know, and it's -- this is the saddest thing ever. I think we could have done and tried to work for a broader coalition with the previous assembly.


WEISSBERG: Going to this election with this national rally being so high.

All the French people for the past month have been very depressed. You know, it was supposed to be a time of great, happy, happy moments with the Olympics, with the European Cup. And this never really happened. People were stressed about this perspective of having an extreme-right government. So everyone is a little sad, I think, today.

FOSTER: And a loss for the French people who now have deadlock in parliament and a weakened governing structure.

WEISSBERG: Well, you know, once again, I've always thought that what's the best to expect in politics is to find agreement, even in the U.S. Congress. You know, you have a very polarized left and right, but they still able to work out and to and to make deals.

FOSTER: So it's two parties.

WEISSBERG: It's two parties. But, you know, in most European countries and Germany and the Netherlands and New Zealand and Canada, where I am, my district, there is also a part in Canada. We find ways of making agreements possible and to find coalitions possible.

France is an exception. The most radical thing that could happen and the best thing that could happen to this country is that we turn our institutions in a more parliamentary way and we are able to reach deals. And I will do everything for this to happen. FOSTER: You say the big loser was the far-right. Is that really true when you see how many seats they've got? They are now the official opposition. And if you go look at Le Pen's plan over the last 10 years, she's gaining all the time. And people are saying it's not a case of if they come to power, it's when they come to power. And it could happen next time around.


WEISSBERG: Yeah, I don't want to feel, you know, I don't want people to think that I'm arrogant about they lost. They probably in the long run, the winners of this.

What makes us proud is that because of what happened between the two rounds, we did not wake up this morning with this extreme-right government, like what happened in the U.S. with Trump. You know, Trump was a surprise. How come such a radical right wing guy takes over the Republican Party?

And so everyone was afraid of this perspective here in France and it did not happen. So it's a relief. But you're right in the long run. All those and why I make there is a parallel between Trump and Marine Le Pen, you know, they're close. They're Steve Bannon comes from one country to the other. Those are lies, you know.

So, of course, I'm worried that some medias in France are just like Robert Burdock's done in the U.K. They are pushing for a broader coalition of the extreme-right and the right. And so this is going to happen for the next few months. And we need to be very responsible and to fight against that.

FOSTER: OK, Christopher Weissberg, really appreciate your time. Thank you.

WEISSBERG: Thank you so much.

FOSTER: Could political uncertainty here in France lead to market instability? Anna Stewart joins us. Well, the answer is no. And that's because the far-right didn't actually gain the seats that, you know, even the markets were fearing.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we're seeing very little in terms of knee jerk reaction this morning, which isn't a huge surprise. We can show you how European markets open today. The CAC, I believe, is currently actually edging ever so slightly higher and almost no moves right now on the euro against the dollar.

However, Max, we are seeing some moves in terms of French bond yields. There is more of a premium being priced in here on French debt. And actually, the spread between French and German debt has now widened to about 70 basis points, which is a really key metric if you're looking at how investors are thinking longer term about the French economy. And here's why.

First of all, you're looking at a French parliament, which is split. It's going to be very hard for them to implement any kind of policy, given how divided it is.

Secondly, the difference between what Macron would like to see in terms of policy and what the left alliance would like to see in terms of economic policy are really, really poles apart. Macron, of course, is very much pro-business. He wants to implement market reforms, particularly labor market reforms. Here we have the left alliance having the biggest block in parliament, and they would like to do things like increase spending, increase the minimum wage, return the retirement age to 60 and raise business taxes. So in direct opposition, really, to each other.

And this at a time when France has a huge debt problem. This is really a situation for the E.U. right now. They want to see the debt reined in. I believe debts at 110 percent of GDP, the budget deficit at 5.5 percent, way above the 3 percent limit they're supposed to have.

So now it's looking less and less likely that that will be possible. So no knee jerk reaction today, but longer term, it's looking much less certain really for investors.

FOSTER: OK, Anna, thank you for that.

India's prime minister will meet Russia's president in Moscow in the coming hours. Up next, Rosemary will take a look at the relationship between the two countries and if it's changed since Putin's war in Ukraine.




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. Amid growing questions over whether he's fit for office, U.S. President Joe Biden is getting ready to host some of America's closest allies for the NATO summit. The gathering kicks off in Washington on Tuesday, marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance. Crews were already putting up barricades over the weekend to prepare for the high-stakes summit.

The White House says talks will largely focus on upping support for Ukraine and the country's path toward eventually joining the alliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he had a productive meeting with Mr. Biden to prepare for the summit.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: I'm absolutely confident that when all NATO leaders convene here this week, it will be a great summit. We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the most successful alliance in history. And I just met President Biden in the Oval Office a couple of weeks ago, and that was a good and productive meeting where we prepared all the important decisions we'll make here on defense, on support for Ukraine and not least on burnishing that European allies are now really stepping up and spending record amount of money on the alliance. And of course, also on China and how we need to work together. So this is a substance of the summit. And of course, these decisions would not have been possible to make without a strong U.S. leadership.


CHURCH: And Mr. Biden is expected to take questions at a news conference when the summit concludes on Thursday.

India's prime minister will kick off a two day visit to Moscow in the coming hours. The two leaders are expected to discuss, quote, "regional and global issues of mutual interest." It's the first time Narendra Modi will visit the Russian capital since President Vladimir Putin launched his full scale invasion of Ukraine. India's ties with Russia date back decades to the Cold War and have remained strong despite repeated sanctions on Moscow from the West.

Clare Sebastian joins me from London. But first, we want to go to Ivan Watson, who is live in Hong Kong. So, Ivan, how significant is Prime Minister Modi's trip to Moscow and what are the two leaders likely to discuss and ultimately achieve during their meetings?

IAN WATSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's significant because the two leaders have not held a summit together since 2021. And that's despite the fact that Russia and India enjoy what they describe as a special and privileged partnership. So something's clearly gotten in the way of this, though they have met face-to-face on the sidelines of other meetings, summits in the past, regional summits.

And at one of those last year, that's when Narendra Modi kind of made a subtle critique of Putin. And he said today's era is not of war. There is clearly discomfort about Putin's invasion in 2022 of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict since then, though these two countries have a relationship that goes back to the Cold War, goes back generations.

And India has traditionally been a consumer and importer of Russian defense systems. That continues since the Russian invasion. India has been taking advantage of discounted Russian energy supplies, crude oil that it has been buying at record amounts where the bilateral trade has surged.


The big elephant in the room, though, is Russia's growing tight, increasingly tight relationship with China, which is a rival of India's. India and China have really not been on good terms since 2020 when their two armies got into deadly skirmishes along a disputed border in the Himalayas.

So many analysts are arguing that Modi is going to Moscow in part to try to maintain a channel of communication with the Russian government so that Putin is not seen to go completely into the hands of China's Xi Jinping.

There are some friction areas in this relationship, and one is the fact that India says its citizens have been popping up in the ranks of the Russian armed forces. And that's something that is likely to come up in the two way talks. Let's take a listen.


VINAY KWATRA, INDIAN FOREIGN SECRETARY (through translator): At every level of Russian leadership, both official and political, we have expressed strong concern that Indian citizens who are being taken to the Russian army through improper procedures must be returned promptly.


WATSON: So all in all, this will be part of a geopolitical balancing act for Narendra Modi, maintaining historic ties with Moscow to counterbalance Beijing, while Modi has also enjoyed improving relations, trade and defense relations with countries like the U.S.

CHURCH: All right. Let's go to Clare Sebastian now in London. And Clare, why would Vladimir Putin want India's prime minister visiting him at this time and why are those optics so important to Russia's president?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think, look, aside from the nuances in this relationship with which Ivan has laid out, the optics, as superficial as they may be, are very important to Putin. He's just had an E.U. head of state, Viktor Orban, of Hungary in Moscow, now the Indian prime minister. This is, by the way, a leader with Putin who really wants to present himself as a superpower to rival the U.S.

So the more prime ministerial planes that can land in Moscow at this stage, the better. In think the second thing alongside that is that really this policy of confrontation with the U.S. informs pretty much everything that Russia does in terms of foreign policy. So any way to sort of emphasize or even create divisions in U.S. relationships is something that Moscow will welcome. And of course, as Ivan mentioned, India is a U.S. ally. There's a quote from Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman ahead of this visit, who said that the West is watching this, he said, jealously.

He says they see it as very significant trailing. They are not wrong about this. So you can see that idea creeping through that Russia is trying to sort of recruit more people to its worldview as it sees itself locked in this sort of ideological battle with the West.

There's a wrinkle in this, though, as well. While the U.S. and the West do not want to see India buy more Russian weapons than they need to. And by the way, the amount that they've been buying has been coming down in recent years. They do also see some expediency in Indian purchases of Russian oil.

No one in the West, despite the sanctions on Russia, wants Russian oil to come off the market, because, of course, that will lead to massive price spikes that will affect everyone. So India buying up Russian oil has actually been relatively convenient. So there's some nuance in the way that the West will be watching these talks in this relationship unfold.

CHURCH: All right, Clare Sebastian and Ivan Watson, many thanks to you both for those live reports.

Still to come, eruptions from two volcanoes in Italy made for a spectacular sight for tourists, but also prompted warnings from authorities there. We will have the details after the break.




CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Sicily is running out of water and its booming tourism sector, one of the region's biggest sources of income, is suffering.

Sicily has been under a state of emergency since February thanks to extreme drought conditions and leaking infrastructure. Right now, more than a million people are under water rationing orders, and that includes hotels. Some hotels are turning tourists away, not able to guarantee enough water to flush the toilet or take a shower.

Well, tourists who were able to visit Sicily in recent days were treated to some spectacular scenes. Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, and the smaller Stromboli volcano nearby both erupted on Friday. It drew crowds of onlookers, but also words of caution from local authorities.

CNN's Michael Holmes has our report.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Plumes of hot ash and lava crashed down the Stromboli volcano in Italy. It is a spectacular sight, but Italian officials say it's one you don't want to get too close to.

Italy's Civil Protection Agency issued a red alert for the volcano because of its increased activity and warned the situation could deteriorate. Authorities say as a precaution, they're increasing the number of firefighters and the Italian Coast Guard is stepping up its patrols of the area, although some tourists were able to take boat tours recently to get a better look at the stunning scene.

UNKNOWN (through translator): We have been coming to Stromboli for many years, so we are very fond of this island. We experienced this event more as a spectacle than a worry. I'll bite with due caution. We followed the civil defense's instructions.

HOLMES (voice-over): Thermal imaging shows dramatic pictures of the flow pouring into the sea. Authorities say there are some risks of it triggering a tsunami, but Italian officials say they have evacuation plans prepared in case of an emergency. PIERGIORGIO SCARLATO, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF GEOPHYSICS AND VOLCANOLOGY

(through translator): These flows, these landslides, which are gravitational phenomena or pyroclastic flows, reach the water. Naturally, reaching the sea during a season marked by a strong tourist presence pose some problems. So some additional caution is required.


HOLMES (voice-over): And if that wasn't enough of a show, Mount Etna on a nearby island in Sicily is once again illuminating the sky with its fiery theatrics. It's one of the world's most active volcanoes, but it's been especially busy lately after lava erupted from a crater that's been dormant for about four years. And that, too, is attracting a lot of visitors.

UNKNOWN: Right now, I'm so overwhelmed of a lot of emotions because I have been living in Sicily for five years and I never seen this volcano so close.

HOLMES (voice-over): Perhaps a little less enthusiasm from some locals who had to sweep black ash from the streets, cars and just about everything else. Even the Catania International Airport, Sicily's busiest, was temporarily closed because of ash on runways.

Officials say people should stay out of affected areas. Caution, again, the advice when viewing these natural and potentially dangerous wonders of the world.

UNKNOWN: I've seen more than 100 eruptions in my life. It's always amazing to see an incredible show like that.

HOLMES (voice-over): Michael Holmes, CNN.


CHURCH: Thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. I will be back with more "CNN Newsroom" after a short break. And Max Foster will join me from Paris with the latest on the French elections. Do stay with us.