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Biden To Host NATO Summit This Week In Washington; Israeli Military: New Operation Launched In Gaza City; Russian Missile Attacks Kill At Least 36 Across Ukraine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 08, 2024 - 11:30   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Is what the Alliance announces in terms of additional support for Ukraine. We have seen continued support. But how can they up that support in a way that Ukraine actually feels is effective, goes far enough to continue defending against Russia?

Then over the course of the next few days, there are meetings with all these world leaders here in Washington. President Biden and the First Lady are going to be hosting a dinner for all of the world leaders. That will be a critical moment to watch as well.

And one of the things that we have talked to diplomats, they're going to be watching for is not only the substance and how these conversations evolve. What kind of product the actual NATO Alliance is able to come to in their final communique but also, how President Biden is performing, what he looks like, what he sounds like, and what his conversations behind the scenes look like because they all saw that disastrous debate performance just a few weeks ago, and it was concerning to many of them. I spoke with diplomats who saw aspects of President Biden's age declining when they were at the G7 in Italy. That was just last month. So, they're going to be watching his performance very closely over the next few days.

And of course, there are questions in terms of additional substance too on the NATO alliance, what the joint communique will say about countering China, and the like. So, we'll be watching for both of those things. The substance and the performance this week, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very important week indeed. Kylie Atwood over the State Department for us. Thank you, Kylie, very much.

Joining us now to discuss all of this is the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. He also served as the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations. Ambassador Volker, thanks so much for joining us.

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The political uncertainty right now with -- you know, with President Biden and his reelection efforts and Trump seemingly a little bit ahead of the polls, at least for now, how does that affect a NATO summit like this, what are the Allies see and what -- and what are they concerned about?

VOLKER: Well, there's two things that is on everyone's mind right now. The first one is just as you said, it's the leadership of the United States in NATO. Is it going to be President Biden?

Is he capable of that? Is he going to run for reelection? Is he going to get elected? If so, what does that look like?

And a lot of allies are already concerned about what they've seen as a lack of willingness to commit to the defeat of Russia in Ukraine. Then they worry if he doesn't do that, and it's former President Trump coming back, what does that mean for U.S. support for NATO, U.S. support for Ukraine? --


BLITZER: Trump is no fan of NATO as you know.

VOLKER: You know, he has pushed very hard to get countries to spend more. And he feels that the U.S. has not been treated fairly at NATO. I think he undervalues the great value that NATO provides to the security of the United States.

But frankly, we have concerns in Europe about whatever way this goes, they've seen a U.S. that has not been willing to commit to the defeat of Russia. And that is raising questions now about the future of American leadership in the Alliance. That's on everybody's mind.

And frankly, it's not really going to be center stage here at NATO. They're going to talk about it in the margins. But a lot of what we see at a summit like this was pre-planned weeks ago, months ago, some incremental steps to increase support for Ukraine, bringing the Ramstein process under a NATO flag, helping Ukraine with long-term defense reform and defense industrial production, but commitment to winning the war and what's the future of U.S. leadership. This is going to be questions hanging over this.

BLITZER: As you know, at this NATO Summit that's about to begin right here in Washington, D.C., there's one issue a so-called bridge to membership for Ukraine that's on the agenda. Talk a little bit about that.


BLITZER: Is Ukraine about to become a full-scale member of NATO?

VOLKER: No, they're not. And I think they should. I think that that should be part of a Western strategy for helping end the war that we see that Putin does not attack NATO members. He does attack countries that are not in NATO. We have to help Ukraine win the war, and then lock it down and bring them in.

That's not what this is about. This -- we've had now since 2008, 16 years of NATO saying Ukraine will be a member someday, but not really taking the step to invite them. That's what's going to happen again this time. We're just changing the language to say now it's a bridge. Now, we're getting closer. Now, we will get to that someday, someday. But we're still not there yet.

BLITZER: Because you -- to become a full-scale member of NATO, it has to be unanimous. All the NATO allies have to agree.


BLITZER: And there are some NATO allies that clearly are strongly opposed to Ukraine coming in.

VOLKER: Hungary, for example, is probably number one that would say we're not ready to do that yet. Other countries, including the United States and Germany, they worry that if we bring them into NATO now, we have an obligation to go to war to ourselves to fight to protect them. And so, they're dragging their feet on that.

I think that we have to think of this not so much like we did NATO enlargement in the '90s when there was no war going on. We have to think of this more like 1949 when we founded NATO 75 years ago, and we all had to take a risk to band together to prevent the next war. And I think that's what we're facing now. If we don't do this, we're not preventing the next war.


BLITZER: You heard a report from Paris. How do you see the results of the French election potentially playing out this week at the NATO Summit?

VOLKER: Well, I think NATO dodged a bullet on this because if the far right was forming the government in Paris, we would most likely see France pulling out of the NATO-integrated military structure, and France changing its position on support for Ukraine. Now, they're going to have a hard time forming a government as we just heard from your correspondent, but at least it's not going to be a fundamental change in direction.

BLITZER: There are still a lot of threats out there from Russia, from China all over the place. I want you to listen to what NATO Secretary General said about Russia and China just yesterday. Listen to this.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: The war in Ukraine demonstrates how closely aligned Russia and China and North Korea and Iran are. China is the main neighbor of Russia's war aggression against Ukraine. President Xi and President Putin, they all want NATO and the United States to fail in Ukraine.

And if Putin wins in Ukraine, it will not only embolden President Putin but also embolden President Xi. As the Japanese Prime Minister said what happens in Ukraine today can happen in Asia tomorrow. So, it demonstrates that NATO is important for the United States also when it comes to addressing China. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Ambassador, how should the NATO Allies deal with China right now? You heard Jen Stoltenberg --

VOLKER: Right.

BLITZER: What he just said.

VOLKER: Right. So, I think Stoltenberg is absolutely right that there is a growing axis of cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and I would even add Venezuela to that. So that is a growing problem. The best way to address that problem is to make sure that Russia is defeated in Ukraine.

So, everybody sees that this did not work. They wanted to take territory, they wanted to eliminate Ukraine, and they hurt themselves in the process. That would be the strongest message for China that has designs on Taiwan, or North Korea on South Korea, and so forth.

BLITZER: And if NATO did accept Ukraine as a full-scale member, it would obligate the United States and all the other NATO allies to get involved militarily in supporting directly fighting with the Ukrainians.

VOLKER: Well, this is something where I think people read a lot into that. NATO's Article Five doesn't say what we will do. It says we will do something to assure the security and defense of its members.

We have a lot of room to talk with Ukraine about what we would do. Some steps we could take now whether they're a NATO member or not, we could be helping Ukraine with air defense while the war is going on.

BLITZER: But very quickly, I thought Article Five says that if any NATO ally is attacked, all the NATO allies are attacked.

VOLKER: Indeed. An attack on one is an attack on all.

BLITZER: That's right.

VOLKER: It doesn't dictate the response. And the response, like -- the only time NATO's Article Five was invoked, was when we were attacked on 911. And what did we do?

We didn't have NATO go to war in Afghanistan right away. We had European aircraft flying over the United States to protect American skies in case there were more 911 attackers. It wasn't until years later, and it wasn't an Article Five operation when NATO took over the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan.

There's a lot to talk about. Most important is the signal that we send. Are we going to make sure that Ukraine wins and Russia loses, or are we still just doing enough to keep them afloat but not really clear about where we're going?

BLITZER: I know where you stand. Ambassador Volker, thanks very much for coming in.

VOLKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll be watching this summit all week. And as we've noted, the president, President Biden will have a full-scale news conference on Thursday, right after the summit.

Just ahead. Hamas is dropping a key demand in the ceasefire talks with Israel. What this potentially could mean for the director of the CIA who was on the scene representing the United States as he tries to help with the negotiations? Stay with us. You're live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.



BLITZER: Happening now in Gaza. Israel has issued a new evacuation order after launching what its military is calling a counter -- excuse me, a counterterrorism operation against Hamas. Families have been crowding the streets of Gaza City. Some caring almost everything they own as they simply try to find shelter.

Meanwhile, CNN has been allowed inside Rafah now for the first time since the IDF launched its ground assault some two months ago. CNN's Jeremy Diamond filed this report from Rafah.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Thick clouds of sand shroud the road to Rafah. But as the dust settles, the destruction is unmistakable. Flattened homes and bombed-out buildings, Gaza's last refuge devastated by the Israeli military assault on this city.

DIAMOND: We are now entering the third month of Israeli military operations in Rafah. And you can see all around me the kind of destruction that these last two-plus months of military operations have brought inside the city of Rafah. All around destruction, very similar to the kind that I've seen in central Gaza, as well as in the northern part of the strip.

DIAMOND (voiceover): This is the first time CNN has gotten access to this devastated city. Israel and Egypt have barred journalists from Gaza except under tightly controlled military embeds like this.

REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, IDF SPOKESMAN: We're working in this area very, very precise, very, very accurate. Unfortunately, the destruction is one to blame. Hamas.

DIAMOND (voiceover): The Israeli military says it has killed over 900 Hamas fighters here and believes it is close to defeating the group's Rafah brigade. But the fighting is clearly not over yet, nor is the effort to uncover Hamas's vast network of tunnels in Rafah.

HAGARI: This tunnel goes down over 28 meters underneath the ground. [11:45:04]

DIAMOND (voiceover): As well as along Gaza's border with Egypt.

DIAMOND: Right behind me here is the Egypt-Gaza border. We are now driving along what is known as the Philadelphi Corridor, a strategic corridor that the Israeli military seized two months ago. They say they did so because they believe Hamas was smuggling weapons across from Egypt and then from this area deeper into Gaza.

DIAMOND (voiceover): Israeli forces say they have uncovered dozens of tunnel shafts here but cannot definitively say if any of the tunnels stretching into Egypt were operational.

HAGARI: We found dozens like the tunnels that you saw. And we are researching those tunnels carefully making sure which ones were functional, which ones are not functional anymore because maybe they were from the Egyptian side.

DIAMOND: So, will this -- will this be the last ground operation in Rafah?

HAGARI: I won't say that because what you will see is when will have intelligence that may be their hostages in one of the points in Gaza, we will operate.

DIAMOND (voiceover): Before leaving Gaza, our convoy drives by what's left of the Gaza inside of the Rafah border crossing. Once a lifeline for millions of Palestinians, it now lies in ruins. The Israeli military says it is now facilitating a safe corridor for these trucks to deliver aid to Gaza via Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing. But humanitarian aid groups say the roads are still not safe. And simply not enough aid is getting in as the war rages on.


DIAMOND (on camera): And, Wolf, you heard there, Admiral Hagari, saying that he couldn't say that the Rafah ground operation will be the last ground operation the Israeli military carries out in Gaza. And that's because we've been watching Israeli forces playing this constant game of whack-a-mole in Gaza going back to areas that they had previously withdrawn from like Gaza City once again, as the Israeli military launched its latest military operation there overnight.

And that's going to continue so long as Israel doesn't craft a long- term policy in Gaza or until a ceasefire agreement is reached. And we know, of course, that those negotiations are very actively moving forward this week. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jerusalem Correspondent Jeremy Diamond reporting for us. Excellent report, Jeremy. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, the CIA director Bill Burns heads to Qatar later this week to push a hostage and ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas. One promising update right now. Hamas appears ready to reconsider its demand that Israel agree to a permanent ceasefire before any deal can be reached. That according to a senior Hamas official.

CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is with me here in the CNN NEWSROOM. Could the CIA director's trip to Qatar potentially be a sign that a deal between Hamas and Israel is close?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Director Bill Burns wouldn't be going out on this trip if he didn't think it was promising. At the same time, it really is too soon to say whether this is you know, going to happen anytime soon. We have seen Burns go out to the region before to meet with counterparts and come back empty-handed. In fact, come back saying that the talks are essentially falling apart.

So, Burns going out there is a promising sign. He's going first to Cairo. We believe that that's for bilateral meetings with the Egyptians who have an important relationship with Hamas. And then he'll go on to the Qatari capital of Doha, where he'll meet with fellow mediators from Egypt -- from Qatar. And the head of Israeli intelligence, David Barnea.

Wolf, the U.S. is saying that this is not something that's going to happen imminently. Israeli sources are telling CNN that this could happen. It would be about two to three weeks away. There are still clearly many points that need to be hammered out between the two sides.

How many Palestinian hostages -- prisoners would be released in exchange for the Israeli hostages? Who those would be? And then there's this major question about whether this will lead to a permanent ceasefire. That is something that Hamas has insisted upon for many months.

Now, we believe that there are pulling back from that demand that a temporary ceasefire would lead to a permanent ceasefire. So, what we could see is this temporary ceasefire go into effect. What we do know from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is he continues to insist that even if there is a temporary ceasefire, that the IDF would then retain the ability and the right to continue going after Hamas. So, there are still significant gaps, but certainly moving in the right direction if Bill Burns is heading out there.

BLITZER: And not just Bill Burns, but the head of the Israeli Mossad Intelligence Service, David Barnea, as you point out, also going to be in Qatar for these negotiations, even though Israel and Qatar don't have formal diplomatic relations.

MARQUARDT: Yes. And they've been meeting quite regularly for the past few months. Perhaps, you're right. This meeting that we call the meeting of the QUAD is the head of Mossad, David Barnea, Burns, as well as the Qatari Prime Minister and the head of Egyptian intelligence.

Now, of course, the U.S. and Israel don't speak directly with Hamas. That's why Egypt and Qatar are there. So, they certainly in this meeting with the QUAD middle of this week, they want to hammer out those details to then get that to Hamas to try to finally once and for all nine months later, tried to get some kind of ceasefire into effect that the U.S. really does hope becomes a permanent ceasefire.


BLITZER: Let's hope there's at least a temporary ceasefire, and those hostages are allowed to go home.

MARQUARDT: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for that report.

Just ahead. Devastating strikes across Ukraine today, including over at a children's hospital in Kyiv. We're going to get the latest on the attack. Stay with us. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.


BLITZER: New this morning. A new wave of Russian missile attacks on major Ukrainian cities. At least 36 people killed, more than 120 injured. Among the buildings hit, a children's hospital in the capital of Kyiv. At least two people reported killed there.

CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is joining us right now. Nic, what more are you learning about these latest Russian attacks?


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Wolf. President Zelenskyy is saying that the attack that hit the Children's Hospital killing people in the hospital will not go unanswered. He'd called for the UN Security Council to meet to discuss this. A meeting has been called for Tuesday. 10:00 a.m. Tuesday that will happen.

What we've heard from Ukrainian officials today is a style and type of Russian attack that they believe was intended to hit civilians. A little different from some of the recent attacks that have been targeting energy infrastructure. These came the combination of cruise missiles and these hypersonic missiles or super-fast missiles -- ballistic missiles as well came around 10:00 a.m. in the morning Ukraine time when people officials say would have been on their way to work.

So, it does appear by the nature of the targets the fact that a children's hospital was hit, now the Russians have pushed back and said that this was -- that the hospital was hit by falling debris there from a missile intercept. We've had independent military analysts -- CNN has had independent military analysts who've looked at the damage at the hospital that you're seeing there and other people picking through the rubble. Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing to try to -- try to get people out from under the rubble, particularly the children in the hospital.

And our experts say this was -- this was the impact of a missile. That is very, very clear to them. The impacts as well, and the killings coming all over Ukraine in the center of Ukraine in the -- in the big city of Kryvyi Rih and the Donetsk region as well, close to the frontline. So, this has been multiple strikes, multiple locations at a time that appears intended to hit civilians, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it looks devastated. Those pictures are awful. So, so terrible, indeed. Is the sense, Nic, that the Russians deliberately targeted that Children's Hospital in Kyiv or not?

ROBERTSON: Zelenskyy -- President Zelenskyy is saying that it can be no excuses from the Russians. There is no way that they didn't know after all this time that that was a hospital. It also appears to be part of a systematic effort by Russia to hit hospitals. And this on the eve of the NATO Summit in Washington, Russia is sending a message.

BLITZER: A very, very awful message. Nic Robertson reporting for us, THANK you very much. And to our viewers, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

I'll be back later today. 6:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Stay with CNN. "INSIDE POLITICS" with DANA bash starts right after a very short break.