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Senior U.S. Diplomat Meets Junta Officers In Niger; U.S. Officials Worry Over Potential Arms Sales Between North Koreans and Russians; Impact Of Record Heat On Gas Prices. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 08, 2023 - 05:30   ET





A senior U.S. official has met with the military Junta in Niger to push for a diplomatic resolution to the country's coup. The acting Deputy Secretary of State says that they had a frank conversation but made no progress. Meantime, the Junta has appointed a new prime minister.

CNN's Stephanie Busari joins us now from Nigeria. Stephanie, it sounds like talks have hit a bit of a standstill -- a roadblock. What's the latest?

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN AFRICA SENIOR EDITOR: Well, so the situation is a little bit unclear, but what is clear is that the tough talking and all the rhetoric about military action has really dialed down. This is something that people in the region do not want.

In Nigeria, for example, the northern part of Nigeria has extremely close ties with Niger. They consider them to be brothers. And the governors of those states have been very clear to President Tinubu, of Nigeria. In fact, they do not want any action -- military action that would imperil or impact that relationship.

So we're back to the drawing board -- back to talks. The ECOWAS region -- the community of West African states is holding fresh talks on Thursday.

And as you say, Victoria Nuland was in Niger. She didn't meet Gen. Cheney, the deposed -- the former presidential guard who has taken over power, but she did meet some of his military leaders. She also didn't see the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum because his whereabouts are unknown. And those are key things that she wanted to achieve in that visit.

And she said -- admitted that the talks were tense because these general -- these military leaders are not ready to restore constitutional order. That is what the international community wants. That is what ECOWAS wants. But they are emboldened by the fact that military action was promised and not delivered. They have allies in Mali and Burkina Faso -- neighboring countries

that, themselves, have taken power forcefully. And also, Russia is in the sidelines. The Wagner mercenary military group promising maybe to deploy into the region.

So people here -- some analysts saying that the military Junta in Niger is perhaps emboldened by the fact that the ECOWAS body did not take action as promised. They've taken financial sanctions, they've put economic sanctions, and now, maybe the leaders are saying do your worst.

We've spoken to the Department of State security -- Marty Miller, the Department of State's security spokesman, has said that the U.S. is pushing for diplomacy. He was speaking to reporters. Take a listen to what he had to say.


MARTY MILLER, SPOKESPERSON, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: The window of opportunity is definitely still open. We believe that the Junta should step aside and allow President Bazoum to resume his duties tomorrow -- today, tomorrow, any time in the near future.


BUSARI: So these talks are still ongoing. Everything hinges on Thursday's discussion was ECOWAS. Where will they go next? What will be done? Will they -- will they take planned military action as promised or will diplomacy negotiations continue? We're watching closely, Rahel, and we'll bring you the latest.

SOLOMON: We know you are, Stephanie, and a lot of people watching closely to see what ultimately comes of that. Stephanie Busari live for us in Lagos. Thank you, Stephanie.


All right. New images released by North Korean state media show leader Kim Jung Un touring the country's arms factories and even firing a weapon. Meantime, U.S. officials remain concerned about potential arms sales between Russia and North Korea as Moscow pushes for even closer ties to Pyongyang.

CNN's Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From North Korea's volatile dictator more flexing of military muscle. Sporting a white tunic and the hat of a revolutionary, Kim Jung Un test fires mounted machine guns, part of what North Korean state media says was a tour of munitions factories in recent days -- one of which it says was a large caliber artillery complex. Kim's propaganda arm says the supreme leader presented, quote, "direction and guidance" for the production of ammunition and strategic cruise missiles. DEAN CHENG, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Kim Jung Un, unlike his father,

Kim Jong-il or his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, has had far less time to develop a cult of personality. So he really is, in a sense, creating that cult of personality in office. So he has to, therefore, live up to the images of the strong virile leader.

TODD (voice-over): This comes as U.S. officials say they're increasingly concerned that Kim's regime may sell weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine.

JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Our information indicates that Russia is seeking to increase military cooperation with the DPRK, such as through DPRK's sale of artillery munitions, again, to Russia.

TODD (voice-over): John Kirby says this recent visit by Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu to North Korea was made expressly to convince Kim to sell weapons to Russia.

CHENG: Because North Korea was heavily supplied with Russian munitions throughout the Cold War they have the right calibers. So, 120 2 mm artillery shells, 130 mm artillery shells. They have modern tanks -- again, courtesy of Russia -- which means that they have 125 mm tank shells.

TODD (voice-over): Another bargaining chip in the hands of the North Korean strongman, U.S. Army Private Travis King, who bolted across the border into North Korea last month. U.S. Defense officials tell CNN the Biden administration is debating whether to designate King as a prisoner of war. POW status could give King better protection under the Geneva Convention.

King's family recently told CNN they don't know any more than the public does about his condition or where he's being held inside North Korea.

JAQUEDA GATES, TRAVIS KING'S SISTER: He is not the type to just disappear, so that's why I feel like the story is deeper than that.

TODD (voice-over): Officials say, so far, the North Koreans have not provided any detail on King's whereabouts or his condition. Analysts say the North Koreans almost certainly have interrogated him.

GREG SCARLATOLU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: Perhaps he doesn't know much but, you know, they will ask questions about everything -- chain of command and control, names, training process, access to bases. Any memories that he might have of his military life and his free military civilian life.

TODD (on camera): Greg Scarlatolu says it's also possible that the North Koreans may eventually use Travis King in propaganda, featuring him in anti-American movies or videos.

King's family, meanwhile, says they're working with top negotiator Bill Richardson's nonprofit organization to try to bring him home.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SOLOMON: Quick hits around the globe right now.

Iran warns that it will seize U.S. ships if any of its ships are confiscated. This comes after more than 3,000 U.S. troops were deployed to counter Iranian attempts to seize American shipping vessels.

The U.K., meantime, has begun sheltering asylum seekers on a floating barge that's moored in Southern England. The government wants to cut costs but some opponents call the accommodations, quote, "inhumane."

And the leaders of eight Amazon Rainforest nations gather today for a summit in Brazil. They'll talk about ways to protect critical rainforests after years of deforestation.

And coming up for us, President Biden set to designate a historic new national monument. The surprising reason why. And how extreme heat can't trigger a spike in prices at the pump. We'll have details just ahead.



SOLOMON: And here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

Voters in Ohio will head to the polls for a special election today. They'll decide whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution ahead of a November vote on abortion rights.

Later today, President Biden will designate a vast area near the Grand Canyon as a national monument. The move aims to safeguard the land from uranium mining.

And more than 11,000 Los Angeles city workers, including sanitation and mechanics, and engineers, are set to go on a 24-hour strike today. The union there is protesting unfair labor practices.

Well, it has been a historically hot summer with some cities in the South and West facing record-long bouts of high heat. Around 50 million Americans are under either a heat advisory or warning. And high temperatures are also a factor in the recent surge in gas prices. But how big a factor are they really?

Joining us to discuss is Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst for OPIS. Denton, great to have you this morning.


SOLOMON: Thanks for coming in.

CINQUEGRANA: Oh, my pleasure. SOLOMON: Yes.

So let's start there. I mean, how much of a factor --


SOLOMON: -- is the heat in terms of higher gas prices?

CINQUEGRANA: Well, you've got to think of a refinery this way. These things run on very high heat but when the ambient temperature around is -- OK, yeah, they can operate for a day or two when it's 100 degrees or so. But when it stretches a week, 5-10 days where it's -- where it's 100 degrees or more, that's going to have an impact.

So I like to think about it -- and I just came up with this analogy right now. Think about being a Major League Baseball pitcher. We'd all love to be one, right? So it's a lot easier to throw 100 pitches when it's 80 degrees versus 100 degrees.

So these refineries aren't necessarily breaking down; they're just not operating at 95-100 percent of capacity. They have to drop down to like 80-85 because the heat is having a pretty big impact.


CINQUEGRANA: We've seen it happen years before. So, for example, a couple of years ago up in the Puget Sound up in the Seattle area, there was really high temperatures --



CINQUEGRANA: -- and refineries were running into some struggles there. Because you think about the weather up there --


CINQUEGRANA: -- they're not used to 100-degree temperatures. So --

SOLOMON: So what would you say? Like, 20 percent of the runup is -- can you quantify it?

CINQUEGRANA: Yes, I think that's probably fair.


CINQUEGRANA: Right now, gasoline prices -- retail average about $2.83.


CINQUEGRANA: We've been there for -- actually, for the last couple of days. So I think right now we're actually plateauing.

SOLOMON: Three dollars an acre (PH) or three dollars -- CINQUEGRANA: Three-eighty-three. Yes.

SOLOMON: Yes, yes, yes. I was like, whoa. Where is $2.83?

OK, what about demand and supply? There has been a lot said about demand and also supply these days with Saudi Arabia cutting its output and Russia taking some of the 100,000 barrels off -- 500,000 I want to say --


SOLOMON: -- for Russia.

What's happening with demand and supply prices?

CINQUEGRANA: Sure. So, Saudi Arabia, back in June, announced that they were going to cut unilaterally a million barrels a day of production. They did -- started that in July. They announced last week that they were going to carry that over through September.


CINQUEGRANA: So it's really starting to have an impact on global markets and the amount of crude oil supply in the market. Right now, oil prices are around $81 in the U.S. So I think that the $80 to $85 area is kind of a -- kind of a sweet spot for producers.


CINQUEGRANA: It -- sure, gas prices have gone up but it's not -- we're still 50 cents below where we were at this time last year. Maybe not quite that much but we are -- we have seen disinflation if you will --


CINQUEGRANA: -- when it comes to gasoline prices.

SOLOMON: What about what's ahead? We don't have a lot of time --


SOLOMON: -- but I want to get a sense of what your forecast is. The fall is coming.


SOLOMON: Cooler months, a cooler blend. Do you see relief?

CINQUEGRANA: Yes, absolutely. The last 100 days of the year typically -- usually bring the cheapest gasoline prices of the year.


CINQUEGRANA: Obviously, the last couple of years have been just a whirlwind of events happening -- SOLOMON: Yes.

CINQUEGRANA: -- that changes things.

But the one thing I'm keeping an eye on is hurricane activity. That's always the wild card that you've got to watch --


CINQUEGRANA: -- out for starting in late August into September, and when the hurricane season finally ends at the -- at the end of October. So --

SOLOMON: So watch hurricane season but all things considered, we should hopefully be coming off of some of the --

CINQUEGRANA: Yes, and coastal hurricanes -- like, just watch between Corpus Christie, Texas and Pascagoula, Mississippi. Anything else is more of a demand destroyer than a supply destroyer.

SOLOMON: OK. Great to have you, Denton.

CINQUEGRANA: My pleasure. Thank you.

SOLOMON: Likewise, yes.

All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" the legal battle over evidence in Donald Trump's January 6 case. And next, right here, what happened when the Houston Astros went to the White House? We'll tell you coming up next.



SOLOMON: Well, there is another sign that we are a long way away from the pandemic days of 2020 because now, even Zoom is asking its workers to get back to the office.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Oh, the irony here. The company that taught us all how we could work from home and see each other, Zoom, is now saying it wants its workers in the office at least two days out of every week.

And they're not alone in doing that. Several others have done the same thing. Google, Salesforce, Amazon, and the U.S. government are all saying we like the idea of people being there face-to-face. We like the synergy. We like the productivity that comes out of it. They're convinced that's better.

Now, a lot of workers are not so convinced, especially younger workers and those who are more highly educated. They are saying look, we don't like commuting. Forty-eight percent say that's one of the reasons they don't want to come into the office. It costs gas, it costs time, it costs money.

They don't like paying extra childcare. When they're home they can take care of that. Fourteen percent think that. Thirteen percent say they are better able to focus.

What is the difference here in what they want? Generally, employers want 1.6 days at home per week. Oh, that's weird. We don't take .6 days. So basically, they're saying two days at home a week is enough. Workers want a little more than that so basically, three days at home per week.

The workers have a really strong hand to play here right now because so many employers are still trying to find enough people. And interestingly, working from home, one study found -- workers equate that to an eight percent higher salary if they have the freedom to work from home a lot.

So you can see for employers -- yeah, they want people back, but it's an uphill climb.


SOLOMON: Yes, it's certainly a workers' market -- at least for now.

Well, the Atlantic Coast Conference is reportedly considering adding a couple of teams from the Pacific Coast.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, make it make sense.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: None of it makes sense when it comes to college realignment, Rahel. Good morning to you.

You know, geography -- it just doesn't matter anymore. The Big 10 has Rutgers and Oregon, which couldn't be really further from each other. So it's not that surprising to hear that ACC is potentially looking to add Cal and Stanford. According to multiple reports, the ACC has held exploratory discussions about adding the two California schools. Now, obviously, travel costs for sports teams would be a big hurdle to get over in those talks.

The latest chapter of college realignment has left the Pac-12 with just four schools -- Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State. Those schools now scrambling to find a new home.

All right, Team USA basketball, meanwhile, wrapping up a five-day training camp in Las Vegas with a tune-up game against Puerto Rico. And after a lackluster first half that saw the U.S. lead by only seven at the break, Team USA blowing it open in the third. Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson leading the way with 15 points each in this one. The U.S. would end up winning big, 117-74 in what head coach Steve Kerr called a great night for us.

[05:55:00] All right, to baseball. Red Sox and Royals tied at two in the bottom of the ninth. Boston's Pablo Reyes up at the plate with the bases loaded and gets ahold of this one. Would it stay fair? Yes. It goes off the foul pole for a walk-off grand slam. The Red Sox win 6-2. It was Reyes' first home run in two years.

Fun fact, the Red Sox are now 7-0 this season while wearing those yellow CitiConnect uniforms.

All right, Yankees manager Aaron Boone, meanwhile -- he did not hold back after his Major League Baseball-leading sixth ejection of the season. Boone wasn't too pleased with the job that home plate umpire Laz Diaz was doing calling balls and strikes. And the last straw was when Anthony Volpe was called out on strikes.

Boone going out there to argue with Diaz. And Boone would actually also draw a line in the dirt and then mock the way that Diaz calls strike three. It was pretty funny.

The Yankees, though -- they would go on to lose that game to the White Sox 5-1.

All right. And finally, President Biden welcoming the World Champion Houston Astros to the White House yesterday. And he congratulated Dusty Baker for winning his first title as manager in his 25th season. The 80-year-old Biden joked that he and 74-year-old Baker -- well, they're in similar situations given their age.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst part about it is I remember rooting for him when I was a kid and I was older than he was.


Oh (makes the sign of the cross). Plus, it wasn't easy. People counted you out saying you were past your prime. Hell, I know something about that.



SCHOLES: So, President Biden with the jokes there, Rahel. And both Biden and Baker going for the -- going for a back-to-back -- going for the repeat.

SOLOMON: Don't count them out, they would say.

Andy Scholes --


SOLOMON: -- thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

SOLOMON: And finally, this long-running game show debuts its 40th season next month despite complications from the Writers Guild strike. And the question, of course, is what is "JEOPARDY!"? Producers now revealing their workaround for the strike. It's a mix of material written before the strike and clues recycled from the past.

The show will be bringing back contestants from recent seasons who lost their initial game in what it calls a second chance tournament. Nice -- love it.

I'm Rahel Solomon. Thanks for joining us. Great to be with you today.

And just ahead, mass power outages after powerful storms rolled through the Eastern U.S. Have a great day.