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Isa Soares Tonight

Talks On New Pause In Gaza War Gain Urgency As Hamas Chief Visits Cairo; Aid Groups Say Children In Gaza Are Getting Less Than 10 Percent Of What They Need; Colorado Supreme Court Rules To Strike Trump From The Ballot; White House "Very Serious" Hostage Discussions Underway; Lava From Iceland Volcano Eases But Could Reach Capital; U.S. And Venezuela Agree To Prisoner Swap. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 20, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: A very warm welcome to the show, everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, efforts for a pause as Israel signals it

might be open to a temporary truce in Gaza if it can get more hostages out. We have the very latest for you. Barely a drop to drink.

Aid groups say children in Gaza are getting less than 10 percent of what they need as the threat of waterborne diseases becomes more critical. And

an explosive ruling from the U.S. state of Colorado, disqualifying Donald Trump from the Republican presidential primary ballot. What it means and

how the former president is responding.

But first this hour, we begin with urgent efforts on several fronts, in fact, to secure a new truce in Gaza. A source tells CNN Israel is proposing

a week-long pause in fighting to secure the release of more hostages. That message conveyed indirectly to Hamas through Qatari mediators.

U.S. President Joe Biden just confirmed his government is pushing for a deal, but he says, there's, quote, "no expectations at this point".

Meantime, at the United Nations, the Security Council has once again delayed a vote on a resolution that calls for a suspension of fighting,

this time until Thursday.

They are trying to agree on the language that would avoid a U.S. veto. While diplomats debate the wording, well, the death toll in Gaza soars.

Dozens more people were killed in Israeli airstrikes today, and this video is from the Jabalia Refugee Camp.

And this is the aftermath of a strike in Rafah, the most densely-crowded area of Gaza right now. Let's get more on all these threats for you. Our

Jeremy Diamond is live for us in Tel Aviv. And Jeremy, what more are you learning at this stage about this report of an apparent offer from Israel

for pausing fighting in exchange for the release of hostages? Where are we on this hostage deal?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isa, there has been a flurry of activity in recent days, and Israel in particular appears more willing than

it has been in several weeks now to try and work out a deal for the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in the fighting.

We have seen over the weekend and earlier this week as David Barnea, the head of the Mossad travel to two different European cities, to meet not

only with the prime minister of Qatar, which is one of the key negotiators here, but also to meet with the CIA Director Bill Burns, who has been

heavily-involved in these talks.

And today, we learned that Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas traveled to Cairo for negotiations as well. Egypt also playing a key role in the

mediation. It appears that Israel has put a deal on the table, and offer on the table at least for a week-long pause in the hostilities in exchange

for the release of some 40 hostages, women as well as elderly and sick and injured hostages being the priority to be released.

Hamas, we understand is also beginning to demand that more serious prisoners, convicted of more serious offenses and who have been held in

Israeli jails for longer be released. But it's important to keep in mind that as of just a few days ago, Hamas was still saying that they wouldn't

even engage in negotiations until Israel stopped its offensive in Gaza.

That of course, is not going to happen from Israel's perspective. So, a lot of questions about whether the two sides can begin to bridge the gap. But

at least, it appears that there's some activity moving in the direction at least --

SOARES: Yes --

DIAMOND: Of those negotiations resuming.

SOARES: Yes, and meantime, Jeremy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today vowing to continue fighting, he said, until Hamas, his words, are

eliminated. This of course, as we mentioned, as the U.N. Security Council is set to vote now tomorrow on a Gaza resolution.

What is your understanding of what is holding this up, this fold-up. Because yesterday, there was the sense the wording, it was all to do with

the wording, cessation of hostilities versus a suspension of hostilities. What are you hearing from your sources?

DIAMOND: Yes, that was the focus yesterday on whether it was a full stop or a suspension of the hostilities. We know, of course, that the United States

had previously vetoed a resolution earlier this month that called for an all-out ceasefire. Now, a diplomatic source is telling us that there are

key issues with the draft that still remain, including the cessation of hostilities language.

But also, a language that would call for the United Nations to establish some kind of monitoring mechanism in the Gaza Strip that would have

personnel and equipment under the authority of the U.N. Secretary-General.


I think what's interesting about this continued delay in the actual vote indicates that there are real negotiations going on, and also indicates

that the United States is very much trying to get --

SOARES: Yes --

DIAMOND: To a place where the language can match up with something that they can support. We heard earlier today the Secretary of State Tony

Blinken saying that he is hopeful that the U.S. would, quote, "get to a good place on the issue, and making sure that the resolution would call for

something that would actually advance the efforts to get to a pause in the hostilities rather than standing in the way."

That's kind of diplo-speak there from the Secretary of State, but nonetheless, indication that the U.S. is actually genuinely looking for a

way to get to a yes perhaps --

SOARES: Yes --

DIAMOND: Here, perhaps even more than just an extension in this case.

SOARES: Jeremy Diamond there with the very latest, thanks very much, Jeremy. And in about ten -- well, less than ten minutes or so, I will be

speaking with the Spanish Foreign Minister right here, well, plenty for us to talk about, not just about Israel-Hamas war, but also the other war, not

just the war in Ukraine.

Well, as the war stretches on and then they struggle for survival, it gets more and more difficult for civilians in Gaza. UNICEF says children have

barely a drop to drink, warning of extreme water shortages as preventable diseases spread. There's also an acute lack of food leaving many at risk of

starvation. Our Jomana Karadsheh has more on the growing humanitarian catastrophe.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For weeks, this is what we've seen of the war on Gaza. Israel's brutal military might,

pounding neighborhoods into dust. In central Gaza's Nsana(ph), whole blocks reduced to rubble, seemingly deserted, unlivable.

But there is also this, the near-surreal scenes, this, we can say that. The hustle and bustle of a street market. It's the story of every war where

life doesn't stop, it goes on for those trying to survive. But Gaza is like no other place. It's where more than 2 million are crammed into this tiny

strip of land that now looks like it's been bombed back into ages past where those who have lost everything have nowhere left, but the streets.

That's where Modines(ph) is building a clay oven, hoping people would pay him a shekel or two to use it, he says. Maybe then, he'll have enough to

buy his children cheese or tomatoes. "Our lives are million years behind, even sewage", Modines(ph) says, "every time it rains, the sewage overflows.

It's cold, there's no food, no water, no warm clothes."

Most here have escaped the bombs, only to be trapped in this misery. Disease and starvation, the U.N. warn may soon kill more than those bombs.

Half the population it says are now starving. People going entire days without eating.

Ahmed(ph) says she collects a bit of flour from here and there to make bread for her children. "We're all thrown into the streets", she says.

"They said go to the south, we came to the south to die slowly." Human Rights Watch says Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war. It's a war

crime Israel denies and calls it a lie.

It accuses Hamas of stealing aid. In the wake of October 7th, Israel's Defense Minister announced a siege of Gaza, quote, "no electricity, no

fuel, everything closed until all hostages were returned. Some aid and water delivery resumed, but nowhere near enough, much of the blockade

remains in place.

What rights groups call collective punishment. Sometimes the lucky ones find more than lentils and bread for the hungry mouths they have to feed.

This mother uses a pair of jeans for her fire to boil some chicken wings and bones.

"I'm using clothes and cardboard to make fire and cook", she says. "The situation is disastrous, but I need to find a way for my children, we are

on the street because we have nowhere to shelter." Fleeing the bombs, scrounging for food.

Now, the people of Gaza desperately wait for the moment. They can try once again to live. Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


SOARES: Well, leaders from Spain and several other EU countries called for a discussion of a Gaza ceasefire last week's European Council Summit, if

you remember. Their message, this -- was this in part, and I'm going to read it to you, "we have reached a moment in which the European Union must

go further on three issues, first and above all, we must call urgently for all the parties to declare a lasting humanitarian ceasefire that can lead

to an end of hostilities."

Joining us now to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, plus Europe's response is the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares. Minister,

thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us this evening.


As you just heard there, we are hearing growing calls from leaders for humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, a position that Spain backs, I believe, and

has backed since early December. Spain has been calling --correct me if I'm wrong for a permanent ceasefire. But the language at the U.N. seems to be

around a suspension of hostilities. Does that go far enough in your view?

JOSE MANUEL ALBARES, FOREIGN MINISTER, SPAIN: What we want, and we have been calling for that is have humanitarian ceasefire that would be lasting

and sustained. What we want is humanitarian aid to be able to enter Gaza, and to reach the civilian population. And then at the end, what we really

want is to put an end to this violence.

We have to protect the civilians, the Palestinian-civilians. We have to make sure that they are not hidden when some terrorist target wants to be

hit. And at the end, we want this conference, because we must make sure that this will be the last time we see this kind of violence. And that all

of the Palestinian people, it's really related to the guarantees of security for the Israeli people.

And that hope of the Palestinian people is the recognition of a Palestinian state. At the end, when the Palestinian National Authority to be able to

take care of both the West Bank and Gaza, both of them connected, and with the capital in east Jerusalem.

All that is what Spain wants, and we will be talking and speaking that -- about that, and of course, backing the Secretary-General of the United

Nations for that.

SOARES: As you well know, Minister Albares, the United States and Israel opposed a ceasefire because they believe would only benefit Hamas. And I

suppose for a humanitarian ceasefire to happen, Hamas needs to agree to the terms. How can they be trusted? Will this include also from your side a

release of the Israeli hostages that are being held?

ALBARES: Of course, and we have said that since the very same day of October the 7th. Hamas is a terrorist organization, it's only a terrorist

organization. It doesn't represent the Palestinian people. The Palestinian National Authority represents the Palestinian people. We have to make the

difference between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that carry out the horrible terrorist attack on October the 7th. And Israel has the right to

defend itself from terrorism like any nation --

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: In the world. Spain only knows that very well. But we have to be very -- sift Hamas from the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National

Authority. And we have been calling for the release of all hostages immediately without any condition, and in spite of their nationality or

their religion, of course.

SOARES: And I'm not sure, you probably did hear what we heard from the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell today, who -- yesterday, pardon me, who

basically said that the EU is losing moral ground due to its stance on the war in Gaza.

Your Prime Minister, Prime Minister Sanchez has said in that letter, that part of the letter we just put out that was signed by three other leaders,

European leaders that our credibility is at stake. What does that mean, Minister?

ALBARES: In our discussion, in our conversation with Arab -- with our Arab friends, what we discussed with countries of what we call today the global

south. Something that can have some very quickly in a conversation is the double standards.

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: You, Europeans, you condemn very heavily Ukraine what you're not capable of doing in Gaza. And this is what we are talking about. People are

asking us to speak out in the defense of the Palestinian civilians, and speak out about all those thousands of Palestinians that are being killed,

innocent people, as all those Israelis that were killed, and they were completely innocent people by the terrorist attackers of Hamas, speaking

out on behalf of them, saying that they must have access to humanitarian assistance that Spain is ready to provide tomorrow.

That they must have their basic supplies, medicine, food, available. That doesn't take away a piece of saying that Israel has that right for

security. That Israel has the right to defend itself from a terrorist attack, and of condemning the terrorists of Hamas.

But there is this idea and what we can call broadly, the global south, that there are two establishments. One for Ukraine, and another one for Gaza.


And Spain, that still want the gap, because what we condemn in Ukraine is exactly the same thing that --

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: We condemn in the Middle East.

SOARES: And that's something I heard earlier this month. I mean, December - - no, I'd say November, in fact, when I spoke to the Norwegian Foreign Minister, where he said to me that the long-term effect of what is

happening in Gaza, he said will reduce the sympathy and support for the Ukrainian cause globally.

And he went on to say, if we, westerners are seen holding ourselves to different standards. So, on this peace conference that Spain has been

pushing for. Is that going to go ahead, Minister? If so, when?

ALBARES: I hope so. We have put it forward, and so far, 88 countries in the war are packing. He was --

SOARES: Has the United States agreed to it? Signed up for it?

ALBARES: We have discussed with the United States authorities, but they are not at this moment on this speaking on behalf of that. All European Union

who did in the council of closet(ph) of October, that means all figures in various government of European Union.

The Arab League, its secretary-general also spoke on behalf of that. So, this is a very broad idea today in Europe and in the Arab world. When I

imagine --

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: That, pause, there should be a agreement-inspiring before we talk about the peace conference. But --

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: Concentrating ourselves with what's urgent. Stopping all this violence in the Middle East, must not take us away from the day after. We -


SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: Must make sure that this violence that we see repeatedly every X years stop. This --

SOARES: Yes --

ALBARES: Must be the last time.

SOARES: And Minister, I want to leave what we've seen in the humanitarian situation -- disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza for just a moment

and focus on Ukraine. Because the EU like the U.S., as we've been telling our viewers here are in political deadlock over funding for Ukraine.

In Europe, Viktor Orban, as we reported this week stopping a $50 billion of aid going -- from going through basically. How confident is Spain that the

aid will come through for Ukraine here?

ALBARES: I'm pretty sure that at the end, we'll find a way to support Ukraine. Spain is going to do it. We will be backing Ukraine as long as it

needs it, and in all possible ways. And almost, all of the countries except one so far are totally agreeing on this new financial package, and ensure

that we will manage to do it.

Because at the end, what is at stake in Ukraine are the European Union values -- democracy, equal sovereignty of Spain, rejecting the wars away of

settling disputes between the states. Everything that makes European Union "European Union". It's an idea about peace to end the war among European

countries, we will not allow that, the war between the states to be back at the heart of Europe.

SOARES: Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares, really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us, thank you sir.

ALBARES: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, uncharted territory. The historical ruling from Colorado's Supreme Court that Donald Trump is not eligible to

run for president in that state. Plus, thousands of residents forced from their homes due to Iceland's erupting volcano. And I've been told they

won't be allowed back in time for Christmas.

More on what Mayor of Grindavik is saying, next.



SOARES: Now, to that stunning ruling that could significantly impact the 2024 U.S. presidential election. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday

that Donald Trump is ineligible to run for president. It disqualified him from the state's primary ballot after finding that he violated the

constitution by engaging in insurrection during the Capitol Hill riot in 2021.

Trump's legal team says he will swiftly appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Colorado's decision is on hold pending that appeal. CNN's

Alayna Treene is in Washington with more on the reaction from the Trump campaign.

So how exactly is Trump responding here? And I do wonder whether this, Alayna, helps him to cement his support, because he always seems to do well

every time he's in legal problems.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: No, that's exactly right, Isa. Well, first of all, I just want to say Donald Trump's team is very much surprised by this

ruling. They had expected that the higher courts in Colorado would have ultimately ruled in his favor.

Clearly, that is not what happened. But while they weren't expecting this, they were prepared with a statement that they released almost immediately

after this decision was announced. And in it, a Trump campaign adviser said, quote, "it was a completely flawed decision tonight, and we will

swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court."

And look, Isa, I think you're exactly right. The strategy that they're going to be using here moving forward is the same type of strategy we've

seen them use when Donald Trump has faced other legal issues, including the four indictments against him earlier this year.

And that's essentially to attack this decision as political, to argue that the judges on the bench are biased against him, and also to try and

fundraise off of his legal misfortune. And through my conversations with Donald Trump's team, they think this strategy will be successful.

They do think this will further cement his support with his Republican base as we have seen time and time again in the past. And I'm -- I think you'll

probably also see a short-term polling boost, again, more donations coming to Donald Trump just as we have seen when he has faced some of the

indictments and other legal challenges over the past several months.

SOARES: Alayna, I know you'll stay across it, thank you very much, appreciate it. Well, to help us wrap our heads around this unprecedented

ruling, CNN legal analyst, Norm Eisen joins me from Washington, a well- known face here on the show.

He served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment and trial of President Trump. Norm, great to have you back on

the show. Look, we really need your guidance here, because this is a historic decision. But it is uncharted territory, right? So, walk us

through first of all how the Colorado Supreme Court is explaining this ruling.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Isa, thanks for having me back. And the Colorado Supreme Court is pointing to the United States' constitution,

the 14th Amendment, Section 3, which says that those who engage in insurrection against the United States may not serve in office.

And they found that the former president did engage in insurrection because of his behavior on January 6th. His failure to stop the rioting that day,

and things like his 2:24 p.m. tweet, targeting Mike Pence, while his own vice president was in the middle of the violence on Capitol Hill.

They say therefore, the president's position on the ballot is not open to Donald Trump. And now, for the first time in American history, United

States Supreme Court will decide if the Colorado Supreme Court was right or wrong.


SOARES: But -- I mean, Norm, did the Colorado Supreme Court kind of jumped the gun, because he hasn't been criminally convicted yet? Explain that to


EISEN: Yes, the standard under the 14th Amendment does not require criminal conviction. It requires a court to find as a matter of applying the law to

the facts, did Donald Trump engage in insurrection or not? And you had a trial court in Colorado that heard witnesses, lifted documents. This is not

the first time Donald Trump --

SOARES: Yes --

EISEN: Has been found to be an insurrectionist -- a bipartisan January 6th committee reached the same conclusion. So that's the factual basis for

saying Donald Trump did it. And now, the Supreme Court will say, hey, did they get the facts right? Did they get the law right?

SOARES: So, how fast then, realistically, here, Norm, could this go to the Supreme Court? And what are the chances of the Supreme Court? Because, of

course, we know there, the balance of the court has become more conservative, isn't it? Thanks in part to the appointees, the justices, the

three justices who Trump appointed there.

EISEN: The case could move quickly in the Supreme Court, only the nine justices know the answer to that for sure. As soon as Donald Trump files a

request for relief in the United States Supreme Court, and he said he will. Under the terms of the Colorado order, the proceedings are staked(ph).

So the Supreme Court doesn't have to go fast because as soon as that appeal is filed, Colorado has said, hey, we'll continue our stay. So I think the

Supreme Court will take a look at it. It could be weeks, it could be months. It's one of the many items on their docket. And that --

SOARES: Yes --

EISEN: Ultimately, Isa, is how we have to look at this in the context of the criminal proceedings against Donald Trump. The majority of the American

people say if Donald Trump is found guilty on one of the other cases, one of the criminal cases, wow, that makes a big difference to them. And those

issues are also before the Supreme Court.

SOARES: Yes --

EISEN: So, I think in the -- in the next two months, we're going to see some decisions about the Supreme Court that will really affect Donald

Trump's future in 2024 and beyond.

SOARES: Yes, and on that point, really Norm, you know, if SCOTUS does take up this case like you said, it would join a number of other Trump cases

like whether he's immune from criminal prosecution for the actions he took of course, in office, and the scope of obstruction charges central to his

federal January 6th case, right?

So I wonder what role the courts play here in this election and the timing? Because obviously, we've got elections next year.

EISEN: Because the allegations against the former president are claims by prosecutors and litigants and others that Donald Trump broke the law,

offended the rule of law. The courts have a huge role to play in adjudicating questions around January 6th.

So the Supreme Court, but also the lower courts, if -- as many analysts anticipate the Supreme Court does not say Donald Trump is immune from

criminal prosecution, another very important case. Then that goes down to a trial court judge and Donald Trump will very likely in my analysis be on

trial, criminally in 2024.

So, the courts have a huge role to play because in polling of the American public, if Donald Trump is convicted, if he's found guilty, in some polls,

he goes from being 5 points up to 9 points down. Up 14 points swing. That's how important these cases can be. This civil disqualification case is only

one of a basket of essential rulings that will determine the course of 2024 and years to come here in the U.S.

SOARES: Very much an uncharted territory. Norm, really appreciate you breaking it all down for us. Thank you very much, good to see you.

EISEN: Right --

SOARES: And still to come tonight, Israel back at the bumping table. Will we see another pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of more

hostages. And the U.S. announces a new coalition of countries to combat the threat of attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. Very first stories

after this break. You are watching CNN.



SOARES: The White House says that there are very serious negotiations going on now in an effort to secure the release of more Israeli hostages held in


The sources stressed that a deal isn't imminent. An Israeli official tells CNN that a 1- to 2-week pause in fighting could be part of potential

agreement between Israel and Hamas. Let's get more on this. CNN chief national security correspondent Alex Marquardt joins us now from the State


It's good to see you.

What's your understanding?

What do you hear from the United States about this possible truce and Gaza in exchange for the hostages?

Particularly, the parameters of this deal.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. is very eager to see another release of hostages, another pause in this fighting.

Not just for that release but also for humanitarian reasons.

It is clear that there is a flurry of activity when it comes to discussions. It does not look like there are significant negotiations at

this point. But there are certainly discussions about how to get Israel and Hamas back to the table.

To what extent that is connected to the horrific tragedy that took place on Friday, when Israel killed three of its own hostages, that's not clear. But

all of the parties are talking. We've seen the director of the Mossad, David Barnea, meeting with his American counterpart, Bill Burns, and the

Qatari prime minister early in the week, on Monday in Poland.

Today, we saw a Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, meeting with the Egyptian head of intelligence in Egypt. So our understanding is that Israel

is not only responding to outreach but also putting proposals of their own on the table.

We are told by sources that they would be open to a pause in the fighting, a week to two weeks perhaps, to allow for more hostages to be released.


Their focus has been on the women and children but, of course, they're eager to get as many of the hostages out as possible.

Hamas, for their part, has not been terribly responsive. As I mentioned, we saw one of the leaders in Egypt. The U.S. squarely blames Hamas for the

previous deal falling apart, because they failed to release more women and children.

That's something that Secretary Antony Blinken said again today. Here's more of what he said to the press during a press conference earlier in the



ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Israel has been very clear, including as recently as today, that it would welcome returning to a pause

in the further release of hostages.

The problem was and has been, it remains Hamas. Their negative comments (ph) that they made during the first pause for hostage releases. And the

question is whether they are, in fact, willing to resume this effort.

But certainly it is something that we would welcome, I know that Israel would welcome and I think the world would welcome.


MARQUARDT: Isa, the expectations according to sources, would be if there was another pause in place, that we would see these hostages released in

phases, step-by-step phases. Israel would be pushing for women and children to be released first before moving onto civilian elderly men, perhaps the


And then, of course, there's the major question about whether or not Hamas would release Israeli soldiers. An Israeli official told CNN that Hamas has

been pushing for what they have called heavy duty prisoners.

You will recall in the first round of releases, Israel was releasing women and children at a 3:1 ratio. If Hamas were to release Israeli soldiers,

certainly the expectation is that they would want prisoners who are men, perhaps as Israel says, have blood on their hands.

They've been convicted for all kinds of criminal activities. And they could ask for a lot more of those prisoners in exchange for every Israeli

soldier. But again, a deal is far -- we are not at that stage yet. It's just sort of the beginnings of the talks to get everybody back to the


SOARES: At least everybody is talking. Let's start there. Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

The U.S. Defense Secretary says Houthi militant attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea demand an international response. Lloyd Austin made those

comments while announcing a newly formed coalition to combat the threat in the past month or so.

There have been at least a dozen attacks on commercial vessels in the Houthi controlled areas of Yemen. That has prompted a number of companies

that we have shown you this, week putting operations on hold.

What's the cost that all has?

The Red Sea, as you can see, is one of the most vital shipping lanes in the world. Any disruption could have a major impact on the global economy and,

of course, global supply chains. We welcome now Natasha Bertrand, out national security reporter.

What is the U.S. and what is being done to stop these attacks?

Talk us through the newly formed coalition.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, that's exactly what it is, a coalition of maritime forces under the name of Operation

Prosperity Guardian.

That will basically bolster the security in the Red Sea by placing additional warships there, perhaps escorting some of these commercial

vessels through the area and up to the Suez Canal if they determine that's necessary.

And importantly, showing the Houthis that there is this big, multinational presence in the Red Sea that is prepared to respond, if and when they do

launch additional attacks. So far, publicly, 10 countries have signed their names to this multinational force.

However, there are likely more countries that are going to be a part of this, some of which do not necessarily want to announce their participation

publicly, because they don't want to make themselves additional targets for the Houthi rebels.

Of course, because there are some political sensitivities at play with some of the Arab countries not being -- not wanting to be seen as helping the

U.S. maintain order and security in the Red Sea.

But the U.S. is confident that this is going to have a deterrent effect. We've seen the Houthis launch dozens and dozens of rockets, of drones and

missiles, some ballistic missiles at these ships, really disrupting the transit there.

And the U.S. is actually taking action. The U.S. and the U.K., I should say, shooting down some of these missiles in the past. That has not

deterred the Houthis. They have not theirs attack so far.

So it remains to be seen whether they will actually stop but the U.S. says that this a positive first step.

And if you asked them whether they are prepared to actually strike the Houthis directly in Yemen, they will say that all options are on the table.

However, that is not something that the U.S. has particularly been eager to do recently.

SOARES: Natasha Bertrand, thank you.

Still to come tonight, eruptions are easing in Iceland. But a volcano is still spewing toxic gases into the air. What it means for the residents of

one town nearby, that's next.





SOARES: Welcome back.

In southwest Iceland, thousands of people won't be able to celebrate Christmas at home because of dangerous lava flow from Monday's volcanic

eruption. The mayor of Grindavik, the town closest to the eruption, says there's also what he calls the housing crisis.

Officials are trying to help families as well find -- secure accommodation. More than 3,000 people were ordered to evacuate the small coastal town last

month when authorities anticipated the eruption. CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from near Grindavik, a small fishing town near the volcano that was

evacuated last month.

Fred, give us a sense of what the reaction has been from locals and the concern, of course, there from the mayor.


SOARES: Unfortunately, we can't hear you, Fred. I'm not sure whether you can hear me. So we're going to try and fix -- we're going to try and fix


In the meantime, here's his report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Up close as the Earth spews fountains of lava. South Iceland remains in a

state of emergency as the volcanic eruption continues.

PLEITGEN: This is as close as the Icelandic authorities are going to allow us to the actual fissures where the eruption is happening. I'd say we're a

mile, maybe a little less than a mile away from it.

Now things have calmed down a little bit but, at the same time, of course, the danger is still there. The authorities fear there could be new events

that might open up, pop up and that more lava could be gushing to the surface and then could be coming to the surface in fountains like we've

seen over the past 1.5 days.

So while things have gotten a little bit more muted, certainly, the danger is not over.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): In the early stages of the eruption, a wall of lava spewing hundreds of feet into the air. While it has subsided somewhat, the

underground magma tunnel remains active and dangerous.

BIARKI KALDALONS FRIIS, GEOLOGIST: It's still dangerous. Of course, and the magma that's coming up is around 1,200 degrees hot when it comes to the

surface. And it takes a long time for the surface to cool down.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The area around the eruption zone remains cordoned off. Critical infrastructure in danger, the world famous Blue Lagoon hot

springs closed.


PLEITGEN: Here's another reason why the situation is so dangerous. You see over there is the volcanic activity. And if we pan over in this direction,

over there is a geothermal power plant that's extremely important for the electricity here in this area.

The authorities are trying to protect that power plant by building a berm against any lava flows.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For the local residents, no respite.

KATRIN JAKOBSDOTTIR, ICELAND PRIME MINISTER: We now have this volcanic eruption close to Grindavik. I think it is -- it has proven (INAUDIBLE) the

town was erupted (ph) in November. We have been buying flats for the residents. So now we actually have 70 flats that people can move into

before Christmas. It is the most people who are in most dire need of housing.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Leaving many residents wondering if they will ever see their homes again.


PLEITGEN: That's a big issue here for the folks who are from Grindavik. Obviously many of them were evacuated about a month ago. Of course, right

now, that eruption hasn't affected the town that many -- in the way that many had feared.

But large parts of that town do already have cracks in it. So it's really very difficult to see whether or not people will be able to return there in

the near future or in the medium term future as well.

Sorry for those audio issues, by the way. I think part of our tech just sort of froze in the cold here.

SOARES: Yes, we thought you froze there for a bit. But I'm glad we got you back. Fred, appreciate it. Thank you very much.


SOARES: And breaking news, just in to CNN.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to, at least for now, stay out of a dispute over his immunity from federal prosecutions.

In court papers lawyers for Trump say he doesn't want the court to decide whether he has immunity for alleged crimes dating to when he was in office.

We are monitoring the story for developments and we'll bring you more details as we get them. In fact, we've got Joan Biskupic with me now to

break it down.

You are the lady to break this all down for us.

What does this mean?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So Isa, just to bring everybody up to date, because I think all day we've been talking about the Colorado supreme

court and how that might affect candidate Donald Trump.

But this is another case that's already at the Supreme Court, where special counsel Jack Smith has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide immediately

whether former president Donald Trump would be immune from criminal prosecution for the election subversion case.

This goes back to his actions during the 2020 election. Now the special counsel had asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, to jump over a lower

appellate court and just decided, because it's only this Supreme Court that can ultimately say whether a former president could be immune from criminal

prosecution in this situation.

And just a few minutes ago, Donald Trump's lawyers came in and said, no, Supreme Court, do not enter this case now. Just wait in the normal course

of things. Let the question first go to an appellate court.

Now you should know that Donald Trump himself is appealing a trial for a judge's determination that he is not immune from criminal prosecution. And

that judge tried to set a March 4th date.

But he's saying he wants it to go slower, be heard first by an appellate court, rather than have it resolved quickly by the Supreme Court. And it's

a position that will help him delay if the court agrees, delay while entering the election cycle.

SOARES: Yes, another delay tactic. Joan, as always, appreciate you breaking it down for us. Appreciate it. Thank you.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, news just in, Venezuela agrees to release 10 Americans as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States.

We'll have those details after this short break.





SOARES: And this just in to CNN. The U.S. has reached an agreement to secure the release of 10 Americans held in Venezuela. Senior U.S. officials

say six of those have been wrongfully detained.

The deal will also include the extradition of Leonard Francis, known as Fat Leonard. He's a former military contractor, who orchestrated the largest

corruption scandal in U.S. Navy history.

In return, the U.S. has granted clemency to this man, Alex Saab, an ally and alleged financier to Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro. U.S. President

Joe Biden has celebrated the release of the Americans.

Saying, quote, "I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over."

I want to bring in Eric Farnsworth. He's the vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Eric, great to see you, welcome back to the show.

What do you make of this exchange?

Great news, of course, all those American families.

But who wins out of this deal?

ERIC FARNSWORTH, VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAS SOCIETY AND COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS: Hi, Isa, it's great to be with you and your viewers again.

Yes, absolutely. We celebrate right at the top the return of U.S. hostages that have been held by the Venezuelan regime that shouldn't have been held

in the first place. It was outrageous.

But we are delighted that they're coming back to the United States. And that's the celebration particularly when it's Christmas and holiday season.

Who wins, though, is a much different question and I think we don't really know that right now. That'll have to play out. But we do know that Alex

Saab is a close associate of Nicolas Maduro and the regime.

And the regime was desperate to get him back. In fact, they did virtually everything they could to make sure that he wasn't captured and held by the

United States in the first place.

And once he was, they really made a public and private campaign to get him back. So he's very important for the regime. Presumably, now that he's

going back, the regime will celebrate that as well.

SOARES: I'm also seeing there's some political prisoners, Eric, that have been released. I'm sure that was pushed from the U.S. side, because that

was part of the agreement when it comes to lifting sanctions, right?

What is the message here from the United States, what are they trying to tell Venezuela?

FARNSWORTH: Absolutely right. There are some Venezuelan political prisoners who will be released allegedly from this deal but, look, there are still

over 300 that are being held by the Venezuelan machine, 300 political prisoners.

And they can take more when they want to. And they've proven that interest in the past. So this is not a -- this is a snapshot. It's not a static

scenario. The regime can take or release political prisoners on their will. And that's what they've done. For the moment, though, we do celebrate those

who are being released.

SOARES: Indeed. Good news for so many families, of course, Americans and many Venezuelans who have been imprisoned, some of them for many, many


Look, as you well know, Eric, the United States have been calling for electoral reforms, right?

As well as the freed hostages, American hostages.

Are you seeing any signs of electoral reforms from Venezuela?

FARNSWORTH: This is a huge gamble, frankly, on that, from that perspective by the United States.

They agreed in October with Nicolas Maduro and his negotiators that, in exchange for a promise by Maduro for free and fair elections next year,

that the United States would begin to dismantle the sanctions regime that we've had them placed under since at least 2019.


In fact, Nicolas Maduro has gone backward. He has said that the leading candidate of the opposition of Venezuela, Maria Corina Machado (ph), is not

eligible to run next year. That remains to be determined.

He's also rattled the sabers against neighboring Guyana and threatened to invade and to claim two-thirds of Guyanese territory. So in fact, he's

actually going the opposite direction.

Now the United States is saying, here's a prized person you want back; we're giving him back. And so we'll see what Maduro does at this point.

But the United States is really gambling. We're giving up all of our leverage, or most of it anyway, right up front. And we'll have to see if

Maduro actually upholds his end of the bargain with free and fair elections next year.

SOARES: Yes, and Alex Saab, as you well know, the bag man, the financier, whatever you want to call him, he'll play right into his hands, (INAUDIBLE)

Chavismo. That will sell really well at home.

Eric, we're running out of time. Really appreciate you taking the time. Thank you, Eric.

FARNSWORTH: You've got it. Thank you.

SOARES: And that does it for us this hour. I will be back, though, in just a few minutes, on "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS." That's happening in less than

five minutes. Join us then.