Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Moammar Gadhafi

Aired September 27, 2009 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

This week, the man who made world headlines at the United Nations when addressing it for the first time in 40 years. We met at the Libyan Mission to the United Nations, which is right next to the U.N. building. We entered and there were dozens of handlers, aides, bodyguards. When we finally saw him, he seemed quite different from the person we watched at the United Nations General Assembly making that speech that some described as a rant, other saw as a rambling, tirade.

He's 67 years old now and perhaps he was showing his age. I speak with Libya's strange and elusive leader Moammar Gadhafi. He makes big news in our conversation. You really will want to hear what he has to say.

Before we get to Gadhafi, let me spend a few minutes giving you my take as to what happened at the U.N.. For a body more famous for drama and deadlock, it was actually a good week, except in the sense that for us New Yorkers it was a traffic nightmare.

The U.N. Security Council passed a tough new resolution that will help to detect and then punish countries that develop nuclear weapons. This is the first substantial toughening of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty in decades, long sought by the United States, but opposed usually by China and Russia.

Why did they switch? It does appear to have something to do with the new diplomacy emanating from Washington, offering cooperation in return for cooperation.

President Obama had a particularly good week, marked by a major Russian shift in policy. The Russians now appear to be more amenable to a tough new round of sanctions on Iran, something that seems ever more likely as we get new evidence of Iran's deception about its nuclear program.

Obama's talk at the U.N. was well received all over the world, except in the right-wing stratosphere in the United States. There he was accused of selling out America, mounting a coup against the country, siding with dictators, and wishing America would perish. If you heard or read the speech, you would be hard pressed to find a single words that Obama said that fits these descriptions.

But that is the nature of political attacks in America these days. They are totally divorced from reality.

Obama is certainly trying to strike a new path, telling the world that the United States is willing to cooperate, join international institutions, abide by treaties it has signed, pay its dues. But in return, he has repeatedly and specifically asked that countries now must do their part to deal with outstanding problems.

It's an experiment to see if we can find areas of common agreement in the world, and then forge cooperation. It is also an experiment not just in global politics but in American politics. Obama is taking a chance that being cooperative with the world, talking to other countries with respect, will not be seen in America as weak.

For 30 years, it has been impossible for any American politician to advocate partnership with the world. That is seen as vaguely communist or it insights conspiracy theories about the Bilderberg group. Obama is betting that America has matured and that we recognize that in today's world, without the cooperation of other countries, America cannot be secure at home or prosperous.

It's a bold gambit. Here's hoping it pays off.

But now to the drama, the leader of the revolution, Moammar Gadhafi. Let's get started.


ZAKARIA: Thank you so much, sir, for joining us. I gather from your aides that you have met with the victims of the Lockerbie Bombing. Tell me about that.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): Yes. I met some of them yesterday. It was a friendly meeting. And I offered my condolences for their relatives who lost them.

They also expressed their condolences for my daughter who was killed during the American invasion in '86.

ZAKARIA: The 1986 raid.

GADHAFI: Yes. It was very sentimental and very touched, the meeting.

ZAKARIA: So you understand the grief of these people?

GADHAFI: Of course. Of course. It is a tragedy. It is a catastrophe.

ZAKARIA: And do you regret any possible role that officials of the Libyan government might have played?

GADHAFI: No one would support an action like that or would not be touched and moved by such a tragedy. Whether it is Lockerbie or whether it is the '86 raid against Libya, we are all families of the victims, relatives of the victims. Because resorting to violence -- because of the result of violence is the result of terror.

Terror in all its forms is a common enemy to all of us.

ZAKARIA: Would you think of making a symbolic visit to Ground Zero to grieve and mourn for the victims of that tragedy?

GADHAFI: As a matter of fact, since I landed at JFK Airport I wanted to visit Ground Zero, but because of the security measures, or something like this, the security -- they were not prepared for that. And then I will see. I will do my best to see if I can pass by.

And from the beginning on the 11th of September, America knows very well my position vis-a-vis this appalling incident.

ZAKARIA: You know, for many Americans the image that they will find very difficult to go beyond is the image of you embracing Mr. Megrahi. Do you regret having welcomed him yourself personally?

GADHAFI: This is a normal thing.

ZAKARIA: It it's normal because -- why do you say it's normal?

GADHAFI: I would say normal because I'm greeting or saying hello. It's normal to receive somebody. Relations between countries are not so insignificant, are not so trivial, that they would be affected to such an extent by such --

ZAKARIA: But you're a man who understands images very well. You are in some ways have always understood the power of images.

GADHAFI: These are fleeting things, passing things.

ZAKARIA: But people sometimes are confused, because the Libyan government did accept some responsibility for the Lockerbie Bombing. It has paid almost three billion dollars in restitution. Why then embrace the man who was convicted of that bombing?

GADHAFI: Libya did not -- Libya -- there's something that should be clear here. Libya did not accept the criminal responsibility. Libya accepted the civil responsibility towards -- for the actions of one of its own citizens.

And even this man, Mr. Megrahi, who has said that he's a security officer, he has nothing to do with the Secret Service. He's a professor at the university.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe he was innocent?

GADHAFI: This is what the world said, the whole world. On top of that, Jim Meswire (ph), who is the secretary of the League of the Families of the Victims -- anyhow, the sentence or the court order was not final because he was weighing through an appeal case.

And the league maximum or the judicial saying says that the accused is innocent until he's proven guilty. And up to now, he's still considered innocent until the appeal case is over, and then the appeal case say whether he's guilty or not guilty.


ZAKARIA: For many Americans, Gadhafi's explanation or discussion of the events surrounding Lockerbie and the return of the bomber will seem unsatisfying. Gadhafi clearly understands the passion and the pain that many Americans feel. He's simply not willing to accept that bringing him back with the hero's welcome was the wrong thing to do.

Here's what I think happened. I think it was a miscalculation. The Libyans have been trying to mount a rapprochement with the west, with the world for a while now. And this derailed things. You can see that it was a miscalculation in the fact that Gadhafi now says this was not an official reception in any way. One of his sons, Saif Gadhafi, has written an op-ed in the "New York Times" explaining that this was not intended in any way to be an official reception.

And in general there seems to be an effort to minimize this as much as possible. I think the Libyans want in some way to get back on track to a warming diplomatic relationship between the west and Libya. It remains to be seen whether that will be possible, because in terms of the symbolism, this certainly has derailed matters considerably.

We'll have to see whether substance triumphs over image in the future.

Next up, Gadhafi on Obama and the Bush administration.



ZAKARIA: You called President Obama your son. Many people were struck by that term. Why did you say son?

GADHAFI (through translator): He may be the age of one of my sons, same age. Both of us are Africans. And the elder, the big African, is a father to the small African, or the young African.

Indeed, he is from Arab descent. And I am tantamount his father. I can be considered his father.

ZAKARIA: You know that there are people in the United States who are now criticizing him because they say he is being endorsed and adopted by Moammar Gadhafi. This must mean that he's anti-American. What do you say to them?

GADHAFI: I consider him the most fit for the president to America, more than any former American presidents, because he will spare America the world problems, wars, damages, losses.

American people support Obama. What American mother doesn't wish her son to be killed outside -- across the Atlantic, in wars across the Atlantic, across the Atlantic or the continents, oceans.

Nobody wishes her husband to be killed, to die in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Somalia or Panama. No sister wants or wishes her sister -- brother to be killed somewhere across --

The policy of Obama is that no more Americans will be killed in faraway battles or wars, and that America will not interfere in the world problems. He did say that yesterday in his speech. He said America is not responsible for the world. Then each one should do his own part in solving his own problem.

So these mothers, fathers, and sisters should be happy that no more adventures. Their sons or their daughters or their husbands will not die in adventures abroad.

ZAKARIA: But Obama supports many of the policies that you were criticizing at the United Nations. He supports tough policy in Afghanistan. He supports tough policy against Iran, against North Korea. He's in favor of a very aggressive counter-terrorism policy against al Qaeda.

So there are many, many areas where Obama is pursuing policies that you seem to be criticizing.

GADHAFI: He's not against Iran per se, or North Korea. He's against the possession of nuclear weapons or acquiring nuclear weapons. And we support him in that.

All of us are against acquiring or possessing nuclear weapons. Once he said something that is very important, different from what former presidents had been saying. He said, the moral or the theme is not of the system or the name of the presidents, but the method or the behavior of such a president or such a system.

ZAKARIA: But you have in the past said that we have exaggerated the threat from al Qaeda, that we have turned Osama bin Laden into a prophet. What do you mean? Because you've battled Islamic terrorists in your own country.

ZAKARIA: Do you think we exaggerate the threat from al Qaeda?

GADHAFI: Yes, I think so. I think so.

Not bin Laden himself or Taliban, because there are sources or fountains for terrorism. One fountain is material, and one fountain is moral. There is funding coming to terrorism. And there's also the fanatic, bigot method.


ZAKARIA: You'll see that Gadhafi continues his praise of Obama, doesn't seem fazed by the fact that it might actually damage Obama, doesn't seem worried by the fact that many of the United States' policies that President Obama endorses and prosecutes are not exactly ones he would support.

I think, again, this gets back to the basic decision Libya has made that it wants to try to get closer to the west. This is probably a decision being made by the next generation of Libyans. Gadhafi has two sons, both of whom are western educated, fluent English speakers, clearly quite modern, and perhaps want to see Libya integrated more, get more foreign investment. As a result, are trying to chart a path back for a country that kind of got into a self-imposed exile, and cut itself off from the modern world for four decades.

The great challenge will be to see whether or not Libya is successful in finding a path back into the world. And we will be back.



ZAKARIA: Do you wish you had been able to stay in that tent at Mr. Trump's property?

GADHAFI (through translator): Yes. We rented the house, and we set up this tent, but we didn't the have time to go to it. We didn't have time. Busy schedule. This place is so close to the headquarters of the United Nations, so it was preferred, easier.

Next time we visit, and we find a place where we can set up the tent.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about your speech to the U.N. It was a very long speech. You did not break Fidel Castro's record, which was four and a half hours, but it was one and a half hours. And it contained many different parts to it.

Why did you feel you needed to talk about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King? Some people thought you had accumulated a whole series of grievances or ideas for 40 years, and this was your opportunity to air them to the world.

GADHAFI: Because the United Nations is now at a crossing point, either to be or not to be. The United Nations is in the duck. So anyone who is accused, there are counts or charges, and he will be tried for that.

And the right does not elapse with time. It does not fade with the passing of time.

Ever since the Korean War up to today, all wars took place or broke out under the time or during the time of the United Nations.

ZAKARIA: But, you know, a lot of people listen to a speech like that, or they look at the way you dress and the tents that you want to live in, and they think it's all very odd. How do you explain to them? What is behind Moammar Gadhafi?

GADHAFI: To start with, these are normal things.

And it is simple because it is normal. It is not costly. It is not controversial. Wearing normal clothes that I'm not trademark or fashion, maybe it would be controversial if it was worn by me.

You see, regarding the tent, it's just a simple shelter. And it is controversial or people talk about it because people expect a man like me to live in big palaces or in big houses.

You see, having military officers, men and women, particularly in this case women, as you mention, because I see it from the perspective that it is equals, man -- whether it is a man or a woman. But for the others who don't see this way and who are not on equal footing, maybe they see it as controversial.

Plus, people have accustomed themselves that they listen to the truth from me. I am telling them the truth that others don't say so.

ZAKARIA: I read your book, "The Green Book," and I read the chapters on economics. And they sound very much like a kind of socialism. Yet what I see Libya doing now in the last five years, three years, is trying to attract foreign investment, open itself up to private business. Do you think the world has changed from when you wrote "The Green Book?" And do you think you need to now embrace this new phase of globalization and markets and trade?

GADHAFI: The theories that are mentioned in "The Green Book," it is not transitional, just for limited period of time. It is actually a radical solution, a final solution.

This is based on principles fixed, despite the fact that there may be so much development. It is because based on the analysis and study the realities of the past, all of it, and what might be in the future for -- new future realities, what might be.

For some time, once upon a time in the past, the physical effort or the physical activity was the driving force for agriculture -- for the industrialization, and even for agriculture.

I mean, the muscles, the strength of mankind, that was the beginning. And after that, animals were used as a physical force.

Now we have the machinery. This machinery may be developed, may be updated. All these development or all this progress is being considered. This is when they made this solution possible as such.

ZAKARIA: Libya has been making a move progressing its economy. Many people will say liberalizing. And now they confront -- people see the release of Mr. Megrahi, your visit to the U.N., and they wonder, are you changing your mind about making a rapprochement with the west, about having better relations with the west? It seemed as though Libya was trying to reach out to the west and have better relations.


ZAKARIA: The decision to close down the nuclear program, the better relations between the Bush administration and yourself, increased trade and investment between Europe and Libya, between America and Libya. And now there is a feeling that perhaps you are less interested or you are changing your you mind about having such better relations with the west.

The speech at the U.N. sounded angry and to many people anti- western.

GADHAFI: No, there's no going backward or no letting up, if I may so, on improving relations with the Europe, with the west, America.

But relations with these countries is something different or is something else, and talking to them about the United Nations or saying something about the United Nations is another matter.

ZAKARIA: Will you be back in New York soon?

GADHAFI: Why not? If the need arises.

ZAKARIA: Thank you so much, Moammar Gadhafi. And we will be right back.





ZAKARIA: Now I want to do a little analysis of this week, full of developments at the United Nations, with someone who has a very keen understanding of what goes on there and everywhere else, CNN's chief international correspondent, the one and only Christiane Amanpour. I also want to tell you that something exciting is happening here on Sunday afternoons. We're debuting a new program today. It comes right after this one. Christiane is hosting it. Welcome to Sunday's, Christiane Amanpour.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Good to be with you on Sundays, and get a lot of meat, international meat on the air.

ZAKARIA: Exactly. This is going to be the Sunday afternoon program for international addicts.

AMANPOUR: There you go.

ZAKARIA: What did you think of the U.N.?

AMANPOUR: You know, it's always sort of a mixed blessing. There's the whole gridlock. There's the whole gridlock of diplomats and world leaders. Then there's what are they saying and what do we make of it?

Obviously, people focus on certain people. They focus on President Obama because it was his first time. He seems to have done fairly well, although he is really gripped by these incredibly intractable problems.

His personality high. Who knows whether he can achieve what people are hoping he can. Obviously, President Ahmadinejad and not just because of the eternal nuclear issue and the eternal talk about the Holocaust and denial, but because this is a president whose election is disputed, who has come over here. There's a lot of anger at home in Iran, a lot amongst Iranian exiles here. And I think so far he's successfully deflected that.

ZAKARIA: I think that was the purpose of bringing up the Holocaust. He had been quiet about it for two years. He suddenly brought it up again, the Israel stuff. He was hoping of getting one more big debate over the Holocaust, forgetting that the big story is, of course, what happened in Iran.

AMANPOUR: And how to really sort of engage now. Iran is going to engage directly with the United States, of course, within the multilateral nuclear talks. This is going to be interesting. This coming week, they're going to meet for the first time in a substantive way. What are they going to discuss?

He apparently has said that his nuclear proposal involves asking the U.S. for enriched uranium for now medical nuclear work. If they don't get it, then they'll have to enrich. That's the logic it seems.

ZAKARIA: It feels also as though the Obama administration is in a bit of a bind, in that you can't help but confer some legitimacy on this government in Iran when you're negotiating with them. Even if you say, look, we have to do business with everybody, it's all true.

But coming on the heels of this brutal suppression, it's a very awkward dance. I think any administration would face it, but this one does in particular.

AMANPOUR: I agree. Beyond just the pure politics, the possibility of what might have come before this election was huge. President Obama and even the Iranians were talking and envisioning a changed relationship between the U.S. and Iran, something to really change the 30 years of hostility that's been between them since the Islamic Revolution.

Now that seems to have been put on hold because of the disputed election.

ZAKARIA: Did you listen to the entire 90-minute speech by Colonel Gadhafi?

AMANPOUR: I didn't, although obviously to the western eye and perhaps to many of his own people and around the world, it did look a lot like hijinks and high performance. He did throw out the U.N. Charter, having kept just the preamble.

Look, there are a lot of people who actually believe that the world is in the thrall and under the sort of authority of five powerful countries, the Security Council. And there are a lot of people who don't like that. Those are the people that Moammar Gadhafi is playing to. But of course some of the ideas -- the idea that Swine Flu is a military weapon, the idea of an Israel-stein -- he's a little out of touch. He's talking about a one-solution, one-state solution.

Well, the Palestinians have just said, by an overwhelming majority, the Palestinian people, that they want a two-state solution.

ZAKARIA: I also think most people do regard it, even those who have serious concerns about the Security Council -- this is -- the Kennedy assassination, the Martin Luther King assassination?

AMANPOUR: A little old.

ZAKARIA: It felt like he had 30 or 40 years of grievances that he needed to get out, because this was his first trip in 40 years. A lot of Arab diplomats said to me, you now understand what the Libyan people have to put up with every week.

AMANPOUR: You know, I've never been to Libya. And I hope to go there one day. But, look, I think as we report on these issues and we report on leadership and elections and emerging democracies, I always find it fascinating; why don't leaders know when it's the right time to leave, when they're on top instead of when they're on the descent?

He was considered a liberating, brave leader at one point. Many of the African leaders, many places in the world --

ZAKARIA: And he was always against Islamic fundamentalism and jihadists, has always been very secular in that sense.

AMANPOUR: What we haven't said is that he's here for the first time in 40 years and it comes right after -- he was being brought back into the tent, so to speak, after the Lockerbie Resolution, after giving up any pretense to weapons of mass destruction. He was brought back into the international fold.

Now, with this release of the Lockerbie Suspect on whatever grounds, for whatever reason, it's really -- and this huge hero's welcome, it's put Moammar Gadhafi and Libya back in the corner of the pariahs.

ZAKARIA: On -- speaking of leadership, who do you have on this Sunday?

AMANPOUR: We are doing a big chunk on Afghanistan, because right now there's this incredible debate going on in the administration here, as to whether to expand the counter-insurgency or to pull back and just hit al Qaeda in Pakistan.

I think every Afghan knows that they want U.S. forces to stay, to keep them safe. But we're going to have President Karzai, again, a disputed election there, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Mehmood Qureshi, and we're going to have some exclusives with our African leaders. We'll wait until the show airs. Then the viewers can see that.

ZAKARIA: As will I. Christiane Amanpour, pleasure to have you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Fareed. ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now for our what in the World segment. Here's what got my attention. It was Chinese President Hu Jintao's speech at the U.N. on climate change and what his country was prepared to do to combat it.

Now, loyal viewers of this show will remember that recently on what in the world we tackled China's coal addiction, how China was building two now coal-fired power plants per week, how it was burning twice as much coal as the world's second biggest user, the U.S., how, despite ever increasing concerns about global warning, China's coal use was actually growing.

Well, maybe President Hu Jintao was watching the show. Maybe China realizes that being the smokestack of the world is bad for business. Maybe he wanted to make a big splash on the world stage. Who knows why. But China is getting serious about its pollution problems.

On Tuesday at the U.N. Summit on Global Warming, President Hu said he was going to do something to clean up China's pollution problem. He made some specific promises in terms of what China would accomplish: substantially increased forest cover -- trees absorb carbon dioxide emissions -- make non-fossil fuels a bigger part of energy consumption. And all of this China was going to try to do by 2020. That's just 10 years from now, 11 years from now.

Now, many in the west have trouble taking China on its word about this stuff. I think it was a good start. It's not nearly enough, but it's a very good start. And there's no disputing it got the world's attention.

While the United States doesn't have the same level of coal addiction China has, the two nations are actually near equals in their carbon dioxide emissions, each responsible for about 20 percent of that gas that the world puts into the atmosphere each year. So they are the bad boys of pollution.

And with China making a big splash, the world might have been looking to see if its partner, the United States, would counter with a big announcement of its own.

Not really. President Obama did say that the United States was making its largest-ever investment in renewable energy, but the speech was overall less specific and less ground breaking than President Hu's.

That's not because Obama doesn't want to do more, but rather because even the small steps he's taking are being opposed, watered down and defeated in Congress.

We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now, to our question of the week. Last week, I interviewed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and I asked you this question: can Russia and the United States ever truly be allies? I asked you to explain your answer.

Well, GPS viewers are optimistic. Most of you thought it was possible, even probable. Several viewers pointed out that each of us needs what the other has.

But a dissenter said, "working with Russia is like making a deal with the devil."

Now I'd love to include the name of all the intelligent viewers who send in their thoughts. So, please, always include your name and location if you can.

To our question this week. "How did you think President Obama did at the U.N.? Judging from what you saw, do you think he advanced progress towards a resumption of Middle East talks, climate change, international cooperation in general?"

Let me know what you think. As always, I'd like to recommend a book. This one is called "Forces of Fortune" by Vali Nasr. Vali is a superb scholar of Islam and Middle Eastern affairs, with a great book on the Shi'ism in Iran.

He's also an Iranian American who is currently advising the Obama administration on Pakistan. He's a frequent guest on this program. Do get this book. It's really extraordinary. He makes a strong argument that the best weapon against radical Islam is capitalism. A rising Islamic middle class, he says, is much more invested in economic success and modernity than in extreme religiosity.

He goes into history. He travels around. He points out many, many interesting things going on in many parts of the Muslim world.

Anyway, "Forces of Fortune," terrific read. I highly recommend it.

Also, don't forget to check out our website, We put a lot of interesting material on there each week dealing with the topics we've discussed.

Make sure to stay tuned for Christiane Amanpour's new program. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. And I will see you next week.