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Will Obama Fight or Compromise?; All-Star Panel Discusses U.S. Politics; The Travels and Travails of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Interview with Mukesh Ambani

Aired February 10, 2013 - 10:00   ET


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

We have a great show for you today and we begin with American politics. What is really happening? Are the Republicans on the defensive? Will the automatic budget cuts happen? Is there any chance of legislative deals?

We have a great panel: Paul Krugman, Mort Zuckerman, Arianna Huffington and Ed Conard.

Then, something special, an exclusive interview with the richest man in India, the second richest man in all of Asia, Mukesh Ambani, on why he's bullish on America. It was the first time television cameras were ever allowed in his extraordinary mansion in the sky.

Then, everyone is worried about the Arab Spring. I talked to the leaders of five Arab governments to get some answers. And a fascinating internal power struggle in Iran and what it means.

But, first, here's my take: One of the great political debates in Washington and around the country has been whether Barack Obama is a highly partisan Democrat bent on a liberal agenda or a centrist searching for compromise.

It's still early in his second term, but he's recently made moves that seem to answer the question. Obama could easily choose a partisan strategy that would be politically effective: Don't make deals with the Republicans on immigration or entitlement reform, and go into the 2014 congressional elections with those problems still live.

With no deal, Democrats could campaign as the guardians of Medicare and advocates of immigration reform, both electoral winners. That's why some Democratic Senators have begun to make demands well beyond what Republicans can accept.

But Obama has chosen the second path. Two weeks ago, as soon as a group of Republican and Democratic Senators joined forces behind a unified approach to immigration reform, Obama signaled his support for it.

And this week, in urging Congress not to allow the so-called sequestration process to force massive spending cuts, the White House said that Obama's budget proposals to House Speaker John Boehner from 2011 were "very much on the table."

Those proposals remember include entitlement reforms that aroused immediate opposition from Democrats. So Obama is moving to the center. The real question is will anyone follow him there? I

There are many who argue that Washington isn't really broken, it simply reflects a country that is deeply divided. If so, the issues we're talking about provide a useful set of tests.

Thumping majorities of Americans support immigration reform. According to a recent Gallup poll, 72 percent say undocumented workers should be given green cards or citizenship. A similar percentage wants to give more visas to high-tech workers.

Or look at gun control, a recent Pew poll found that large majorities favor commonsense controls; universal background checks, preventing those with mental illnesses from buying guns, bans on semiautomatic and assault-style weapons.

In a large, diverse democracy, these are substantial national majorities. But will they translate into legislative majorities in Washington? If not, it suggests there is a real disconnect between the country and its capital.

Now, there is much good news in America. The American economy is recovering. Housing is slowly re-emerging. The energy revolution is lowering costs for manufacturing and adding jobs in the energy sector. America's financial sector is in better shape than those of most rich countries.

And American households have rebuilt their balance sheets; our savings rate today is higher than that of frugal Canada. A new Congressional Budget Office report has deficits are returning to precrisis levels in a few years.

We don't need some big and grand bargain. Even moderate reform on immigration, gun control, energy policy and, most difficult, the budget, would give a powerful boost to the country, beyond the specific economic impact.

You see, politicians could demonstrate that they can actually govern. Everyone would get some credit and American would finally have found a center.

For more on this, you can read my column in this week's Time Magazine. Let's get started.

So now you know my thoughts on how the White House and Congress can get some work done. Let's great straight to what over people think.

Joining me today, Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, the author of "End this Depression Now" just out in paperback and on the Times Best Seller List.

Mort Zuckerman, the editor of U.S. News & World Report, publisher of the New York Daily News and he has a few real estate holdings here and there.

Ariana Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group and Ed Conard, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, former managing director at Bain Capital.

Ariana, do you think that the Obama you're seeing now -- and one of the things I'm struck by is how the election has changed the political climate. The Republicans seem on the defensive trying to reinvent the brand. Obama seems more confident.

Is this the new Obama? Is this the old Obama? Is this the real Obama?

ARIANIA HUFFINGTON, CHAIR, PRESIDENT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP: Well, the great thing for Obama right now is that he has the public on his side.

My concern right now, and that's, I think, will determine which Obama will actually prevail, is that jobs and growth are not on his agenda. It is absolutely stunning.

If you got back to the election, he kept campaigning around jobs, rebuilding our bridges, rebuilding our infrastructure, and the American dream, saving it for the middle class.

And both the rhetoric and the legislative agenda around these issues is nowhere to be found. I think ...

PAUL KRUGMAN, OP-ED COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES; AUTHOR: I don't think Obama has changed much. I mean I still think that you really want to view him as what used to be a moderate Republican.

(UNKNOWN): Right.

KRUGMAN: He's in favor of expanded health care, but not at all any kind of wild-eyed liberal. Of course, there are no Republicans like that anymore.

He's also -- he's operating -- look, in spite of the fact that the wind is at his back in a lot of ways, he's still operating with a very restricted set of possibilities. Given a Republican hard-line majority in the House, he can't pass major legislation on a lot of things.

My understanding, at least I talked to -- maybe they're telling me what I want to hear, but when I talk to people at the White House, they understand about jobs, they understand that we really should have another stimulus plan, but they see absolutely no hope of getting it.

So they focus on things they think they can get, immigration reform maybe, gun control maybe, fairly modest steps. I don't think there's really been a big change in Obama's values, except maybe that he has given up his dreams of having this kind of grand bargain, which was always just a foolish dream to begin with.

ZAKARIA: Ed, what do you think of Obama today?

ED CONARD, VISITING SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE; FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, BAIN CAPITAL: Oh, I think he's always been dedicated to increasing government spending. He did that with the stimulus. He did it with Obamacare, which doesn't have strong cost containment in it as well.

And so I think he's been dedicated to increasing government spending and very successful at it so far.


MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT; PUBLISHER, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I think he won, as we say, and that does something to somebody's confidence, particularly in Washington.

So I think -- I sense in him a greater forcefulness in terms of how he's presenting his political programs. The problem is that we are suffering from a very weak economy, a huge fiscal deficit and we already have the most stimulative monetary policy in our history and nothing seems to be working.

I do think that his focus is wrong. I don't think the focus should be on anything other than the economy and especially jobs. We have 24 million people that are either unemployed or underemployed or have left the workforce.

I think that's terrible for American and I think that's where the focus should be and ...



KRUGMAN: I once wrote a column with the title "Focus Hocus Pocus" because I always here this about focus. But what is you want him to do? What he should be doing is passing legislation, right? But no legislation can pass.

If he proposed anything that made any sense at all, it would get nowhere in the House. It wouldn't even be brought to the floor. So I mean it's one thing to say he should be focusing on the economy, but that does mean he should be wondering around the White House muttering, "I'm focused on the economy."

I mean he has to -- there's a trade-off between what should be done and what he can actually get done.

HUFFINGTON: (inaudible).


ZAKARIA: But let's -- let me just ask Mort, because the question is asked to you. Ariana said jobs ...


ZAKARIA: But she was specific. She said big infrastructure projects. Would you be in favor of that? You just grumbled about the deficit.

ZUCKERMAN: I would absolutely be in favor of infrastructure program -- a huge infrastructure program and have them tolled. So I'd pick out those infrastructure that you could toll them so that ultimately the users would pay for them and it wouldn't be seen in the same way that any spending as seen as just an addition to the deficit.

And I do think that there are other things that we can do. And I think that immigration, which is one I think he's focusing on, is critical, especially on H-1B visas.

ZAKARIA: But what do you say to Paul? And let's just take infrastructure.


ZAKARIA: An infrastructure bank that has a lot of private sector is lying dead in Congress ...


ZAKARIA: Because Republicans won't support it.


KRUGMAN: (inaudible) zero interest from the part of the GOP.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, you know, if he's going to lead the country on anything, he's going to give speeches on, I think he's got to be the person that's going to lead the country that way.

There's a huge understanding in the country that the economy is very weak, that people are suffering all over the place, and I think this has got to be his major focus. And, to my mind, the other things are basically a distraction.

ZAKARIA: Ed, what about the Republicans? Are they -- I mean are they truly feeling like they need to reinvent themselves? Would they be willing to imaging something like an infrastructure bank?

CONARD: Well, I think, in part, they're recoiling from the election. But I do think there's another side to the argument that the Republican believe and that is that a dial-up in public sector spending is impartially offset by dial-down in private sector spending.

And that might not occur -- you know it occurs gradually over the long run and so if you see a temporary lull in demand that is offset by an increase in government spending, there's not a lot of time for the economy to dial-down in that case. (CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: I see Paul Krugman chafing so you get a short response.

KRUGMAN: The short response is what big increase in government spending? The stimulus is all behind us now. That went away. So people ...

CONARD: (inaudible) increase since 2007.

KRUGMAN: No, it's not true. Conservatives always imagine that liberals are their polar opposite. Conservatives want less spending, so liberals must want more spending for its own sake. It's not true.

Liberals want universal health care, which they sort of kind of got, which cost some money though not a whole lot. That's it. The rest is just an imaginary ...


ZAKARIA: Ariana, quickly ...

HUFFINGTON: Very quickly, I want to go back to what he said because I think that would be a complete abdication of leadership to say the biggest crisis that the country's facing, I agree with Mort, is jobs and the fact that where 50 percent of college graduates who cannot get a job or who are waitressing with a bachelor's degree.

I mean this is real crisis. The president has the megaphone. He has the bully pulpit. He has the ability to create a consensus around what needs to be done and he has abdicated that responsibility.

ZAKARIA: All right, so we're going to see if he has any power to deal with something very crucial when we come back, the sequester. What should Obama do about that when we come back?


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Paul Krugman, Mort Zuckerman, Ariana Huffington, and Ed Conard.

The sequester, Paul, you have generally been somebody advocating that the president be very tough.


ZAKARIA: And, you know, you said he should have let all the Bush tax cuts expires, things like that. So what is that translate into now? What does he do?

KRUGMAN: OK, I think, at this point, he lets the sequester kick in. This is not like the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling, we were all terrified. If we went even a few hours with the U.S. government not paying interest on its debt, then God knows what would have happened.

This is not like that. This is something where the negative effects kick in gradually. The world won't end if we go a month into this thing so he can afford to wait, where I believe the Republicans will have to cave eventually.

What he should be looking for -- I think is he should be looking for some way, some face-saving way for everybody to just kick this can down the road. This is -- we shouldn't be doing anything right now.

ZAKARIA: What is that face-saving?

KRUGMAN: I'm not sure. We can call it -- we can have some big spending cuts promised in the future, some real revenue sources ...

ZAKARIA: But all in the future because you don't want any austerity now.

KRUGMAN: All in the future. This is a terrible time to be doing austerity.

ZAKARIA: Ed, what do you think?

CONARD: I think his reaction depends on whether or not the Republicans can hold their coalition together. And if they can create a coalition that holds together, which might even include some Democrats in it, I think that they can prevail on this issue and get a small amount of cost reduction.

I think if they shy away from ...

ZAKARIA: Do you want to see some austerity now?

CONARD: I think they have to demonstrate some ability to be able to manage the costs of the long run if you want to see the private sector grow as fast as it can grow.

ZAKARIA: What do you want to see?

HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, let's look at the effects of austerity around Europe. I mean we're ignoring all the data. Look at what's happening in the U.K. with a triple-dip recession. Look at the chief economist of the IMF advising them not to proceed with austerity measures.

So where exactly is austerity working?

ZAKARIA: So, Mort, let me ask you -- Paul Krugman is uncharacteristically being extremely polite and not saying -- you are one of the people I think he would probably characterize in his column as the deficit scold. You've been worried about the deficit, talking a great deal about it.

What do you say to this argument that reducing the deficits -- trying to reduce the deficits in Europe has been a disaster because it slowed growth, slowed tax revenues and actually increased the deficit?

ZUCKERMAN: Let me just say, I am not in favor of reducing the deficit now. The short-term, I am not in favor of reducing the deficit. But I do think there have to be some longer term plans that give the financial markets some degree of confidence that we're not going to just blow apart.

So I think this is something on the longer term, which is what Bowles-Simpson was all about, something which I favored totally. So I think that was a combination of including longer term control over some of big expenditures, particularly in health care.

And that is something we have to do. I think the president could get some things if, in fact, he addressed some of these longer terms issues, but walked away from that and there's no confidence that he really cares about it.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about non-economic things. You -- I would thought you'd be in favor of immigration reform, gun control. You were just saying this is -- the priority should -- these things should be way down.

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I'm incredibly in favor of all these initiatives, including, of course, energy which he should have done something about his first term. They're incredibly important.

What I'm saying is that we cannot focus on these three major initiatives at the expense of a major crisis. I mean I have a daughter in college. I see what's happening. I see how many of her friends, even graduating from an ivy league college, cannot get a proper job. They're waitressing.

This is something which has a scarring effect, as it is known, which is going to affect their lives for a very long time, not to mention all the long-term unemployed, not to mention 25 million people unemployed or underemployed and 14 million homes still underwater.

And no plan -- you know, no plan. If we continue with this modest job increases every month, it's going to take over seven years to be back to prerecession numbers.

ZAKARIA: What about the possibility of this happening? Forget the virtues -- immigration reform, gun control. Let me just ask you guys quickly, does anyone think an immigration deal is going to happen?

ZUCKERMAN: I think it will. I think it's really possible to put that together.

CONARD: I think it can. I think it's expensive to make them citizens and give them full access to the benefits, but there may be a middle ground where we can do it in a cost effective way.

ZAKARIA: Do you ...

KRUGMAN: I think the immigration -- I think the -- at this point, the Republican Party establishment has realized that they cannot just be the party of old, white men.

HUFFINGTON: Well, yes, we see that a path to citizenship are longer dirty words as they were during the campaign.

KRUGMAN: (inaudible) myself.

ZAKARIA: Now, gun control, do you think it's going to ...

ZUCKERMAN: I sure hope so. I can't believe -- I mean we've not done anything about that for so long. It just breaks any kind of confidence you have in the wisdom of our government.

I do think and I hope we can do something about gun control. I think it is a disgrace that this country doesn't do more of it.

CONARD: I think the Democrats are going to shoot themselves in the foot.

HUFFINGTON: My fear is that we're not going to go far enough, that we just end up with background checks, but nothing on an assault weapons ban.

And I think the president releasing that picture of him shooting skeet was so depressing and that's obvious pandering that it just shows really the kind of political environment we're living in that they felt they had to release that picture.

KRUGMAN: As soon as the word guns comes into the picture, rationality goes out the window and I find it really hard to understand what's going to happen.

ZAKARIA: So -- but you're not optimistic?

KRUGMAN: I'm not too optimistic, but who knows?

ZAKARIA: We have to leave it that. Paul Krugman, Arian Huffington, Ed Conard, Mort Zuckerman, pleasure to have all of you on.

Up next, What in the World? Imagine a country where the speaker of parliament tells the president to stop talking and get out. Well, that's actually what happened this week. It happened in a country of crucial importance to the United States. Don't miss it.


ZAKARIA: Now for our What in the World segment. A historic event took place this week, an Iranian leader visited Egypt for the first time since the 1970s, marking a thaw in relations between two of the Middle East's heavy weights.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi quite literally laid out the red carpet for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, greeting him with a kiss on each cheek.

But when Ahmadinejad visited a Cairo mosque, he was greeted with a very different Arab tradition, a shoe hurled at him by a protestor. And the head of Egypt's greatest Islamic center, al-Azhar, warned him to stop meddling in Arab countries. The Iranian president has had a turbulent week, not just in his travels, but, more importantly, at home. Why? Well, try this comparison. We all know President Obama and Speaker Boehner are not best buddies, but imagine Obama playing a video in the middle of Congress, a video that claims to show Boehner's brother soliciting a massive bribe.

The Iranian version of that is exactly what happened in Tehran last Sunday. In the middle of a packed house, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad played a secretly filmed video, one of many he claims to have collected.

The man at the center of all this was Fazel Larijani. His brother Ari Larijani, the speaker of the parliament, was enraged. Look at this video: The speaker berates the president saying, "You are not allowed to talk anymore." And then, "Please leave. Please leave."

The president of Iran was forced to walk out of parliament. And, remember, he was there to defend his labor minister, who was being impeached. It was the ninth such impeachment procedure in the last eight years. What is going on?

Well, in the West, we know Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the face of the Islamic Republic. He is a globe-trotter, dropping by the U.N., Venezuela, Brazil and China. Ahmadinejad has probably become the most recognizable Iranian face in the world.

He makes outrageous, provocative statements about everything from gays to Israel to the Holocaust. But back home he has always been a dangerous opponent of the clerics who actually run the country.

Ahmadinejad, remember, is a lay-person without any spiritual authority, but he is a twice-elected president with populist appeal. Real power rests with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, the man who controls the revolutionary guards, the military backbone of the regime.

On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, from what we can tell, Ahmadinejad is actually the moderate. He wants to be the president who negotiates with America, breaks Iran's isolation and makes a deal resolving the nuclear problem.

During his last presidential campaign, he was actually attacked by the opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, for offering too many concessions to the West.

Well, this week, Ayatollah Khamenei slapped him down. Ahmadinejad and his foreign minister had expressed interest in negotiating directly with the United States responding to comments by Vice President Biden.

But Khamenei rejected the process this week and dismissed people like Ahmadinejad as naive, even wondering if they wanted America to dominate Iran again. So what happens next? Well, Ahmadinejad will step down in June when his term ends. Khamenei remains in control. The Green Movement has been silenced at least for now.

So despite the pressure, isolation, increasing sanctions, Iran remains defiant and the most defiant forces seem firmly in charge. Not a good prospect for a nuclear deal.

Up next, India's richest man in the first television interview in a decade, one-on-one with Mukesh Ambani. You won't want to miss this.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm in Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of the headlines. President Obama just declared a state of emergency for the state of Connecticut. The entire northeast is beginning to dig out from up to three feet of snow. At least nine deaths are blamed on the storm. Power crews are working to restore electricity to about 400,000 residents, but all major airports are starting to resume flights after more than 5,000 were canceled because of the blizzard.

The Los Angeles police chief is reopening an investigation into the firing of former officer Christopher Dorner. Dorner remains at large, suspected of killing three people. The search for him has focused on the San Bernardino Mountains after his abandoned pickup truck was found burning in the area. In a manifesto, Dorner declared war on L.A police and their families because he lost his job on the force.

A report commissioned by the family of Joe Paterno is absolving the late Penn State coach of cover-up allegations in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. The report calls the findings of an earlier investigation conducted on behalf of Penn State, quote, "factually wrong, speculative, and fundamentally flawed." In a separate letter to former Penn State players, Joe Paterno's widow, Sue, said her husband was a moral disciplined man who never twisted the truth to avoid publicity.

Those are your headlines. "Reliable Sources" is at the top of the hour. Now back to "Fareed Zakaria: GPS."

ZAKARIA: Mukesh Ambani hasn't given a television interview in almost a decade. He has never let TV cameras into his 27-story home in Mumbai. Until now. Ambani is the richest man in India, the second richest man in all of Asia. He is the chairman of India's largest company, Reliance Industries, which his father started in 1980, making textiles. Today their revenues come mostly from energy, though they are making big bets in retail and telecommunications as well.

Tell me, you have a vantage point to look at the global economy. You run India 's largest company. Where do you think we are five years after the financial crisis began?

MUKESH AMBANI, CHAIRMAN, RELIANCE INDUSTRIES: Well, I'm more optimistic than most. And my view is that this year we will see the beginning of a recovery, particularly in the U.S.

ZAKARIA: And you think that that's because just the inherent strengths of the U.S. economy?

AMBANI: There has been a fundamental transformation in the energy scene in the U.S. For many decades, we have heard that the U.S. will be independent of foreign imports of energy. Realistically, I can now tell you that it is my judgment that this will happen in the next five or seven years. The U.H. has truly found non-conventional energy in shale oil and gas, which is really - really bringing benefit not only to the population in the U.S., but really to across the world.

ZAKARIA: You've invested in solar. Do you think in the next ten or 15 years the costs will come down dramatically?

AMBANI: Absolutely. I think so. And I think that ultimately the way I think about energy is that we will transit from what I call a hydrocarbon present, which is coal, oil, and natural gas over the next many decades into a fully renewable, sustainable future. And solar really will be at the heart of it.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about the hydrocarbon present. You run the largest refinery in the world in Jamnagar. What will happen if there were a military strike on Iran? What would happen to the price of oil in your estimation?

AMBANI: Well, I think that the world is a lot more saner. My own view is that if we see small blips, I think that we have a resilient enough system. And today there is enough spare capacity, right, in the system, to take care of eventualities.

ZAKARIA: You were very bullish about the United States. Probably, more bullish than a lot of Americans. What about the other key drivers of the world economy? Because a lot of people say, look, China is slowing down. Brazil has slowed down. India has slowed down. What do you think of the emerging market story?

AMBANI: I think that China is maintaining steady growth. It's not decelerating. Europe has found its own transition path, and they will transgress through the financial system in an ordinary way. India has had some slow growth, but I'm really very optimistic on India. I can (ph) say that.

ZAKARIA: Why is that? Explain that. Because when people look at India today, they see growth is at 5.5 percent now. You talk to foreign investors and they say the infrastructure is terrible, the government, you know, doesn't do enough reform. It's very difficult to operate in India . You look at all that and you are not - you are not - you're still bullish.

AMBANI: Well, I'm very bullish on India, because it's really the aspirations of a billion people. And ours is a country where all the billion count. There are some countries in the world where one person counts. There are some countries where the politburo, 12 people, count. The beauty of India is that all our billion people count. And they have aspirations. And it is really a bottom-up story. It's not a top-down story. So, yes, we will -- just with what happens in the rest of the world, but we are on a long-term growth trajectory. And this is just not growth in terms of GDP numbers, right? This really is for well-being of each and every Indian. And that's the aspiration.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that one of the problems India has to deal with is inequality? It is still one of the poorest countries in the world. And yet it has the second largest number of billionaires in Asia. People worry about the growing inequality.

AMBANI: If you think about inequality, that's not only a problem in our country. It's really the problem all across the world. Income comes from opportunity. You take our own example as Reliance. My father started Reliance with $100. When I joined Reliance in 1980, the market value of Reliance was $30 or $40 million. And in 30 years, the opportunities that were provided by this country has enabled us to create wealth for India. My father was a big believer that any business that has the sole purpose of making money is not worth doing. Right? Business must serve a larger societal purpose. Reliance raised all its money from capital markets and from individual small shareholders. So we've created a million millionaires just by investing in Reliance out of ordinary Indians. And that is the process of creating wealth for the country. Once you create opportunity, wealth comes.

ZAKARIA: But do you agree -- you've heard all this criticism -- that you in particular have a responsibility -- you are richest Indian, you run the largest company in India, you live in this fabulous house that is, you know, talked about much. Do you see yourself as having a special responsibility?

AMBANI: Yes. Of course. The way I think about these things is I really have my father as my role model. And he started off with nothing. And one of the things that he said to me is that you really don't know, Mukesh, what it is to be poor. And make sure that you maintain everybody's self-respect. So when you give -- people hold their hand on this basis, don't give on that basis, right? When you give, and if people hold their hand like this, that means they bless you. That's the way to give. And in a certain sense some amount of anonymous giving or doing things that change societies, doing things that leave a lasting impact, and even if it be creation of businesses, creation of jobs, right, creation of sustainable institutions that last beyond you, is the best way that you can contribute to India.

ZAKARIA: Mukesh Ambani, pleasure to have you on.

AMBANI: Thank you, Fareed. It was a pleasure.

Up next, four prime ministers and one chief of government, all from a very important part of the world -- the Middle East.


ZAKARIA: It's hard to find optimists about the Arab Spring these days. People point at the violence in Syria, the chaos in Libya, the backwards movements in Egypt, all signs that the promise of better times has not been born out. I recently put these very worries to a panel, a panel of Arab leaders -- the prime ministers of Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian Authority, and the chief of government of Morocco. Syria, of course, was of urgent importance. Of all the leaders there, the prime minister of Lebanon probably had the most at stake. His country is almost encircled by Syria. About 200,000 Syrian refugees have escaped to Lebanon, adding an extra five percent to Lebanon's population. Listen to Najib Mikati, a businessman- turned-politician who clearly wants to keep the problems of Syria from infecting his own increasingly prosperous country.


NAJIB MIKATI, PRIME MINISTER OF LEBANON: We are dissociating ourselves from what's going on in Syria by all means. We are dissociating because we have a kind of historical, geographical relation with Syria. And now today if we take any position, really, we would be more boosting the division in our Lebanese society and between the Lebanese citizen. For this reason, we have the position as the Lebanese government to disassociate ourselves, but this does not mean that we disassociate ourselves from the humanitarian issue. Today we are helping and receiving the Syrian who (inaudible) and why fully we are ensuring for them sheltering, medical care, schooling, food, everything.

ZAKARIA: Could the Arab League put greater pressure on Bashar al-Assad? Can you ...

MIKATI: We are disassociating ourselves. And - prime minister.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Prime minister, you may disassociate yourself from Syria, but Syria is not disassociating itself from you.

MIKATI: Definitely.

ZAKARIA: You're getting thousands of refugees every week.

MIKATI: We are not disassociating from the humanitarian. We are receiving them and they are most welcome and always we have to do - Lebanon do - It's an obligation and we are ready to serve the Syrian in Lebanon.

ZAKARIA: But you don't want to get involved in the politics.

MIKATI: In the politics we don't get involved because God knows what will be the implication on Lebanon. How it's going to finish.


ZAKARIA: Now, you may have noticed that all of the guests on my panel were men. There is not a single female Arab head of state. So I asked my guests about the status of women in their countries starting with the new prime minister of Egypt, Hesham Mohamed Qandil. It got a built feisty. Listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZAKARIA: There are a number of Egyptian women who have told me that they believe the situation of women in Egypt today is worse than it was under Mubarak.

HESHAM MOHAMED QANDIL, PRIME MINSTER OF EGYPT: Well, I'm not sure, you know - but I have five daughters myself and my wife, so I don't think they agree to that. So ...

ZAKARIA: Well, they would probably -- they're doing fine there.


ZAKARIA: They're living in the prime minister's house. My friends are not.

QANDIL: No, I mean ...

ZAKARIA: But there is a feeling that in Egypt there has not been much progress on women's rights and there has been a rise of a populism.

QANDIL: No, no.

ZAKARIA: That has been quite ...

QANDIL: No, no.

ZAKARIA: ... quite sexist and ...

QANDIL: No. Let me explain that. It is clear that some voices that want to limit the freedom of women. That's clear. But it is not the mainstream of Egyptian people. No, the mainstream of the Egyptian people respect women. No - and this is - that was in the preamble of the constitution, that women are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. And if you read the Egyptian constitution it talks about persons afterwards. So in the preamble it talks about women, the importance of women, and then it talks about Egyptians. It doesn't talk about the sex or religion or sex. It continues talking about Egyptians as persons. So that's the whole thing.

ZAKARIA: Do you want to say something?

ABDELILAH BENKIRANE (through translator): I believe that the West must be aware of something. Now, after the revolution, the West wanted to deal with Arab regimes that were similar to his own regimes, similar to his own situation. They thought that the situation would be similar to what they had in the West. However, the people in the Arab world don't want that. They want respect for their own specificities. They have their own conditions and their own contexts. What do we want as Arab people? We don't want women who wear the veil to remove the veil. We don't want to force them to wear the veil. We want everybody to be free. And we want the West to accept us as we are.

ZAKARIA: Let's just talk about the women's issue because it's an important one. This is not a -- first of all, nobody in the West is trying to get women to take their veils off. The issue as described in the Arab Development Report, written by an Arab woman, is that there are three great deficits in the Arab world and the third one is the rights of women. This is written by an Arab, about the Arab world with enormous amounts of data. By any comparison with the rest of the world, the status of women in the Arab world is poor. So, you know, I think part of solving the problem and dealing with it is to acknowledge that it exists. My own humble suggestion would be that you can make this into an anti-Western crusade, but the truth of the matter is the women in the Arab world deserve better.


UM: Fareed, you did that intentionally, right? Because I saw ...

BENKIRANE: But I have not -- I have not blamed the West. I have not blamed the West and I don't know why you applaud.



BENKIRANE: Now, if you talk about this report, this human development report, and this report written by a woman, we have 150 million women living in the Arab world, and they are -- some of them are happy with the situation, some of them are not happy with the situation, some of them have written reports, others have not written reports. However, they all have a will and we must respect their will.


ZAKARIA: I will say one thing. This is a new Arab world in the sense that one can ask elected leaders questions and they are forced to respond. There is a link on our Web site to the full hour of that discussion. Go to to watch it all.

Up next, call it a fashion faux pas. Why everyone from Hillary Clinton to Angela Merkel has been breaking the law in France.


ZAKARIA: This week, a skeleton found beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, was confirmed as being the bones of England's King Richard III. That brings me to my question of the week from the "GPS Challenge". Richard III was the last king of which royal dynasty? Is it A, the Plantagenets, B, the Tudors, C, the Normans or D, the Stuarts. Stay tuned. And we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of the "GPS Challenge, lots of inside and analysis and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Remember, if you miss a show, go to iTunes. You can get the audio podcast for free or you can now buy the video version. Go there buy typing into your browser.

This week's book of the week is Max Boot's "Invisible Armies," an epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present. Like the title, the book itself is very long. but rich in history and insight. And this is a crucially important topic. For those who can't get through all 784 pages, a hint -- he has 12 key rules at the end. But try the whole thing.

And now for "The Last Look." I hope this isn't too soon. Her office has barely had time to be repainted for her successor, John Kerry, but I'm here to tell you Hillary Clinton broke the law in Paris. As evidenced by this picture. Former French First Lady Carla Bruni was a scofflaw, too. Laura Bush also a violator of Parisian law. Angela Merkel likes to take the French to task, but she could have found herself in Parisian hot water, as well. Their crime? Wearing pants. You see, for more than 200 years it has actually technically been illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris unless official permission was granted. It seems that during the French Revolution the lady revolutionaries took to wearing pants and the powers that be at the time wanted to put a swift end to that. So they made it illegal in 1800. Amendments came over the years allowing women to dare to wear trousers for riding bikes or horses. But the law remained on the books until this week, when it was repealed by the minister for women's rights. The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was a, Richard III was a Plantagenets as readers of Shakespeare's histories probably knew. That dynasty ruled over Britain from 1216 with Henry III until August 1485, when Richard III was killed at the battle of Bosworth at age 33. And a new battle has started over where his final resting place should be. In Leicester, where he's been buried for some 525 years or in York, where he spent many of his living years, or Westminster Abbey, where most of Britain's kings are buried. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."