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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dead; 2 Children Buried in Dirt Wall Collapse; Interview with Thomas and Mary Beth Smedinghoff; Interview with Ian Dale; Interview with Henry Kissinger

Aired April 8, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- 2004 and that was really -- the two of those -- two figures really key in that era of the American British friendship.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It was such an amazing life. And CNN's Becky Anderson -- we don't have Becky Anderson now, I'm told. As you were saying, though, you know, such a crucial period for the United States. The end of the Cold War, and Britain, as I should say, fierce allies.

You know, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, you often saw them side by side. You also saw Margaret Thatcher's handbag of course during all these periods known as the "Iron Lady".

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: You mentioned that she was the first female and strong, strong and fierce female, but also three consecutive terms. So, also, at the end of the day, leaving a lasting legacy for everyone, as well.

ROMANS: And we're getting all of our reporters up from CNN and CNN International, of course, in London and elsewhere to talk about her legacy and to about what happens next in terms of obviously a grieving U.K. at this point, because this will be -- this is someone for a generation who defined politics in the U.K., and as I said, also a period of friendship between the Americans and the British.

BERMAN: She was elected to three consecutive terms. The only British leader in the 20th century to be elected to three consecutive terms. Tony Blair was elected three consecutive, also, but his last one technically in the 21st century.

Margaret Thatcher, again, we're talking about her -- the lauds she received over her career. But was also controversial, she eliminated some government subsidies that did lead to a sharp rise in unemployment earlier in her term. And by 1986, unemployment reached some 3 million in Great Britain which is a very, very high number in that country. But of after that, the economy did start to take off and those numbers did go down.

ROMANS: She was very close to President Reagan. She shared a lot of similar conservative views. Remind us again about what the, I guess the politics of the era to this two. BERMAN: This was the Cold War, this was the height of the Cold War in many cases, before glasnost, before perestroika, before you saw Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia really calmed things down.

And when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were both in charge of their two countries, the United States and Great Britain, you had this strong and sometimes controversial leadership from the West facing off from NATO against the Eastern Bloc and Warsaw Pact. And in that strength, and, of course, nuclear rearmament in some cases, boosting the nuclear arsenal over in Europe, that was controversial to some. But others will argue of course that that strength and that alliance helped win the Cold War for the West.

ROMANS: And then there's the fact that she's the first high profile woman running a country. I mean, you look at the political landscape is today for women in politics compared with when she began, what, in 1950. 1950 was her first run for parliament, unsuccessful. But her first run for parliament was in 1950, 20 years (INAUDIBLE), 15 years before "Mad Men".

BERMAN: She was power for a long time before she took over.

SAMBOLIN: So, John, when you think about her legacy, what do you think? If you were to name, you know, what would be the key things?

BERMAN: I think the three things are the Cold War, I think the alliance with Ronald Reagan and the Cold War, coupled in as one. I think the Falkland War where you had Great Britain taking on Argentina, this battle over these tiny little islands off the coast of Argentina where the sheep outnumbered the people. That was a very controversial confrontation where not a lot of the world lined up behind Great Britain right there.

But she saw that through and that really galvanized her support which was wavering at that point in Britain. That helped galvanize her support in the country.

And then the economic measures which were controversial. The Labour Movement having going very strong in Britain for decades, but when she came in, she really did her best to sort of break that movement, ending government subsidies. There were strikes, miners were up in arms over the whole thing and it was very controversial.

ROMANS: Again, breaking news: Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain, has died. Let's get a closer look at her career with our Becky Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She did defiance.

MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The lady's not for turning.

ANDERSON: She did direct. THATCHER: No. No. No.

ANDERSON: And when she chose, with femininity, alongside the steel.

THATCHER: Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.

ANDERSON: Her longest serving cabinet member remembers this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her style was essentially a determination not to be driven off course. Her phraseology -- there is no alternative, the lady's not for turning -- demonstrated a clear determination to see tough policies through.

ANDERSON (on camera): Margaret Thatcher grew up here in Grantham, a solid, uncomplicated English market town. And the values that she learned here shaped her entire political ideology. Her father, a pillar of the community, ran a corner shop.

(voice-over): Now a humble medicine store, a modest plaque on the wall is all that testifies to its small place in history.

Margaret Roberts, as she was born, lived with her parents and sister above the family grocery shop. She had the honor of serving as her school representative or head girl in her final year before she went up to Oxford where she studied chemistry.

But it was her father who was her biggest influence. It was he who impressed upon her wrongs as he saw it of living beyond your means, a lesson she took to heart.

THATCHER: One of the most immoral things you can do is to pose as the moral politician demanding more for health, more for education, more for industry, more for housing, more for everything, and then when you see the bill say, no, no, I didn't mean you to pay tax to pay for it, I meant you to borrow more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she was the woman to the moment. We had (INAUDIBLE) discontents, we had strikes. We really needed a strong leader. And that's what we got.

ANDERSON: For today's conservative ladies of Grantham, Margaret Thatcher is a source of great pride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had such a wonderful code for life. You've got certain rules and regulations in the way you conduct yourself, manners, this sort of thing. She was a great icon of those things, which I think are missing now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great Britain became great again through Margaret Thatcher.

ANDERSON (on camera): Divisive, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Divisive, definitely, because there are a lot of people who do not like having things taken away from them. And they don't like change. But she had a job to do and she did it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: So, Margaret Thatcher, one of the most interesting things about Margaret Thatcher who again we're just learning now has passed away at the age of 87, not only an iconic figure within Britain, but she played a big role in the United States, to Americans growing up during the '80s.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: Everyone knew Margaret Thatcher, because of what she was doing in Britain, also her relationship with Ronald Reagan. When Reagan died in 2004, she did come to the funeral and that was sort of an image that seared in so many people's memories. She hasn't looked well for a number of years.

ROMANS: She retired from public life after suffering a series of small strokes in 2002. So for President Reagan's funeral in 2004, she came out of a very private, private retirement so do that. And I think it is a symbol of how close the two were both ideologically. Also, the period of their -- you know, them being at the helm of their countries during the Cold War, during the kinds of things that we were facing.

The concerns -- I mean, remember the real concerns about nuclear war at the time.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Real visceral concerns about the bomb and the morning after the bomb. And these were the two world leaders most recognized for leading these very two close friends, these countries through all of that.

BERMAN: She was fierce, fierce critic of communism no doubt about that at all. Of course, Margaret Thatcher known as the "Iron Lady". If ever a nickname sort of epitomized the character of an individual, of a leader, it was that.

ROMANS: All right. We have more breaking news for you this morning. For that, we're going to go to Shannon Travis right now. We know that firefighters have been digging since late last night in desperate search for 6-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy.

And now, Shannon is here with the news that their bodies have been found -- Shannon.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. Just learning moments ago about the discovery of both children, officials briefed us. They said one child was found about two hours ago, Christine. The other about an hour ago.

They had been trapped under so much dirt for so long without oxygen. Officials said they were found about 24 feet down in the ground, under several thousand pounds of dirt. Of course just up until this morning, it had been a rescue effort. The 6-year-old girl and 7-year- old boy were cousins, were playing in a deep pit behind a family member's home some 20 miles outside charlotte. That's when that wall of dirt collapsed on them.

One child's father saw what happened and quickly called for help. Some 75 workers spent hours at the mouth of the deep pit clawing through the earth with heavy equipment, even using their bare hands.

Looking on in shock were family members, Christine, some of them children themselves. One neighbor said that the children watched and feared the worst and she told them, quote, "God will take care of them" -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Shannon Travis, such a sad development on an already very sad story. Thanks, Shannon.

BERMAN: We have some other news right now.

A murdered U.S. diplomat making the long journey home from Afghanistan this morning. Later today at Dover Air Force Base, the remains of 25- year-old Chicago native Anne Smedinghoff will be back in America. The State Department worker was delivering books to schoolchildren in southern Afghanistan on Saturday when a suspected Taliban suicide bomber crashed into her convoy, killing her and four other Americans.

Secretary of State John Kerry just met the young woman on a recent trip to Kabul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: She was someone who worked hard and put her life on the line so that others could live a better life. Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now let's talk to Anne's parents, Thomas and Mary Beth Smedinghoff. They're in Dover, Delaware. They'll be at Dover Air Force Base later this morning.

First of all, our condolences to you. A bright, brilliant, beautiful girl. Young woman who was doing the work of the United States.

We thank you, first of all, for raising someone to hold the American ideals around the rest of the world for us all. And we're so sorry that you lost her.

THOMAS SMEDINGHOFF, ANNE SMEDINGHOFF'S FATHER: Thank you so much.

MARY BETH SMEDINGHOFF, ANNE SMEDINGHOFF'S MOTHER: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

Those words of comfort have been immeasurable help to all of us since we got the terrible news from Secretary Kerry on Saturday morning. ROMANS: Can you tell us -- tell us about our daughter, first of all, and what drove her and the passion that drove her to the Foreign Service? She wanted to travel the world. Tell us about what drove her.

T. SMEDINGHOFF: She was someone that really embraced life to the fullest. She really wanted to make a difference in the world. She had a strong interest in foreign affairs and international diplomacy.

And she saw this as a way that she could really contribute and help make a difference to, you know, in this case in Afghanistan, to the people who really needed the kind of help that she was able to provide both in terms of education, helping local women's groups, helping businesses and so forth.

BERMAN: Thomas, you've said that she volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Did you talk to her about this decision? What was on her mind as she headed there?

M.B. SMEDINGHOFF: You know, when she -- she had a difficulty telling us that that was something that she was considering applying for. And I remember specifically asking her, Anne, why would you want to apply for something like that? And she went on to explain how she really thought that there was a lot that could be done there and she could be a part of it.

And so, I, you know, very reluctantly of course as parents, you always want to make sure no harm comes to your children. But I knew that she wanted to embrace this opportunity. And so, she had our full heart and support and blessing to apply for that position.

BERMAN: And apparently she'd been -- she'd been having great success there. Just last month when Secretary of State John Kerry visited Afghanistan, she was the control officer which is such an honor for a young diplomat. She really handled the secretary in the country.

Did she talk to you about her work while she was there?

M.B. SMEDINGHOFF: You know, why you, we spoke often. Many times we had long conversations on Sunday mornings. It was her Sunday evening there and it was a good time for us. So we had long talks. And we actually spoke the last time on Easter morning.

And most of the conversation was all about that trip when Secretary Kerry had been in Afghanistan. And she told us what her role was. We didn't know anything about it until everything was over with.

And she just was so exuberant of everything that had transpired during that trip and what she had done of obviously, we were very proud of her.

T. SMEDINGHOFF: She sent us the pictures, the congratulatory e-mail she got from the ambassador. It was quite a deal.

ROMANS: I know, she has -- you have other children, she has siblings. How is your family holding up? T. SMEDINGHOFF: As well as we can. We're pulling together. We -- all of our children are very close and it's been quite a shock. But we're coming together.

Our one daughter is here with us now. We had actually been visiting her at college in Carlisle when we got the news. Our other two children are actually on the way home right now. And as soon as we can get back, we'll all be together.

BERMAN: So apparently this attack where she was tragically killed, she was on the way to deliver school books to Afghan children. What does that tell you about your daughter that that's what she was doing?

T. SMEDINGHOFF: That's the way she was. That was the kind of work she really wanted to do in Afghanistan. And she did a lot of that kind of thing.

She worked with the education system and trying to support the schools. She worked with a number of the women's groups who were striving for equality for women. She helped support some of the musical groups and the sporting groups -- just a lot of that kind of thing really trying to make a difference.

ROMANS: Did she ever talk to you at all about how, you know, especially there, the IEDs, the way the people -- you know -- Benghazi, for example, she is the first U.S. diplomat to be killed since Benghazi. Did you ever talk about that?

M.B SMEDINGHOFF: You know, honestly, we did not. We would somewhat joke with her sometimes about how we just wanted to, you know, see her safe within the walls of the embassy compound. But that was not who Anne was.

She wanted to be out. She wanted to be out doing things with the local population. And there was no keeping her down.

BERMAN: Thomas and Mary Beth Smedinghoff, thank you so much for being with us. And again, we're so sorry for your loss. But also as Christine said, thank you so much for raising such a wonderful, wonderful daughter.

ROMANS: Thank you.

It is 15 minutes after the hour right now. We're going to bring you up to speed on our top story.

BERMAN: CNN reporting right now this breaking news that Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Great Britain, Lady Thatcher, the Iron Lady has died at the age of 87. British reports say that it was a stroke. We're told that Queen Elizabeth II has been informed and she intends to reach out to the Thatcher family in private.

We have Ian Dale on the phone with us. She is a biographer of Lady Thatcher, "Margaret Thatcher Biography," she wrote. Ian, thank you so much for being with us.

VOICE OF IAN DALE, AUTHOR, MARGARET THATCHER BIOGRAPHER: Good morning.

BERMAN: Tell me, for Americans who may not be as familiar with the prime minister, explain to us what role she plays in the psyche of the Brits.

DALE: Well, she came to power in Britain in 1979. This country was an economic basket case. You'll remember Jimmy Carter used to speak of the malaise in America. Well, it was exactly the same here. And she basically picked the country up by the scruff of its neck, restored our national pride, and helped Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev win the cold war.

She was prime minister here for 11 years, one of the longest serving prime ministers ever. She was a controversial figure, very divisive -- and she was a real conviction politician, someone who knew what she wanted and would go to any length to achieve it. So, remember (INAUDIBLE) in 1982.

No one in the world thought Margaret Thatcher would go to war to get the Ireland back. That's exactly what she did. And in the sense, that was what gave the Russian the signal this was an iron lady. This was someone that they could very much respect and had relationship with Ronald Reagan, her partnership with Ronald Reagan during those eight years that he was in power was I think absolutely crucial to the fact that the west did in the end triumph in the cold war.

ROMANS: Certainly defined more than a generation of American-British politics and the relationship between the two countries. Those two figures, Ronald Reagan and Margaret thatcher, really dominated an entire era. Anybody growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and beyond, they defined, defined politics for that generation.

DALE: I think that's absolutely right. And what we have to remember is this was a relationship of equals. Britain is clearly a much smaller country than the United States. It's not an economic or military super power. But Ronald Reagan dealt with her on the basis that she was his equal. They had many disagreements over those eight years.

It wasn't just this love affair that some people write about now a days. When the Americans invaded Grenada in 1984, she was absolutely furious because the queen (INAUDIBLE) Granada. She hadn't been informed and she really let Ronald Reagan have it on the phone. In fact, she phoned him up during a cabinet meeting, and he held the phone out for people so other cabinet members could hear what she was saying and just said isn't she magnificent. Well, she was magnificent.

BERMAN: The telegraph in England is saying that the death of Margaret Thatcher ends what was one of the most remarkable political lives of the 20th century. You know, looking back, it's almost an accepted fact, of course, she was prime minister, but when she took office in 1979, that was truly remarkable for a woman anywhere in the world.

DALE: Well, it was. Had been one or two female leaders -- before her, but never of one of the leading western countries. There was a feeling in Britain at that time that people questioned whether a woman could do the job. Her final campaign commercial was just herm, sitting, looking at the camera trying to reassure the British public that a woman could do the job and they should trust her.

Well, she proved very quickly that she was equal to all of the cabinets -- essentially one of the best men in the cabinet, because I didn't forget the expression she had more than steel.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: The Iron Lady gives new meaning to the phrase Iron Lady. What do you think her legacy will be? What do Brits now think of Margaret Thatcher?

Well, I was talking to a conservative member of parliament just before I came on air with you, and he said this is the end of an era. And I think he was right. It's not an exaggeration to say that 23 years on after she left office, she still the strikes politics like no other. She said her gracious legacy was Tony Blair.

Tony Blair was from a different political party, but he changed his party so that it embraced a lot of the tenants much to the anger of many office party. But effectively, the British economy, British foreign policy is still being run on Thatcher lines. And she, to this day, is one of the most controversial figures in British politics.

I don't really want to look at twitter at the moment because I know there'll be very tasteless people on there who are rejoicing at her death now, people thinking their greatest political enemy is now no longer with us. I think in a sense that is a tribute to the influence that she still has over our politics.

BERMAN: All right. Ian Dale, author of the "Margaret Thatcher Biograhpy," thank you so much for being with us this morning.

DALE: Thank you.

ROMANS: And this, we have a statement from Buckingham Palace. The queen sad to hear the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher (ph). Her majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family. Also, British media is reporting that she suffered a stroke. But neither party her spokeswoman nor the conservative party would confirm to us Thatcher's cause of death at the age of 87.

Let's go to Max Foster now for more. Max, good morning. And again this breaking news that the former prime minister has died -- Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I've been speaking to Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, describing her as a great leader. Certainly, a towering figure in British politics, but also, in international politics. And everyone seemed to know her. You were talking there about with your previous guest about how she was quite a divisive figure. I mean, she certainly was.

This was the prime minister that decimated entire industries in the United Kingdom during her period in power as she broke the miners unions in a push towards privatization to create a more flexible British economy which it has become. But she decimated communities across the UK. And a lot of people absolutely despise her legacy.

But Henry Kissinger's point was she was a great leader. She threw her support behind Mikhail Gorbachev which allowed the end of the cold war because then he gained that sort of crucial support that he needed and also with her relationship with Europe and also the Falklands, she mounted a successful campaign in the Falklands to keep that British.

And she was a great towering leader. She was, if nothing else, a leader. He also points out that she was a very warm character, very funny character, talking about being very feminine, as well. So, a lot of people that knew her certainly had a huge amount of respect for her. A lot of her political followers obviously did, as well, but many people didn't like her at all.

And there would be glad she's gone, because certainly, nothing personal about the woman, but in terms of her policies, they were very controversial.

BERMAN: Too early to know what the funeral or memorial plans might be, Max. But one would expect that, you know, this will be a very big deal in London.

FOSTER: Well, my sources, the palace, that she won't be getting a state funeral. So, it won't be the sort of funeral you'd get if the queen or Prince Philip died. It might be something more on the lines of Princess Diana, which wasn't a state funeral but had the hallmarks of a state occasion. So, I certainly think it's going to be a big occasion.

There's going to be huge amounts of people out to see it. And there will be demonstrators, as well. But yes, a very big occasion for the UK and it will be showing around the world that she was this international figure as well, I think, as the UK figure.

ROMANS: She's the daughter of grocers, people who had a corner grocery store, the corner store. She grew up from very modest means to run one of the most powerful and important countries in the world. She certainly is sort of, you know, I guess, the British dream would be how you put it in terms of how far she went from the corner grocery to live in the nation.

FOSTER: Yes. Interesting, because her father was a big local political figure in her community, and she was defined by him in many ways. And she felt very, very strongly about the things that she believed in. And she was a woman, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, but many feminists didn't support because she only surrounded herself with men.

But in terms of what women could achieve in the UK, she was a big figure and also in terms of leadership, and you saw an interesting thing with the last prime minister. The current prime minister expected to support her as a conservative member of the same party. The last Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a member of the opposite party, the labor party. And he invited her to Downy Street because he saw her as a great leader whatever she stood for. And she is someone that Britain hasn't seen since someone that could really define Bristishness, and she was very supportive of the union jack flag, for example, when British Airways got rid of it on their logo.

She was very angry about that. She really stuck up for Britain. So, many people liked her because of that as much as anything else.

BERMAN: Max Foster, thank you so much for being with us. You know, Margaret Thatcher once said in politics, "if you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman." That's what Margaret Thatcher said.

On the phone right now with us is former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger was secretary of state under Richard Nixon.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Secretary Kissinger, John Berman here. Can you hear me OK, sir?

VOICE OF HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Make it a little louder, please.

BERMAN: You, of course, over the years had the opportunity to meet Margaret Thatcher, I imagine, many, many times. Give us a sense what of what kind of person she was.

KISSINGER: She was a woman -- she was a leader of strong convictions. Great leadership abilities and an extraordinary personality.

ROMANS: We know her as the Iron Lady. We saw her. We grew up watching her on television. Tell us more about the friends, the people who know her, a warm-hearted kind lady. Tell us about that Margaret thatcher, the one that we didn't personally know, but you did.

KISSINGER: I'm not saying that she was a gutsy personality. She was a woman who earned the fact that a leader needed to have strong convictions because the public had no way of orienting itself, unless, its leadership, its leaders gave it real push. She didn't think it was her job to find the middle ground. It was her job to have a conviction and then let the political process find what it would develop.

To her friends, she was interested in their personal life. When we were in town, she invited us for tea. I saw her over the decades long after I was out of office. And she was always eager in those conversations to discuss issues of foreign policy a strong affirmation of her point of view with an open mindedness towards others, towards at least mine (ph).

BERMAN: Secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. Again, the news that we have been reporting for the last half hour or so, former British prime minster, Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87. British media says, apparently, it was a stroke.

ROMANS: We'll have more live coverage from London right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING-POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. We're following breaking news this morning. Former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, is dead. Thatcher was England's first and only female prime minister. She was called, as you know, the Iron Lady for her personal and political toughness. Only British prime minister of the 20th century that win three consecutive terms.

Our Max Foster joins us from London, and we're just getting (ph) the statement in Max from David Cameron's office, the prime minister now, saying, "It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Lady Thatcher. We've lost a great leader, a great prime minister, and a great Britain."