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Talking with the Enemy; Syrian Warzone Evacuation; The Man Behind "12 Years a Slave"; Imagine a World

Aired February 11, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

And is there something in the water?

Tonight, suddenly peace, or at least talks about peace, are breaking out in the most unlikely places. China and Taiwan are holding their first-ever official face-to-face talks since Mao Zedong's Communists won their civil war back in 1949.

Beijing has always threatened to go to war to stop Taiwan declaring independence, but over the years, they've built a thriving commercial relationship with hundreds of billions of dollars in trade across the straits.

Still digesting this historic thaw, another surprised appeared further south on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea did an about-turn and offered talks with South Korea; high-level officials from both sides are set to meet at their common border on Wednesday.

Last week they had agreed to the first family reunions in four years, millions of elderly Koreans remain separated ever since the war ended.

And another round of peace talks has resumed in Geneva between the two sides of Syria's civil war.

So lots of meetings, but will they lead to anything real and lasting? We're going to examine all of this.

First, to China and the Koreas.

Kurt Campbell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, joined me earlier from Washington. He is the man widely credited with being the key architect of the U.S. "Pivot to Asia."


AMANPOUR: Kurt Campbell, welcome to the program.

Let me start by asking you how significant -- or is it just symbolism -- these talks between China and Taiwan right now?

KURT CAMPBELL, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: Well, ironically, historically over the course of the last 30 years, people thought that the most tense situation in Asia was between China and Taiwan; but in recent years the relationship has improved substantially -- commercially, economically and now politically finally after almost 50 years.

The two sides have officially agreed to meet. They've met privately many times.

But this is the first time that they've taken the step to announce it publicly. It's quite significant and suggests that the rapprochement that's underway between China and Taiwan is moving fast forward very quickly.

AMANPOUR: But why is it important? And what can it mean to the United States?

Obviously the U.S., by its treaty obligations, was obliged to defend Taiwan if China attacked it.

Does it take away that inconvenience or does it take away a democratic ally in that part of the world?

CAMPBELL: Well, look, the democracy in Taiwan is still quite vibrant. And if anything, it's becoming more entrenched.

My full expectation is that the United States will continue to support Taiwan. And it is only through that confidence that Taiwan has that the United States has its back that it is prepared and able to reach out, again, with confidence to Beijing.

AMANPOUR: But again, what will it mean?

What will it mean for Taiwan, for the United States, for China?

What do both sides get out of this?

CAMPBELL: Well, look, what China and Taiwan get is a greater sense of predictability and a further easing of tensions. I don't see any sign of a -- of a early rapprochement that will lead to a political linking.

But what we will see is a continual improving -- improvement of relations between Taipei and Beijing, which is, I think, good for the region overall.

For the United States, I think we have a good set of circumstance as well, good relationship with China, good unofficial relationship with Taiwan and now this relationship between China and Taiwan is also thriving.

AMANPOUR: So contrast this now with the other big news, and that is the surprise invitation by North Korea to South Korea to start talks, meetings, et cetera, and there are supposed to be family reunions next week.

What is that all about? South Korea say they're very surprised by it.

CAMPBELL: Yes, hard to tell. I mean, what we have is probably the most unpredictable leader ever in North Korea with Kim Jong-un. We've talked about it on your program before. South Korea's had almost no contact with this new government. And now suddenly North Korea dangles what really matters a lot to South Korea, which is the family reunifications.

I've been at one of these reunifications. It's the saddest thing. It just breaks your heart, families in the -- in their 70s and 80s, sisters, brothers, that were separated during the horrors of the Korean War, meet for the first time in 50 years.

North Korea's put those, again, on the table. They are very popular in South Korea. Madame Park, the leader of South Korea, basically has to accept that gambit. I think this is a very initial stage; I do not believe that it holds the same hope that we've seen between China and Taiwan. If anything, North and South Korea are more estranged than ever.

AMANPOUR: Well, indeed, one of the North Korean ambassadors, giving a very rare press conference in Europe today, said, again, that the U.S. and South Korea have to abandon their joint military maneuvers. And of course these family reunions were dashed once before for various reasons.

Again, is it a charm offensive about -- by North Korea? Or is it words? What do you think is going on in the head of the North Korean leader?

CAMPBELL: It's a great question. But I was just smiling when you said charm offensive. If this is a charm offensive, you know, I'd hate to see something much worse.

They're going to have to do much more if it's a charm offensive. They're trying to get South Korea and the United States to cancel our military annual maneuvers. That will not happen.

These family reunifications and meetings have taken place over a period of decades and they almost always get abruptly cancelled at the last minute or abbreviated after some very tragic reunions.

It's a very sad thing. And it's really North Korea playing on the heartstrings of the South Koreans. But it's the worst, most cynical kind of move imaginable. I do not believe it's going to lead to a substantial warming between the two sides.

AMANPOUR: And finally, back to China and Taiwan, obviously the current Taiwanese president, the President Ma, is known to be pro-Beijing.

Is this a sort of last-ditch or an opportunistic meeting by Beijing in order to get Taiwan on side while it has a friendly president?

CAMPBELL: Well, I wouldn't say that he is conceived or thought of in certain sectors as pro-Beijing. I think that's probably simplistic. I think he is actually a Taiwan nationalist.

I do believe China and the leadership under President Ma want to try to lock in better relations so that whoever follows him, a new leader in Taiwan, will be in a situation that the process of closer ties between China and Taiwan are thought to be irreversible.

AMANPOUR: All right.

CAMPBELL: Nothing is irreversible in Asia, though, as we have seen.

AMANPOUR: Kurt Campbell, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

CAMPBELL: Good to be with you. Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And now to Syria. Face-to-face talks between the Assad regime and the opposition are underway in Geneva again, the first round just a few weeks ago yielded no progress on the key issue of ending the war and getting a political transition that inevitably will see an end to Assad's rule.

But the talks did produce a very shaky cease-fire in Homs, allowing humanitarian agencies to evacuate civilians. And it's also supposed to allow food and medical assistance into that desperate and deceived city, no small feat, according to the U.N. negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi.


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO SYRIA (through translator): Homs can be called a succeed. That has been six months in the making, six long months.


AMANPOUR: So the U.N. World Food Programme is leading the effort to get that aid in. And the group's director for Syria, Matthew Hollingworth, is in Homs right now, and he joins me on the phone.

Matthew Hollingworth, thank you very much for joining me from Homs.

Can you clear up a little bit of confusion for us?

Is the humanitarian assistance into Homs suspended?

Do you think it will start again anytime soon?

MATTHEW HOLLINGWORTH, DIRECTOR, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: It's certainly not been suspended. We've had one day of a pause today to regroup and plan the following day. So so far we've managed to get enough food and medical assistance into Old Homs for around 1,500 people for one months.

We're going back tomorrow to put some more assistance back in and we will be again trying to evacuate personnel, people, who really want to get out.

AMANPOUR: Describe for me what you and your colleagues saw as you went basically house to house in Old Homs to find people and to try to help them.

HOLLINGWORTH: I mean, we spent eight hours in Homs two days ago or two nights ago. What we saw was certainly not house to house; it's -- there's not a single building left in the Old City of Homs, which -- of a structure hasn't been affected by.

AMANPOUR: Can you hear me, Matthew?


AMANPOUR: Carry on.

HOLLINGWORTH: Yes. The -- in terms of what you're seeing inside the city, nobody is living a normal life today. Nobody is able to actually feed themselves, feed their children, feed their families with anything but the weeds, the grass that they can -- they can pick on the side of the curb (ph) and what little that they can -- they can eke out from what they've saved over time.

AMANPOUR: So we're seeing on our screen, as you're talking, really a mass exodus. All those people who want to get out are trying to get out. And you're describing primitive conditions, weeds and grass, and you've talked about tunnels. I even heard you describe it as looking like sort of Stalingrad might have done at the height of the war, of World War II.

And what are kids, when you offer them, I don't know, some fresh food --



HOLLINGWORTH: -- levels of deprivation such as this. You're -- you've got people who are, as you say, they're living in tunnels; they're living in basements of apartment buildings, which are otherwise destroyed, basements of shopping centers.

You're talking about the Old City, the center of this -- of this town, that -- where people are continuing to live after what has been a horrific, horrific war that has -- that has tossed people, their normal lives and they are barely and they have been barely existing.

AMANPOUR: So you described getting enough food in for 1,500 people, for about a month.

How many people are you trying to reach?

And are you convinced that the Syrians will allow you to keep sending food in?

HOLLINGWORTH: We are certainly hopeful that the Syrian government and the opposition forces inside Old Homs will continue to allow us to do our work in terms of both getting people out and getting food assistance in to those that won't leave.

There are people that don't want to leave. There are people who are so attached to their -- to their ancestral homes to what they do have inside, they just don't want to go. And they're in desperate need of our assistance.

What we have seen so far is more or less an open -- an openness to allow us to continue this work over the coming days.

AMANPOUR: And finally, you know, a lot of this reminds of what we all saw in Bosnia, besieged towns and cities, people desperate to get out, people desperate to get aid in. One obviously worries about those who remain, depending on what sort of ages they are, that once they get all the sort of women and children out, there could be an offensive against those who remain.

Does that go through your mind? And do you believe there are any guarantees that those people who stay will be -- will be safe?

HOLLINGWORTH: Sadly, I don't think there are any guarantees in that sense.

But I hope -- and we are somewhat hopeful that given the success of this mission, first of all, to prove that numbers of civilians that are and have been interested in Old Homs all this time, and the fact that many people are willing and many young men are willing to come out and lead the situation, leave Old Homs behind, that we are -- we're looking at the beginning of something that could be replicated elsewhere in Syria.

We're looking at something that could actually be replicated to bring peace to normal people's lives.

AMANPOUR: Matthew Hollingworth of the WFP, thank you so much for joining us with that explanation from Homs.


And as you heard, Mr. Hollingworth said never ever has he seen anything this bad, so much deprivation, in his entire career.

Now they are even talking peace again in Cyprus. After 40 years of partition and division, Greek and Turkish leaders met today at an abandoned airport on the island to patrol by the United Nations. It's a tentative step towards possible reunification, spurred on by the promise of natural gas, exploration as well as economic development.

After a break, though, it is Oscar season and we turn our attention to Hollywood and the astonishing new film that's nominated for nine Oscars; a brutal look at the biggest shame in American history, "12 Years a Slave," a film that comes along once in a generation.

We'll talk to director Steve McQueen when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. It is awards season for the movies and "Vanity Fair" magazine's annual Hollywood issue has the stars splashed across its cover.

The Oscars will be handed out next month and here in Britain, the BAFTAs will be awarded next week.

This year's Best Picture nominees focused on a number of real-life issues that we often cover on this program, whether some of the Catholic Church's most shameful history, like forced adoptions highlighted by the film, "Philomena," or Somali pirates on the high seas in "Captain Phillips," all the way now to the most celebrated and nomination film this year, "12 Years a Slave."

It's about the absolute horrors of slavery in the United States.

It's a story of a free black man from the North who's kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. The film is powerful and at times it is hard to watch, as its main character, played by Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor suffers through brutal physical and emotional abuse.


"SOLOMON NORTHUP": Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you're telling me all is lost? Tell no one who I am, that's the way to survive? Well, I don't want to survive. I want to live.


AMANPOUR: The film's British director, Steve McQueen, is also nominated and if he wins, he'll be the first-ever black director to take home the prestigious golden statue. And Steve McQueen joins me now from Los Angeles.

Welcome. Thank you for joining me and just to say, this is obviously the most incredible film and so rightly nominated for so many awards.

What was it that made you focus on this subject of all subjects?

STEVE MCQUEEN, FILM DIRECTOR: Well, for me, being of African descent, I thought there was a hole in the canon of cinema with -- regarding this subject. And I wanted to sort of delve in that narrative. I wanted to investigate a narrative. So it was just -- for me, it was very natural that I wanted to put it on film.

AMANPOUR: And how emotional was it for you?

I mean, I know that you had to -- or you did film in like 108 degrees in the South. There was, you know, sort of -- sort of shadows and relics of the slave era still there. At one point you said it was a little bit like dancing with ghosts.

What was the filming of this like?

MCQUEEN: Well, we had an amazing crew from the catering to the hair and makeup, the camera department. So as a family of filmmakers, we were -- we were so sort of united and wanted to make this film work.

Yes, the blistering heat and also the emotion, of course, of certain scenes. But without that kind of foundation of these sort of great filmmakers who came together to make this movie, it wouldn't have got done.

So it was about us, not as individuals, but us as a group. And there was so much love, there was so much honor that we were making this film on Solomon Northup's book.

AMANPOUR: Of course, you know, the story, it's a true story. I believe you said your wife actually found the book when you were casting around for the right story to tell. You know, it is unflinching; you are unflinching. Your camera hangs on some of the most brutal scenes. And obviously some people have criticized you for that.

But I'm wondering, you know, for instance, tell me what took you through getting the main character, the slave, Solomon, to beat the woman rather than the master beating the woman. It was incredibly powerful to see a black man beating a black woman.

MCQUEEN: I mean, for me, either we were going to tell the -- a story of slavery or we weren't. And I decided that we were going to tell the story about slavery. And with all what occurs within slavery, you know, physical and mental torture.

But at the same time, there was, you know, there was a love in that situation. It's odd to say, but there is. But that's the reason why I'm here. I'm still here because within that sort of environment of -- if you want to say hostile terror, there was this thing of love. People wanted their children to survive within that and nurture.

And the whole idea -- of course, when you talk about what was written in Solomon's book about him taking the whip to Patsey, who's his friend, but it's one of the things where all those aspects have to be looked at and investigated in order for us to sort of heal, in order for us to sort of understand where we come from and where we want to go in the future.

AMANPOUR: Well, I want to ask you because you lead --


MCQUEEN: (INAUDIBLE) the politics outweigh anything else.


AMANPOUR: Yes, and you lead me to obviously a natural question, you say that you were beaten as a child; your parents were beaten, this sort of violence has sort of been passed down. And there but for the grace of God, you could have been -- or maybe your ancestors were slaves.

MCQUEEN: Well, my ancestors were slaves. My parents are from the West Indies, from Grenada. Yes, and you know, again, it's to do with a sort of slave mentality and what's happened. And that's what I wanted to investigate in this film.

There's so many things which people often question, but we don't seem to want to answer. And I wanted this film to try and answer some of those questions. So it was very important for me to make this picture. In fact, it was vital.

AMANPOUR: At one point you said the question really is why hasn't this picture been made before, that there is a deafening silence over the remnants of slavery that still exist all around us every day, whether it's the prison population.

Tell me how you look at the reality of life for blacks, for African- Americans today?

MCQUEEN: Well, I think there's a huge strength within the African-American community and as well as the African community, West African community in Britain and elsewhere in the world in Europe. There's a huge strength because we're survivors. And we're survivors through love. And I think what's been interesting for me about this film is the amount of people who have wanted to see this movie.

We've made over $100 million on this -- on this picture so far. So it just tells you that people are interested in stories, interested in challenging stories and wanting to sort of somehow reflect on that past, more than they ever have before. So it's been a -- it's kind of been a kind of beautiful experience, really.

AMANPOUR: Now when it comes to the future, your next projects, the BBC has announced that you will be doing a project together about blacks in Britain. And I heard today that you said you want your next project to be a musical.

Are you looking for something completely different?


MCQUEEN: Well, I think all my movies (INAUDIBLE) have been different. I mean, my first picture was about hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands. The second one was about sex addiction and the third one has been about slavery.

So it's just about challenging one's self, really, and pushing one's self as a filmmaker. And I'm just sort of -- I mean, what's been wonderful about those three pictures is that people have been accepted to, as I said before, challenging work. And it's been just an amazing experience so far, really.

AMANPOUR: And are you excited for the BAFTAs, for the Oscars? Is your heart in your stomach on somewhere?

MCQUEEN: Yes, I'm excited. You know, again, it's just about we've got nine nominations. And it's just -- that's the most important thing to me, that my crew had been nominated and the film's been recognized in this way, because we were at a point where, you know, some person said -- I remember very early on -- a very impossible movie.

So the fact that we've made the impossible possible, that has given me a lot of satisfaction.

AMANPOUR: Well, Steve McQueen, we'll be watching. Thank you very much indeed for joining me.

MCQUEEN: Thank you so much.


AMANPOUR: And 80 years ago, the Motion Picture Academy bestowed a special Oscar on a 6-year-old girl with curly hair and a phenomenal ability to sing and dance her way into people's hearts, even in the darkest days of the Great Depression.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And when she took the hand of song-and-dance man Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, walking up the staircase, America's view of race would never quite be the same.

Remembering Shirley Temple when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a mop of curly hair brought joy to millions and became one-half of the first interracial on- screen duo. Shirley Temple, who died Monday at the age of 85, was no one's idea of a trailblazer when she first appeared in movies in 1932. She was just 3 years old then.


AMANPOUR: By 1935, she'd become a bona fide Hollywood star, the winner of a special Academy Award. She's still the youngest Oscar winner ever. And for the next four years in the depths of the Great Depression, she would be Hollywood's top box office draw.

But it was her duet with an African-American song-and-dance man named Bill "Bojangles" Robinson that may be her most lasting and invaluable film legacy.

When they first took each other's hands and tap-danced up the stairs, she was 6 and he was 57. They became Hollywood's first interracial dance partners.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And while they presented one stereotype of the happy servant and the little white mistress, they also shattered another stereotype by showing the love and respect between two human beings regardless of race.


AMANPOUR: A lifetime friendship continued through three more films and off-camera as well. Shirley Temple would outgrow her curls and her juvenile roles and as Shirley Temple Black went on to become a U.S. diplomat, serving four presidents.

But perhaps her greatest service was bringing hope and joy to America's darkest days and giving a glimpse that, hand in hand, there truly could be light at the top of the stairs.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.