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America's Former Top Diplomat; The Most Dangerous Place for Children; Imagine a World

Aired March 14, 2014 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we look at the major stories that we covered this week.

Now in what feels like the blink of an eye, the diplomatic landscape of Europe may have permanently shifted. This weekend's referendum in Crimea may yet redraw borders at the barrel of a gun and cement a permanent rift between Russia and the West.

The drama over Ukraine continued this week with more European threats to sanction Moscow. And Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, turning up for help at high-level meetings in Washington, Brussels and the United Nations.

As Russia prepares to formalize its intervention and its grip on Crimea, the irony of its position on Syria is overwhelming. This weekend marks three years since the uprising that led to the bloody civil war in Syria, three years since Russia has used its U.N. veto to prevent anyone intervening to stop the real bloodshed there, with 140,000 dead and counting.

We'll have more on that tragic situation later in the program. But first, when it comes to desperate attempts to head war in Europe over Ukraine, few know the inside intrigue and the high stakes of diplomacy better than my guest, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

It was during her term under President Clinton that the U.S. brought Russia into the G8 and helped knit it into the global economic and political institutions. She believes that all sides willing, a diplomatic solution for all sides is still possible.

Born in Czechoslovakia before World War II, she is clear-eyed about this moment in history.


AMANPOUR: Secretary Albright, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Can I start by asking you, as a former secretary of state, there's a current flap, a public flap, between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin, in which, publicly, President Putin and Lavrov have been seen complaining about Kerry's diplomacy and refusal to go to negotiate in Moscow.

Did you ever face anything like that at a high-level, high-stakes diplomatic moment like this?

ALBRIGHT: Well, there are moments where you think, why can't we get this together. The bottom line is, scoring points is not what it's about. What has to happen is to do diplomacy.

So I don't think this is very helpful in terms of the seriousness of the problem that they have to deal with, is just to think they're scoring points.

AMANPOUR: President Clinton, former president, under whose administration you served, has said this week that President Putin is basically treating Ukraine as a piece on the international chessboard without concern for its people and saying pushing a country towards a split is crazy and outdated.

Is that where we're headed, do you think, the way it looks now, that this country is going to split apart?

ALBRIGHT: I hope it doesn't. I mean, the very hard part for Ukraine is its geographical location. It's not going to change where it is.

And so the question is, how can it be a part of the West, which is clearly what the people want, because they've seen what has happened to their neighbors and especially the Poles, for instance, and how to have a relationship with Russia.

And I think that what the Europeans and the Americans have been saying is absolutely, it's possible to do both. And what I think is a tragedy is that Putin is providing a zero-sum game and it doesn't have to be.

AMANPOUR: I want to show you some of these unbelievable billboards that have been put up in the Crimea ahead of this referendum that's scheduled for Sunday.

This one behind -- you can read it. You read Russian.


AMANPOUR: I mean it says 16th March, (speaking Russian), we choose.

AMANPOUR: We choose.

ALBRIGHT: We choose.

AMANPOUR: And the choice looks to be a swastika -- in other words, a Nazi Crimea or a free Russian Crimea.

ALBRIGHT: It is stunning. And it is part of the propaganda effort that we've been watching. I was watching Russian TV in the last couple of days.

And what they have done, there are, let me just say, probably good- willed people who are concerned that their Slavic brothers and sisters are, in fact, all of a sudden being subjected to fascism or Nazism, because that is what Russian TV is putting out, and saying -- and for a lot -- and a lot of older people, Christiane, who probably remember World War II and the tragedies that took place in Ukraine.

And so this is just pure unadulterated scare tactics. Obviously, as in any country, there are some right-wing forces, but that is one of the more outrageous placards that I've ever seen.

AMANPOUR: But now let's talk about a really troubling reality.

Could Crimea simply be a fait accompli that this referendum is going to go ahead?

The West calls it illegal, that they may very well -- are very likely to vote to be either independent or to join Russia.

And what on Earth are you all going to do about it?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the Russians have, in fact, sent their troops in there. We don't know how many. We don't know what uniforms they're really wearing. And I suppose it is possible that it could be a fait accompli.

I think, however, that the Russians and whoever are their supporters there, that are, I mean, in many ways, part of a fifth column, or really those that are working on behalf of somebody else, I think ultimately, they will be punished because the bottom line is that what is happening, and at least the ideas that I've heard, is, instead of bringing Russia into a world where we are cooperating economically and diplomatically, the Russians are isolating themselves. And --

AMANPOUR: But does it matter?

They seem to think it doesn't matter. They seem to think that any sanctions which are being considered will actually backfire on Europe and the United States. They seem to be wallowing or taking pride in their very strong position as energy and oil suppliers to Europe.

ALBRIGHT: I think it's a very short-term view in the following way.

First of all, the energy picture generally is changing. We hear all the time about energy revolutions, you know, that the shale revolution ultimately will come to Europe. There are other supplies of oil.

In fact, what has happened to Russia in many different ways is kind of the oil curse. They have done no reforms whatsoever because they have that oil money. Oil prices may go down as a result of the shale revolution in a number of different ways. There are other sources.

One of the things that could happen is we are working on some different arrangements with Iran.

Iran could export oil. We could -- the United States could change some of its export regulations.

And while I think that, if this is a fait accompli, we do have to prepare ourselves for kind of a moment of aren't we right by the Russians, you know, a lot of chest-thumping and this was the right thing and we saved these poor people from fascism.

But I think in the long run, they have created a huge problem.

I hope that this is not a fait accompli. I think that the Duma has, in fact --

AMANPOUR: The Russian parliament.

ALBRIGHT: -- the Russian parliament has had a -- decided that their vote whether to encourage or accept or whatever the wording is on Crimea coming into the Russian Federation, isn't until the 21st. And so, in fact, there could be some time -- I hope there is -- for diplomacy.

AMANPOUR: What is a diplomatic solution to this that satisfies Russia, the West and -- and Ukraine?

ALBRIGHT: I think that the diplomatic solution is that, as I said earlier, basically, Ukraine is in a complicated geographical situation, that they can, in fact, have a relationship with the West, whether in some variety of relationships with the European Union, also with the International Monetary Fund, ways -- and the thing we can't forget, if I might go back to this, is we have to remember that this is about Ukraine and they are an economic basket case at this point.

And we can't get diverted so that there's no help to them.

AMANPOUR: But about Crimea, you know, it is fairly autonomous. The Russians do have a very long-term agreement for the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

What more could Russia want from Eastern Ukraine and Crimea?

More autonomy?

Some people are suggesting Russia could agree to a compromise that's - - that gives it more say or persistence, say, in the affairs of that part of Ukraine.

ALBRIGHT: There is a solution. I mean there could be more autonomy for Crimea. The question is whether Putin wants a solution. He may like this kind of disarray, because it's kind of in everybody's face.

But the bottom line is, ultimately, he has created problems which, I think, will come home and bite Russia.

Putin is making this a zero-sum game when it doesn't have to be. And it's dangerous for him to do that.

AMANPOUR: And you know that a lot of the narrative has been that Putin feels personally, and on behalf of the great Russian empire, affronted by the loss of the Soviet Union, by what he perceives to be Western and U.S. triumphalism.

Is he right?

ALBRIGHT: No. I mean let me just say this. The Russians are really good at revisionist history. And so having been there, let me tell you what the -- what this is all about.

The Cold war ends. We didn't win the Cold War, they lost the Cold War. The Soviet Union disintegrated from inside. This was not something that the West did. The Communist system simply does not work.

And so that is the genesis of the problem.

So one of the things that happened -- and this was deliberate, Christiane. We were asked to do something that has never been done before, which is how to devolve the power of your major adversary in a respectful way.

So this was part of what we were trying to do. And we brought them into the G8. We made a point of welcoming them into a variety of international fora to be a part of that. We also helped them during a financial crisis.

The question was NATO. I know there are those who think that that was a mistake. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. There was nothing --


AMANPOUR: And moving NATO toward --


AMANPOUR: -- Russia.

ALBRIGHT: -- because what -- and, in fact --

AMANPOUR: Because they need that.

ALBRIGHT: Well, they're just misunderstood from the very beginning. I went to talk to Yeltsin about this. And I said, this is what we're doing. And he said, we're a new Russia. And I said, this is a new NATO. It is not against you. And you can ultimately be a member of NATO.

So it is not something that is against them. So they have been bound and determined to be opposed to it. So there was that. And then generally, kind of a way to bring them in and respect them.

They are using this, oh, woe is me, in order to garner sympathy and have some kind of a way of recreating something that they destroyed themselves.

AMANPOUR: You've dealt with Sergey Lavrov. He was the U.N. ambassador when you were U.N. ambassador.

What kind of a guy is he?

What was he like the last time you met him?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I dealt with him a lot at the U.N.

And he can be hot and cold. I mean he's very, very smart. He argues very well.

But the last meeting we had was really peculiar. What happened was that I had been asked to chair this group of experts that were looking at a new strategic concept for NATO. And so we had decided that we would have a dialogue with the Russians about that.

So I arrive at the foreign ministry -- and I am known for my pins. So I had on this pin that is a knot. And he looked at the pin and he said, so what is that?

And I said, it's our bond.

So then we left the hall, we went to sit down at the shiny table. And he looks across the table and he says, I know what it is, it's James Bond.

And I said, no, Sergey, it's our friendship.

And he said, no, it's what you think of our pipelines.

And I said, no, Sergey, it is a sign of our relationship, given to me by your predecessor, Igor Ivanov.

And so he has this capability of seeing what he wants to see. And he does like to score points.

AMANPOUR: And, obviously, that speaks volumes as to what's going on in their mindset right now.


AMANPOUR: I might just close by saying you have a very optimistic looking sunflower on your chest right now, on your brooch area.


AMANPOUR: Are you optimistic?

ALBRIGHT: I am. I really am. And I wore it --

AMANPOUR: Can this be solved?

ALBRIGHT: -- I wore it on purpose, because I do think that this can be solved. And there's a combination of tools here. And the tools are diplomatic, which are absolutely essential, and not just the United States.

I mean it has to be done with our European allies and, Christiane, the Ukrainians have to be at the table. We can't do to the Ukrainians what happened to the Czechoslovaks at Munich, where they were just told to do something and the country was sold down the river.

So Ukraine has -- the Ukrainians have to be at the table.

AMANPOUR: Look, their representatives, whether it's Yulia Tymoshenko, whether it was Yushchenko, whoever it might be, have also not been the most democratic, have also not been the least corrupt. I mean they have a terrible, terrible reputation.

Many of them now in power are looking to the U.S. for help and guidance.

Must the United States be quite tough with them, as well?

ALBRIGHT: Yes, I think so. I mean tough love is the way that I would put it.

Corruption is the cancer of democracy, or of any government. And so I think that there is a solution. I am an optimist who worries a lot, but I am an optimist, so I deliberately thought we should do this.

AMANPOUR: Former secretary of state, thank you very much for joining me.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So as Russia and the United States dig in over Ukraine, they are no closer to resolving the devastating Syria war either. This weekend marks the grim three years since the flame of opposition first flared in the city of Daraa, where children wrote anti-Assad graffiti on the wall of their school and a brutal crackdown began.

Today the streets of Daraa are nearly deserted. The homes and schools are devastated. Paying the highest price are the children whose world has collapsed. We'll have that when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Children with no childhood, children living in hell. On this third anniversary of the Syrian war, UNICEF says that it is now the most dangerous place in the world for children. At least 10,000 have been killed, of the total 140,000 victims that we know of so far. The rest are subjected to physical and psychological trauma, to starvation and disease.

Meantime, Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, tweeted this picture of himself visiting those on the government side. He told them that he was listening to their needs.

But their needs are appallingly hostage to his terrible war, as I heard from Anthony Lake, executive director of U.N.'s Children's Fund, UNICEF, who saw the suffering first-hand in Homs this week.


AMANPOUR: Tony Lake, thank you so much for joining me from Homs. After three years of this brutal, terrible war, what is it like for children there? What are you finding?

ANTHONY LAKE, DIRECTOR, UNICEF: Well, the children, of course, are always the first to suffer and those who have the least influence over the course of events. Children don't have politics. So we're tremendously concerned about it. Over 5.5 million children are affected by this conflict now, and that's twice as many as last year.

AMANPOUR: So how are you being able to take care of 5.5 million children? Your report this week says that Syria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child today. What are the specific dangers obviously apart from the danger of being killed?

What are the other dangers?

LAKE: Well, the danger is to their -- not only to them in the present, but the danger is to their futures.

These are children who are now lacking education; almost 3 million are out of school. So many of them have been traumatized by seeing things that no child should ever see, that we worry a lot that when they grow up and are the next generation, they're going to lack the skills to rebuild Syria because of the lack of education.

That's what's in their minds and in their hearts, we have to ask whether they're going to have reconciliation in their hearts because of what they've seen and I hear that they're going to grow up with more vantions (ph) than reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: And it's a terrible picture that you paint now. And polio is resurgent and I hear from Save the Children, a sister agency, of course, that you know, the hospitals are in collapse; the health care's in collapse, that children are having limbs amputated because they can't fix them up, that there are no bandages.

They're using old clothes as bandages and even there's no anesthetics and some people are opting, according to this report, to be knocked unconscious by metal bars before going into the operating room.

LAKE: It -- I'm afraid that's true. And I just now met with a few families who got out of the Old City here in Homs, an evacuation that was covered on many television sets a few weeks ago. And I talked to the two families, extended families, at some length about their experiences and the experiences of their children.

It was horrific. They were -- they've seen snipers. They had to get -- move around when they could move around in tunnels. They were sending their kids out to go and look in abandoned houses to find little bottles of olives, rotten bread, other things that they could eat. They were eating stray cats.

And now they have emerged some of them, although there are still probably around 2,500 or so still left in the Old City. So we are all, the U.N. and UNICEF, are doing all we can to support them.

But this is just one sampling of over 250,000 people who are still in areas that are besieged, both by the government and by the opposition. We are doing everything we can but pray God somehow the world can put a stop to it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they can, Mr. Lake?

LAKE: I think they must. They can and they must. Whether they will, will be up to the political will in all the capitals to remember that this is not simply an abstract diplomatic issue. This is an issue of human lives and the futures of all of these children and of Syria itself and the region, because if these children don't grow up to repair these wounds, then who is going to?

If I could just make one last point, as I talk to these families, what struck me over and over again is that while I felt pity for them and all they had gone through, even more I felt tremendous admiration for their courage and strength in having survived this and I think what they need now is support, not simply pity.

AMANPOUR: If I could just ask you to put on your former national security hat, you know, it's all our governments that are failing these children in Syria, but how will this end if they keep standing back?

LAKE: It can only end if the governments and the people that they are accountable to and nations around the world say enough and demand that they put aside their political agendas, all of because the governance on all sides feel them strongly. And I understand that.

And this remembers what is at stake here, which are not the statistics of suffering, these are not statistics, these are human beings and these are children and this is the governments should remember a strategic issue as I said, because if these children grow up as a generation that does not have adequate education and does not have the kind of counseling that they need now to overcome the traumas that they have endured, then in the next generation we're going to see a replication of the same violence and the same problems that will affect both the region and the world.

So this is a question not only of humanitarian obligation; it's also a strategic self-interest for all of these governments. And they need to step back and understand it.

AMANPOUR: Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, thank you for joining me from Homs in Syria.

LAKE: Thanks so much.


AMANPOUR: And when we return after a break, the empty streets and playgrounds paint a more moving portrait of this lost generation than any words can.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we've seen the unforgettable faces of Syria's suffering and abandoned children, a lost generation, truly.

The street artist, Banksy, has released this poignant image, marking this grim anniversary in Syria. Remember that it was kids spraying anti- government graffiti in Daraa that lit the fuse for this war three years ago, children scarred forever, another haunting face of Syria, though, imagine a world where the streets are virtually deserted and children never play.

These are the shattered streets of cities like Homs and Aleppo after three years of shelling and slaughter. We leave you now as we close this program to wander through these streets set to the music of Gustav Mahler's elegiac "Songs on the Death of Children."

Goodbye from London.