Return to Transcripts main page


The Beginning of the End of America's Longest War?; Crunch Time in Greek Crisis; Deal or No Deal on Iran?; Perspectives for Chinese Economy; Interview with Helen Mirren. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 12, 2015 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:11] FAREED ZAKARIA, 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 coming to you live from New York.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): It's been a tumultuous week on the world stage, and we'll tackle all of it.

From Vienna. Tense negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

From Brussels. Tough talk about Greece's debt problem.

And in Beijing, grave concerns over a stock market crash and what it means for the future of China.

And then, for something completely different, there's nothing like a dame, especially Dame Helen Mirren. I spoke to the legendary actress about playing the Queen, "The Queen" on stage and screen.


ZAKARIA: We'll get to all of the news in a moment. But first here is my take.

You might have missed it, but a meeting this past Tuesday near Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad could possibly mark the beginning of the end of America's longest war, the conflict in Afghanistan which will enter its 15th year this fall.

A delegation from the Afghan government met with members of the Taliban. With Pakistani, Chinese and U.S. officials present as observers. Previous efforts like this have foundered and this one may go nowhere as well, about the war in Afghanistan is likely to end in a forum like this one and not on the battlefield.

Talking to the Taliban is tough for many Americans to accept. Dick Cheney was speaking for many when he said, "We don't negotiate with evil. We defeat it." And yet, says Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, he is dead wrong. In a new book "Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace," Powell argues forcefully the historical conflicts like the one in Afghanistan have ended only through negotiations and not military victory. Powell is no peace nick. Having been an architect of Britain's

support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But over the course of his decade in office, as one of Blair's most important aides, Powell came to recognize that terrorism cannot be solved exclusively or largely by military means. He quotes Hugh Orde, the former chief constable in Northern Ireland, who says that, "There is no example that I know of, of terrorism being policed out or eliminated through the use of force."

Now governments are loathed to talk to terrorists. That's understandable since they regard the groups as barbaric, worry about legitimizing brutality and remain convinced that military force can defeat or at least cripple them. But Powell points out most governments end up talking to terrorists anyway. Citing examples ranging from the Mau Mau in Kenya to the Basques in Spain to the Colombian FARC.

The central ideal behind Powell's argument is simple enough. Terrorism is a reflection of an underlying political problem that almost always needs to be addressed politically. In Afghanistan, for example, it reflects the reality that some part of the Pashtun population, which is about 50 percent of the country, believes that its interests are not represented by the current government in Kabul.

Now this week's negotiations might go nowhere, but one of the lessons that Powell notes in the book is that often these talks begin too late because governments believe that one last military push will put the terrorists on the defensive even though he says there is precious little empirical evidence to support this one last heave argument. He reminds us that a crucial part of General David Petraeus' surge in Iraq was reaching out to Sunni militants, terrorists who had been fighting American forces, addressing their grievances and indeed paying them to move from being foes to friends.

He notes that Petraeus admitted that the United States waited too long before it talked to people who had, quote, "American blood on their hands." Of course, none of this would apply to ISIS, would it? In fact, Jonathan Powell is bold enough to suggest that it could. After all, ISIS is a particularly brutal and murderous group. But it is successful largely because it has tapped into the furors and rage of disempowered Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That is a political grievance that can only be addressed politically.

[10:05:12] Talking to terrorists is not giving in to their demands, argues Powell. But because governments are so spooked by the image and the optics of it all, they usually delay, fumble, make mistakes, and prolong conflicts that could be resolved earlier and with much less bloodshed on all sides.

For more, go to and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Today was supposed to be the day that all European leaders, Merkel, Hollande, Cameron, et al met in Brussels. The agenda was to vote yay or nay on a new bailout deal for Greece. But just hours ago the meeting was scrapped because the Finance ministers who work for those leaders could not find common ground. Instead, a smaller subset of leaders from the Eurozone nations is set to start meeting this hour.

The word today out of Brussels is that many European officials believe the latest proposal from Athens simply doesn't go far enough. So will Greece get kicked out of the euro? Should it be?

Joining me here in New York to discuss are Ken Rogoff, professor of economics and public policy at Harvard. Also Rana Faroohar, "TIME's" assistant managing editor and CNN's global economics analyst, and in London today is Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor in chief of "The Economist."

Welcome, all. Zanny, you have -- "The Economist" has a lead editorial saying, "To stay in the Eurozone, the Greece's prime minister will have to jettison almost every promise he made to his voters." Can you hear me, Zanny?

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: I'm terribly sorry. I can't hear you.

ZAKARIA: All right. We'll go to Rana and Ken while they're fixing the mike issues.

Rana, the question I was going to ask you is, it always seemed as though Germany at the end of the day was willing to bail out Greece, that it pushed hard, it did -- you know, it really made it look like it was trying its damnedest. But every time it stared at the abyss.


ZAKARIA: It pulled back.


ZAKARIA: It told the European Central Bank, provide the funds, it wrote the checks. This time seems different.

FAROOHAR: I think this time is different. And I think, you know, you're right that it seemed like Germany's leaders were really working to make a deal. But if you spend any time in Germany you see that the public at large really never wanted a deal with Greece. The German public I think feels like, hey, let them go. We're better off without them. They have never believed that the Greeks were good for their word in terms of reforms and I think that it really underscores that this has become as much if not more of a political problem at this point than an economic problem.

The Greeks have said, OK, fine, we'll leave. You know, they've got a socialist government. They've taken all this pain. You've got tremendous populism. The Germans, for their part, think everyone should be more German. I don't actually think the math works on that but you can understand their point of view.

ZAKARIA: Zanny, what I was going to ask you before we've got so rudely technically interrupted was, you had an editor just before, you know, Greece made its proposals where you said, "To stay in the Eurozone Greece's prime minister will have to jettison almost every promise he has made to his own voters."

He sort of did in the plan that he put forward. And yet it doesn't seem to be working. What do you think is going on?

BEDDOES: Well, I think, as Rana said, this has moved from the realm of economics into politics. And what happened -- you know, let's recap. A week ago the Greek people said absolutely decisively no to an agreement or to a set of measures that the creditors demanded of them. Then four days, five days later, Tsipras, the elected Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, essentially agrees to exactly those demands with the approval of the Greek parliament.

And now particularly amongst the northern European creditors there is a question of can we trust this guy. There's a huge breakdown of trust and they're completely fed up with him. And whatever the rights and wrongs of the actual measures that they want the Greeks to take, there are a large number of people in northern Europe particularly, not just the Germans, but say the Fins or Slovaks who essentially think the Grexit, Greece out, is better.

There are that other countries, France and Italy particularly, who are very, very keen to keep the Greeks in. And the really important person this afternoon at the meeting as always will be Angela Merkel. Her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wants the Greeks out. He is talking very explicitly about a temporary Grexit.

That's the -- I think you can probably cut the word temporary there, but it will be temporary, at least officially, so that no one has to deal with the consequences of how you deal with the losses of -- if you push them out permanently. So he wants that. She is undecided. I think she will in the end want to keep them in. She really doesn't want to be the chancellor who presides over the breakup of the euro.

[10:10:10] However, it's getting very politically difficult for her. Her electorate, as Rana said, is increasingly against keeping Greece in. They think everyone would be better off with them out. It's a very tough political thing. And what they're going to have to hammer out for the Greeks to stay in is that the Greeks will have to do even more than they were offering. They will have to do a lot of actions up front to try and rebuild trust. And I suspect the program, if they negotiate it, will be much, much tougher than anything that was on the table before.

ZAKARIA: Ken, Paul Krugman and some others say this is a recipe for total disaster. That more austerity is going to plunge Greece into a depression, that this is kind of -- you know, this is austerity on steroids. And it's -- you know, it's bad for Europe, it's bad for the world.

KENNETH ROGOFF, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, let's start with this referendum and what Tsipras did, which Paul Krugman urged them to do, was taking the country off a cliff. It was very irresponsible. And on top of that they spit in the Germans' face. They were being offered money now. They should have taken it. And then, after they had taken the money, then they asked to renegotiate. You don't default on a debt when somebody is still giving you money.

Now I think a very important thing to understand about the austerity, there are many mistakes. Certainly the debt should have been written down across the Eurozone right away. But, in Greece you could have torn up all their debt and they still had to close a 10 percent gap of GDP in their deficit. That's like $1.7 trillion in the United States. Imagine if we had to do half of that.

And most of the austerity they've felt has been that they had a credit card when the world market saw that they were fraudulent with their books, they lied about their debt, they lied about their deficit. It got cut off. The creditors -- the official creditors came in and they definitely cushioned the blow. But it was very hard to pay that kind of money. They have racked up a huge bill. It does need to be written down, but most of the changes have to come from within inside Greece. They have to want to become a modern European state. And I see little will to do that.

ZAKARIA: Rana, I'll go to you. We have 90 seconds before the break. Can a temporary or permanent Grexit work, or is this another Lehman like moment?

FAROOHAR: I don't think it's a Lehman like moment in the sense that a lot of private creditors have gotten out of Greece. We're not going to see kind of major international dominos toppling. Greece is a small country. China creates a new Greece every six weeks. But what I think it does is it threatens the political integrity of Europe, of the European experiment. If you've got one falling out, what's the future of a Portugal, Spain, Italy?

That isn't going to happen right away but I think it creates a slow burn problem because there needs to be real political integration that isn't there yet.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, doesn't this mess in Europe make America's crisis management look even stronger? We'll talk about that in a moment.


[10:17:29] ZAKARIA: And we are back with Rana Faroohar, Ken Rogoff and Zanny Minton Beddoes from London.

So as we like to say in America, enough about them, now what about us.


Ken, what does this tell you, though, about crisis management? It does seem as though the Bush and Obama administrations give credit to Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, handled a similar kind of crisis better in a way that was resolved quickly and early.

ROGOFF: Yes. I mean, let's remember, we have Puerto Rico going out there at the same time. Yes, when Greece appeared it was clear they were not going to grow their way out of it. Their debt was too high. They were cut off from world market. They should have written it down. It would have been very painful and tough with the German voters. It would have gotten it over with.

Instead they keep, you know, leaving them in this never-never land where they're cut off from markets because the debt hasn't been written down enough. They're dribbling out money to them which keeps them better than if they didn't but the economy is crippled. So you move quickly, decisively, but what do they do? They made very optimistic projections. Growth is going to be fine. Everybody did it. The IMF did it, the Europeans did it. They said it'll be fine. They'll grow their way back. That was not a healthy development.

ZAKARIA: Fundamentally, Zanny, isn't the problem that the United States has the capacity to bankroll its weak performing members in a way that Europe doesn't? You had -- "The Economist" has a wonderful comparison where it pointed out, forget about the Germans bankrolling the Greeks. Connecticut banks-rolls the weaker states in America, I am assuming Mississippi, Alabama, those kinds of states, much more. Five percent of Connecticut's GDP over the last 20 years has been net income transfers to states like Mississippi and Alabama.

BEDDOES: Yes. I mean, that's because the U.S. has a much more fiscally integrated systems. It's where the Europeans are going to have to end up at some point. The Europeans created a single currency without creating the economic integration and the fiscal integration that was necessary for that to survive. But I think the difference -- the Europeans are absolute champions at kicking the can down the road.

And what they've done with Greece -- Ken Rogoff is absolutely right. They should have written the debt down in 2010. Instead they kicked the can down. They kicked the can down. But now this is not a systemic, immediate problem to Europe in the way that it was a few years ago. If Greece goes out of the euro now it will not wreck the euro overnight.

[10:20:03] What it will do is introduce a kind of corrosive uncertainty that at some point will become a real problem again because there is a fundamental tension in the euro. It's supposed to be irrevocable, so once you join it, that's it, you're there for good, but it's also supposed to be based on rules and discipline. And the way that this Greece drama ends, if it ever ends, will determine which of those things actually is more important.

ZAKARIA: Fundamentally does the problem that Ken has talked about, which is the lack of competitiveness in Greece, is Europe strong enough to be able to carry this kind of -- forget Greece. I mean, you know, there are other countries that are uncompetitive.


ZAKARIA: You know, because part of the issue is Europe hasn't done much structural reform in the last 10 years.

FAROOHAR: That's true in some cases. But I think that the core of Europe -- I mean, Germany really at the center of it -- is very strong. The Germans are incredibly competitive. The French could be more competitive by making certain moves that I think would be relatively easy. I think that really the issue is what you said earlier. Europe needs a Hank Paulson. There needs to be a Hank Paulson of Europe. There needs to be one integrative fiscal policy and there is going to have to be well transfers.

That's a deep existential question. It goes to all the cultural differences between these groups of nations. It's a huge issue that as Zanny said Europe has been kicking down the road at every possible juncture. And I do think that, if Greece goes out and there is this kind of fundamental insecurity about what is this currency going to be, I think that that's going to come to a head.

ROGOFF: Let's balance it the other way with, if suddenly Angela Merkel says, we're writing off all the debt. Portugal, we're doing the same, Ireland, Spain, which by the way I favor. But we might have said Grexit as German exit. Gerxit. I mean, you know.


ROGOFF: That's a big danger hanging over if you go too far in the other direction.


ZAKARIA: Zanny, final thought from you. What all this means, the U.S. looks better, the dollar remains stronger? It's -- you know, at the end of the day it would be fair to say that, you know, we are back to that single engine world economy where the United States continues to power along?

BEDDOES: Well, the U.S. is looking stronger, yes. But actually let's just put this Greek thing in the short term in some perspective. I mean, finally the European Central Bank last year suddenly realized that it needed to boost the European economy more. The Europeans broadly have got off the austerity kick over what they were pushing so hard. And so the European economy, although, you know, not great and I'm certainly not an apologist for the European economy even though I've moved here now, I think it's actually not that bad.

And in many ways things are improving. And the fact that the European politicians are so willing to go this far on Greece I think is in part testament to their general confidence that they can handle the fallout. Now I think in the long term I think it will be -- have very big consequence but in the shorter term I actually think things are not so bad over here right now.

ZAKARIA: Very quick because we have 30 seconds. Would you agree with that, that at the end of the day, you know, things are looking better?

ROGOFF: Yes. Absolutely. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And they could handle a Grexit. On the other hand, the political fallout is very unpredictable.

FAROOHAR: Yes. Economics looking a lot better than politics. I worry more about, you know, what does this mean for people like Putin? Can you -- can other nations stir up more trouble in the periphery if Europe is perceived as being unable to get its own house in order?

ZAKARIA: And I love the line China creates a new Greece every six weeks. Just to put that in perspective.

Next on GPS, the Greek talks aren't the only ones going down to the wire. The West's negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program was supposed to have been wrapped up almost two weeks ago and three deadlines have been passed. The next deadline is tomorrow. Will they make it? Or will this be a European kick down the -- kick the can down the road? Find out when we come back.


[10:27:45] ZAKARIA: I remain hopeful. That's how Secretary of State John Kerry described his mindset this morning regarding the talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Tomorrow marks the deadline for the talks but three deadlines have already slipped by. Is there really hope this time?

Let's bring in my panel. Joe Cirincione is an expert on proliferation and nuclear weapons policy. He is president of the Ploughshares Fund and the author of "Nuclear Nightmares." And Karim Sadjadpour is one of the world's top experts on Iran. He is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Joe, first, you are very plugged in. What are you hearing about the likelihood of a deal?

JOE CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, THE PLOUGHSHARES FUND: It's almost certain. This deal is coming. And the climax will likely be tomorrow. If it doesn't happen now we're going to have a serious case of negotiations interruptus. It's a complicated document. About a hundred pages. And they're in the final stages, making sure the phrases are right. The commas are in the right place. They don't want any mistakes at this late stage. And there are still a couple of major issues yet unresolved. But most of the serious, big issues that have blocked the deal, they've all been settled.

ZAKARIA: Inspections of military facilities will be allowed?

CIRINCIONE: We are going to have inspections of Iranian military facilities. They've crafted a way to do this with a little notice, a little bit of management of the inspectors as they go in. But we'll be able to go where we need to go when we need to go there.

ZAKARIA: The sanctions will be lifted, not all at once but sequentially?

CIRINCIONE: And this is what's holding up the negotiations. What is exactly the sequence? What does Iran have to do and what exactly is lifted? Particularly on the difficult issue of the arms embargo. Prohibiting arms going in or out of Iran. Some -- that is not going to be lifted right away but down the road as Iran performs those restraints will be taken off.

ZAKARIA: Iran's ballistic missile program, which is unrelated to its nuclear program. Iran says that should have no bearing, that embargo should be lifted. What's going to happen? CIRINCIONE: Everything I hear is that the sanctions will remain on

the ballistic missile program as they will for their terrorism and their human rights violations. So not all of the issues with Iran are settled. This is just the one on the nuclear deal, to shrink raptus program. Shrink it down to a manageable size and then wrap it in a verification and monitoring system.

ZAKARIA: Bottom line. People say that the - Iran is currently two months away from breakout, the capacity to make a weapon. The deal will take it to 13 months or so. There are critics, Allen Cooperman, who say no, the deal will only extend it by one month. Just your judgment. We can't get into the technical details. Do you believe that the deal as you understand it does in fact, take Iran from being two months away from a bomb to 13 months away from a bomb?

JOE CIRINCIONE: Without a doubt, it lengthens the breakout time. It will take them at least a year to make the material for at least for one weapon. And then many months after that to actually fashion it into a weapon. So, this gives us ample warning time to take actions, should Iran try to creep out, sneak out, or break out of this agreement.

ZAKARIA: Karim, explain what's going on in the negotiations. Because I noticed that Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, keeps having to go back to Tehran. Kerry doesn't keep coming back to Washington. What that suggests to me is that the Iranians are having difficulty coming to yes. The supreme leader made statements saying no military - and no inspection of military facilities at all. All sanctions will have to be lifted immediately. This is an odd way to prepare your public for the deal because those things aren't going to happen. What is going on inside Iran?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR ASSOCIATE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: I think this is a difficult time for Iran's supreme leader, Fareed. Because he basically has to reconcile the ideological prerogatives of the Islamic republic, which has always been based on resistance against the United States with the economic needs of the Iranian nation. This is a country, which is really experiencing a perfect storm economically. Because they're losing hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of the sanctions at a time when oil prices have collapsed and they're spending billions of dollars each month trying to sustain the Assad regime in Syria.

So, I think that as Joe said, this deal is likely going to happen, but I think it's a very bitter pill for the supreme leader to swallow.

ZAKARIA: What I wonder, is the supreme leader supreme? By which I mean, is he really ultimately -- does he have the kind of authority that Mao Zedong had when Mao brought China in from the cold and made peace with America? Mao just did it. Yeah, there were a lot of people in China at the highest levels who didn't want to do it, but it didn't matter. He was - Does the supreme leader have that kind of authority or is he juggling the Revolutionary Guard on one side, Rouhani, the president and the liberal faction on the other?

SADJADPOUR: Well, I think we have to be humble about our knowledge of inner workings of the Iranian regime, but I would say the supreme leader certainly has control over the main institutions in Iran. You talked about the Revolutionary Guards. They oversee the nuclear program. And all of the statements from senior Revolutionary Guard commanders have always been very obsequious towards the supreme leader. You get statements from Rouhani and Zarif, deferential to the Supreme Leader. So, it's my sense that he may not be as powerful as Mao. He is not an absolute dictator. But he is now the second longest serving autocrat in the Middle East after the sultan of Oman. And there is a reason why that's so - you know, he is ideological, but he's also pragmatic. At the end of the day, what's paramount for him, is his own survival and the survival of the system. And I think they've reached a point now where there is still an economic necessity.

ZAKARIA: Direct, I think, and reflecting a lot of what conservatives worry about, say if the deal does takes place, Iran gets access to lots of money, billions, tens of billions of dollars. It could become more active in its foreign policy. Some of which is very anti- American. Do you worry that the deal will unleash a more activist anti-American Iran? Or could it be the beginning of a genuine rapprochement with the United States?

SAJADPOUR: You know, Fareed, I think 2500 years of Persian civilization makes me hopeful that this current kind of isolated Iran, which is a pariah state, is an anomaly of history and geography. On the other hand, 36 years of the policies of the Islamic Republic makes me sober. And so, I think there is valid hope that in time, five or ten years from now it could help transform Iran, but there is also valid concern that it could empower these hardline forces in the short term.

ZAKARIA: Karim, Joe, fantastic discussion. Thank you both very much.

SAJADPOUR: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Up next, China's markets have lost nearly $4 trillion in less than 30 days. What will this mean for the future of China when we come back?



ZAKARIA: Now, for a what in the world segment. While Greece's showdown with the E.U. has been grabbing headlines, I wonder if we will look back and see ?hina's stock market crash as ultimately more significant. Since mid-June China's Shanghai index plummeted 25 percent. The Zhen index often compared to the NASDAQ is down over 35 percent. Altogether China's markets have lost nearly $3.6 trillion since the mid-June peak. That's slightly less than the value of Britain's entire stock market, lost in just under a month, according to the Bespoke investment group. The Shanghai index looks eerily similar to the Dow Jones Industrial Average near the beginning of the Great Depression as Bloomberg points out.

The Chinese government is taking extraordinary measures to stop the bleeding. It got the country's big brokerage firms to promise to buy billions of dollars in stocks to restore confidence. New initial public offerings were curtailed this week and many existing stocks stopped trading. At one point, more than half of China's companies on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges stopped trading their shares.

Now, it's been pointed out that things might not be as bad as they seem.


ZAKARIA: China's stock market is a small part of its economy compared to other nations. Only five to ten percent of China's households have stocks compared to about 50 percent in the U.S. according to the research firm Gavekal Dragonomics. And before the crash started in mid-June, Chinese stocks had enjoyed a meteoric rise. So, at the end of the day the Shanghai index is still up around 90 percent over last year. But what's worrying about this market plunge, is the Chinese government's handling of the situation. Instead of letting stock prices correct themselves, observers say, the government is micro- managing the market. China's intervention have screamed of panic, said the economists. The government's efforts are a ridiculous overreaction, said "The Guardian." Why is Beijing's response to the crash so aggressive? Maybe because its reputation and ultimately its grip on power are at stake. As "The Economist" has pointed out, the stock market boom was one of the positives the government could point to when making the case for its stewardship of the economy. Beijing encouraged ordinary citizens to get in on the boom as other parts of the economy like real estate were slowing down, helping to spur massive speculation. Nearly 90 million people now own stocks. There have been up to 1.4 million new investors per week according to "The Guardian." Many of them are novices, two-thirds of new investors don't have a high school degree as Morgan Stanley's Ruchir Sharma pointed out in the "Wall Street Journal." Even rural farmers have established their own stock exchanges, he says.

Now many are losing their life savings. Whether the government fails or succeeds, it seems to create problems. Obviously, if the fall continues, China's communist party loses a crucial element of its legitimacy. It's much wanted and until now well-deserved reputation for economic competence and good management. But if the intervention succeeds it might well arrest the plans in Beijing to transform the Chinese economy into a more market oriented one. Keeping in place instead the state controls and commands that run throughout the Chinese economy. And that it makes it a difficult and troubling economic player on the global scene. So watch Greece, but keep your eye on China as well.

Up next, the queen of England. Well, not the actual one, but a great proxy. Dame Helen Mirren has just come off her third run playing Elizabeth II. Stay tuned for a great discussion about getting into character and the future of the monarchy.



HELEN MIRREN, ACTRESS: You don't imagine you ever thought you would be prime minister, did you?


ZAKARIA: For the past four months as many as eight times a week the queen of England has graced the boards of all Broadway right here in New York City. Not the actual Elizabeth II, of course, but as good an approximation as many people have seen. A superb performance by Dame Helen Mirren. Mirren has now embodied the current queen three times in the film "The Queen" for which she won the Oscar, and now two runs of the play. The audience, first in London, then the just-ended New York run.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Dame Helen recently to talk about the role and how she prepared for it.


ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on.

MIRREN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: When you do a portrayal like that of the queen or some of the other ones you've done who are historical figures, it's always struck me that, for an actor, this is a different challenge because, if you are doing character, Harry Potter, it's an imaginary thing, you can make your own version.

MIRREN: Of course, yes.

ZAKARIA: Here there is an actual historical truth, as it were. There is somebody. Are you trying to get to that truth?

MIRREN: Well, of course. Absolutely. But, you know, there are two different -- for example, playing Elizabeth I and playing Elizabeth II. Two extremely different challenges. Because, obviously, Elizabeth II, she is alive. Everybody knows what she sounds like, talks like, you know, walks like. And so, you know, it's incumbent upon me to at least, you know, fulfill that -- the impersonation side of the role.

It was fascinating playing Elizabeth I because, you know, her image was highly controlled. You know. She -- she would only be painted in a certain way. She controlled her own image. She was brilliant at sort of representing herself as a symbol and as a brand, if you like. And then when I came to Elizabeth II, again, there -- now there's a lot of very controlled, actually, sort of documentary, you know -- it's actually extremely controlled, all of the images of the queen, including the video. But -- and so, in a way, looking at those videos didn't really help me much. And then I thought, you know what, why not go back and look at the portraits, because she has been painted a lot. And I thought, you know what, I'm just another portraitist actually here. I'm just another portraitist. My medium is not paint. It's the spoken word. But I -- and that sort of liberated me, because I thought, you know what, you can just do your version of who you feel this -- you're painting a portrait.

ZAKARIA: But you did think, in her case, you had to get the impersonation right, by which you mean things like the accent.

MIRREN: Oh, yes. Of course. Like the accent.


MIRREN: You're ahead of me, prime minister.



ZAKARIA: Oh, this accent, because in the movies, in the film reels, in the '50s it's this very upper-class --

MIRREN: It's very, very cut-class accent. Absolutely. It's absolutely like that. It's terribly, terribly sort of exact. And it's almost impossible to sort of overdo it. And now her accent is still what we would call in England posh. But it's -- it's more relaxed.

ZAKARIA: You talk a lot in the play -- there is much talk about the monarchy. This is -- it's an odd role, difficult for Americans and many other people to understand because she actually has very little power.

MIRREN: Well, no power really. At all.

ZAKARIA: So what is the power?

MIRREN: Well, as she says in the play, and I think she's sort of talking about herself through the words of Peter Morgan -- never underestimate the value of a symbol. She is a symbol. But it's a very potent symbol. It's a symbol that carries the history of Britain with it. And along with that a certain -- a sense of continuity, obviously. And in her particular case, I think an incredible sense of self-discipline. Which I suspect they all had, actually.

ZAKARIA: So one of the great mysteries for everybody in Britain and really everybody in the world is the queen has this weekly meeting with the prime minister. It is completely private, even though every prime minister -- virtually every prime minister of the 12 involved have written memoirs, they have never disclosed what happened in those meetings. So what happens at these meetings?

MIRREN: I suspect it's all quite banal, actually. As in a way we show in the play. You know, Harold Wilson says, is that it? A nice cup of tea, a talk about holiday homes and a nice cup of tea. And I suspect that's kind of it.

ZAKARIA: Now, you've met her. How different was she in person from the person you imagined?

MIRREN: Oh, well, when I first met her, I -- that was long before -- well, a few years before I did the film, before I had any idea that I was going to have to play her at some time. No. She was -- I mean, I come from a republican family. My parents were vehemently anti- monarchist. So I was brought up in that --

ZAKARIA: Are you republican? Do you think ...

MIRREN: Yes, I think I am really.

ZAKARIA: So, you don't think Britain should have a queen even though you've played the queen three times.

MIRREN: I'm a queenist. I kind of love the queen. I wish we could have a queen without the rest of the royal family. Although I'm not dissing the rest of the royal family. Because I think as individual people I think they're very decent. I think they're very hard- working, and I think we got lucky, you know. And there are other wonderful, decent royal families in Europe.

ZAKARIA: But you would dispense with the institution.

MIRREN: I would probably -- because I can't get my head around it. It doesn't make sense to me that these individuals are looked at in that way. And the rest of the world is not looked at in the -- again, to quote the play -- she says, we're not like everybody else. That's the point of us!


ZAKARIA: Knowing her as you do in a sense.


ZAKARIA: Do you think she'll ever abdicate?

MIRREN: No. Absolutely not! Of course not.

ZAKARIA: Duty is so important.


ZAKARIA: But the poor son Charles is going to stay Prince ....

MIRREN: Yes, I'm sure, as she gets frailer, Prince Charles will more and more take over for her, in various official functions. But she will never abdicate, no. No. It's not on the cards.

ZAKARIA: Helen Mirren, just a pleasure to have you on.

MIRREN: Thank you. Thank you very much.




ZAKARIA: Last week I walked through Singapore's beautiful botanic gardens the day after it had been named one of UNESCO's 24 new world heritage sites. The list comprises more than 1,000 sites of cultural and natural significance around the globe. Other new additions include archeological sites from an ancient Korean kingdom and the wineries and - of France's Champaign region. It brings me to my question of the week. Which country has the most UNESCO world heritage sites? China? India? The United States? Or Italy. Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

This week's book is "Being Nixon, a Man Divided," by Evan Thomas. In a review Max Budd (ph) describes Nixon as the oddest man ever to occupy the White House. And that might be an understatement. The veteran journalist Evan Thomas provides a highly intelligent, illuminating study of the psychology of this man. It is a terrific read.

The correct answer to the GPS question is D. Italy holds the record for the most UNESCO world heritage sites with 51 in all.


ZAKARIA: China is next with 48, and Spain, France and Germany round out the top five. The United States ranks tenth with 23 sites. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.