Return to Transcripts main page
U.S. and Russia Working to Revive Cease-Fire; John Kerry Weighs in on Brexit; Assessing North Korea's Nuclear Threat; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired May 10, 2016 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: the U.S. and Russia are trying to revive Syria's truce. But Secretary of State John
Kerry tells me that he is not holding his breath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I can't sit here and tell you, Christiane, that this is going to absolutely work. I'd be a fool to say
that. These are words on a paper. This is an agreement reached in a room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Also ahead, as hundreds of thousands of North Koreans mark the end of the first ruling Workers Party Congress in nearly
40 years, U.S. intelligence declares that Pyongyang has broken a major nuclear threshold.
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Washington and Moscow are still trying to revive the collapsed Syria cease-fire and also the effort to find a political transition, apparently
working together but at odds over the fate of Bashar al-Assad. My interview with Secretary Kerry in a moment.
But first, on the ground in Syria, Russia is calling the shots, building up its arsenal, its bases and boots on the ground, despite saying
back in March that it would pull many of its troops out, as our Fred Pleitgen discovered first-hand.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This is the Russian intervention the world has come to know, jets at an air base near Latakia, supporting pro-Assad forces. But Russia's
footprint in Syria seems to be far bigger than most realize.
Thousands of troops are stationed at the air base, disciplined and highly motivated. We caught up with this first lieutenant during his
boxing practice. He would only give us his first name -- Vladimir.
"I'm glad to serve my country here," he says, "and I'm not afraid.
"What is there to be afraid of in Syria?"
The West has criticized Russia, saying its airstrikes target mostly moderate anti-Assad rebels, the Russians claiming they bomb only ISIS and
other terror group.
But while Moscow says it's withdrawn most forces from Syria, on an embed with the Russian military, we saw what appeared to several helicopter
bases in Western and Central Syria with attack choppers, including the Mi- 28, the Kamov Ka-52 and the battle-tested Mi-35, which has seen extensive combat in Syria.
Russia also built a brand-new base in Palmyra for its demining crews, with dozens of fighting vehicles and even brand-new anti-aircraft missile
systems. On top of its own assets, the military spokesman says his forces closely cooperate with Bashar al-Assad's troops.
"We receive a great deal of information from the Syrian general staff," he says.
"They're on the ground and close to the rebels. As for the military technical cooperation, of course, we help them as well."
None of this seems to indicate a full Russian withdrawal from Syria anytime soon.
And for many in the government-held part of Damascus, that's just fine.
"The Russians have cooperated with us since the 1970s," this man says.
"They have great knowledge about this place. And if the West wants to attack us, the Russians will be there."
But this one says, "The Syrians don't need anyone. We are sophisticated people and we don't need help from the outside."
Washington and Moscow recently brokered a cease-fire in the Syrian capital and other places in the country. Families using the calm to visit
cafes, like the famous Bakdash ice cream parlor, enjoying the relative peace, realize it might not last.
PLEITGEN: The people here in the government-held part of Damascus seem to be very well aware of the extent to which Russia's military has
helped Bashar al-Assad's forces. But they also say that if there's going to be a solution to the Syrian crisis, it has to come --
PLEITGEN: -- from Syrians themselves and not from outside powers.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The war still rages in most of the country; reconciliation is nowhere in sight and neither is an end to Russia's role
here -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Damascus.
AMANPOUR: Well, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the U.S. secretary of state are the main Syrian negotiators. Now John Kerry is
in London now for meetings. And I asked him about the elusive chance for peace in Syria as well as a whole host of other global crises, from
corruption to North Korea, that are on his plate.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the program.
KERRY: Thank you, happy to be here.
AMANPOUR: You have just announced that you are signing -- have signed another attempt to gain a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria.
How do you think that's going to work any better than the previous one?
KERRY: Well, we're building on the experience of the previous one. I can't sit here and tell you, Christiane, that this is going to absolutely
work. I'd be a fool to say that. These are words on a paper. This is an agreement reached in a room.
But the agreement has to be transferred to the battlefield and to the commanders.
But what we have done is set up a very different mechanism. We've stood up an entity in Geneva with Russians in the room, Americans in the
room, with others in the room from the coalition, who will be sharing maps, discussing in real-time, in touch with people in Syria.
So the key is going to be enforcement. Now we're looking at other methods of enforcement beyond that. But we're not there yet but we are
building what I hope will be a stronger structure.
AMANPOUR: I guess my question is -- and we've just seen our report from Fred Pleitgen -- of so much Russian troops, hardware in Syria.
What is it that makes you believe the Russians are your partners in trying to get a cease-fire and a political resolution, when they're
actually Assad's partner, certainly in trying to regain Aleppo, for instance?
I mean, that's what --
KERRY: Russia has an interest in not being bogged down forever in Syria. Russia has an interest of not becoming the target of the entire
Sunni world and having every jihadi in the region coming after Russia. Russia also has a fundamental interest -- this is expensive.
Russia's economy is not exactly soaring. They have got other challenges. They've got -- I mean, there's just a lot on the table for
And if Russia is going to avoid a morass in Syria altogether, they actually need to find a political solution. Now right now, they're angling
for the political solution they want. And it's not necessarily a workable equation. We understand that.
But we would not have gotten the initial cease-fire without Russia and literally tens of thousands of lives were saved. You can add it up on the
number, 200 people a day were being killed. That stopped for a period of time.
People hadn't received any humanitarian assistance for years. Almost 1 million people have now received humanitarian assistance and so there's
been some benefit to this.
Is it perfect?
Are there still problems to work out?
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you because we're here in Britain and you know that the Brexit debate about E.U. is underway fully now. Many U.S. --
former Secretary of State, Defense, national security advisers and five of the former living NATO secretary-generals have written, saying that it will
be much stronger for Britain to remain engaged in the E.U.
KERRY: Britain is a great democracy and what we're seeing is a passionate debate, which is appropriate. And people can weigh in -- and
ought to weigh in --
AMANPOUR: Do you agree with their views?
KERRY: Well, as President Obama said when he was here -- and I echo - - this is a decision for the people of Great Britain to make. This is their vote, not our vote.
But we do have an opinion. I mean, we obviously -- I mean, we are -- this is a special relationship. We have fought together in so many wars.
We have similar values, similar systems. We have been partners in so many different efforts that, clearly, we have an opinion.
But it's up to the people here to vote and we respect whatever that vote is going to be.
However, we believe that a strong, united Europe with a Britain, whose voice and power is magnified by its presence within the E.U., we think
that's important. And we would hate to lose that added strength that we think Great Britain gets by being a member.
AMANPOUR: Moving on to one of the stated reasons that you're here is this global anti-corruption summit that you're here to take part in.
As you know, the United States is being pointed out now, singled out, as a growing and massive offshore haven for a lot of foreign wealth that
wants to be hidden, anywhere from South Dakota to Las Vegas. The "FT" says something like $800 billion worth of foreign wealth is being hidden in the
Are you not therefore --
AMANPOUR: -- part of the problem?
KERRY: Well, to whatever degree we are, we shouldn't be and we're prepared to take steps. And we have taken steps in order to prevent that.
I mean, we have transparency unlike most countries in the world. We have a financial accountability task force and a financial center within
the Treasury Department that looks for the hiding of wealth.
We're taking steps with respect to specific states, where we think there's been a problem and people trying to bring their wealth in, buying
real estate and using the real estate as a hedge against what's ever happening elsewhere.
So we will be part of the solution, I assure you. I guarantee you that the United States is going to be at the forefront of making sure there
is accountability because we believe the theft of these vast sums of money from many nations in the world is part of what contributes to radicalism,
to extremism, to terrorism.
It breeds an incestuous disrespect within a country for the political system and it hurts everybody by robbing from people their health care,
their housing, their education, their infrastructure, their investments for the future. And that's why it's so important.
AMANPOUR: Further afield in Asia right now, the United States and South Korea intelligence has now declared that the North Koreans can put a
small warhead on a short-range or a medium-range missile.
Isn't this the nightmare scenario?
Isn't this precisely what you've been trying to prevent for all these years?
It's happening on your watch.
They can now militarize missiles with nuclear warheads.
KERRY: Well, we've been working very, very closely with China. One of my first trips as secretary of state was to go to China and talk about
North Korea. And I would say about 50 percent of that visit was focused on North Korea, what we needed to do to put more pressure on North Korea.
We finally succeeded in getting China to move with us, most recently a few months ago at the U.N., to put in place tougher sanctions against North
Korea. North Korea will never be permitted to be a nuclear power standing on its own as a recognized power. This is not going to happen.
AMANPOUR: Are you not worried that they can target --
KERRY: Of course. But that is precisely --
AMANPOUR: And they want talks with you, direct talks with you.
KERRY: -- but that is precisely why we have entered into the discussions about the deployment of THAAD, which is the high-altitude
defense system, which is a defensive system. I know China has concerns about it, Russia.
But it's a defensive system and the only reason for our discussion about deploying it is this saber-rattling -- and more than saber-rattling,
this very dangerous, evolving situation with the potential of the nuclear capacity for North Korea.
And I'm confident that, if North Korea ever expects to sell its goods in the marketplace, to join the community of nations, to offer its people a
future, they are going to have to negotiate their denuclearization.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Secretary, this Iran nuclear deal is very important to the president's legacy. And yet the Iranians are now in a state where they
say they're finding it very hard to do trade, et cetera, because European banks are worried about your laws and the existing U.S. sanctions.
And they're very afraid of running afoul of your laws inadvertently and being slapped by hefty fines. So they're not helping companies invest,
KERRY: Well, there's no need for them to have that fear. It's misplaced. Under our agreement and in very clear terms, the banks in
Europe are free to lend, to back a deal, to open an account for Iran, to engage in commerce. And it's very clear what is permitted and what is not.
So I think this is a misplaced fear. And we are prepared to clarify it for anybody because, as part of this agreement, Iran has a right to do
certain business that has been defined. And they have the rights to the benefit of a deal they've agreed to.
They have undone their centrifuges, they have lived by every component of this agreement and, therefore, the banks and the world community needs
to live by its part of the agreement.
But let me be clear, European banks can open accounts, can make loans, can engage in business, can travel. There is no reason for them on a non-
designated entity, for any legitimate business, not to do business.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much for joining us today.
KERRY: Thank you, appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we look deeper into North Korea's nuclear gambit. Amid some extraordinary and colorful choreography, we ask
where the Hermit Kingdom is headed. That's next.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It is always extraordinary to see those surreal scenes from North Korea, which has been marking the end of its first Workers Party
Congress in 36 years.
Now it's designed to shore up Kim Jong-un's rule as the U.S. and South Korean intelligence conclude that North Korea has crossed a major threshold
and can now put a small nuclear warhead on short- and medium-range missiles.
It means the North can potentially hit U.S. bases and other areas in both allies, such as South Korea and Japan.
I asked Victor Cha, who was President George Bush's top adviser on North Korea and took part in the six-party talks aimed at halting the
country's program, what leverage the allies have now when it comes to shaping Pyongyang's nuclear policy.
AMANPOUR: Victor Cha, welcome to the program.
Can I start by asking you how significant it is that the U.S. and South Korea intelligence have concluded now, definitively, that North Korea
can put a small nuclear warhead on a missile that could threaten Japan, South Korea and U.S. interests there?
VICTOR CHA, BUSH POLITICAL ADVISER: Well, Christiane, I think it's significant in the sense that they are making their assessments public now
and essentially granting North Korea what they have been claiming for a while, which is the ability to miniaturize a warhead and put it on a
Scientifically speaking, the issue never has been miniaturization because they just give up yield if they make a smaller weapon. So they can
make a smaller weapon. It won't be as powerful but they can put it on top of a missile and target Korea and Japan and other parts of U.S. allied
AMANPOUR: But a lot of nuclear experts say you can turn a corner to increasing the yield and increasing the power of the missiles to long-
range. So in other words, they are moving at a fairly breakneck speed to breaking through these barriers. And it's happening on this
What can or should the U.S. do about it?
CHA: Well, I think that's absolutely right. I mean, we've seen three nuclear tests during the Obama administration, despite their efforts to
engage the regime. They have crossed significant thresholds over the past three years in terms of boost phase of the missile, as well as the ability
to put a payload vehicle into orbit.
So the program is proceeding apace and the sanctions thus far have been unsuccessful at slowing the program down.
The question for the administration, for the world is, how do you stop a runaway nuclear program?
AMANPOUR: You heard that Secretary Kerry has told me that they will never allow North Korea to stand as an independent nuclear power; that if
North Korea wants to be part of the community of nations, it must negotiate its denuclearization.
But clearly Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un wants direct talks with the U.S. The U.S. doesn't want that or won't let it happen.
So where does this go forward and how?
CHA: The premise that North Korea needs to do these things to become a member of the international community presumes that they want that. And
at least at least under the leadership of Kim Jong-un thus far, they don't seem to be interested in that.
In terms of the road going forward, the main thing is that we have to be able to contain the program and cap it if possible.
CHA: Containing the program means increasing the level of sanctioning, including secondary sanctioning with China against North
Korean entities, as well as trying to contain proliferation through cargo container checks and even closing off of airspace.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Kerry is going to China next week to pursue this issue. But nothing much has happened in the sort of U.S. and China
alignment in regard to North Korea. China doesn't seem to be able to wield a whole load of leverage right now.
CHA: Yes, Christiane, I think that's a very fair point. I think the question right now is whether China is willing to take the next step in
terms of implementing the U.N. Security Council sanctions, which include closing some of the loopholes when it comes to humanitarian exceptions that
are allowed for the import of coal and some of the other business that they do with North Korea.
China still does have a good deal of leverage. It's not the answer. I mean, these sanctions are not the answer. They are what bring North
Korea back to the negotiation table, at least to cause a freeze in terms of their program, a stopping of their testing and maybe a cap on their
But that's about the only tool we have right now, while we leave the diplomatic option open.
AMANPOUR: I don't know what you took from Kim Jong-un's speeches recently and of course we've got all these pictures of this party congress,
this extraordinary congress with all its pomp and circumstance.
But he has said that -- and it's been widely reported -- that he wants to improve and normalize relations, even with countries that have been
hostile to his; that he will not use nuclear weapons as a first strike unless feeling that the sovereignty of North Korea is threatened.
What do you read into that?
I mean, you say they don't want to be part of the community of nations but he seems to be reaching out.
CHA: They reach out but they reach out on their own terms. In other words, they would love to have capital and investment from the outside
world. But they don't want anybody in their country managing companies or having contact with their people, because the system is so closed.
With regard to nuclear weapons, the "no first use" statement by North Korea is significant in the sense that they are trying to tell everybody in
the world they are now a nuclear weapon state and paying lip service to the idea that they are a responsible nuclear weapons state, which, of course,
defies the truth, because North Korea is the only country to break out of the NPT and become a renegade nuclear weapons state.
AMANPOUR: Victor Cha, thank you so much for joining us and of course we'll see whether anything comes of Secretary Kerry's visit with the
Chinese next week. Thanks so much.
CHA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And next, from a city of walls and secrets to one painfully laid bare, we imagine the Iraqis, who are returning to Ramadi, only to find
that little remains. Rebuilding a life that had been stolen by ISIS -- that's next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as the Pentagon confirms that an airstrike has killed the ISIS leader in Iraq's Anbar province, we imagine
the world of destruction that ISIS caused in the provincial capital, Ramadi; 3,000 buildings and nearly 400 roads and bridges were damaged or
destroyed in the eight months that ISIS was in control there.
Residents have begun trickling home but, as we see, to a largely unliveable city.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Ramadi in the heart of Anbar province, this is what liberation looks like: street after street of destruction,
building after building, house after house, turned into rubble.
Jamal Obeid Smer (ph) and his family have returned to their home in Ramadi, five months after ISIS was forced out by the Iraqi army. But
little remains for this family of seven.
JAMAL OBEID SMER (PH), RAMADI RESIDENT (through translator): As you can see, the houses are severely damaged and we have no water, electricity
or any of the services. Losses are big. We have not found anything inside the house. I returned and I have to start from zero.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): On this day, Jamal and his family are all but alone in their old community.
SMER (PH) (through translator): I'm the only one who returned to this neighborhood. We're talking about 800 houses.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): And while the guns may be silent, rebuilding is not without danger. The ICRC says unexploded ordnance is all around.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This lot, hundreds of hundreds of explosives the population are facing right now. So the International Committee of the Red
Cross, we are raising awareness of this with the population.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is the reality faced by those returning home here. Still, they say it's better than living in camps and ramshackle
AMANPOUR: And indeed, on the bright side, every resident coming back is one small victory for removing each and every one of those ISIS warriors
And that is it for our program tonight. Tomorrow on our show, the first Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, gives us his first international
television interview. He's already taken on Donald Trump and his Muslim policies.
Until then, remember, you can always listen to our podcasts, see us online at amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for
watching and goodbye from London.