Return to Transcripts main page
What did Trump and Putin agree to in Helsinki?; WTO chief on US- China trade war. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 19, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Coming up, the fallout from the Trump-Putin summit continues amid confusion and uncertainty over what the
two world leaders really discussed behind closed doors in Helsinki and what it could mean for the Middle East. I'm joined by the Russian-American
journalist Masha Gessen and Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Plus, my conversation with the head of the World Trade Organization Roberto Azevedo about the fallout from a US-China trade war and why Trump's
complaints cannot be ignored.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has taken a perilous turn, following a contentious and hugely provocative bill passed by
The nation state law enshrined Israel as the historic home of the Jewish people and it downgrades the status of Arabic, leaving only Hebrew as the
official language of Israel.
This was the reaction from Israeli Arab lawmakers in the Knesset, furiously ripping up the bill. Critics say the law slams a nail into the coffin of
the country's democracy and plunges a two-state solution into the abyss.
Meanwhile, the top US general in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, says that he has received no specific direction despite Russia claiming that Putin
and Trump have agreed to cooperate over Syria and other regional issues.
Now, to discuss all of this and this geopolitical web and the ongoing fallout from that infamous press conference between the two leaders in
Helsinki are Masha Gessen, who is a Russian-American journalist and contributor to "The New Yorker" - she is joining us from New York - also
Aaron David Miller, who's the former State Department negotiator and adviser on the Middle East. He is joining us from Washington.
So, welcome both of you to the program. And before I get to the Middle East development, I want to just talk about fast and furious movements from
the White House trying to clear up and clarify what was said in that press conference.
So, let me read you this. In the last few minutes, the White House has said that it opposes any proposal for Russians to question Americans.
So, now saying the President Trump opposes President Putin's proposal, for instance, to question Ambassador McFaul or even the human rights activist
What do you both make of this whiplash that we've been seeing almost minute by minute since the Monday Helsinki press conference? Aaron.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER US MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: I think it's cleanup time, Christiane. I mean, through five administrations, I've never ever
seen anything quite like this.
US-Russian summit in which it takes days to get the president's story straight, a proposal by Vladimir Putin that actually would involve the
United States agreeing to allow Russian intelligence or law enforcement to interrogate. Bill Browder is a British national, but to interrogate a
former US ambassador. Senior American officials scrambling including General Votel to make sense of what occurred at the summit.
Usually, it takes a few days to get these things straightened out, but this, I think, is an exercise in chaos and, frankly, would represent a
really good scene out of a Marx Brothers movie if it weren't so serious.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you this then before I get to Masha. Do you think that this damage control now has set the record straight? I mean,
he's now saying he does believe that the Russians influenced the election, that he will not agree to President Putin's - whatever, proposal to get
McFaul over there. Do you think this now sets it straight?
MILLER: No, all it does is confuse the issue further. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression on a world stage with Vladimir
Putin. And it's quite clear where the president's heart was.
Helsinki was the pure unadulterated Donald Trump. And the reality is all the old insecurities, the vulnerabilities, the Clinton server, the emails,
the legitimacy of his election, they were all on display.
I think he structured this summit for himself. He wanted it with Putin on the world stage, dissing his European allies in the process. And I think
the president was quite honest and faithful, frankly, to what he actually believes.
[14:05:02] AMANPOUR: And so, Masha, from your perspective, obviously, you're in America, but you know Russia so well. You know the Putin
administration so well. And what do you think President Putin is thinking now?
I mean, we will play a soundbite in a second. But what does he think while he's watching all of this? Whose advantage does this play to?
MASHA GESSEN, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE NEW YORKER": Oh, I think he's enjoying it at this point. I think that it couldn't have gone any better for him.
But I just want to, like, point out for a second what a strange exercise we are engaged in right now. We're trying to interpret something that is just
absurd on the face of it. We're trying to try to interpret it as though it were diplomacy, right?
Because, by virtue of somebody who is president of the United States doing this stuff, it becomes a kind of diplomacy, right?
But we're observing total insanity. Putin, for him, just having a summit was already a victory. All he needed to demonstrate was that he could get
the president of the United States to sit down with him.
The fact that he got him to basically become his accomplice in lying to the public from the world stage was almost a bonus.
AMANPOUR: So, let me - before I then play this soundbite - play slight devil's advocate. We have heard from the Russians that several issues were
discussed. Arms control, START, INF, things like that.
We haven't heard any details from the American side. Let us just say that this summit produced nothing more than an agreement to restart START or not
let it expire, to reimpose the INF treaty, arms control, that's a good thing, right, Masha?
GESSEN: Well, we don't know that, right? And I think that basically saying that negotiations that are essentially one-sided because the only
person who came out with any memory of the meeting apparently is Putin that that can in any way be a good thing, I think, is suspect.
AMANPOUR: So, I'm going to play you this soundbite from Putin who addressed diplomats and others today in Moscow. And we can both talk about
it afterwards. Let's play what he just said about what's happening as you called us trying to pass this insanity, how it's playing out for President
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We see that there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually
sacrifice Russia-US relations, to sacrifice them for their ambitions in the course of an internal political battle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Aaron, has he got the measure of what's going on?
MILLER: Yes. I think he has. I mean, I'd defer to much on the on the Russian piece of this, but it strikes me that this is the spy - this is a
variation of the "Spider and the Fly," except with a fly who was a willing accomplice to walk into the web.
I think Mr. Putin realizes now that Mr. Trump cannot deliver nearly what he may or may not have thought Mr. Trump was capable of delivering.
And, apparently, this wasn't Lenin's term, but the notion of useful idiot comes to mind where, in fact, Mr. Putin can, on one hand, gain legitimacy
that flows from a meeting with Donald Trump on the world stage, continue to attack America's political system - registration systems - in the run-up to
our elections and use Mr. Trump as cover in the process, thereby elevating his own role.
I cannot imagine a summit, frankly, that produced less for the United States. And I think in the process, Mr. Trump - you asked, Christiane, if
it had produced a resumption of arms control talks, dialogue, I think that would have been useful minus what you saw in Helsinki, that 45-minute
performance by Mr. Trump, and the fact that the Russians continue without American pushback to continue to - to try to interfere and manipulate our
AMANPOUR: So, it's really hard to figure out where this is going next, but one of the things that clearly has happened, Masha, is that, of course,
European leaders reacted quite strongly after the press conference.
In fact, the German foreign minister tweeted that this clearly shows we can no longer rely for our safety and security on the White House. He actually
said the White House. And that we will have to create a new European security apparatus that can survive despite whatever comes from the United
States. So, that's one thing.
Now, they're beginning to get less panicky. They seem to have judged over the last several days that nothing much happened in Helsinki, that despite
the claims from both sides that nothing actually much happened. What do you think?
[14:10:08] GESSEN: Well, I think that, first of all, I want to go back for a second to the question of what Putin wanted Trump to deliver. And I
would actually argue a little bit with Aaron's point that Putin wanted him to do - that Trump turns out to be able to deliver less than he thought.
Putin doesn't want the United States to lift sanctions. Putin doesn't want a better relationship between Russia and the United States. The situation
as it is is actually perfect for him because he mobilizes his population around this idea of an all-powerful enemy in the United States and the
sanctions keep everybody sort of in a state of tension and they don't affect him personally.
The only bee in his bonnet is Bill Browder, who really does not let him sleep at night, and so he wants to get at him.
So, what he wants is exactly what he gets. He gets a constant state of hostility, and yet he gets to divide and conquer. And this is the
incredible part. He has succeeded in dividing Donald Trump from his own cabinet, from his own administration, from his own party.
With the summit, he has also succeeded in dividing the United States from its traditional allies in Western Europe. I mean, it's absolutely
extraordinary the kind of discord that he has been able to sow.
And, of course, you're right, I mean, nothing happened except words, but words are the weapons in which presidents generally deal.
AMANPOUR: All right. Now, let us move on to this other issue of what happened in Israel today and then the broader issue of what Presidents
Trump and Putin may have discussed about Israel's security, Syria and the rest.
So, we just talked about the nation state bill. And, Aaron, you tweeted today the nation state bill passes formally making Israel of preferential
democracy with a public square and identity for Jews only, an undermining the vision of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
And the compelling reason to do this was? I mean, I guess, that is the question. It sort of slipped under the wire of this other sort of
geopolitical headlines. And it comes ahead of potentially the Trump administration peace proposal and after the moving of the embassy and the
recognition of Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel.
What do you think the Israeli government is playing at here with this?
MILLER: No, I think it's - the effort to basically enunciate this and create what is essentially a basic law - Israel doesn't have a formal
Constitution, but the nation state bill will take its place as one of the basic laws of the State of Israel.
And to do so in a way which is very preferential, unmistakably clear that a Jewish state takes precedence over a democratic one, which was one of the
provisions that frankly was mercifully dropped from this legislation, which would have basically forced the Supreme Court in cases involving democracy
as opposed to Jewish identity to basically look at Jewish identity or Jewishness as the higher standard. That did not get into this.
But I think it's important to distinguish, Christiane, Israel has two Palestinian challenges. It has the Palestinian challenge of what to do
with Gaza from which it's withdrawn, but it still has a varied means of control, and the West Bank, on one hand, the so-called peace process.
But then it has the other challenge. The challenge of a national minority. The challenge of 1.23 million Israeli Arabs, Palestinian citizens of
Israel, Arab Israelis, however they choose to call themselves, who are citizens of the state and, according to the declaration of independence,
entitled to equality under the law.
That expression equality under the law is missing from the nation state bill and that's a critically important challenge.
One additional point. It takes time often for nations to sort through national minorities and the character and the identity of their state.
Seventy years after independence, in 1846, the United States was a very different place. Blacks were slaves. Women were disenfranchised. White
males - property white males had only begun to get the franchise and we know the story of the native Americans.
And yet, today, the United States is a very different country. Israel is 70 years old grappling with this problem. And the issue is that the nation
state bill, I think, creates a terrible frame of reference and sets back relations between Arabs who are citizens of the state and Jews. It's
unnecessary. It's provocative. And, frankly, it compromises what I think many Israelis would like to see, which is a Jewish Democratic state.
AMANPOUR: And also a two-state solution. Let me play this soundbite because it goes to the heart of Israeli security. This is President Trump
speaking about some kind of agreement he may have with President Putin on this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:15:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Putin also is helping Israel and we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu and they would
like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel.
So, in that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. And Israel will be working with us. So, both countries would work
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Masha, can you unpack that? I mean, can you sort of parse that a little bit for us?
GESSEN: My sense from that statement is that Trump didn't quite understand Putin. I mean, Putin actually works very hard to make himself hard to
understand. He drowns his interlocutor in facts and references and sort of bureaucratic language. We witnessed some of that at the press conference.
And I think that's exactly what happened to Trump. I think that Putin said sort of general words about being concerned about the security of Israel.
I think that Trump was not prepared going into the meeting. I think that he doesn't understand Russian foreign policy in the region. It is
complicated, but he doesn't know its history.
And I think that basically (INAUDIBLE) circles around him that resulted in this very general nonsensical statement. We shouldn't be deceived into
trying to make sense of it.
AMANPOUR: Masha Gessen, Aaron David Miller, trying to make sense of it. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
So, as geopolitical tensions dominate the headlines, it is easy to forget that the US and China officially have entered a trade war this month with
tens of billions of dollars in tariffs on each other.
China, in fact, accuses the US of starting "the biggest trade war in history." While President Trump's chief economic adviser says that he does
not believe that President Xi Jinping is interested in making a deal on US demands to lower trade barriers. And no issue will have as direct an
impact on everyday Americans and Chinese or indeed the whole global economy.
And US tensions with Europe are no less severe. President Trump attacked the European Union today for a massive fine against Google for what the EU
said were flagrant, anti-competitive practices.
"They have truly taken advantage of the United States", said the president.
Now, Roberto Azevedo is director general of the World Trade Organization and he joined me from Geneva to discuss the next steps.
Roberto Azevedo, welcome to the program.
ROBERTO AZEVEDO: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just start with a big sort of fine that the EU levied against Google, $5 billion in punitive levies there.
And, of course, the United States President Donald Trump, who thinks that the world is taking advantage of the US, is now saying this is more
evidence of Europe taking advantage of us.
Do you think this is true, "taking advantage," and do you think it's likely to set off more tariffs and counter-tariffs?
AZEVEDO: I think this whole episode actually demonstrates what we have been saying for quite some time. We need to update the rules of global
trade. And this is part of the trade scenario.
We have, particularly in the digital world, a whole range of new practices, new business practices, new challenges that are unregulated on a global
And these kind of different views - the EU has views about privacy and content, the US has different views, other countries have - we need to sit
down and harmonize that somewhat. And while we don't do that, these kind of instability and unpredictability will continue.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just play for you something that's probably very, very familiar to you now, which is what President Trump said about the EU
when it comes to trade.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us on trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but
they're a foe. Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly. They're a foe. But that doesn't mean they're
bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they're competitors. They want to do well and we want to do well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, in the full light of day, several days later, he said foe, but then he said it doesn't mean they're bad, it means they're competitors.
Where do you think this is going to lead? Because now we're talking about potentially tariffs on cars and we just don't know where this is all going
to lead between the United States and the EU.
AZEVEDO: Well, we're talking about a world that is changing very rapidly. We're talking about many different structural changes in the scenario. It
is a completely different chessboard that we have before us and players are adjusting to that.
Some are reacting in a more, let's say, active, even aggressive, way in trying to get others to realize that things need to change. Others are
more reactive. They are slower reacting. And this is not going to change until we sit down and really look at the root of all those things and try
to figure out a way forward.
[14:20:15] AMANPOUR: It sounds like you're endorsing what President Trump says or at least understanding what he's saying. I assume you mean some
are being a little bit more reactive and aggressive - that would President Trump - to try to reestablish what he calls fair trade.
AZEVEDO: I think what President Trump says, you may or may not agree with what he says, each one will have their perspective, what you cannot do is
ignore what he's saying.
I think the worst case scenario where each one of us decides what is best and then takes action, that will be disruptive, that will compromise global
growth and that will, at the end of the day, be a huge cost for everyone.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about the tit-for-tat between the United States and China. Is that going to compromise global growth the, consumer
in the United States, if the US and China keep putting tariffs on each other? And how do you assess China's reaction because it's not being very
rhetorical in public? It's not being very blustery? It seems to be responding in kind.
AZEVEDO: The first thing, I think, we have to realize is accept the fact that tit would not happen without tat. We said from the beginning that's
it was very unlikely that some measures that were announced early on would go on without a response. We all knew that.
So, this is not surprising. Where we are now in this tit-for-tat scenario is not a surprise to anyone. The question is how do we avoid escalating
even further because, if we do, the costs are going to be big.
We just saw an IMF report that mentions nations that, if the current announced measures are implemented as they are, just the current ones,
forget the future ones, we're going to see a great growth compromised by 0.5 percent annually in just two years by 2020. That's $440 billion per
year that the global economy is going to lose out.
And if you go out for a full-blown trade war and we go back to more extreme scenarios, we can see recessions bigger than the one that we had after the
financial crisis in 2008. So, this is serious. We shouldn't take this lightly.
AMANPOUR: Well, this is very serious. And the way you put it is very serious because that's what everybody just hopes won't happen, this kind of
trade war that will punch a big hole in the global economy and punch a big hole in people's pockets.
So, you heard what Larry Kudlow, the president's main economic advisor, has been saying. Let me just play a little bit of a soundbite and have you
react to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I do not think President Xi at the moment has any intention of following through on the
discussions we made. And I think the president is so dissatisfied with China on these so-called talks that he is keeping the pressure on and I
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, he is definitely throwing the ball into the President Xi's court. Is that the right place for the ball to be right now.
AZEVEDO: It sounds like a negotiation. And that's what negotiators do. We want the other side to understand how serious the situation is and we
want the other side to behave in a way that will move towards a solution.
I think that's what everybody in the world wants. Everybody wants to see, particularly in this bilateral tension between the United States and China,
everybody in the world would like to see the two sides coming together and figuring out a way forward that would accommodate the concerns on both
Now, that is not going to be easy. I've never seen a situation like this be solved in a fortnight. This is going to take some while. And what we
cannot do is give up. That we cannot do.
AMANPOUR: So, which brings me to the elephant in the room, and that is your role - your role and the WTO role.
The report from the Bertelsmann Foundation, as you very well know, is quite critical, saying "the credibility of the WTO is under serious threat,
reflected in rising trade tensions between major economies. These are not being addressed in Geneva. Sticking to status quo modes of operating is a
recipe for the institution's gradual demise."
I mean, that's harsh. And it's really actually throwing the ball in your court now.
AZEVEDO: No, look, we in the WTO are doing everything we can to help the situation, to mitigate the disruptions that we see everywhere.
But, frankly, it's not us that are going to change this. It's not me myself. I can say whatever I want. I can predict all these doomsday
scenarios and they may all come to pass. I'm not going to change this by myself. The WTO is not going to change that by itself unless the players,
the governments, the countries want to do it.
[14:25:09] And the only way that we can help them change the path is by illustrating them and telling these are the consequences, this is what may
happen. They're not going to listen to us, but they may listen to their constituencies.
So, it's important that we talk to the private sector, to parliament, to NGOs, to think tanks, to everyone that wants to listen and we give them
information that would allow them to have a conversation with the administration and then decide on the path forward.
Now, if the domestic constituencies do not speak up, if they stay silent, if we don't go anywhere, it's also their fault. Very much their fault.
So, we have to have everybody speaking. Anybody silent at this point in time is helping to aggravate the situation.
AMANPOUR: Are we in a trade war?
AZEVEDO: Some people say we are in a skirmish. Others say that we are in a trade war. There is no definition of a trade war.
But one thing is clear. The first shots have been fired. That I have no doubt about. Now, whether we're going to end up in a skirmish or a trade
war or whatever, it will depend on the next moves.
So, I hope people think carefully about those next moves.
AMANPOUR: Roberto Azevedo, director general of the WTO, thank you for joining me from Geneva.
AZEVEDO: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: And on that dramatic note, that is it for our program. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online at
Amanpour.com and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.