Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Deputy US Secretary of State John Sullivan; Interview with artist Christo. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 27, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, fragile diplomacy as President Trump rewrites the rules of engagement with his allies and turns

his foes into friends. I speak to a top Trump official, the Deputy US Secretary of State John Sullivan joins the show.

Plus, he's a superstar artist who creates supersized art works. My conversation with Christo, as he unveils a major new exhibit in London's

famous Hyde Park.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Times and ties are a-changing in the Trump age. Today, the disruptor-in- chief left his allies guessing again about the meaning of a meeting between President Trump and President Putin before Trump heads to the NATO summit.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow to set up that meeting. And he said he hopes US-Russian relations would

see better days.


JOHN BOLTON, US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Even in earlier days, when our countries had differences, our leaders and their advisors met, and I think

that was good for both countries, good for stability in the world. And President Trump feels very strongly on that subject.


AMANPOUR: Now, President Putin, for his part, is a deeply divisive figure for the NATO allies. And the last thing they want is to have another

disruptive summit next month, especially on the heels of June's G7 summit in Canada, when the president insulted his host and refused to sign on to

the final communique.

I got a rare chance to speak to a top administration official when Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan joined me. He's in the Danish capital,

Copenhagen, today, part of a diplomatic swing through Europe.

Secretary Sullivan, welcome to the program.

JOHN SULLIVAN, US DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, Christiane. I'm delighted to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Well, there you are in Copenhagen and you're specifically addressing issues of reform, particularly in Ukraine, among other issues.

Ukraine, massively important for so many reasons. But how difficult is it to get reform done? We even broke on our show, not a few weeks ago, that

the finance minister was being pressured to resign or outright going to be fired for trying to crackdown on corruption?

SULLIVAN: Well, reform in Ukraine, as you know, Christiane, has been a priority for years now. The difficulty that the Ukrainians face, of

course, is that they've got to an ongoing conflict in their eastern regions in the Donbass.

So, trying to accomplish difficult reform, political, economic reform, while also fighting a conflict that has been sponsored by their neighbor,

Russia, makes it even more difficult.

So, we're here, the United States, like-minded countries, to attend this Ukraine reform conference to provide support for encouragement and

economic, political support to Ukraine as it implements long-needed reforms.

AMANPOUR: OK. But that makes absolute sense. And you put your finger on the main irritant in that - you talked about Russia and the conflict in

Eastern Ukraine and, of course, there's the Crimea issue as well.

So, President Trump will be meeting with President Putin. And this has caused a certain amount of questions and anxiety amongst the alliance.

What do you think the president will say to Mr. Putin about this very issue? Will he tell him to back off Crimea, to back off interference in

Eastern Ukraine?

SULLIVAN: Yes. Well, the president has been clear that the United States needs to engage with Russia. He wants to engage with President Putin.

But our purpose is not to engage for purposes of surrendering our principles. The president's purpose is to engage with President Putin, so

that we can discuss these important issues, whether it's Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, arms control, Syria. There are so many issues on which we need to

engage with the Russians and have been.

Unfortunately, we haven't been as successful in the first year-and-a-half or so of the Trump administration as we would've hoped. But that doesn't

mean we're not going to stop trying.

But it also doesn't mean we're going to surrender our principles. We're committed to Ukraine. We're committed to supporting the reform of Ukraine.

An independent Democratic Ukraine is a fundamental part of US foreign policy in Europe.

[14:05:01] And that includes Crimea. Crimea is part of Ukraine. Ukraine includes Crimea.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Secretary, you could not be more clear in what you're saying. Therefore, I'd like to play this soundbite from the president

which he spoke about the issue of the G7, and used to be the G8 with Russia's participation, and just have you comment on it as we wrap it up.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people like the idea of bringing Russia back in. This used to be the G8, not the G7. Then

something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in.

I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in. I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would

be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7. I think the G8 would be better. I think

having Russia back in would be a positive thing.


SULLIVAN: I think what you're hearing President Trump saying is that he himself wants to engage with President Putin on these important issues as

other parts of his administration have.

We have a lot to talk about with the Russians, as I mentioned before, arms control, the START negotiations, among others.

Ukraine will be top of the list, I assure you, but there are many other issues on which we need to engage. And I think that's what you're hearing

President Trump say in that soundbite.

AMANPOUR: And just to be clear, would President Trump support Russia being back in the G8 if it doesn't reverse its annexation of Crimea?

SULLIVAN: I'm going to defer to the president's statement on that. It wasn't linked to developments in Ukraine.

I can say, here at this conference, that the United States is committed to reform in Ukraine and we want to engage with the Russians on reform in

Ukraine, so that we have an independent democratic Ukraine that's part of the family of nations.

AMANPOUR: Now, a number of US and Russian foreign policy experts say that, over the last many years, or several years anyway, the level of trust has

been eroded between the US and Russia.

And the level of eroding the - what they call the arms control architecture is also causing what they believe to be a situation potentially even more

dangerous than during Soviet times.

Do you share that level of concern about the danger now between the US and Russia or Russia and the allies?

SULLIVAN: What I would say is, there is a need for continued dialogue between the United States and Russia on arms-control issues, on New START,

INF, et cetera.

We are dedicated to that. We've been negotiating with the Russians since the start of this administration at lower levels on, for example, START

treaty implementation, as you know.

These discussions will continue. They're important. They're essential for world peace. And the clip you played previously from the president is an

indication of how he feels about it and how important it is to world peace and stability that we engage with the Russians on these issues.

AMANPOUR: So, let me put it to you from the allies' perspective then because they also are concerned. They're quite concerned about this

meeting between presidents Trump and Putin. They want to see what's going to come out of it and hope that their principles, as you have robustly

defended the principles, won't be sold down the river in any meeting.

What can you say to reassure the allies who you're going to be meeting?

SULLIVAN: We're very open with our NATO allies, our EU colleagues on the preparations for the NATO summit. it's, obviously, high on our agenda, a

successful NATO summit where our allies will hear directly from the president his views on these important issues, reaffirming our commitment

to NATO, to our NATO allies, to our NATO treaty obligations which have been a bedrock principle of US foreign policy in the post-war era.

So, we're looking forward to a successful NATO summit. I know the president is. And we'll discuss all of these issues openly with our NATO

allies and with other EU colleagues. And we're very much looking forward to it.

SULLIVAN: Mr. Secretary, as you know, there is concern in Europe about what they believe to be an assault by the United States, or at least from

the president's Twitter, on the international rules-based order. You know that term that's been in effect for 70-odd years.

Should they be concerned? In other words, is the president's strategy to sort of erode this order in place of something else or is it just rhetoric?

SULLIVAN: Well, what I'd say, Christiane, is the president, the United States, is committed to the trans-Atlantic relationship, to the NATO

alliance, to our NATO treaty allies and our NATO treaty commitment.

The issues that you have referred to, trade and economic issues, are one part of a much larger relationship between the United States and Europe.

And as you know, going back decades, whether it's the Suez crisis, Vietnam, Pershing II missiles in Europe in the 80s, we've had plenty of areas to

disagree with our European friends and allies.

[14:10:11] But through it all, we have been committed as NATO allies and partners, committed to our trans-Atlantic relationship. It's a bedrock of

our national security and there's no variance from the United States on that commitment.

AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about the presidents tweets about Angela Merkel, basically, right now, considered the leader of Europe, the German

chancellor. People see it as sort of beating up on her.

And also, your own ambassador, Rick Grenell, who tweeted a while ago that all German companies must immediately stop and desist and stop doing

business with Iran. They saw that as a step further than your regular diplomatic mission.

SULLIVAN: Well, our relationship with Germany is a strong NATO ally. We have areas of disagreement. JCPOA is one of them. Our concerns about

Iranian malign behavior, their missile program and so forth, we are in constant discussion with our European allies, our NATO allies and Germany,

in particular, on these issues.

So, the tweets you refer to by the president, our new ambassador Rick Grenell, who is a terrific US ambassador, by the way - I spoke to him on

Friday - we are all committed to improving our relationship with Germany.

When you hear the president talk about trade issues, for example, he's committed to a fair and reciprocal trading relationship with the EU. That

is one part of the larger architecture of our trans-Atlantic relationship.

AMANPOUR: And I just want to ask you a final question because even though you yourself have not had a huge amount of previous diplomatic experience,

you have sought out advise and information from a bipartisan group of former officials and your own family comes from a distinguished diplomatic

family. One of your uncles was the last ambassador in Iran.

So, I just want to ask you about your view of, your feeling of sort of solidarity in America's diplomatic and career bureaucratic officials.

SULLIVAN: Well, as you've heard Secretary Pompeo say, we have enormous confidence in the women and men who work at the Department of State,

foreign service and civil service.

As you mentioned, my uncle, Bill Sullivan, was a career foreign service officer, 32 years, serving in the foreign service and our last US

ambassador to Iran.

So, I have first-hand knowledge from my own family about the commitment of these women and men in our department, patriots who are representing the

United States abroad, often in difficult and dangerous places.

So, Secretary Pompeo has come into the department, reaffirmed his commitment to the foreign service and to our civil service, by the way.

You mentioned that I haven't previously served in the State Department, but I have served in three other cabinet departments as a civil servant,

starting my career at the Justice Department.

So, I don't want to underestimate the contribution of our civil servants at State, but be assured that the leadership of the department, the leadership

of this administration is committed to the foreign service and the civil service at State and recognize their enormous contribution to our national


AMANPOUR: I think that's going to go down really well with the diplomats at the State Department.

I just want to ask you then. Do you support or do you condone the so- called Vino Vixen, the State Department advisor, who appears to be, according to reports, taking names and vetting for loyalty test on career

civil servants and foreign affairs career diplomats?

SULLIVAN: We are not going to engage in any sort of partisan witch hunts at the State Department. We are looking to empower our career diplomats,

our career foreign service officers, civil service officers. We're looking to support and empower them around the world.

You've heard Secretary Pompeo say that. So, we at the State Department are engaged in American diplomacy worldwide on a non-partisan basis to

implement the president's program, and that's what we stand for.

SULLIVAN: Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, thanks for being with us from Copenhagen today.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Christiane, it was my pleasure.

There seems to be so much happening and the world can be so fast-spaced these days. To quote Ferris Bueller from the cult classic movie, "live

moves pretty fast if you don't stop and look around once in a while; you could miss it."

Sometimes, it takes something huge, something colorful, something so unusual, it makes you stop and look. That's what the artist known as

Christo does. And this is his latest, enormous public insulation - 410,000 multicolored barrels here in the lake, running through London's Hyde Park.

[14:15:01] He's been at it for decades, working side-by-side with his late wife Jeanne-Claude, wrapping the German parliament, the Reichstag, in

fabric just after the fall of the Berlin Wall; installing 7,000 orange gates in New York's Central Park; even enveloping entire islands in hot

pinks skirts off the coast of Miami.

At 83 years old, Christo shows no sign of slowing down, as spry and energetic as ever. He joined me here in our London studio earlier this

week right after his latest work, the Mastaba, was unveiled.

Christo, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: This is unbelievable. It's your very first ever installation for London, right, or for the UK?


AMANPOUR: Why did it take you so long? You've been all over the world.

CHRISTO: I do not know. Actually, circumstance.

AMANPOUR: What does Mastaba mean?

CHRISTO: Mastaba is a geometric form who come 7,000 years ago, first urban civilization that humans discovered.

AMANPOUR: Which was Mesopotamia.

CHRISTO: In the Mesopotamia. Exactly. And in the front of the mud house, they build a bench. They have a two vertical wall, flat stop and two

slanted wall and that is the Mastaba. All people are still referring to benches like Mastaba.

AMANPOUR: So, this is a replica of the form. And here we see it in the -

CHRISTO: It's not a two with the pyramid. You have two vertical side and two slanted sides.

AMANPOUR: And that's important, that form.

CHRISTO: Absolutely. Because that is - if you are on the slanted side, you will not see the vertical side. This is not like pyramid all the time

seeing. You see, completely different.

AMANPOUR: This is beautiful.

CHRISTO: The angle is 60 degrees. Not invented by me. You can stack cylindrical objects, bottles and cans, will be all the same things.

AMANPOUR: It will always be 60 degrees.

CHRISTO: Sixty degrees.

AMANPOUR: No matter what you stack up.

CHRISTO: Exactly. The beautiful story is that is not something invented by me. Pure geometry, how that module is created.

AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you this. Your works always sparked a huge amount of conversation.

CHRISTO: And controversy.

AMANPOUR: And controversy.

CHRISTO: A lot of controversy.

AMANPOUR: So, there are some people, who swim here all the time, and they say what is this and why is it blocking our view and we don't like it.

CHRISTO: Of course. Any interpretation of our project is legitimate.

AMANPOUR: So, you say any interpretation is legitimate.

CHRISTO: Negative, positive, they are all how the world works in the mind of the people. This is why we do this project, to generate that thinking.

I do sketches, drawings, scale model. I do also early works like sculptural barrels and they're sold to museum, collectors around the world.

They are not all temporary works. This is how I do - pay for this project. That project cost 3 million pounds of my money.

AMANPOUR: Look at that. That is beautiful. And that's one of the art works.

CHRISTO: Yes. That is that like a study for the larger drawings. And these type of sketches, very much architectural sketches, using


AMANPOUR: And you sell these and raise money to make the installation.

CHRISTO: We sell these and the money comes to pay the work of art.

AMANPOUR: That's pretty amazing. So, yes, that is amazing.

CHRISTO: Actually, you should know that, after the Gates project, Jeanne- Claude and myself -

AMANPOUR: The Gates, let's just see the Gates.

CHRISTO: That took us 26 years to get permission.

AMANPOUR: Twenty six years just to get permission?

CHRISTO: The project was refused on 1981. It started in '79, but refused by the Koch administration. We were not successful with Dinkins

administration, not successful with Giuliani administration and, finally, when Michael Bloomberg come to power -

AMANPOUR: Oh, Michael Bloomberg. He's a patron of the art.

CHRISTO: And the project got permitted. Yes.

AMANPOUR: So, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani, all said no to you.

CHRISTO: Like many projects.

AMANPOUR: So, what is it?

CHRISTO: OK. Each project, he has his own idea to do. Very soon, I discovered that most important in Manhattan is how many people walk. The

humans was the most important thing. And the only place that humans walk for pleasure is in the park.

Now, often, this temporary work of art, they're seasonal projects. For example, the Gates project was a winter project because we'd like to have

leafless tree. During the summertime -

AMANPOUR: Leafless trees, it was important?

CHRISTO: During the summertime, Central Park is like forest.

AMANPOUR: That's right. You couldn't see them.

CHRISTO: Yes, exactly. And when I did project in Miami, Surrounded Islands, we needed to do it before the hurricane in Miami.

AMANPOUR: We are going to see that. Let's see the Miami islands. Those were amazing.


AMANPOUR: Hold on a second.

CHRISTO: Yes, exactly. That was done in the spring of May 1983.

AMANPOUR: And the reason you did in the spring was again?

CHRISTO: Because again - yes, because the typhoons, they're arriving later.

AMANPOUR: So, you had to do it before the hurricane season?

CHRISTO: Exactly. Each project is designed for this special time when, technically and also visually, it's beautiful for the project.

Simply, when the project is realized, this happens, when everything harmoniously fit together, like in the case of the Reichstag, we defeated

Chancellor Kohl.

AMANPOUR: OK. Hold on a second, this was a big enemy of your installation.

CHRISTO: Permission, yes. I'll tell you the story.

AMANPOUR: To wrap the Reichstag.

[14:20:00] CHRISTO: The Reichstag. All these project, we need to get permission. And that project started in 1972. It was refused three times.

And finally, in 1995, we did the project, but that happened, the incredible thing, this is the first time, decision of the work of art was decided by a

full debate of the parliament of the nation.

AMANPOUR: Which is great.

CHRISTO: Yes. I think our project is very political, but the real politics.

AMANPOUR: One of the most beautiful ones is the Pont-Neuf in Paris, the bridge.

CHRISTO: Yes, OK. That project also deal with - I met Jeanne-Claude in Paris. We make love in Paris. And I returned to Paris.

AMANPOUR: You met Jeanne-Claude, your wife, in Paris?

CHRISTO: Yes, Paris in 1958. We did that, beautiful, in September, autumn of 1985.

AMANPOUR: And did you get easy permission or did it take a long time?

CHRISTO: No, that was another incredible pay. The Mayor of Paris was Mr. Chirac, who later became president - the president of France. Because the

bridge is a national treasure, it was controlled by the state of France, Mr. Mitterrand. Mr. Chirac and Mitterrand do not talk each other. And

we needed an enormous effort to convince them to agree on one thing.

AMANPOUR: That's just amazing. You got them to agree on that.

CHRISTO: Yes, but -

AMANPOUR: The very conservative mayor of Paris and the socialist president of France.

CHRISTO: Exactly. That was really very difficult. It took us - between '75 and '85, three times the permission was denied.

AMANPOUR: So, I need to ask you then because you describe yourself as a Marxist, or at least you came from a Marxist background. You're not a

capitalist. You say that over and over again. And you fled Bulgaria during the communist rule.

CHRISTO: Yes. Actually, fled Czechoslovakia because I'm also Czech.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, anyway, it was bad there, under the Soviet hammer, what does it say to you? What does that politics say to you? The politics of

un-freedom and the politics of being a refugee because all of that is happening today.

CHRISTO: I was a refugee. I was stateless for 17 years, but not like these refugees. Here, refugees are Syrian or Afghani. I was with no


AMANPOUR: For 17 years.

CHRISTO: And I travelled around the world even with stateless passport. No, really, I was 21 when I escaped. Probably I was unconscious, totally

eager to do what I do in art. I was art student already at an art academy.

And, still today, I will not move one millimeter of my freedom. This is why everything I do is myself. Nobody ask us to wrap the Ponte Neuf.

Nobody ask us to do the Gates. Nobody ask us to do the Mastaba here. We. And for that thing, you need to have total freedom.

AMANPOUR: So, you're pretty hard line when it comes to freedom. You won't compromise at all.

CHRISTO: No, not at all.

AMANPOUR: So, does that mean you never do commissions?


AMANPOUR: Never done a commission.

CHRISTO: Never done a commission. I do what I like to do. And this is why when the project is realized, happens, so powerful because nobody

expects it. It's not prepared by somebody, some group of people, some foundation or some influential people. And, of course, in the last 50

years, we realized only 23 projects, but we failed to get permission for 47 projects.

AMANPOUR: So, in 50 years, you've done 23 and they said no for 47.

CHRISTO: But that is, again, if you're an architect, that is not bad ratio.

AMANPOUR: Not bad.

CHRISTO: Yes, but this is that. You should see what our projects, they are very much close to architecture or urban planning. The ratio is not -

they're not like a painting a sculpture.

AMANPOUR: You are an incredibly active, energetic, happy man.

CHRISTO: I love to be happy because I love - first, I like to be healthy. This is the most important. And this is why I have enjoyed non-stop - for

example, I will never accept to do a retrospective. I don't like to do anything to looking back on my life. I like to do new things. There are

two new projects I cannot tell you because -

AMANPOUR: Oh, come on, tell me.

CHRISTO: No, I cannot tell you.

AMANPOUR: Come on!

CHRISTO: No, no. It'll make you excited. And this is why it's so exciting.

AMANPOUR: You could break it on CNN. You know, breaking news.

CHRISTO: When it happens soon, we have a breaking news.

AMANPOUR: Well, I will definitely come and visit it because I'm mesmerized by your projects. Mesmerized! Would you ever go back to Bulgaria? You've

never been back.

CHRISTO: Never been back. Again, really, at the end of my - not end, I'm 83 years old. I only go to places where the people like my work.

AMANPOUR: But you don't think they'd like it today.

CHRISTO: Who buy my work. Because buy my work, I have money to build these projects. I'm not German, but the big project we did in Germany.

I'm not Japanese, we did project in Umbrellas. I'm not Australian, we did project in Australia. I have nobody who is interested in my work in

Bulgaria. Why should I go to Bulgaria?

I spend time in United Kingdom, in Germany, in Switzerland, in Italy. I have many collectors, many people who care about my work.

AMANPOUR: So, you're not very sentimental.

CHRISTO: No, no, not sentimental. I'm sentimental about my work.

[14:25:02] AMANPOUR: And what do you think Jeanne-Claude would have thought of this because you created this together?

CHRISTO: Everybody asks me, but the most important thing, Jeanne-Claude was a very critical person. She was almost argumentative. And you can see

in a film of Maysles that we're fighting, we're screaming, almost like divorcing. But she was - things I miss now because she was absolutely non-

stop critiquing how to do the project. Yes.

And that is the issue. It's so important because the material and the way how the project is done is not decided in the studio. It is decided

between the learning and the real world. We do actually one-to-one life scale of the project, very small size.

AMANPOUR: Look at you two. I mean, honestly. You really, really, really put it all out there, didn't you? But how interesting that she was your

fiercest critic and that made the work the best that it could be.

CHRISTO: Yes. Of course, arguing how to be built, how to be installed, what color, how to do, hire people, all that because the hiring the right

people is right away. Sometimes we hire wrong people. We need to fire them. It's not something that comes right away. It's a slow process. And

this is probably the most important, to create the team who do the work.

And we are not engineers. We're not specialists. We need to have the resources to find the right people to advise us.

AMANPOUR: Christo, thank you so much for coming in. Thank you for giving us this tour through this amazing lifetime of art.

CHRISTO: Thank you. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me

on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.