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U.S. Says Iran is "No Doubt" Behind Tanker Attacks; Iran Threatens to Exceed Limits on Uranium Stockpile and Enrichment Levels; Hamid Baeidinejad, Iranian Ambassador to the U.S., is Interviewed About Iran-U.S. Confrontation; William Burns' New Book, "The Back Channel"; William Burns, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, is Interviewed About Iran; Protests in Hong Kong Continues; Hong Kong Protesters Demand Extradition Bill be Fully Withdrawn. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 17, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We always have the authorization to defend American interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: As Iran threatens to break out of uranium limit set by the nuclear deal, America considers a full range of options in response to
attacks on shipping. Where will this current standoff end? Iran's ambassador to Britain joins me for an interview, and top U.S. Diplomat,
William Burns, weighs in.
In Hong Kong, protesters won't back down even after the chief executive us is us is spends the controversial extradition law, they want her to resign.
I'll speak to prodemocracy activist, Nathan Law.
Also, America's poet laureate dives into her family's past and America's troubled racial history. Our Walter Isaacson talks to Tracy K. Smith.
Welcome to the program everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The Trump administration says there is "no doubt" Iran is behind last week's tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. And as a leading Republican
senator threatens to "fire and fury" of the U.S. military could be unleashed, the saber rattling is getting harsher on both sides.
America's European allies have yet to see credible evidence to support those U.S. claims. And the owner of one of the tankers, the Japanese
tanker, questions the American account of what happened. But President Trump leaves little doubt where he stands.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONARL TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn't explode and
it's probably got essentially Iran written all over it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Today, Iran ratchet up the tension on its side, threatening to exceed limits on both the size of its uranium stockpile and the enrichment
levels set by the 2015 nuclear deal, while still staying well below the purity levels needed for weaponization.
Here is Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran's atomic energy spokesman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEHROUZ KAMALVANDI, SPOKESMAN, ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION OF IRAN: Out of overpassing 3.67 enrichment is an action which has been foreseen for the
second phase. So, we have warned the Europeans that the time is running out. So, we have only 20 days to start with this measure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, it is all part of a policy announced by President Hassan Rouhani to reduce its commitments to the deal while not fully withdrawing
from it. So, it is a dangerous dance. And as tensions rise across the region, it could all too easily escalate into a violent confrontation.
The British foreign secretary stuck close to the Trump administration's analysis saying it is "almost certain that Iran was responsible for the
attacks." Now, with an exclusive look into how Iran is dealing with its side of the confrontation, Hamid Baeidinejad is Iran's ambassador to
Britain, and he's welcomed back to the program.
Thanks for being with us.
So, where do you think this is going? Clearly, just in the last 12 to 24 hours, both your side have stepped up confrontation and the Americans have,
HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: We have not stepped up confrontation because the decision that we announced around 40 days ago
that if, in fact, the other parties to the JCPOA would not live up with their obligations Iran would decide to a little bit suspend some of its
measures under the JCPOA was clear to everybody.
Now, we have 20 days to rectify the situation. Otherwise, Iran, as promised, would, in fact, suspend some of the measures that, in fact, are
enshrined in the JCPOA but we have prepared ourselves. And as it was announced today, maybe within 10 days from now, Iran would be at the
situation that can speed it up its program and we would be passing the limit designed in the JCPOA.
So, it's not a confrontation. Today, we announced 40 days ago and we have been waiting for other parties to rectify their commitments.
AMANPOUR: Correct. But the thing is, it hasn't yet worked. I mean, you did this 40 days ago. You took an action around that time. And you were
hoping that the Europeans would somehow persuade the United States that there must be some ability for you to have the economic side of the
equation to [13:05:00] your nuclear commitments. That hasn't happened. The United States, if anything, is more determined to squeeze Iran
economically. The Europeans haven't been able to.
Just there, your atomic energy spokesman saying the 20-day threat to increase stockpiles and the level of enrichment is to hopefully get Europe
to do something about it, but they're not. So, are you playing with fire?
BAEIDINEJAD: There is a confusion maybe here. We announced 40 days ago that if, in fact, we have decided to suspend two of the measures designed
in the JCPOA. We are not committed anymore to the level designed by the JCPOA. But we said that we give you 60 days if you rectify the problems
and you would -- in fact, implement your commitments, Iran can roll back, in fact, these suspensions.
AMANPOUR: But the fact is that they're not. The Europeans have not been able to. Do you know something I don't know? And the Americans continue
to ratchet up their pressure. What you have just done has been met with the following response from the United States, "That the plans to exceed
these internationally agreed curves amounts to nuclear blackmail and must be met with increased international pressure." That's from the White House
So, my question is, are you playing with fire here? Because you know where they stand and you know where the Saudi Arabian stand and where the UAE
stands. They want to squeeze you and it looks like you are playing into their hands.
BAEIDINEJAD: These policies by the others are not new policies. We have mentioned that we have an agreement, which is the JCPOA. Otherwise, either
we would implement this agreement in full, all parties are committed to their obligations or we would be facing the partial agreement if you agree
that there is a partial agreement, Iran is, in fact, entitled to suspend some of the measures until the situation is clear.
So, the question is that it's very funny that the United States and this administration, which has characterized the JCPOA as the worst agreement in
the history. Now, they are expecting that Iran would be fully committed with this agreement. If it is a funny agreement, if it's an -- the worst
in -- ever made in the history, how come that you expect Iran would be fully committed to this agreement?
So, we have announced very clearly that either you have full commitment to the agreement or as designed in the JCPOA itself, this agreement can be
AMANPOUR: All right. OK. So, that's all pretty bureaucratic. Now, here is the real stuff. There are attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, in
the Gulf of Oman. You are being blamed for it. Iran is being blamed for being responsible for it.
And let us just take your own government's words. Your own foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has said that, "We will respond" to what he calls,
"economic warfare against us." In the past, President Rouhani and your top officials have said that, "We could strangle the flow of Persian Gulf oil
from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and the UEA if the U.S. embargoes Iranian oil." You said that. You said you're in control of the
Strait of Hormuz and you can stop it. So, now you are being blamed for stopping it. This is, in fact, what Secretary of State Pompeo has said
just this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO It's unmistakable what happened here. These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping on the freedom of
navigation with the clear intent to deny transit through the Strait. This was on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz. There is no doubt.
The Intelligence Committee has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it but the American people should rest assure we
have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what do you say to that?
BAEIDINEJAD: I have two points. First of all, is that they are misusing statements made before by our president and the foreign minister. We said
that if Iran would not be allowed to export oil from the Persian Gulf, we would take measures to ensure that other countries also cannot do the same,
but we are not at that stage yet.
AMANPOUR: So, but you're getting to that stage because there's (INAUDIBLE) sanction all of your oil exports.
BAEIDINEJAD: Sanction is a different matter.
AMANPOUR: I mean, squeeze them, prevent them, stop, zero.
BAEIDINEJAD: So, if it would be zero and we not able to export our oils, transport it from the region, that would be a new situation and we have the
courage to announce very clearly that we would not allow the others to do the same. But we're not at that stage.
The second point is that, in fact, the Americans are telling us that they have assessments, they have intelligence. The question is that what this
assessment is based on [13:10:00]. You can have your assessment, I have your assessment, the people on the streets have their own assessments.
Assesment is reliable when it is based on evidence, on the facts.
We have not been facing with any kind of evidences or facts until now and we would be delighted as the experts, international experts have called for
the United States that they would show and they would, in fact, publish the complete footage of what they have before the incident, after the incident
and not really to publish only a distorter (ph).
AMANPOUR: So, you're talking about this video that we're going to play right now, which President Trump publicly spoke about, saying that, of
course, it's about -- of course, it's you. Basically, this is -- this boat is meant to be your military, your navy, going to collect an unexploded
mine of some sort on that boat and then to dash off with it.
Now, you deny it. They say it's you. Answer me this question, Ambassador. You are defense secretary on the supreme counsel with Ayatollah Harmony Ali
Khamenei (ph) says, "We are in charge of security in the Persian Gulf and around the Straits of Hormuz. We can maintain security." If that's the
case, who is doing this?
BAEIDINEJAD: We are living in our region, this is part of our country, the Strait of Hormuz, and we are, in fact, entitled to keep the security of
this part of the world. But you know there are so many ships coming and going through this -- in fact, this part of the world and the first country
was very sensitive to security and peace of this part of the world is Iran, because we have the longest shores in the Persian Gulf.
So, we are very determined to help everybody if they have proofs, if they have intelligence or information, we would be delighted that those
information intelligence would be shared at the international level because this world is different from the older world when the big commerce can make
decisions behind the doors. Now, the media and the international research organizations and the international people have the interests, legitimate
interests, to know about the facts and factual events. So, we --
AMANPOUR: So, what was that boat doing alongside that tanker? And again, I mean, you haven't actually answered me. But do you know who might be
able to get through Iran's security apparatus there and because -- I mean, we've seen explosions on these tankers. That's a fact. Who could be doing
BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know. We should see who are the interests -- who have the interests to disrupt the security in the region. You know there
are countries in the region and beyond the region who have invested heavily billions of billions of dollars to draft the United States into a conflict
with Iran, a military conflict with Iran.
They are, in fact, very determined -- not to allow this project would be a futile project because they feel that maybe President Trump is not
determined to go as much as necessary. Maybe he doesn't want to go into a war. So, there are elements in the region and beyond that, in fact, they
would create a situation that the United States would be dragged into --
AMANPOUR: And you are talking about what foreign minister calls the BB&T IN, Belton, bin Salman, Bibi Netanyahu. That's what you're saying now,
BAEIDINEJAD: That is a very real scenario that we are facing.
AMANPOUR: So, here now is what a very influential Republican senator says, Tom Cotton, about the consequences of all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Going
back to President Washington and all the way down to President Trump, the fastest way to get the fire and furry of the U.S. military unleased on your
is to interfere with the freedom of navigation on the open seas and in the air. This is exactly what Iran is doing and one of the world's most
important strategic show points. The president has the authorization to act to defend American interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, they are using an internationally recognized statement of defending international peace and security and defending against the threat
to that. Where do you think this is headed?
BAEIDINEJAD: Unfortunately, we are heading toward a confrontation which is very serious for everybody in the region.
AMANPOUR: You believe a military confrontation?
BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know, a military or maybe partial military.
AMANPOUR: I mean, Cotton also say -- yes, partial. Cotton also said that potentially strike -- limited strike on a target in the Persian Gulf.
BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know about this strategy of the U.S. on this but I am sure that this is a scenario [13:15:00] that some people are very
forcefully working on it, that they would drag the United States into a confrontation.
I hope that the people in Washington would be very careful not to underestimate the Iranian determination that if they would be wrongly
entering into a conflict, they would be very sorry about that. Because we are fully prepared, determined by our government and people, our own
forces, that we would not be submitting to the will of the United States.
Let's -- let me tell you very frankly that, in fact, the United States is asking for negotiations. Negotiations should be done at the -- in fact,
the voluntary determination of the -- of all sides to a negotiation. You cannot force any country to enter into a negotiation. What we want from
the U.S. is to be a normal country, not interfere with the Iranian relationship, economic relationship with other countries. They are
threatening all countries in the region and beyond not to enter into economic agreement, trade agreement, and this is the kind of economic
terrorism that we rightfully, in fact, call it.
United States should not be pressures in Iran into negotiations. The United States should decide to be aside from the relationship between Iran
and other countries.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, finally, about a gesture of good will you could take. We're going to show some pictures here. You obviously see them.
You obviously see Richard Ratcliffe, maybe even his parents, who is camped outside your embassy, you had to leave there to come to see us today. He's
on a hunger strike because his poor wife is still in prison in Iran and she's also started yet another hunger strike.
We'll just flip to the next picture, because it is their daughter who turned five and she's just celebrated the last couple of days in Iran her
birthday. She's there because her mother is in jail and she needs to be close to her mother. When are you going to release them? They are
BAEIDINEJAD: We are not judged to say she's innocent or what. The judge has decided that she's, in fact, has been engaged in criminal activities
and she has been, in fact, has a verdict to be in prison for five years. We know that she is a mother. We are very sorry about this situation that
the daughter should suffer from, in fact, to be -- not being with the mother. We understand that the husband is frustrated, we understand that,
but we are facing with a situation that has been decided by the judiciary. We do not have any power over the judiciary.
We have been, in fact, relaying the concerns to the judiciary. And, in fact, this should be resolved through, in fact, the proceedings in the
court and we hope that there would be some positive decisions. But the question is that, in fact, adding to the pressure against Iran at this
time, because Mr. Ratcliffe has decided a very wrong timing to raise this. He feels that maybe we are facing with difficult situation in the Persian
Gulf, he feels there is, in fact, domestic policy which is very sensitive in the U.K. this week to select the prime minister of this country.
So, I am not sure that, in fact, this is a genuine effort. But we will do our best to help him and, in fact, this situation would be fully, in fact,
reviewed by the judiciary.
AMANPOUR: These are very, very tense times. Thank you for coming in, Ambassador Baeidinejad.
BAEIDINEJAD: Sure. Thank you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed.
And now, we turn to William Burns who is one of the most seasoned and accomplished American diplomats. His dealings with Iran span several
decades. He's been assistant secretary of state for near recent affairs, ambassador to Russia and Jordan. In 2013, when he was serving as deputy
secretary of state, he was the U.S. diplomat tasked with the secret back channel talks that did eventually lead to that nuclear deal in 2015. And
experienced, he chronicles in his new book, the Accli (ph) named "Back Channel."
Bill Burns, welcome back to the program.
WILLIAM BURNS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Christiane, it's good to be with you again.
AMANPOUR: You have been listening to the ambassador, Hamid Baeidinejad, talk about what is happening in the region and the -- he -- they believe
that it's wrong, the pressure that the United States has put on Iran regarding the nuclear deal, which you were instrumental in helping to
Give me where you stand on what is going on in the heat of this rhetoric now, as Javad Zarif's economic warfare by the United States being waged
[13:20:00] against Iran.
BURNS: I really am worried about the dangers of escalation right now. I mean, I would say, first, I believe Iran was responsible for the recent
attacks on tankers in the Gulf. I think those attacks were reckless and dangerous. But the fact you have to ask the question about responsibility,
the fact that the administration seems to be having such a difficult time persuading some of our closest allies of our case is a mark, I think, of
how much our credibility has suffered and how much we have isolated ourselves since President Trump made the really unfortunate decision to
abandon the comprehensive nuclear agreement.
So, I worry right now that hard-liners on both sides in Washington and in Tehran are beginning to climb up a very unsteady escalatory ladder.
AMANPOUR: So, where do you think this is heading? I mean, you say escalatory. I mean, you could describe it as a real massive vicious cycle
is in effect right now with the U.S. doing one thing, the Iranians doing one thing and back and forth, back and forth.
It is possible that accidentally or deliberately there could be a military confrontation. Given that you've been there before, in all your years, how
do you think that will play out? I mean, a full-scale invasion of Iran? A strike in the gulf? What do you think is going to happen?
BURNS: Well, I mean, the Middle East, as you well know, Christiane, is kind of land of unintended consequences. I don't think President Trump has
any intention of a military intervention and invasion of Iran.
But, you know, it's a world in which, especially, in the gulf, which is crowded and combustible right now, you can have inadvertent collisions,
especially when the two sides are not talking to one another and those collisions can escalate very quickly.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to use your experience and flesh out why you think Iran was responsible? I mean, you heard the questions that I asked the
ambassador about them having responsibility for security there. But the German foreign minister says that whatever has been said by the U.S.
administration does not amount to significant and determinative evidence.
You have Russia and the rest of the Europeans calling for calm and de- escalation and not be, you know, too trigger happy. And you have doubts being raised by, you know, analysts about the speed with which the U.S. is
now prepared to say, "Well, our intelligence shows this." What is it that makes you say that it is them? And if it's them, who is it?
BURNS: Well, I mean, I don't have access to, you know, the information that the administration has right now. But this does fit a pattern of past
Iranian activity. And I think that the doubts you hear from some of our closest allies are less a reflection of the credibility of the evidence,
which I'm sure they'll see in quite a bit of detail over the coming days, and more their doubts about direction of American policy and getting
wrapped into the kind of, you know, dangerous escalation I mentioned before.
What, you know, a lot of our closest allies see right now is an American strategy that says it's about coercive diplomacy, about which so far has
been all about the coercion part and not much at all about the diplomacy part, and that raises real doubts in their minds. And it puts us, I think,
in a much more difficult position taking the obvious step, which any administration would do right now, is to try to build some international
consensus to deal with threats to freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Pompeo cast this, a little bit like you were just saying, in terms of past behavior. I just want to play what he said over
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: You have to put it in the context of 40 years of behavior inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is consistent with how they have
behaved previously. The last 40 days, we have seen a number of activities, not just this past two, but four other commercial ships which challenged
the international norms of freedom of navigation. The United States is considering a full range of options.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: OK. So full range of options, we've sort of discussed what might happen and the accidental happening. But this business of putting it
in context of the past 40 years. Play that out for me. You know, what exactly does that mean? Because, actually, for the -- for about two or
three years, it seemed that there was a much closer cooperative relationship during the height of the nuclear deal.
BURNS: Sure. And especially on the nuclear issue, which didn't solve all the problems between the United States and Iran. But at least with regard
to the most immediate risk that, you know, Iran's actions pose, we and the rest of the international community were able to reach a comprehensive
agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
As I said, it wasn't the ultimate solution to, you know, dealing with threats posed by Iranian behavior but it was a significant step forward.
And as I said before, I think abandoning [13:25:00] that agreement has, you know, led to a whole series of foreseeable consequences as Iran, which I
think, first, in the first year after, you know, President Trump decided to bail out of the agreement, was trying to wait out the administration. And
now, it's trying to demonstrate the, you know, we can inflict damage on the Iranian economy, they're trying to demonstrate they can inflict damage on
our interests and the interest of our friends. And that's a very dangerous cycle to be in.
AMANPOUR: It really does seem very, very dangerous, indeed. If you were advising the current administration, I mean, what would you say? I mean,
we've heard their -- you know, their supporters like Senator Cotton talk about fire and furry, we've heard Pompeo talk about all options on the
table. What would you advise right now? And again, this is all happening in the context of the fake evidence that lead to the Iraq war.
BURNS: Well, that's backdrop against which a lot of people are going to judge this. And I think what is important now is to try to find -- you
know, it's the classic diplomatic challenge, try to find an off ramp which helps you to begin to de-escalate the situation.
I think for the United States, in terms of our strategy, we have to get realistic in terms of what our goals are. You know, pressure can't be an
end in itself, it has to be connected to some realistic ends. And otherwise, I think hard-liners become mutual enablers in both capitals. We
have to be able to quietly send signals that, you know, we're prepared to talk seriously about a range of issues. It would help a lot in trying to
find and move down that off ramp if Iran were to take some of the decisions such as you mentioned at the end of your last interview.
In other words, for purely humanitarian reasons to release, you know, some of the people, both Britains and Americans, the Chinese-American graduate
student from Princeton who is being held unjustly in Tehran. To begin to take steps like that. There are other issues that we could talk about,
whether it's with regard to conflicts in Afghanistan or in Yemen.
But I think it's really important to try to look cold-bloodedly at the dangers of escalation and take some quiet steps so that the situation at
least doesn't get any worse. So, that Iran isn't going to take further steps to pull away from the nuclear agreement, isn't going to conduct
further attacks in the Gulf, and the United States begins to consider, you know, the virtues of not adding to the pressure that we're building right
now. That might create a circumstance in which you could not only deescalate but begin to talk quietly about some of these really, really
AMANPOUR: I mean, you don't sound very optimistic that that's going to work. So, I just want to quickly ask you briefly now what you read of the
real intent coming out of allies in the Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, they all say, "We don't want war but we're really --" you know, by
the same token, they're happy to ratchet up the strangulation noose.
BURNS: Yes. I think there are a lot of cheerleaders right now for hard- liners in Washington, cheerleaders in the region, who aren't interested so much in seeing a better nuclear deal but are interested in producing either
the capitulation of this Iranian regime or its implosion.
And, you know, no one needs to convinced of the -- you know, the threats and the danger of this Iranian regime poses. But I think neither of those
goals, implosion or capitulation are realistic ones. And until we get more realistic about our ends, I think the means we're employing, maximum
pressure, can contribute to a dangerous escalation.
AMANPOUR: Well, we are certainly going to keep watching this. Thank you so much for your invaluable perspective, Bill Burns.
And we turn now to another tense confrontation in Hong Kong where massive protests continued for the second weekend. Organizers claim 2 million
demonstrators took to the streets. Chief executive, Carrie Lam, promised to suspend the controversial extradition bill with China and she apologized
for "government shortcomings." But protesters want more. They are demanding the extradition bill be fully withdrawn.
Joshua Wong was a leader of Hong Kong's Democracy Movement and he is now free to join the protest. He was released from prison today after serving
one month of a two-month sentence for his part in the city's last major demonstrations, that was back in the fall of 2014. And in his first public
comment, Wong joined the core for a complete end to the extradition bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSHUA WONG, HONG KONG PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Suspension to evil is not enough. We are asking for withdrawing the proposal. In the next few
weeks, massive globalization march and demonstration will happen again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: My next guest, Nathan Law, is a close friend of Joshua Wong and fellow pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. He was also a legislature
there, though the government removed him from his post.
Law greeted Wong on his release from prison and he tweeted this message, "Welcome back Joshua Wong to join our fight, #nochinaextradition."
Nathan Law, welcome back to our program.
NATHAN LAW, FOUNDING CHAIR, DEMOSISTO: Hello.
AMANPOUR: Well, so tell me where is this going? Carrie Lam, she has admitted short comings. She has suspended the extradition bill. And the
protestors say they want more. What is it exactly apart from a full withdrawal of the bill do you want?
LAW: Well, I'll demand very clear first we want her to retreat the bill instead of suspending it because she once said that in her press conference
that the bill was good, the bill was with good intention and it is a possibility that it could be reintroduced. So for us, asking her to
retreat that is the safest solution for us.
And secondly, we want a full investigation on the police brutality on Wednesday, because the police were using way too much brutality and forces
towards the peaceful protectors.
They aim at the protestors head with the rubber bullet and used tear gas to them. So these are actually lethal when you use in this way. So it's
important for us to fight back justice not only for the bill but for the people who were injured in that incident.
AMANPOUR: Let me just play what Carrie Lam said this weekend. This was as she was suspending the bill. And then I'll play what Joshua Wong, your
colleague there has said.
CARRIE LAM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF HONG KONG: I have to admit that our explanation and communication work has not been sufficient or effective.
The government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise.
Restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society. I want to stress that the
government is adopting an open mind to heat comprehensively different views in society towards the bill.
WONG: Hong Kong people, we will not get silenced under the suppression of President Xi and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Carrie Lam must step
down. Otherwise I believe in the next few weeks before the 22 anniversary of Hong Kong (inaudible) of sovereignty.
More and more Hong Kong people, not only one million or two million people will come and join our fight until we get back our basic human rights and
AMANPOUR: So there you have the two sides clearly, clearly saying exactly what they think. Do you think is it because you all think this is a real
existential test for Hong Kong that if this bill somehow gets through, it's kind of the end of Hong Kong as we know it?
LAW: Well, definitely. The threat of the bill indeed poses a lot of threats to every single one of us. In 2015, there were five book sellers
in Hong Kong where a cross border adopted back to main land China from Hong Kong and from Thailand and they were forced to confess on T.V. and we all
consider it as a political suppression.
And if this law is passed, then this kind of cross border adoption will be legalized and normalized. And Hong Kong people like not only political
(inaudible) but reporters reporting sensitive news in China, preachers that preach in main land China or train the men in churches and so , you name
These people could be extradited because communist party don't like them. So it's a very important bill that we must stop it.
AMANPOUR: And let me ask you because you heard what Joshua said, that he is going to leave if he doesn't get an assurance that this bill is history
and that it's fully withdrawn.
And he says -- and he reminds us that very soon it'll be the 22nd anniversary of the famous one country two systems, the handover from
British sovereignty. Do you think that there are people who are talking about a mass (inaudible)?
And remember obviously for our viewers, that Hong Kong is a massive financial hub and a big hub as you mentioned for journalists who are based
in that region, many foreign journalists as well. Is there talk now of people -- young people particularly abandoning this city state?
LAW: Well, I think it is -- on the contrary, there have been a lot of people, more than millions people marching down the street. A majority of
them are young people. They come out not because they are losing hope but they are like having hope to safeguard the city and they wanted to
safeguard the liberty and freedom of their hometown.
So I think -- well I can see a lot of energy and we're forward looking my set of thumb (ph). So I think that the -- the -- the (inaudible) and
prosperity of Hong Kong; if we keep going, keep fighting for that, this think could be happening in the future.
AMANPOUR: OK. And then what do you -- what do you expect because the United States obviously has a role. It also has a special relationship
with Hong Kong and the U.S. secretary of state said that President Trump will bring up this issue with President Xi at the G20, which is not so long
from now. What -- what do you think the U.S. can do? What do you hope President Trump will say?
LAW: Well, actually the -- the -- America has a pervasive interest in Hong Kong. There are more than 85,000 U.S. citizens living in Hong Kong and
then more than 1,300 companies and is -- it has a very strategic importance towards the -- well foreign policy in (ph) Asia in Hong Kong for U.S.
So I think while protecting Hong Kong's rule of law and autonomies also beneficial for U.S. in preserving its interest so that if Xi Jinping and
like President Trump is going to meet in -- at G20, I expect that President Trump is not only talking about trade or economy.
They will talk about values and they will talk about freedoms and rule of law. And these things are the -- well the -- the -- the reasons why Hong
Kong could be very successful in terms of being a financial hub and being one of the most advanced international city.
AMANPOUR: All right. Nathan Law, thank you so much (inaudible). We also will continue to watch this issue. And our next quest is the official poet
laureate of the United States. Tracy K. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for "Life on Mars." A collection of poems on science and religion.
And she's been the face of American poetry every since 2017 when she became poet laureate. Her new book, "Wade in the Water" brings us back to earth
and explores American history through and extraordinary series of letters exchanged between slaves and their owners in the 1800s. And she sat down
with our Walter Isaacson to talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNNI CONTRIBUTOR: You've written extraordinary memoir, "Ordinary Light" in which you talk about your childhood, your background.
How does that relate to your poetry?
TRACY K. SMITH, AUTHOR: I think a lot of the stories that I tell in "Ordinary Light" and some of the questions about family and individuality
live in my poetry but they came out differently in prose.
I felt like telling the story of family in prose was an act of persistence peeling back different layers that in my poems I'd managed to leap away
from. It also allowed me or even maybe forced me to develop a vocabulary for talking about race that I hadn't as a poet found.
And faith was also part of my upbringing. And "Life on Mars" there's some questions about God and the Afterlife that come in but I wanted to go back
to the very beginning and think of how did God become a part of my life.
How have I wrestled with -- with that relationship and what does it tell me about who my parents were and who I am. So the memoir answered -- answered
those same questions differently for me.
ISAACSON: So let's start with your father who's a NASA engineer but growing up black in the segregated south before then. Right. And then you
write "Life on Mars" we (ph) seems to have some resonance from what he's doing.
SMITH: My father was born in 1935 in rural Alabama. He left the south in the early 50s to join the Air Force. And he always told us he left because
the south was too hot but I think that there were other factors at play as well. He was somebody who had a huge curiosity about the world and .
ISAACSON: And about the universe.
SMITH: And about the universe. Yes, a really systematic mind. She was an engineer by training. After he left the service he took a civilian job,
which allowed him to work on the optics for the Hubble space telescope.
And that was something that I think delighted him because he had been a science fiction lover growing up and to be working on a tool that would
show us as he described it, how the universe itself was born was something that filled him with immense delight.
ISAACSON: And tell me about your mother and the influence she had.
SMITH: My mother was my dad's generation. They were born within a year of one another. And she had been a librarian and a school teacher before I
was born. And I knew her as a stay at home mom. Her faith in god was something that really drove our family and I think gave us a sense of hope
Getting through it was hard. It was always a matter of let's get together and let's pray about it. And she was also somebody who was really funny,
who loved meeting new people and listening to their voices and stories and who would delight us with stories of her own upbringing in the south
together. I think my parents really gave my siblings and me a sense of anchoring that stretched from, you know, the spirit realm and the sense
that we belonged to a creator who loves and cares about us, and the sense of the world as something that was structure and orderly and that we needed
to work hard to contribute to.
ISAACSON: Was there any tension between your father's view of the universe as a scientist looking at it through the Hubble Spacecraft and your
mother's view of the universe look at it from a religious and spiritual viewpoint?
SMITH: It seems like there should have been, right? You know, we think about these two things as really different from one another, but my dad had
this really beautiful way of synthesizing these perspectives, and I remember the question of, you know, creation versus evolution would always
come up in conversations when they were talking about faith with somebody who wasn't a believer. And what I would say, you know, the bible talks
about time in heavenly terms and earthly terms, and I would love to believe that God's sense of seven days might be millions or billions of years on
Earth, and in that time evolution is probably something that could happen. And instantly I felt free. I felt free from this burden of having to say,
well, if I love God, then I have to turn my back on these other things that feel real to me. He said, "no, you don't." The universe is huge and
there's a space in it for a lot of connections we might not think are logical.
ISAACSON: And your more recent book, "Wade in the Water", is about thinking about what it's like to be black in this world quite a bit.
SMITH: Yes. I mean, in some ways those very same questions - who are we? How do we relate to one another? And what do we do to one another - move
through, I think, most of my work, but in this book, race became the point of collision, and I think it's because we live in a moment where those
questions of difference have suddenly become so profound and unsettling.
SMITH: Yes. I mean, there's a sense of violence that's erupted around I think fear over this difference, and I felt suddenly like the history that
used to feel so far behind us was kind of catching up.
ISAACSON: How can poetry help solve that?
SMITH: Well, I love poems because they pull me out of my own perspective. No matter what I'm reading, it's a poem that's coming from someone else's
vocabulary and imagination. And poem's are something challenging to our own sense of authority, our own assumptions about the world, and if we let
them, they invite us into a larger and stranger view of experience and of what is possible. If you do that enough, you become better at accepting
other people on their own terms. You also become more curious about who they are and what experiences have contributed to their perspectives. And
I feel like, you know, that's one of the - one of the bridges that might get us from where we are to where we really ought to be.
ISAACSON: And one of the devices you use to do that is making poems out of a collage really of letters and entries and writings of African Americans
who were fighting the Civil War or others. How did - how did you come up with that idea and how does it work as poetry?
SMITH: Well, I was interesting in history because it felt to eerily present. And so, I just was looking back at historical documents trying to
learn. I had a question about what the experience of black soldiers and their families would have been in the Civil War. And so, I found all of
these primary documents - letters and deposition statements. And whereas I thought I was going to be reading them, kind of metabolizing them and
coming up with my own vocabulary for discussing them, I was overwhelmed by how moving, how coherent, how persuasive, poetic, and also alive those
voices felt. And I said it doesn't make any sense to overwrite these voices with my own. I should curate something. And so, that's where, you
know, the impulse toward a found poem began for me.
ISAACSON: And another thing you do in this book is I think you call them irracial (ph) poems in which you take a document, a document maybe we all
know, some words we all know, but erase a couple of words. And explain that to me, and I think you have an example, declaration -
SMITH: Sure, yes.
ISAACSON: - which I'd love you to, if you don't mind, read a little bit of.
SMITH: Yes. Well the eraser is an art form that's been around for generations. And I think it's interesting because it takes one document
that expects to live in a specific context and to be received by a specific audience and it tampers with that a little bit. It invites us to hear it
differently. And sometimes what you hear is a countercurrent. So I have a poem that is called "Declaration" that comes from the Declaration of
I was re-reading that document and I got to a place where I began to hear something and the grievance that, you know, the colonists had against
England that felt very similar to a grievance that contemporary blacks might have about the nature of America and American history, about the role
of black life in the country through the ages. And it felt very unsettling to me.
It's funny because when you're writing you're often saying, "OK, I want to be spoken to. I want to hear something that's not just me." But when that
happens, it can be really surprising.
ISAACSON: And so the poem is called?
SMITH: This poem is called "Declaration".
ISAACSON: As in the Declaration of Independence --
ISAACSON: -- but with erasers.
SMITH: Yes. Declaration. He has sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people. He has plundered our, ravaged our, destroyed the lives of our,
taking away our, abolishing our most valuable and altering fundamentally the forms of our. In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned
for redress (ph) in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. We have reminded them of the
circumstances of our immigration and settlement here, taken captive on the high seas to bear.
ISAACSON: And that's of course from the Declaration accusing the king of England --
ISAACSON: -- of things he's done and yet when you do the eraser (ph) it makes it more universal, something we live through every generation in our
SMITH: Yes. I think you're right. I mean I definitely hear grievances that feel very applicable. But I also understand that it tells me this is
a story that others have also lived in their way and shouldn't that foster a kind of compassion, a kind of understanding. Or couldn't it?
And I think that's a question that runs through many of these poems. And they're poems that are hard on this country because I love this country.
ISAACSON: Another of those poems that's striking in its political resonant strikes home to me because I'm from Louisiana. It's about Baton Rouge and
it's about an amazing photograph of an incredibly well-dressed African- American woman elegantly standing there as the police are trying to restrain the crowd.
Did you do that poem from looking at that photograph? And if so what was in your heart when you did it? And then maybe read us some of it.
SMITH: Yes, yes. I absolutely was looking at that photograph. It's by Jonathan Bachman, the photo journalist, and the woman in it is named Leshia
Evans and she was at a Black Lives Matter march and she's wearing this gauzy sundress on a day where there's like a gentle breeze. And so there's
this incredibly lyrical image of her with this - the wind blowing the dress back.
But on the other side of the photo there are a number of police officers in riot gear and so there's this really interesting imbalance between the
weight (ph) and the defense on one side. And somebody that seems to be standing in peace. I had an immediate gut-reaction to that photo.
But I wanted to look at it and see what else I could gather. I wanted to see if the photo could invite a different kind of vocabulary for the sense
of tension. And so this is what - this is what I found.
Unrest in Baton Rouge. Our bodies run with ink dark blood. Blood pools into pavement's seams. Is it strange to say love is a language few
practice but all, or near all, speak?
Even the men in black armor, the ones jangling handcuffs and keys, what else are they so buffered against if not love's blade sizing up the heart's
familiar meat. We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat, love. The heart sliced open, gutted, clean, love, naked almost in the everlasting street.
Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze.
ISAACSON: Wow. I read a really nice New York Times profile of you, and it said that after reading that poem - I think maybe it was in South Carolina,
somewhere - a group of police officers came up to you and said, "ride with us. See it from our side." Tell me about that.
SMITH: Yes. I read this poem in a community center in South Carolina, and that happened. I shared it. As I was reading the poem, I could see the
officers in the back and I was thinking, "I wonder what they're going to make of this poem." And afterward they came up and said, "you're welcome
if you come back, here's our card. You're welcome to come along with us and see how we do our job." I read a lot of different things in that
offering. It was kind. I think it was offered in a kind of mode of civility, but I think they were also saying it's a complicated job that we
do, there's a lot at stake, and we want to show you how we - how we take it. I wish I could have gone with them.
ISAACSON: Will you do it sometime?
SMITH: If I go back, yes.
ISAACSON: I mean, that's one of the things about poetry and your poetry in particular is that even though it's sort of tough at times, it has a
healing undercurrent to it. Do you feel that these poems could heal? Is that something you feel is a role of poetry?
SMITH: Well, I think poetry can do that. I think poetry teaches us to look at things in a more courageous way and to sit with them longer than
most other forms of communication or just two at this moment in human civilization. But even going back to that offering, I believe that we're
accountable to each other and I think I want to believe that's what those officers were saying. We're accountable to one another. We're accountable
to you and maybe your imagination could also be accountable to the world that we move through. And I think the wish of that poem is to say how can
we take this more seriously? Love is a huge enterprise and it exacts a lot of us.
It's challenging. It's frightening to say if I love you then I can't be happy or safe if you are not happy and safe. That's a big investment,
right? But I feel like it's something that we need to begin to contemplate. And I think poems at least when I'm writing them, they feel
like a little laboratory. You know, I can do these mental exercises, these thought experiments that might prepare me to live a little bit differently,
to live with a great sense of accountability.
ISAACSON: What did you learn from studying from Seamus Heany?
SMITH: I learned that poems can take on huge questions, questions about responsibility, and that poems can also bring us into greater contact with
the private, with the world that we know and belong to even if it's changing, even if it's gone. Poems can help us to touch base with the
people that we love even they're lost to time or distance. I also learned that being a poet can be a joyful enterprise even when you're writing about
things that are serious.
I remember when I was Seamus's student I gave him a book to sign at the end of the year, and it was my senior year of college. And so, my heart was
heavy. I didn't know what I was going to be doing exactly, but I know what I hoped to do. And so, I gave him the book and I was sitting there as he
signed it, and his inscription was a quote from Yates, and it said, "and wisdom is a butterfly and not a gloomy bird of prey," and I love that
because he was telling me king of buck up, kid. We're doing this -
ISAACSON: And do you think that's informed your -
SMITH: I hope -
ISAACSON: - because there's a lot of gloomy stuff that you have to write about, but you keep the butterfly alive?
SMITH: I hope so. I think about that a lot. I think about the what I now realize was kind of an ugly seriousness that I was taking and applying to
these questions. And I think Seamus's model is you can do this with an abundance of hope and joy and kindness and generosity and you can still get
to the hard stuff, too.
ISAACSON: Tracy K. Smith, congratulations on your new collection.
SMITH: Oh, thank you.
ISAACSON: And thank you for being with us.
SMITH: It's a pleasure.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: And Tracy K. Smith's latest version (ph) collection which is called "Wade in the Water" is actually available now.
Remember you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at Amanpour.com and you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter. That's it.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.