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Interview With ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan; Interview With Sister Of Emad Shargi, American Detained In Iran Neda Sharghi, Interview With NPR National Correspondent Sarah McCammon; Interview With U.S. National Security Council John Kirby. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 21, 2023 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello everyone, welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
The stamina to deliver justice. Karim Khan, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, talks to me about the warrant for Vladimir
Putin's arrest and holding Russia accountable for alleged war crimes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We are not going to back off our belief that accountability for these war crimes has got to be had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: As Xi tries to give Putin cover, I asked National Security Spokesperson John Kirby about the anti-American access growing and other
major foreign policy crises, like the American citizens being used as political pawns in Iran. My conversation with Neda Sharghi, whose brother,
Emad, is currently behind bars in Evin Prison.
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a 20-year-old drug that's actually used to save women's lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A crackdown on abortion pills in the United States. Hari Sreenivasan talks to NPR Correspondent Sarah McCammon.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The official civilian death toll from Russia's war in Ukraine now stands at 8,317. But the reality is that number is likely far, far higher. And as
thousands of families are torn apart by Putin's assault, Ukraine is calling for more allied to support, jets, ammunition. And the United States says
it's speeding up delivery of tanks and Patriot defense missile systems.
While concerns remain that so-called anti-American access of autocrats led by Putin and Xi Jinping might end up delivering Russia with much needed
lethal aid to use against Ukraine. Here is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We haven't seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia. But we have seen some signs
that this has been the request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing or by the Chinese authorities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Meantime, the U.S. secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, describes "massive death and destruction caused by Russian war crimes." The
State Department reports on human rights highlights in discriminate attacks on civilians and credible reports of executions, torture and rape.
The International Criminal Court has just issued a warrant for Putin's arrest over the case of forcibly deported Ukrainian children. My next
guest, Karim Khan, is the ICC's chief prosecutor and he is joining me now here in the studio. Welcome back to the program.
So, we've been talking over the year of this war, about the potential for accountability. On Friday, you issued this arrest warrant. Why now? What
was the timing?
KARIM KHAN, ICC CHIEF PROSECUTOR: Well, the timing, Christiane -- firstly, thank you for having me. The timing was determined by the independent
judges of the court. My job was to make a determination after the investigations. I submitted it to the judges, and the judges on Friday
decide themselves to make the announcement, that warrants have been issued, and my office had met the standard required after their careful review to
issue the arrest warrants that we all know about.
AMANPOUR: So, in this arrest warrant, is there actually a list of charges?
KHAN: In the arrest warrant, what's being done, the decision is secret. I can't speak about it because of witness protection issues and the variety
of matters, but what is clear is that the judge has found that we had established reasonable grounds to believe that President Putin and Madame
Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children, had committed war crimes regarding the deportation and unlawful transfer of children out of Ukraine
and into Russia, of course.
AMANPOUR: So, we have been reporting a lot about this, and it's been incredibly difficult because there's been very little actual tangible
evidence that -- as reporters, we can get to. And we know that there is a series of conflicting numbers of what's happened to these children.
For instance, the "New York Times" says, in general, some 2.9 million Ukrainians, that's nearly 3 million, have actually moved to Russia amongst
700,000 children since the war began. Children separated from their parents are often not known. The Yale study says, 6,000. Putin says 2,000 have gone
over there, openly admitting it. And Ukraine says perhaps 16,000 children have been forcibly deported, removed, kidnapped. What is the number you are
KHAN: Well, there is a secret decision of the judges. So, the classification. I can't speak to the details. But even if one takes the
number that's been postulate and by Russian Federation of 2,000, the Geneva Convention's made clear in their own statute, you can't deport civilians to
a foreign country. You must look after them if they are not safe, you move them to a safe part of Ukraine. If that is not possible, a neutral third
country. And it seems to be not just deportation to Russian Federation, they are met by, you know, strangers who now simply become adoptive
parents. And the children are not property. They are not the spoils of war.
AMANPOUR: So, you mentioned the other woman, as well as Putin, who has been, you know, issued with this arrest. She is, as you said, Maria Lvova-
Belova, who is Putin's designated children something official, who sits and talks to Putin quite often. And there's many times here, we have the
pictures there of.
And in this particular meeting last month, she basically thanked him outright for basically providing her with a child. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Did you adopt a child for Mariupol yourself?
MARIA LVOVA-BELOVA, RUSSIAN COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN'S RIGHTS (through translator): Yes, thanks to you. 15 years old. Now, I know what it's like
to be the mother of a child from Donbas. It's difficult, but we definitely love each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: When you see that, what does it make you feel?
KHAN: Well, how it makes me feel is a separate matter. But I go back to the basic point, children are not property of a country to be dispatched
based on politics or some ideological motives. It's regulated by law. And that law needs to be enforced. So, what we have done is followed the
But you have put forward one example that this is not an allegation that is being denied, this is something that, for whatever reason, seems to be a
badge of honor. And I think this is why, you know, we need the rule of law to make sure that there is accountability.
AMANPOUR: So, President Zelenskyy says it would be impossible to carry out such a criminal operation without the order of the top leader of the
terrorist state, he calls it. How involved -- you have -- you know, you have done something pretty incredible. You have essentially said that
command responsibility goes all the way up to Putin, and it's quite difficult to actually -- you know, to -- often to prove that in a court of
law. Again, are you -- you must be pretty sure that it goes all the way up, that the orders come from him?
KHAN: Yes, we have had a very diligent investigation. I'm quite aware of the different standards of proof required, and we've done to a higher
standard of proof, even for confirmation and beyond. And you've seen there directly, the acknowledge of what's taking place, a law was passed in which
-- by presidential decree, saying that Ukrainian children can be given Russian nationality and can be adopted by Russians.
And of course, at this stage in that war, it's been issued. Everybody is presumed innocent. It's absolutely right. But, you know, people who say
they are innocent normally go before judges and explain their case, and nobody has contacted me. I've reached out to the Russian Federation, there
is a wall of silence. I've reached out to the Ukrainians, there's very good cooperation. And I think I will keep knocking on the door of the Russian
Federation, but it's for them not to speak, you know, platitudes or invective, but to put forward the evidence that they say, you know, that
AMANPOUR: I mean, the fact of the matter is that Russia has not signed up to the ICC, nor is China, and, you know, I say that because Xi Jinping, the
president, has been there. And actually, nor is the United States. And we'll talk about that in a moment. But what actual results do we expect
from the issuing of this warrant? Who's going to -- what is the next step?
KHAN: Well, we have 123 state parties, most of the world, that are required and have agreed to cooperate with the International Criminal
Court. All those countries, all of Europe, Fiji, Latin America, most of Africa, will be required by a dint of their international obligations to
cooperate with the court. But the enforcement is a separate issue. We have to make sure that the law is not pedestrian. It moves to where the victims
And a statement of principle, that I've said from the beginning, choices have consequences. And one can't by a dint of official position or the
power of a bullet or the power of a gun, commit crimes with impunity. One needs to be disciplined or comply with the laws and customs of war that
have been emphasized since Nuremberg and the Balkans and Rwanda. And we need to show this is not just a paper exercise.
And I think this is where people need to reflect for a moment and see what happened to Milosevic, Karadzic, Miladic (ph), Charles Taylor, Hissein
Habre, the list goes on.
AMANPOUR: These are all, you know, leaders of criminal enterprises who were then issued indictments in the Balkans case at a different tribunal.
KHAN: Heads of state.
AMANPOUR: Heads of state.
AMANPOUR: Who -- he was actually -- he had been tossed out. But he was tried and many of his henchmen were convicted. Do you think, in the long
run, that will happen with Putin?
KHAN: Time will tell. But I think what we can use is the legal architecture that we have. The first point I always emphasize individuals
that have a grievance, that think they're unjustly accused, appear before justice and put your case, and trust in the process. That is the first
But whether or not individuals up here, we do have the option of confirmation hearings in absence. That's part of the architecture of the
AMANPOUR: But not trials in absentia?
KHAN: No. But we can, to a higher standard, we'll have to prove it in terms of the substantial grounds to believe is met, but it allows witnesses
to come to a courtroom, it allows evidence to be presented, to show the world that this is not a flaky exercise, this is a very -- the result for a
very diligent, forensic process that is trying to get to the truth.
AMANPOUR: So, you mentioned Fiji and other places, very unlikely that Putin will ever want to travel to there. However, right after you issued
this arrest, he got up and went to occupied Crimea, and then, for the first time, as far as we know, went to occupied Mariupol on the mainland of
I mean, what -- I mean, he was clearly filming his nose at you and the rest of the world. And then, very next day, he invites and receives the leader
KHAN: Well, you know, there's a number of different questions there. You know, in the occupied territories, by very definition, its where the power
of the tank is triumphing over other norms, taking place. In terms of China, you know, there is international politics that goes on. I mean, I
have been engaging respectfully with China for quite a while. But they have to make decisions, and they have said repeatedly, they are against acts of
aggression, and they believe in the rule of law.
But for the countries that have signed up to their own statue or believe that they want to implement the -- you know, the norms of Nuremberg, I
think this is an important moment because it's not polemics, it's based upon -- not even me -- it's based upon independent judges exercising their
responsibility. And these are judges in the past that have been very tough with the prosecution, rightfully so. They have actually said, the standard
has been met. And I think that is a powerful statement for the rule of law.
AMANPOUR: I asked you a little bit about the timing, and I just wonder, you now, are you trying also to stop the continue deportation and abduction
of these children? There's a terrible or terrifying report in the "New York Times" about what is happening in Kherson, at one point, when the Russians
were coming in, apparently doctors and nurses at the neonatal hospital basically said all these kids, these newborns, were too sick and too
fragile to be moved. They thought they were going to be deporting the newborns, they had come to get the newborns.
Are you trying to stop this abduction? Do you think it might stop it?
KHAN: I think what the president of the court or president of (INAUDIBLE) stated when he gave his original statement to the judges is one of the
factors militating in favor of the public statement from the judges was the act of deterrence and the ongoing allegations have been received. So, I
think it's very proper purpose of the law to act in real-time to make sure that lines are clear, that the stamina we have to ensure that justice is
felt is one which we are not going to exhaust us, but we are going to deliver.
And then, hopefully, others will see the message that they have choices. Stick to the law. And if you decide not to, don't think that crimes
committed in the daytime will allow one to sleep well at night.
AMANPOUR: Do you have other charges or other arrest warrants prepared, more charges against Putin or those around him?
KHAN: I think our job -- you know, we file anything before the judges of the court. I think our job is to make sure the investigation covers
incriminating and exonerating evidence equally. And I've said that Ukraine is a crime scene. And there's allegations of -- you know, myriad types of
allegations, sexual violence, infrastructure, torture, execution of soldiers that haven't seen. And I think all of that has to be thoroughly
investigated and we will not hesitate to make any necessary applications if the standards are met.
AMANPOUR: And finally, as I said, you know, one of the biggest and most powerful partners would be the United States. They are not signed up to the
ICC. President Biden hailed your decision as justified. There is, as you know, an internal debate. The Pentagon doesn't want to hand over evidence
because it might reflect eventually on trials against their own soldiers and military.
What do you expect from the United States at this time in support of this arrest warrant?
KHAN: I think these moments are bigger than the ICC or other institutions. It's a moment for every country, every public member particularly, but
every member state of the United Nations and every individual, every viewer watching to decide are we on the side of humanity were not. It's bigger
than all of us.
And nobody anywhere would be in favor of their child simply being snatched and taken away or their neighbor's child being taken away or somebody in
their country being snatched and taken away and given an education in a foreign language and a foreign passport. We shouldn't accept it. The law
shouldn't accept it. And this is why we need to coalesce, I think, around some basic principles. And I think that's one of the purposes of the
International Criminal Court. Let's not fixate on the structure or the court but the principles of humanity that should bind us together.
AMANPOUR: Karim Khan, thank you very much. Chief prosecutor of the ICC.
Turning now to Iran, which is celebrating Norwuz, which is an ancient Persian festival about the first day of spring. And at the White House, the
president, first lady hosted a reception last night for Iranian Americans, with Biden honoring the brave Iranian women fighting for freedom and
equality back home. That, of course, was sparked by the death of 22-year- old Mahsa Amini in the fall. And now, the U.N. confirms that she was killed by beatings from the Morality Police. They presented eyewitness accounts of
the Human Rights Council.
Biden also took the opportunity to send a message to the Americans, the Iranian Americans imprisoned in Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: All those who are desperate for change in Iran or anywhere in the world know that you are not forgotten and we will not
try -- stop trying to get you home. Returning wrongfully detained and people held hostage and particularly Americans and their families is a top
priority for this administration. We will continue our work to bring home all Americans still hostage that are unjustly detained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, three U.S. citizens are currently detained in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi. You'll
remember that we heard Siamak's urgent plea to the president on this show two weeks ago. Now, I'm joined by Emad's sister, Neda Sharghi, who is
joining me live from Washington.
Neda, welcome to this program. I wonder, first of all, how you respond to the president last night at the reception, which I believe you attended,
pledging that the return of all, you know, American citizens in Iran and wherever remains his top priority.
NEDA SHARGHI, SISTER OF EMAD SHARGI, AMERICAN DETAINED IN IRAN: Well, that's a pledge we have heard over and over again, and it's always nice to
hear and we always appreciate it. I do wish he had mentioned Emad, Morad and Siamak's name. I think that would've, you know, meant a great deal.
But, you know, yesterday Jeffrey Woodke was released from West Africa. So, we're always appreciative of him mentioning it. But, you know, saying those
words, unfortunately, isn't really enough. What do we need to do is find a time to sit and meet with our president and talk about how urgently we need
to bring these three innocent American citizens home finally from Iran.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to -- before I ask you what happened at the White House, I want to remind our viewers of the risk that Siamak Namazi took to
talk to us and to make this plea to the president through CNN. Here is what he told us a couple of weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIAMAK NAMAZI, AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN EVIN PRISON: Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to
finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So, this is a desperate measure. I'm
clearly nervous. Just like it's hard for you, it's very intimidating for me to do this. I feel I need to be heard. I don't know how long I have to wait
until the White House understands that we need action. I'm not just be told that bringing us out is a priority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you listen to that, you told me you listened to that interview regularly. Fueled by that, what did you do yesterday when you --
you know, you were in the White House. You were a stone throw away from the president who you really wish would hold a meeting with you all. Did you --
who did you meet?
SHARGHI: So, I do listen to that interview every day. I think to hear the voice of an innocent American citizen pleading, risking his life to plea to
the president is something that really that fuels me. And yesterday, it fueled me.
I had one goal yesterday in my mind, and that was to get a letter that I had written and prepared for President Biden asking him for one thing, the
same asked that Siamak had to please meet with us. Please meet with my family, Siamak's family and Morad's family. And I was successful in my
mission to get that letter to him. It was a fortuitous way of doing it, but I saw President Biden passing by and was able to grab his attention and put
this letter in his hand.
AMANPOUR: And I know that we've asked you to read some of it. So, can you read to us -- because you obviously didn't read it in front of you -- read
to us what you asked him.
SHARGHI: Sure. Dear President Biden. As the celebration of spring, of fresh starts of hope and optimism. Nowruz spent with you and your home is
particularly meaningful. Especially given my brother's situation. Mr. President, as you read this letter, I hope you can hear the utter
desperation in my voice. I am only asking one thing of you, please, I beg you. Please meet with me along with the family representatives of Morad's
and Siamak's families.
I live in Washington D.C. Only 2.9 miles from where you live. You are my president and we want you to hear about the people we love. We have asked
many, many times to meet with you. Siamak Namazi in his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour two weeks ago courageously risked retribution from his
jailers to publicly ask you the same.
We have seen the courage you displayed and the deals that brought home Mark Frerichs from Afghanistan, Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner from Russia, and
seven Americans from Venezuela. We know these deals were costly, but we know that there is no price we should now be prepared to pay to return and
innocent American to their family, their country and their freedom.
There will be time for punishing the people responsible and deterring future detentions, but the urgency of acting is serious. My brother came
close to dying in October and the riots and fires at Evin Prison, trapped in his cell and breathing in tear gas and smoke. He managed to make a
frantic call to me to say good-bye. Please meet with us, President Biden. Please. Respectfully, Neda.
AMANPOUR: So, Neda, do you have any idea of where this letter will lead? Do you -- have you received -- I know it was just last night, do you think
it's been read by the president?
SHARGHI: I have not heard anything. I asked him many times to please promise that he would read it, and he promised me. And I believe that given
the good kind person that he is, he will follow up and ask us to come and meet with him. I really do believe that.
I think if we don't -- you know, now I know that he has directly heard from us about the meeting. There is no doubt in my mind. I asked him, he heard,
he has the letter, he promised to read it. And so, I choose to believe that he will ask his team to reach out to us and meet with us.
AMANPOUR: And meantime, how is your brother, Emad? How is he? We heard the voice of Siamak and we could get a little bit of how he was. But it's very
difficult, obviously, to speak openly from inside and behind bars. What do you know about your own brother's condition?
SHARGHI: I know that they are desperate. That they are scared. And they feel like they've been forgotten. And I think they're a little confused. I
think they don't understand how this can be happening to them. You know, just for your viewers, when we say these are innocent Americans, I'm not
just using that word casually. They have been determined officially by the Department of State, by our secretary of state, as having been taken,
detained by the Iranians for one reason, and that is because they are Americans.
And so, imagine -- I mean, you heard Siamak say, they haven't even as much as jaywalked, and they have collectively been in Evin Prison for 18 years
for nothing. And I really don't understand how, you know, our government officials can go to bed every night knowing that they are leaving their own
citizens behind for doing nothing other than being good Americans.
AMANPOUR: You know, I spoke to Governor Richardson, the former governor New Mexico, who I know is helping your family specifically and doing what
he can to lobby, you know, for some movement. This is what he told me about this particular situation and what he would recommend to the president, you
know, in line with what you're asking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL RICHARDSON, PRESIDENT, RICHARDSON CENTER FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Yes, the president should meet with him and the president in the past with
Trevor Reed and the Griner's case and other families has met with him. I think the president should meet with him. I think it's the responsibility
of every president to try to get American hostages home regardless. And usually, if it's a prisoner exchange or it's some kind of deal, it's worthy
to do even though it may be unseemly. So, yes, I think the president should meet with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And, Neda, as you know, and you sort referred to some of them, an American was released from Nizer (ph) after the secretary of state, Tony
Blinken, visited the country. As Saudi-U.S. dual citizen was released from prison. Though he may so be barred from leaving that country. Do these
successes and the fact that President Biden made that statement and that promise publicly to you all at that event last night, does that give you
hope or what?
SHARGHI: You know, hope has to be followed by action. We have heard those words numerous times. We have had some hostages return home. But our loved
ones and Iran have not. And there is no good explanation for why not. We saw the successful release of Brittney Griner from Russia during war. And I
know there are options. The question is, why are we not using those options to bring home innocent Americans?
And so, yes, it gives me hope. But the proof is in the pudding. They need to be brought home. And, you know, I do want to say that I saw on social
media that the cast of "Ted Lasso" actually had a meeting with President Biden yesterday. That's what we want. You know, mental health is an
important issue. President Biden, you know, made a point of making sure everyone knows that it's an important issue by meeting with this cast,
sitting in his office, having a discussion, questions and answers.
You know, what is more important or what is just as important as having innocent Americans being detained around the world just because they are
Americans. I would hope that he would show it a priority and actually have us in that setting and allow us to discuss this.
AMANPOUR: Neda Sharghi, thank you so much indeed.
SHARGHI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And any day now, a judge in the United States is going to decide whether an abortion pill, which has been approved for years, should be
completely banned in the United States. If so, critics say that 40 million women would lose access to that drug, which is mifepristone, that's on top
of the nearly 25 million women already living in states with abortion bans.
Last week, Wyoming became the first U.S. state to criminalize the prescription and the sale of abortion pills with a maximum six-month prison
sentence. NPR Reporter Sarah McCammon joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the fate of reproductive rights in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Sarah McCammon, thanks so much for joining us.
So, explain for the audience, before we get into the legal and the political landscape is, ovary productive rights right now, the focus seems
to be on the pills that prevent pregnancy from taking hold. What do these pills do?
SARAH MCCAMMON, NPR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's for good reason. You know, medication abortion is the dominant form of abortion in
this country today. So, it is a big focus. And the way that the primary mechanism that's used in the United States in about 98 percent of
medication abortions, according to the Gut Micro Institute (ph) involves a two-drug protocol.
The first drug in that regiment is the one that's the focus of a lot of attention, the focus of a federal lawsuit. It's called mifepristone. Those
-- remember back to the year 2000, you're old enough to put to that and you may remember, are you 486? The debate over that pill. It's one and the
And it's a progesterone blocker. So, it blocks the female buddy from producing progesterone, which is essential for pregnancy to develop. After
that drug is taken, there's a second pill called misoprostol that help sort of being on essentially a chemically induced miscarriage.
But mifepristone, using that combination is more effective than any other protocol, most doctors would say. And it's, you know, the gold standard in
the United States. So, the fight over that pill is really -- it's a larger fight. It's about access to abortion, of course.
SREENIVASAN: Right. So, you know, so much of the attention was about where women could go to get a medical abortion whether which states were allowing
that. And now, if you are saying that this is how the bulk of abortions actually happen, through these pills, it seems strategically more important
to either outlaw or to protect access to that specific medication.
MCCAMMON: Right. And it's important to understand that the protocol, the drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration requires health care
provider to prescribe it, to consult either in person or now, thanks to some real changes in the last few years over Telehealth, with the patient,
make sure that she understands things like, how far along she is in the pregnancy, when her menstrual cycle -- where she is in her cycle. Because
those are important for a safe medication abortion.
But what's also happening is that through other means, sometimes through online pharmacies or online providers, people are also getting these pills
in other ways. Sometimes from overseas. The focus of the federal litigation that I've been covering lately is really this FDA approved protocol. And I
guess one other thing that's worth understanding is that if you are in a state that where abortion is illegal, you know, having a doctor prescribed
abortion pill is also going to be illegal.
But it's often easier for people to travel, you know, maybe across the state line and pick one abortion pill and soon after go back home. It might
be preferable for some patients do that than to schedule a surgical procedure. And then, also, just sort of expands the bandwidth, so to speak,
of what providers can offer their patients because if they're just limited surgical procedures, well, that requires rooms, that requires a certain
number of providers and it's just a different level of resources that's needed.
SREENIVASAN: So, if this was already illegal in the states or banning abortions outright, why was the -- why were the headlines about Wyoming
last week so big?
MCCAMMON: Well, the key difference with Wyoming is that this is the first state law, to my knowledge, that specifically targets abortion pills,
medication abortion. In states like Texas and many others where there's layers of abortion restrictions, prohibiting, you know, virtually all
abortions for almost any reason, medication abortion would fall under that. So, it would be included in a ban. But this Wyoming law specifically
focuses on abortion pills. And so, that's a big difference.
The other limitation that has existed even before the fall of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision last year is that some states will not allow
abortion pills to be prescribed over Telehealth. That is an option that groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists have pushed for and say, it can be done very safely if patients understand, again, where they are in their cycles
and so forth, and doctors provide adequate information.
But that limitation not allowing the prescription over Telehealth, I think, obviously makes it much hard to get these pills because then a patient
still has to go in-person to a provider and meet with them, much as they would for a surgical procedure.
SREENIVASAN: You and I are talking on a Tuesday morning, and there is a chance that this story could change by the time that our audience sees this
on the air. The case that you have been following, let's talk a little bit about that. What is the sort of core challenge here that's in front of a
MCCAMMON: So, last year, late last year, a group of anti-abortion health care providers and groups, so a coalition that opposes abortion rights,
came together and filed a lawsuit in Amarillo, Texas in federal court, challenging the FDA's approval of mifepristone, which, again, goes all the
way back to the year 2000. They're challenging some of the technicalities of how that drug was approved and some of the subsequent decisions by the
FDA that have followed. Things like making it easier to mail abortion pills and prescribe them remotely.
OK. So, the focus is asking this judge to overturn the FDA approval. These groups want -- if they -- you know, a full win for them would be seeing
mifepristone completely removed from the markets, through perhaps the nationwide injunction.
Another thing that's important to know about this specific case is that the judge involved, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is a Trump appointee. He was
appointed from Former President Trump. Has a long track record of conservative activism and alliances with conservative religious groups. He
worked for Christian legal firm in Texas for some time before he became a judge.
And just last year, he ruled in favor of a Christian father from Texas who sued challenging essentially access to birth control for minors through the
federal Title X Family Planning Program. This man said because of his Christian faith, he objected to his teenage daughters potentially having
the ability to get birth control without his knowledge or consent. And Judge Kacsmaryk sided with him.
So, this judge has, again, a long conservative record and a lot of people accuse the plaintiffs in this case of judge shopping and specifically
choosing his court, hoping for a favorable ruling from him. It remains to be seen exactly how he will rule, but if he were to issue a nationwide
injunction, that could either immediately or perhaps through a series of procedures that the FDA would have to follow lead to this pill becoming
much, much more difficult to get access to for abortion, if not impossible.
SREENIVASAN: If I'm understanding this correctly, it's not the safety of the pill. That's not being challenged, it's how with the FDA approved this
pill. Is that right?
MCCAMMON: It's kind of both. You know, again, I want to stress that major medical groups like the AMA, the American Medical Association, the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists point to years and years of studies. This drug has now been on the market in more than 20 years. It's
been used by some 5 million patients. And it has a very strong safety record according to the health experts.
But the plaintiffs, the antiabortion groups who brought this case are pointing to some of the side effects that do occur. And, you know, just the
sort of step back for a second, you're talking about a drug that induces essentially a miscarriage. So, there are side effects. There are cramping
and bleeding. I mean, that's kind of the intention of the drug, right? And some women experience more severe side effects than others. Some need
follow-up care from their doctors.
From my reporting, I understand that sometimes that's just reassurance. That this is normal. This is part of the process. And that might require
taking, you know, some ibuprofen or using a heating pad. Other people will have complications and will require additional follow-up care, sometimes
even a surgical procedure to complete the abortion. But all of that is sort of within a range of things that can happen and that health care providers,
OB/GYNs are generally prepared to deal with.
SREENIVASAN: Right. But let's talk about the politics of the case here. What's happening in the way that the case is being played out that gives
people on both sides of the aisle or of this issue great concern?
MCCAMMON: I think one of the most interesting things that happened in the federal courtroom in Amarillo last Wednesday, when I was there, is that the
judge and the attorneys for the plaintiffs, for the antiabortion groups, more than once talked about the fact that a group of 22 Republican
attorneys general from red states that have tried ban abortion or heavily restricted it since the fall Roe v. Wade have waited in this case. They
filed a brief amicus brief, arguing essentially that the widespread access to the abortion pill makes it difficult for them to enforce their state
laws as restricting or prohibiting abortion.
And I think that's significant because that is not directly related to the stated reason for this case. Again, this case about the FDA's approval.
It's about raising questions about that process and about the safety of the drug. But that argument is really about state federal relations,
enforcement of state abortion bans and to what extent the federal government should have to think about what the state laws say.
And the response in that courtroom from the lawyer arguing on behalf of the federal government was essentially, that's beside the point. You know, this
-- the question here is whether or not this drug is safe. It's been established and demonstrated as safe over many years. And what states
decide to do, how they decide to regulate it themselves is a separate question. So, I think that points of the real political fight over access
to abortion that underlies all of this.
SREENIVASAN: Can we also talk a little bit about the kind of the normal procedure for how these cases are placed on the docket or not? I mean, you
were one of the few reporters who were actually in the room.
MCCAMMON: Right. And again, you know, legal experts that I have talked to accuse the plaintiffs of selectively choosing Judge Kacsmaryk, hoping for
the kind of outcome they wanted. One of the sort of wrinkles in all of this has been a fight over access to the courtroom itself that emerged in the
last couple of weeks.
And the weekend before the hearing, last Wednesday, the "Washington Post" reported that Judge Kacsmaryk had sort of quietly scheduled the hearing.
Held a meeting, I believe, on a Friday. Scheduling the hearing for the following Wednesday. And asked the judges in the case to keep it quiet. He
didn't issue a gag order, but he said -- he cited security concerns surrounding protests and that sort of thing and asked them to kind of keep
it close to the vest.
According to the "Post's" report, he was not going to publicize that information, put it on the docket so that the public and the press would
have knowledge of when and where the hearing would be until Tuesday night. Now, that's for Wednesday morning hearing. Amarillo, Texas is not the big
city. It's a couple hundred thousand people. It's, you know, the better part of the day's drive from major cities in Texas like Dallas and Houston.
We all had to fly in to get there.
And so, you know, had it not been for the "Post" somehow becoming aware of this, most of the press would not have made it. As it was, only about 19
reporters were able to be in that room. There was no publicly available livestream, there was no recording, no cameras. And so, really nobody knew
what it happened in that room for two days, except for those of us who sat out, you know, in the cold for three hours, waiting to get into the
courtroom and reported on it.
The transcript was just released late last week. We published that at "NPR." So, that is available now. But, you know, just even just getting
into the courtroom, knowing what was going on was kind of a cumbersome process.
SREENIVASAN: So, regardless of how this judge rules, what's the likely next step? I mean, is it just going to be challenge at the higher court?
MCCAMMON: Absolutely. The lawyers have already made that clear, particularly the lawyers for the government, who are defending the FDA
approval of mifepristone. One of the lawyers said in the courtroom last Wednesday, essentially asked the judge if he issued an injunction
overturning the approval of this drug to please issue an immediate stay so that they'd have an opportunity to appeal. The appeal would go -- and as I
understand it, if the judge were to rule against the plaintiffs, I believe, they would also appeal.
So, any appeal would go to the Fifth Circuit, which is known for having a pretty conservative reputation. It's unclear what they would do you. I
think, again, it depends on what the judge says and how they feel about it, to say the obvious.
After the Fifth Circuit, it's entirely possible this would end up at the Supreme Court, for a couple reasons. One, just through the normal appeals
process. And second, there is another federal case out there that we haven't even talked about, but a group of 12 Democratic attorneys general,
a few weeks ago, filed their own lawsuit in federal court in Washington, essentially trying to push in the opposite direction from this lawsuit we
were just talking about in Texas.
They are arguing that there are too many regulations for -- on mifepristone, that after these 20 years of an established safety record,
the regulations -- and there's a whole regulatory scheme above and beyond normal prescription drugs for mifepristone, they're arguing some of those
should be removed. And they're also -- and this is very important, seeking -- asking a judge to block the FDA from taking the drug off the market. So,
exactly the opposite of what this Texas case tries to do.
If they win in Washington and the antiabortion groups win in Texas, then you have a dualling federal rulings and, you know, that certainly looks
something that could end up before the Supreme Court.
SREENIVASAN: Kind of backing up a few steps. When we talk about this drug, you see that this is common as something that doctors prescribe during
SREENIVASAN: And that -- explain kind of the scale of miscarriages that are happening through normal pregnancies. Because I don't know with our
audience is kind of well aware of how common it is and how this drug that's kind of at the center of this debate could be prescribed as part of the
care for that.
MCCAMMON: The same medical processes that bring pregnancy to an end can also help to essentially expedite a miscarriage that's already inevitable
and underway. So, sometimes when a miscarriage happens it can take a while for the pregnancy to fully pass and this can prolong, you know, the woman's
pain and suffering, emotionally and physically.
And so, mifepristone helps to basically complete that miscarriage along with the help of misoprostol, the second drug that's involved in this FDA
approved protocol. You know, I've some reporting on this years ago, you know, in places like Canada. It's very easy to get access to this drug for
this purpose and other purposes as well.
But in the U.S., the same extra layers of restrictions on mifepristone that apply for abortion also apply for miscarriage. So, a woman who's
miscarrying is treated in the same way as a woman who's chosen abortion. And, you know, the patient I talked to a few years ago just described, you
know, the real grief she was feeling. This was a wanted pregnancy. It was not -- a miscarriage was not what she wanted, obviously. But taking this
drug helped her to sort of get through that process a little more quickly. Sometimes avoiding surgery is the goal. And in some cases, with a
miscarriage, if it doesn't complete naturally, a doctor will have to perform essentially an abortion procedure to remove the rest of the tissue.
And that's something else that mifepristone cannot prevent and help with.
SREENIVASAN: NPR Correspondent Sarah McCammon, thanks you so much for joining us.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And now, from the war in Ukraine to China and Russia and Iran strengthening ties, there is a lot to catch up on with the National
Security Council John Kirby who joins me live from the White House. Welcome back to our program.
Can I start by asking you a little bit about Iran, because it was, you know, Nowruz, the new year, the president and first lady had their White
House ceremony for Iranian Americans, and I wonder -- because the president said that, you know, those detained in Iran are still very much top of his
priority. Can you update us on any deals that maybe in the works?
You know we heard last week. I know you all shut it down, but the Iranians say there is a deal in the works. Can you tell us if there's anything that
the president or you all are working out to get back your citizens, the three of them there?
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: What I can tell you, Christiane, without doubt, is that we haven't forgotten their cases or any
other Americans wrongfully detained around the world and we're working on them every single day.
Now, I don't have progress to speak to you today or a specific back and forth that we might or might not be having. I think you can understand, we
wouldn't want to make that public while we're continuing to try to get these Americans home. But they're not ever, ever far from President Biden's
mind or from this team's mind, and we're working on it every single day.
AMANPOUR: Do you agree with what some of them say, and that is -- an including Governor Richardson who is, you know, working on behalf of one of
the families of the detained, that look, you know, as unseemly as it sometimes might feel, that presidents from every administration have done
deals with this regime in Iran to get back their most important treasure, and that is their citizens.
And then, even got Brittney Griner back from Russia at a time of war when the U.S. is on the other side. Is there anything --
KIRBY: Yes. And that require --
AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead.
KIRBY: I was going to say, that release itself required some decision- making by President Biden.
KIRBY: And required letting a man back on the street who was a noted arms dealer and responsible for probably hundreds of thousands of deaths and
injuries around the world. But president decided on the need to look after Americans that are wrongfully detained around the world, and he's always
going to come down on that side, even if it means making a tough decision, a decision that might draw criticism. He's going to be afraid to do that.
Now, again, I don't have anything specific on the three cases to speak to. But I can assure you and I can assure their families that we're going to
continue to work on it. And if the decisions -- and again, I'm not speaking to specifics here, but if the decisions that are required are tough ones,
they know -- they should know that President Biden is not going to be afraid to make them.
AMANPOUR: And as you know, the families are desperate to have a meeting with the president, just like Brittney Griner's family did and others. And
we've obviously been reporting that on our air since having that extraordinary interview with Siamak Namazi, one of the Iranians in Evin
So, I want to know whether you thought that was a good idea and whether that might happen. But also, is the Iran situation more politically
difficult for this administration than it was than the Russia situation? In other words, to do a deal with Russia, and releases, as you said, an odious
human being, or to maybe send some whatever, whatever the deal would be with Iran, which is more difficult?
KIRBY: Every case is different, Christiane. It's difficult to say, you know, one is more difficult than another. Now, clearly, the Iran situation
is complicate by the fact that we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. We don't have an embassy there. There's no lines of communication,
even at senior levels between us and the regime. We have to go through, as you know, a protecting power on this case. With Russia, of course, we did.
But that doesn't mean we're going to work less or not pursue it as aggressively as we can.
And as for the meeting, again, back to my original point, every case individual. And certainly, the president weighs each of these requests
very, very seriously. We need to be mindful that as we position ourselves, that we don't do things that might make it harder to get Americans who are
wrongfully detained released in the situation that they're in. And each situation is different. Not only the government power there, the regime
that we're talking about, but the conditions that they're in.
And so, the president has to weigh all of these factors when weighing whether or not to meet with individual family members. But if it makes
sense and it's going to be helpful and it's the right thing to do and it could help us get these folks home, the president has shown in the past
that he's more than willing to do that.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about Ukraine, which is another massive, massive piece on your desk. We hear nothing but real drama from the Bakhmut area.
We hear the Ukrainians, and of course, you hear it better than we do, running out of ammunition. They are good soldiers, they're highly trained
soldiers being killed at an alarming rate compared with ordinary foot soldiers and convicts, basically, being recruited by Russia as human waves.
The U.S. is now said you're going to speed up, you know, maybe tank and Patriot missile defense systems. Do you think -- does the United States
believe that Ukraine is spending too much time on Bakhmut?
KIRBY: Well, those are President Zelenskyy's decisions to make. I mean, he's the commander in chief. We provide advice and counsel and technical
assistance where it makes sense. But I certainly would not speak for President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian military and the decisions that they
are making. They are still bravely fighting inside of Bakhmut.
Bakhmut is very vicious right now and has been now for some weeks as Russia just continues to throw flesh at this fight, largely out of -- as you said,
at a prison. And the Ukrainians are fighting bravely. I mean, here we are on the 21st of March and Bakhmut still has not fall into the Russians.
So, the Ukrainians have prioritized this fight. The Russians have clearly prioritized this fight. And what we're going to do is stay focused on
making sure that President Zelenskyy has what he needs wherever he chooses to fight. And that means intelligence, that means support, that means
weapons, that means capabilities, that's what we're going to be focused on.
AMANPOUR: Do you think they have the wherewithal to mount this much wanted spring offensive?
KIRBY: Again, I don't want to speak for the Ukrainians. They really should be talking to whatever operations that they may or may not conduct, and
future operations is one of those things we got to be very careful with.
What I will tell you is that we believe that the weeks and months ahead are going to be critical. That we believe that Mr. Putin is going to try to
mount another offensive and maybe along many different vectors. And that we have got to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure
Ukraine is ready for that. To defend themselves against Russian offensives. But also, to have the flexibility to conduct offensive operations of their
own at a time and place and a size and the scale of their choosing. That's why we're taking battalions out of Ukraine right now and putting them
through a combined arms maneuver training. That's why they're ramping up training on things like the Patriot air defense system.
I mean, we're doing everything we can to make sure that they're ready as best they can be for these critical weeks and months ahead.
AMANPOUR: How are you assessing they are in the White House the -- what is being described as the axis of autocrats or the anti-American access that's
developing and strengthening between China and Russia and whoever else, Iran and whoever else might be part of it? What is your view of this
meeting in Moscow?
KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, it's not anybody secret that China and Russia have tried to increase their cooperation and improve the relationship. But
I think it's important to remember that this is a marriage of convenience, not of affection, not of love, not of deep abiding shared interest.
Where they intersect is pushing back on the United States and our influence around the world. Where they intersect is pushing back on this thing we
call the rules based international order, which I know sounds like a wonky term but it's basically the rule of law and the foundational principles of
the U.N. Charter that by which nations around the world are supposed to abide. And they're pushing back against that. They'd like to change the
rules of the game.
And in it each other, they see a useful foil, they see a useful friend. But that's what they're doing. They're basically trying to use each other here
to challenge U.S. leadership and the West, particularly in Europe, but elsewhere around the world.
I would note, Christiane, that if you look at the statement that they put out today, they talked about calling on the principles of the U.N. Charter
that need to be respected and international law which needs to be observed. Well, you know what? We would agree with that. A 100 percent we would agree
And so, if President Xi really believes that stuff they just put out in Moscow, then he ought to be telling President Putin to get his troops out
of Ukraine because they're the ones violating the U.N. Charter, they're the ones violating sovereignty and territorial integrity. And this war can be
over right now if President Xi wants to use that influence with his friend President Putin, that's the way he could do it.
AMANPOUR: OK. I want to yes or no answer. Putin's been issued an arrest warrant. If he comes to New York for the UNGA, will the United States
KIRBY: I won't get into hypothetical.
KIRBY: I don't think that's useful to speculate. As you heard the president -- hear the president say, this was justified. He and his
military have been committing war crimes, we need to hold him to account.
AMANPOUR: All right. John Kirby, thank you so much indeed.
And finally, tonight, as we said, the arrival of spring, which is celebrated as new year in Iran and Afghanistan, Nowruz. And even on the
other side of the world, the arrival of spring draws crowds like these in Mexico gathered at the Sun Pyramid to signal a new lease on life.
So, leaving you now with more beautiful pictures from Mexico to mark the vernal equinox. We say thanks for watching and good-bye from London.