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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview With Finnish President Sauli Niinisto; Interview With South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol; President Yoon's Vision For South Korea; Protests Erupt In Iran After Woman Dies In Police Custody. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 25, 2022 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you from New York.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): On the program, the world came to New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly as Vladimir Putin threatened from afar an even more dangerous phase of his war on Ukraine.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe.

ZAKARIA: I talk with the president of Finland, who knows Putin well. I also sat down with the president of South Korea to ask about the threat from his neighbor to the north, who just declared itself a nuclear state. Also, hijabs burned, protests rage and chants of "death to the dictator" ring out in Iran after a woman dies in police custody there. What will come of the demonstrations? I will ask an expert.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. Let's not play down what has happened this week. The leader of the world's largest nuclear power publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons. In an address in Moscow on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia will use all weapons systems available to us to defend the country. He emphasized this is not a bluff.

It might be. Putin's threat is at odds with traditional Soviet military doctrine which once ruled out first use. Under his leadership, the Russian military now contemplates scenarios in which it could use nuclear weapons. But Putin knows that the West has powerful nuclear weapons of its own; and he knows that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction has prevented any power from deploying them since 1945.

Moreover, these kinds of threats must rattle China, India and all those countries that have been trying to steer a course between Russia and the West. But what does it tell us that Putin decided to make his statement

anyway? That the war is going very badly for him. This month, Ukrainian forces routed the Russian army in a stunning series of victories. Putin's first response was to open a new Ferris wheel in Moscow, urging people to relax and enjoy life. A few days later, realizing that the relax strategy was not working, he scheduled a national television address during prime time. And then simply didn't show up. He did give his address the next morning, using the occasion to issue his nuclear threat.

To understand how badly the Ukrainian war has gone from Putin's point of view, consider his decision to announce a partial mobilization. Russia did not mobilize its population for the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Moscow has mobilized its citizenry for war twice since 1914, first on the eve of World War I, and then to defend against the invasion of the country by Adolf Hitler and Germany in 1941.

For Putin in particular, this is a bitter pill. His basic social contract with the Russian people has been stay out of politics, don't mind my kleptocracy, and I will give you a stable, peaceful country in which you can make a decent living. This mobilization is the first time he has had to violate that contract.

And for the first time in his 22-year reign, he faces opposition from both the right and the left. At least 1,300 war protesters have been arrested since Putin's announcement. But more ominously, right-wing nationalists are openly criticizing the government for not prosecuting this war with greater zeal, manpower and firepower.

When a war goes badly, people look for someone to blame. In a dictatorship so centralized, it's hard to see whom to fault other than Putin himself. His recent actions all raise the ante. In addition to threatening the use of nuclear weapons and mobilizing Russians, he has also signaled that four regions of Ukraine will soon become part of Russia. Crimea was also incorporated by Moscow in 2014.


This will make it harder to negotiate a peace deal because, under Russian law, these areas would then be part of Russian territory. Annexation also makes it easier to claim that Ukrainian attacks on those territories are not part of a contested conflict but an attack on Russia itself, requiring any and all means to respond.

Of course, this will not deter the Ukrainians. They know that Russia has invaded their lands, destroyed their cities, tortured their people, and killed and wounded tens of thousands. They will fight to regain their country. And Putin's threats are not going to stop the West from aiding and arming Ukraine.

So what is Putin's game, and where does he go from here? No one knows, including perhaps Putin himself. He has given some signals to India's Narendra Modi and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he wants to negotiate. But the Russian leader does seem to be playing a very high- stakes game in which he knows that the outcome could be catastrophic. It's still hard to see how, even if he loses this war, anyone in Moscow could dislodge him.

More than perhaps any major nation in the world, Russia is now ruled by one man. There are no institutions, no politburo, no central committee, no monarchy. Nothing. The largest country in the world, with the most nuclear weapons, is ruled by one man. It is, as he once described it, a vertical of power. And that vertical looks more unstable than ever.

All of this suggests that we have entered one of the most dangerous periods in international affairs in our lifetimes.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week, and let's get started.

On Tuesday, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, calling it a cruel and unprovoked war, and a blatant violation of the charter of the United Nations. He called on U.N. members not to accept, condone or normalize such aggression. And this was all before Putin's nuclear comments. Niinisto's nation shares an 800-mile border with Russia, and the war in Ukraine triggered the Finns to apply for NATO membership in May alongside their neighbors in Sweden.

I want to welcome to the program, President Niinisto.

Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

SAULI NIINISTO, FINNISH PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, sir.

ZAKARIA: So tell us what you think Putin is going to do now. You have met him so many times. He does appear to be cornered in some ways. He does appear to be becoming more reckless with these nuclear threats. Tell us what your analysis of his state of mind is.

NIINISTO: How I see is in actually poker terms, he has put all in, and he is a fighter. So it is very difficult to see him accepting any kind of defeat. That surely makes the situation very crucial.

ZAKARIA: You said -- I remember in early February, before the Russian invasion, that something you sensed had changed about Putin, that he used to be very careful, incremental, calculating, but that he was -- he was behaving in a much more aggressive fashion.

Just in your conversations, what do you think happened? Because everyone is perplexed by this. Everyone thought Putin was -- yes, he may be a nasty guy, but there was sort of a pattern of carefulness. And he seems to have become very reckless. What do you think has happened?

NIINISTO: If we go years back, we see -- or at least I have seen some kind of development in his thinking. He's frustrated because of the situation in Ukraine after 2014. And then, in a way progressively, I have felt that his frustration is growing. And very obviously, he just decided to get this thing somehow solved or at least try to solve it.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is a possibility that he will expand his war aims? You know, people talk about Moldova.


Obviously, you must be -- you have to be careful watching. You have a long border with Russia.

NIINISTO: We haven't seen any sign in Finland. Actually, it's more calm than for years. So I think that he has enough now headache in Ukraine and it doesn't seem very obvious that he could make any maneuvers elsewhere. Not now, and not in the nearby future.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that some of Putin's change may have come about because of the isolation of COVID, that he was only listening to a small group of advisers? Because you saw him many times before that. Do you sense that that period of two years of total isolation has played a part here?

NIINISTO: Yes. I met him last time approximately a year ago, last October. And yes, it seems that he's quite alone. In the big halls, empty big halls, there weren't very many people. So he has been careful with COVID and maybe that's why the people surrounding him are not that many anymore. And I actually don't know who are nearby.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. When we come back, I'm going to ask the president this question -- winter is coming. Can Europe stay united against Russia's aggression when the lack of Russian gas may make it a very cold winter?



ZAKARIA: And we are back here on GPS with President Niinisto of Finland.

Mr. President, everybody is wondering about this question. It's going to get very cold, gas is already very expensive. By some measures, it is 10 times as expensive now as it was before the invasion. Will Europeans be able to maintain the pressure, or will there start to be cracks in the European coalition against Russia?

NIINISTO: Yes. Gas, the price of energy, food, even interest rates are rising. So that means tough times for households. It's often thought that Europeans or we Western people are used to let's say to a life which cost always to better and better, and first, that we are very weak to face difficulties. But I would say that Ukrainians gave an excellent example that there is stamina amongst people when difficulties come, and difficulties which we are facing are minor if compared to those Ukrainians are meeting. So I believe that we European people can take it and have resilience.

ZAKARIA: Specifically, one of the big issues that people worry about is Italy. Italian elections, assuming Madame Meloni comes to power. This is a three-party coalition. Two of the parties have been openly pro-Russian. Is that likely to change the dynamic if the Italians go into the -- you know, the European Council and say, you know, we don't want our -- as some of the parties have been saying during the campaign, we don't want to have to pay for this. We don't want the Italian households to have to bear the brunt of this war with Russia.

NIINISTO: No, I actually don't believe that would be a problem. The other issue is that Italy and the economy is not in very good shape at the moment. And that might raise or so questions and discussions on some part of solidarity, financial solidarity in Europe. And I guess that might be even bigger or real problem.

ZAKARIA: Are you saying that the Italians will need money from the European Union so they are unlikely to try to break ranks?

NIINISTO: I wouldn't say that so directly, but nevertheless, their finances are not in a very good shape. We have to keep that in mind, too.

ZAKARIA: Let me finally ask you sort of where we began, which is, where do we go from here? There are people who think you -- you know, you just need to show as much military force, push the Russians back, and then there is another school that says you need to start searching for some diplomatic solution. The Ukrainians, as you know, are very opposed to that right now. What would your advice be to the West?

NIINISTO: I am a man of peace, and I think that every possible deed for looking for peace is important. That's why I strongly support President Macron and Chancellor Scholz, keeping the line open, the possibility open to discuss with the Kremlin.


Also, I have to admit that at the moment, I don't see so very much possibilities to reach the peace.

ZAKARIA: Given your long relationship with Vladimir Putin, would you be willing to reach out and meet with him and try to see if there is a deal to be had?

NIINISTO: Well, I haven't had any contact on him now but if the situation would be such that we find the possibility of getting something positive done, and I would. Surely after discussing with President Zelenskyy also. But I'm not asked to do and I don't see at the moment any possibilities to have anything positive done.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, pleasure to have you on. Thank you.

NIINISTO: Thank you very much. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, another world leader in another dangerous neighborhood. I talk to President Yoon of South Korea about China, Taiwan, North Korea, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Earlier this month, North Korea declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Kim Jong-un said his country would never give up its nukes and rejected any negotiations on denuclearization. The new law also allows Pyongyang to make a preemptive nuclear strike in the event of an imminent threat.

I had the opportunity to talk this week to the man who leads the nation on the other side of the DMZ, the demilitarized zone. President Yoon Suk Yeol, he's been on the job only a few months and is new to being a politician, but he had some very interesting things to say.


ZAKARIA: President Yoon, pleasure to have you on the program.

YOON SUK YEOL, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is my pleasure as well, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, there are so many crises around the world. Ukraine, the issues surrounding Taiwan, for example. It seems like we may have forgotten about the issue of North Korea. So I want to ask you to tell us from your perspective, what is -- what is happening in North Korea right now? Is the threat or the danger from North Korea increasing today?

YOON (through translator): I am aware that more attention is being put on Ukraine because a real act of aggression is taking place, a real war is taking place in Ukraine. So I understand that more attention is going there. And with respect to Taiwan, China is increasing its tensions. For example, sending aircraft above the territory of the Taiwan Strait. However, at least for South Korea, the most imminent threat is North Korea's nuclear missile threat.

And I don't want to be hypothetical about the practical situation. However, as the head of state of my country, as well as the Korean military, I would like to note that our alliance with the United States is expanding its horizons to economic fields, as well as cutting edge technologies. Therefore, we will work together in order to contribute to global peace and stability, as well as expanding freedom for the world's citizens.

ZAKARIA: When Nancy Pelosi came to the region, after visiting Taiwan, she visited South Korea and you did not meet with her personally. You said you were on vacation. This is South Korea's closest ally, its only military ally. It seemed to many people that this was an odd or unusual decision for you to make, and that it was really not about a vacation, it was that you were trying to be nice to China. How do you respond to that?

YOON (through translator): With respect to her visit during my vacation, it was upon invitation of the speaker of the Korean National Assembly, and on this occasion, there might be some different opinions about whether the president should meet her, even though he's on vacation. I decided to have a pleasant and fruitful phone call, not only with Speaker Pelosi, but six other members of the House of Representatives.

And we had a really productive and friendly conversation. And Speaker Pelosi also understood my situation, that I was on vacation, and she respected it, as well. And with respect to my position, on the issue of the Taiwan Strait, I have always been clear on my position.


And whenever and wherever I'm asked about this issue, I will always provide a consistent answers.

ZAKARIA: So just to be clear your position on this issue, if China were to attack Taiwan, do you support the United States coming to Taiwan's military defense?

YOON (through translator): In the case of military conflict around Taiwan, there would be increased possibility of North Korean provocation. Therefore, in that case, the top priority for Korea and the U.S. Korean alliance on the Korean peninsula would be based on our robust defense posture, we must deal with the North Korean threat first.

ZAKARIA: When you say we must deal with it first, are you saying that you would ask the United States to first fulfill its obligations towards South Korea before getting involved in Taiwan?

YOON (through translator): It wouldn't be appropriate to reply about a U.S. priority because both the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan are very important for the U.S., I suppose and are to be defended by the U.S. together with their allies and partners. So therefore, I would say that both issues have significant importance.

ZAKARIA: President Yoon, you have come to politics in an unusual way in South Korea, you are not a politician. In fact, I think you announced that you were going to run for president eight months before you became president, you entered politics eight months before you became president. Is this part of this wave of people who are outside of the establishment, outside of politics around the world who are finding their way into politics because people have lost faith in political institutions around the world? What do you think explains your success?

YOON (through translator): Before getting to the point, let me tell you about my story and why I placed so much importance on our alliances with the United States. Whenever I ask a scientist, they say we must cooperate with America because they have the most technological prowess in the world. And if I ask a soldier, they say the United States has overwhelming capability in terms of their military power. We have much to learn from the United States system couldn't just to further advance our society and economy as well as our politics.

As a lawyer, why did I decide to enter the world of politics? Because it is to reestablish these values of the rule of law, freedom, the market economy and democracy because many people lost faith in these universal values.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us. Next on GPS. After a young woman died in police custody in Iran, angry protests are popping up across the nation. Where will the protests lead this time? I'll be back with Karim Sadjadpour in a moment.



ZAKARIA: In dozens of cities across Iran, protesters led by women are angrily rising up against the government. At least 1200 people have been arrested and dozens reportedly killed in the clashes so far. The igniting incident was the death of Mahsa Amini after she was taken to a reeducation center by the morality police because she allegedly was not wearing her hijab correctly. The regime response to the protests has been evermore repression, arrest, deaths and internet blackouts. So can the government weather this unrest as it did in 2009 and 2019?

Joining me now is our friend Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and always a superb Iran watcher. So explain at one level for most people why are they still arresting 1000s of women for the hijab? Clearly alienating women. What is the rationale?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR FELLOW, CARNEGIE ENDOWNMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Fareed, we're now in the 43rd year of the Iranian regime after the 1979 revolution and I think this is a reminder that the Islamic Republic of Iran is incapable of reforming and it's incapable of changing its ideology. There's really three ideological pillars left of this revolution, death to America, death to Israel, and the mandatory hijab for women, compulsory veiling.

And the hijab is really the flag of the Islamic Republic, a symbol of its Islamic piety, and it's really the weakest of these three pillars because not even Iran's anti imperial allies in Moscow, Pyongyang or Caracas are going to support the idea that women should be beaten for showing too much hair.

ZAKARIA: So, you know, you tweet about this and I think it's really interesting what the regime has become and maybe in its origin always was there was the strong patriarchal element, there was the sort of men against women.



ZAKARIA: It is also turned into a regime of old people against young people, right?

SADJADPOUR: Absolutely. You look at the institutions ruling Iran, and they're all geriatric old, very traditional men, Ayatollah Khomeini, 83-year-old supreme leader, he is one of the longest serving dictators in the world. And if you look at the institutions that he's empowered, and in turn empower him, they're all led by very geriatric men. There's a guy called Ayatollah Jannati, he's 95 years old. head of two very powerful institutions in Iran. So this is one of the tragedies. When you just look at the images of the protesters who have died, young, modern women with their lives ahead of them, and you look at the photos of regime officials, you know, they're one foot in the grave.

ZAKARIA: So the crucial question becomes, the regime is cracking down hard? So far in the past, these crackdowns have worked sad to say, even though the Green Revolution is -- will the crackdown work this time?

SADJADPOUR: I think what we have to watch are the internal fissures within the regime. You know, I lived in Iran, I don't doubt that there is the appetite for fundamental change among the society, so that I don't doubt. But for popular uprisings to succeed, you not only need pressure from below, but you need divisions at the top.

So, what I'm looking at, you know, will we start to see fissures within the regime, within the security forces, within the Revolutionary Guards? So far, we haven't seen that. But there's an interesting caveat now, which is the uncertain health of 83-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and what the Revolutionary Guards are thinking about that.

ZAKARIA: If he dies, there has to be a kind of an election among the elite group of mullahs.


ZAKARIA: Do we know who is likely there -- the people think that the current president could be elevated to that position, and he's another super hardline.

SADJADPOUR: Yes. I think when Khomeini dies, what is likely to happen is a Raul Castro type situation, you know, a weak leader who replaces a powerful leader. And then, you know, my hope, Fareed, is that Iran evolves into Denmark, but I've learned not to conflate my hopes and analysis.

I think what could then happen after that is Iranian Putin type figure, you know, someone from the answering (ph) system from the security or military establishment, who throws out Shiite nationalism and replaces it with Iranian nationalism. Again, I hope I'm wrong about that, but I could see things evolving like that.

ZAKARIA: And one of the reasons, Karim, that's likely, I think, is that the thing that one has to realize is, and there's no good answer here, but American sanctions and super sanctions have massively empowered the security services, the Revolutionary Guard, these people who now are the, you know, the head of the smuggling operations, everything comes in through them.

So given this dilemma, which is dealing with the terrible regime, on the other hand, the sanctions do actually empower it, Castro, you famously used to say, if the Americans were to relaxed the sanctions, I would do something to force them to reimpose them, because that's what keeps me going. What should the U.S. do? SADJADPOUR: The challenge of U.S. policy toward Iran is that on one hand you're trying to prevent the regime from becoming like North Korea and you're trying to help the society become like South Korea. To counter their nuclear and regional ambitions, you have to use pressure. And if you don't want to use military pressure, that requires economic sanctions and isolation.

But in a way that does empower these isolationist within the regime. So we have to figure out, you know, how do we counter their regional and nuclear ambitions, but at the same time, have a strategy which is trying to champion the cause of political change anyone, like we did during the Cold War visa vie the Soviet Union.

ZAKARIA: But then we would try to open up contacts with society, we were trying to --


ZAKARIA: We thought that, you know, in a sense, capitalism and commerce were the acids that would break these dictatorial bonds, possible?

SADJADPOUR: I think we at least have to think intelligently about it within the U.S. government. Up until now, the Biden administration sole strategy has been to try to revive the nuclear deal that Donald Trump exited. You know, I'm confident between not only the U.S. government, but people like Elon Musk, you know, our great minds in Silicon Valley. We can think about constructive creative ways of helping to champion the cause of change in a country when which the vast majority of young people do want change.

ZAKARIA: Karim, it's always so insightful. I mean, you're just terrific. Thank you so much.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you for having me, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, prepare to be inspired by three people who really want to change the world. Jose Andrew the chef, Laurene Powell Jobs the philanthropist, and Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados with three big ideas when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And now for the next big idea, actually three of them, it was a long hot summer in Chicago this year, more than 1200 people were shot, almost 200 of them fatally. It's a problem that plagues the city in an intense way. Laurene Powell Jobs has set out to find a solution to the problem. She is the billionaire widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and she now runs the Emerson Collective, an organization dedicated to fixing such vexing issues.

I had the pleasure of talking to Jobs on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative this week. You will also hear from Chef and World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres, as well as Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, whose speech on climate change at last year's U.N. General Assembly went viral. They all have big ideas that would make a big difference.


LAURENE POWELL JOBS, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, EMERSON COLLECTIVE: So, in the case of Chicago, Arne Duncan after he came out of the Obama administration returned to Chicago and wanted to in deep community in south and west side of Chicago. When he was the head of Chicago Public Schools, he witnessed firsthand what it was like to have the devastating effects of gun violence in communities.


So we started working, block by block with individuals who were most at risk of gun violence either as the perpetrator or as the victim. We put -- we have an 18-month program, where we hire the individual, we started with men, we now work with men and women, and we have a full holistic program that includes high school diploma, includes social emotional support, includes group support, includes coaching and mentoring, and job skills and training. This is actually the first chance that they have access this kind of opportunity.

First chance that anyone outside of the gangs was hiring, their first that anyone actually cared enough to see individuals and support each other. The results are undisputable. So, both the city and the state have now matched our philanthropic funding and are taking it to scale, which is a great, great result.

ZAKARIA: Jose, let me ask you about the biggest food crisis in the world right now, which stems from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What can be done about that? And what is being done about it? Do you think it's enough?

JOSE ANDRES, FOUNDER, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: OK. No, I don't think we're doing enough, but I want to make sure that it's very clear Ukraine has plenty of food to feed Ukraine, then people are going to be asking me that they support that, therefore, it's a World Central Kitchen, why are you cooking and feeding in Ukraine? It's not a problem of lack of food, it's a problem of a country that is at war and a problem of logistics. What we did was organize the logistics to make sure that nobody will be left without a plate of food.

World Central Kitchen, I think was last week, we reach 160 million meals produced by 550 restaurants, almost between million and a half to 2 million meals delivered a day around 7,500 places. And I want to take this moment used to say we got two cooks, they were his living in a place south of Kharkiv in a town Chuhuiv, a missile the community center and many people die, and two of our volunteer cooks die on that missile.

When you saw what I saw in Bucha, when you see what I saw in Irpin, everybody, if you're not speaking loud, because you have right, because you have social media, that these war, and no war makes any sense, and that President Putin and Russia right now, they've been killing for the last 200 days children and woman and elderly, no near any military location, they are killing people that could be you or I. This war must end yesterday and we all need to speak louder about it.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, I wanted you to close for us by reminding us in a sense why Bill and Hillary Clinton restarted CGI because of the urgency of the threats and the, in some sense, lack of progress. You know, when the U.N. set up its millennial rules (ph), to a large extent they were achieved, poverty was cut enormously. And then we faced a series of challenges. And now we're in a very different place where there's a lot of work to do.

I know you talk to the U.N. General Assembly this morning about this. Tell us about that.

MIA MOTTLEY, BARBADIAN PRIME MINISTER: The bottom line is that the world looks too much like it did 100 years ago, but we should know better. Because we have the experience of 100 years ago, we have educated people and we have a United Nations that is supposed to make a difference. Regrettably, there are a few countries for whom political action from whom political action is needed. We needed to reform the international financial architecture. We needed to reform the U.N. We saw the worst aspect of it when Russia cheered the U.N. in the very month that it went into Ukraine.

How do you have a permanent fame? How do you have a United Nations that still looks like an imperial order? And until we recognize that when that body was formed, there were only 50 nation states of the world. Today there are over 193 and we need to ensure that it's greater equity.


How do you have a G 20 that leaves Africa -- the African Union that has 1.4 billion people? And we have to level the playing field, and we have to give people an opportunity to make a difference.


ZAKARIA: I want to thank the Prime Minister, Jose Andres, Laurene Powell Jobs, and our hosts, the Clinton Global Initiative, for that discussion. And thank you to our viewers for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.