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CONNECT THE WORLD

Strong Words From Hillary Clinton on Trafficking; Karzai Tells US Defense Secretary Trust Gone; FBI, Homeland Security Warn of Possible Violence in US; Exclusive Interview With Top Iranian Adviser Mohammad Javad Larijani; Disabled Athlete "Blade Runner" Could Compete in Regular Olympics; Syrian Uprising One Year On

Aired March 15, 2012 - 17:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Tonight on CONNECT THE WORLD, it started with a demand for freedom, a year on, the reality is this: thousands of Syrians are dead and many thousands more are left fighting for their lives.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: Tonight, marking the one-year anniversary of a bloody revolt with no sign of a resolution. I'll be joined by a photographer who witnessed the violence in Syria at its very worst.

Also this hour, as American and Afghan relations hits a new low, how the search for peace has been left in tatters.

And showing them how it's done. The duchess of Cambridge gives Great Britain's Olympic hopefuls a boost.

Well, they wanted to share in the Arab Spring, but their dreams for a better future met the iron fist of Bashar al-Assad. It has been exactly one year since Syrians began rising up for their freedom. The government's answer was delivered by guns. Thousands of people have died in the violence and still we are no closer to knowing how or when it will all end.

Nic Robertson begins our special coverage of Syria in crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It didn't begin this way, and it needn't have come to this, close to 8,000 civilians killed, countless missing, thousands more injured, hundreds of thousands forced from their homes, 12 months of barbarism, unparalleled in the 21st Century.

President Bashar al-Assad had the option: talks or tanks. He chose tanks. Protest began in Syria's southern city Daraa following the arrest and killing of school children for scrawling anti-Assad graffiti. This spread to other cities March 15th.

It was a turning point for people desperate for an end to the repression and corruption of the Assad dynasty. Activists were emboldened by the sweeping changes of the Arab Spring.

In Egypt, after 30 years in power, President Hosni Mubarak was unseated in weeks. Similarly in Tunisia, after less than a month of protests, President Ben Ali was forced to flee the country.

And in Libya, the same week Syria's uprising started, a U.N.-agreed and NATO-enforced no-fly zone was introduced.

But for Syria's protesters, mostly poor marginalized Sunnis, no such international help, just condemnation of the regime.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition or get out of the way.

ROBERTSON: A growing raft of sanctions targeted the Assad family. His cousin, Rami Makhlouf, rumored to control 60 percent of the economy through patronage and graft. But the regime could still mobilize its supporters, mostly from the country's minorities, Alawite like the president, and Christian.

Without Assad, they were told, they would be killed.

By late fall protests became resistance. The Free Syrian Army emerged, but against one of the most powerful military machines in the Middle East, it needed weapons.

Unlike Libya's rebels, Syria's fledgling opposition force is tiny, poorly-armed. They hold no territory. And so far have received very little international help.

Assad still insists, as he has for months, that he is fighting terrorist gangs. His limited concessions aim to divide the opposition, while his army and brutal militia pulverize opposition holdouts.

The opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, is ineffective, made up of factions with competing agendas, just like Libya today. But in Libya's case, at least the international community came together in the U.N.

Assad's insurance was a Russian veto. With billions in arms and business deals at stake, Moscow persuaded Assad to accept and Arab League monitoring mission. The monitors proved powerless. Within a month they were pulled out and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar began to talk of arming the opposition.

All the while, neighborhoods like Baba Amr in Homs were in Assad's crosshairs, shelled relentlessly. It is industrial scale slaughter.

Across the country 100 civilians killed a day according to the U.N. And yet the U.N. Security Council could still not agree on a resolution calling on Assad to step down.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Russia and China will eventually I think come to regret this decision, which has aligned them with a dying dictator whose days are numbered, put them at odds with the Syrian people and indeed the entire region.

ROBERTSON: It seems Syria was heading for civil war. Free Syrian Army fighters emerged in the capital's suburbs. But after almost four weeks of pounding, resistance in Baba Amr was finally crushed.

VALERIE AMOS, U.N. HUMANITARIAN CHIEF: It Baba Amr, I was horrified by the destruction I saw. No building was untouched, and there was clear evidence of the use of heavy artillery and tanks. Baba Amr was almost deserted, a few people in tears as they tried to salvage a few possessions.

ROBERTSON: Assad's army moved north, snuffing out opposition in Idlib, close to the border with the Turkey. It alone offered opposition fighters a chance of a foothold with safety and resupply not far away.

In the west, Lebanon tightening its borders, even as refugees flee. Now Assad's opponents are reduced to hit and run tactics, a low-level insurgency that could grind on for months or longer.

Al Qaeda is trying to carve out a presence. Suicide bombers, the most effective force yet against Assad, could grow, whether the opposition likes it or not.

A year since it all began, the uprising is coming full circle. Assad massing tanks near Daraa, the first to rise, it may be the last to fall. They dared to believe the Arab Spring was blossoming for them too. Instead Syria has seen a bitter harvest.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, the Syrian regime is putting a positive spin on what has been a year of deadly revolt, organizing cheering crowds for the cameras earlier today. Thousands of people rallied in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Authorities called it a global march for Syria to counter anti-regime demonstrations this week around the world, from Indonesia to Egypt to Britain to South Africa, Turkey to Brazil, celebrities and activists using social media to urge the world to unite for Syria.

They're calling on the U.N. Security Council to take urgent action on the crisis. Well, the Council an important briefing on Syria tomorrow from U.N. Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan.

And this weekend a U.N. team is expected to begin assessing humanitarian needs in Syria. But they will be accompanied by government minders. Arwa Damon following the very latest developments from Beirut tonight.

What is a government-led humanitarian assessment likely to achieve, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is part of an agreement that was brokered following the U.N. Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos's visit to Damascus where she also managed to get to the city of Homs, specifically that neighborhood of Baba Amr that had been in the headlines for quite some time.

And this is, hypothetically speaking, meant to eventually, at least the U.N. would hope it would eventually lead to some sort of unhindered humanitarian access. But at this stage it's quite difficult to determine exactly what it is going to accomplish.

Now CNN spoke to one activist from the province of Idlib, bearing in mind that this province is currently at the epicenter of the government crackdown. And he was saying that humanitarian assistance, that's not necessarily what he and those around him are looking for right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABU ALBARAA, SYRIAN NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (through translator): The people do not ask for humanitarian aide now, they ask for foreign military intervention. They say we don't need food, we don't need medicine, let us die from hunger, let us die from diseases.

But either send us weapons to protect ourselves, or come free us from these forces that are killing us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: And opposition activists, Becky, are the first to really lament the fact that it has come to this. They say it started out as peaceful demonstrations, and now it has morphed into an armed rebellion.

There is a lot of bitterness a year on. There is a lot of anger. But at the same time there is a lot of pride, that they've been able to stand up for this long against this government, despite all of the odds -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Arwa Damon, who has spent much of the past year in and out of Syria, sometimes with government permission, sometimes without. Arwa, for the time being, thank you for that. And a chilling report from Arwa coming up in the next 10 minutes or so.

One photographer who risked his life to cover the Syrian uprising says what he witnessed was nothing less than the systematic slaughter of civilians. You will likely recognize Paul Conroy. He recently escaped Homs after an attack that killed two Western journalists. His extraordinary story and his hopes and fears for the future right after this.

And in a year of disturbing stories out of Syria, this is one of the most gruesome yet. A family slaughtered, and the one person who managed to survive.

Taking a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Tragic images there out of Syria. And we are seeing more videos from Homs of killings and other atrocities apparently committed by Syrian security forces. CNN has obtained that is among the most disturbing as any I've seen yet.

It shows a family apparently killed in cold blood. Here's Arwa Damon's report. We warn you, it contains scenes of graphic violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): The men crouch as they move across rooftops, crawling through holes they smashed through the walls. It has taken them merely a week to get this far, to reach a house on the sectarian fault line that runs through Homs.

"We're rescuing the bodies of the martyrs," the voice on the video narrates. They've heard that a Sunni family has been killed. What they find, shocking beyond description.

The first body, that of a woman. In the room next to it, bodies crowded into a back corner, as if they were trying to hide. The dead child's face a mask of fear. Blood splatters the walls.

"Let the world see," the voice claims, "look at this massacre in just one house." He curses the Shias, the Alawites, and Bashar al-Assad.

The video is said to have been shot in the neighborhood of Sabib (ph) early in February.

"Oh, look, people, look," Sheikh Abu Ibrahim (ph) says, overcome with emotion that he too curses the regime and the world. The camera pans over to show more bodies slaughtered in the bathroom.

Suddenly on another floor a tiny whimper. The child cries out, clearly terrified. He comes into view having to crawl over a body lying in the doorway. He must have been hiding for days.

"Don't be afraid, you're safe now. Don't make a sound," one of the men tells the boy. It's not known who killed his family or why. But the men who found the bodies are sure this was a sectarian massacre carried out by thugs allied to the regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: It's a tragic story, isn't it? And tragedy has beset journalists who have risked their lives to show the world what is happening inside Syria. You may recall this scene from last month, the aftermath of a devastating attack in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs on a building housing journalists, the blast killed Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and award-winning photographer Remi Ochlik.

British photographer Paul Conroy was among those injured. Conroy managed to escape and eventually received treatment at a hospital here in London. Paul is now at a hospital recovering from his injuries. And he joins me now live here in the studio.

Good to have you, Paul. How are you?

PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER, SUNDAY TIMES: Not too bad. Recovering at the moment.

ANDERSON: Good, good. If you will, take me back to that moment about a month ago.

CONROY: Yes. We had gotten to Baba Amr, myself and Marie had gone back in, it was the second time we had been in. We had made the decision to go back. Marie was on fire, what we had seen really, really pushed her to re-enter Baba Amr.

We spent a full day, we couldn't leave the building, essentially. The artillery bombardment was so ferocious, so sustained that we spent the day with the activists who were bringing footage in to us. They were saying, you know, under no circumstances could we leave. We had drones flying above.

That night Marie made some broadcasts to CNN, to BBC, Channel 4, which I think really drew the world to the -- (INAUDIBLE) such credibility, as Marie really put the focus on Baba Amr.

We were promised the next day we would go to visit a field hospital, which we previously visited. At 8 a.m. we awoke to the sound of shelling - - big shelling for about an hour. The shelling to that point had been very random all over the place. But that moment we noticed two shells land very close to the building we were in.

About a minute later we got another two shells. I was ex-artillery, so I was noticing a pattern building up now that the shells were in fact closing in on us, and that was a bad sign, the fact that they seemed to be locating the building.

We then took a direct hit at the back of the building which blew the back of the building in. A minute later (INAUDIBLE) we took another direct hit on the building. By now it was filling up with concrete dust and smoke. Some people were shouting, get out.

Another direct hit, which took another wall in. By now it was complete chaos. The last shell that hit, I last saw Marie, she turned around the corner to the exit. I thought the attack was over so I reached for my camera. And then another shell hit directly in front of the front door of the building.

This killed Marie instantly, killed Remi instantly. It blew the door off, which hit Edith and our translator, broke Edith's thigh, translator got his arm snapped. At that point I just felt tremendous pressure hit my thigh. I didn't lose consciousness and I could hear people shouting.

So I put my arm down and unfortunately as I went to check the wound, my hand went straight through my leg so it came out the other side. I realized I was in quite a bad way. My fear was to bleed out.

ANDERSON: You were looked after, of course, by locals in there. It was a makeshift medical center. And we saw footage of you that we're going to see a little bit later again in the show when you, you know, appealed to the world for help and, believe, told us that you were OK.

You also talked about the systematic slaughter that you had witnessed. I'm wondering whether what you saw in Arwa's report just then might not surprise you. I'm sure it sickens you, as it does the rest of us, but does it surprise you?

CONROY: Absolutely not. I mean, I think we've all been waiting for this footage to come out. We -- you know, from our assessment just the sheer level of bombardment of the civilians show that any regard for human life did not exist in Baba Amr.

So with the artillery bombardment we saw so many men, women, and children, as Arwa did. She saw it too. That was -- that phase of the operation, that was the stand-off and throw the artillery in. I think we all expected that once that phase was over and the troops entered, it was inevitable that we were going to start seeing (INAUDIBLE) of this nature that was inevitable.

ANDERSON: Stay with me, Paul, in the studio here in London.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Ahead, the power of social media never more apparent than in Syria where it has often been the only way for activists to get the word out.

You're watching special coverage of the one-year anniversary of the uprising in Syria here on CNN. Do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Nearly every report we do on Syria includes footage that the government doesn't want you and me to see. It censors the media. So ordinary Syrians are risking their lives to show the world what is really happening.

Phil Han now on how citizen journalists are helping to shape the history of the entire Arab Spring.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL HAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First it was Tunisia, then Egypt. This time last year much of the region was engulfed in upheaval and uprising, spurred on and inspired by what they saw and read on social media, no more so than in Syria.

Thousands of YouTube videos have been published by Syrians through what little technology they have. Those videos show the suffering and devastation at the hands of government troops. Most news organizations have been banned from reporting inside the country, which has led Syrians to become citizen journalists, risking their lives every time they post blogs or hit record on their phones.

WISSAM TARIF, AVAAZ: From YouTube to Facebook to Twitter, to sat equipments to hidden cams, all of that played a crucial role because those are the tools that told the world what is going on inside the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see over there another rocket landed all over civilians' houses. This has been going on all day long. Why isn't everyone helping us? Where is the humanity in the world?

HAN: One activist named Danny (ph) documented the dire situation and became known as the voice of Homs. The situation was so dangerous that he fled the country.

Others haven't been so lucky. Rami al-Sayed (ph) told the story from behind his camera, documenting the hundreds of people injured or killed. It was a story that cost him his life.

TARIF: If there was no Internet, there was no sat equipment inside the country, which most of the uploads of videos happen via sat equipment, then the world wouldn't know what is going on inside Syria. And the bloodshed would be much bigger and al-Assad would kill much, much more people.

HAN: Phil Han, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Paul Conroy is still with me here. And as we watched that report by Phil, you said, I recognized most of these guys.

CONROY: Yes, yes, all familiar faces.

ANDERSON: What we call citizen journalists are and probably will continue to be journalists out there effectively, aren't they.

CONROY: Essentially.

ANDERSON: They were people bringing the story to the rest of the world like you and I try to do on a regular basis. You told your own story through YouTube.

CONROY: Absolutely. I mean, it was YouTube that got the word out. You know, immediately these guys realized that for our safety it was important to let the world know that we were still alive so that, you know, they were on the case within minutes they had (INAUDIBLE).

ANDERSON: Just -- I remember this coming out. Just tell me how this was set up, because, again, a makeshift room underground somewhere, right?

CONROY: Yes. This was -- we had been moved to -- from the hospital after a brief -- received immediate treatments, there was nowhere to keep us. So they put us in a room, the safest room they could find for the shelling, immediately got the cameras in, realizing that, you know, in order for us not to disappear and to get any message out there.

You know, they.

ANDERSON: Did you ever feel used? And I hope you don't take that in a negative way. Because I remember you saying, I'm appealing to the world, and you looked at the camera and you said, and I'm doing this voluntarily.

CONROY: No. Not at all. Never felt used. We knew that the regime, which are capable of all sorts of extravagances when it comes to manipulation of news and footage, may try to use that. So really just trying to get the point across that, you know, everything that was being done was for our benefit.

ANDERSON: The media center that was hit where several of your colleagues lost their lives and you were injured along with a number of others, is a media center that I know that our colleagues have used in the past as well.

Just how important has that set-up been, because a lot of these guys we call citizen journalists have been using that very room themselves, haven't they?

CONROY: Yes. I mean, this is critical. This has been -- to the whole campaign in Homs and Baba Amr, this one room run by these incredibly brave people has just managed to someone keep pushing information, information, information.

ANDERSON: I just want to know whether -- that was Baba Amr, and it's pretty all over there, (INAUDIBLE) as it were, things have moved on to Idlib, for example. Can you imagine there is going to be the same sort of volume of citizen journalism coming out in these other places?

CONROY: I think there will be people out there shooting it, I think, and getting that message out. You know, the actual transmission systems will not be in place. The regime now really are crushing that.

ANDERSON: Paul. A pleasure to have you here. I know you're on crutches still. But the best for you and your family there (INAUDIBLE). Thanks very much.

CONROY: Thanks for having us.

ANDERSON: Paul Conroy here with us in the studio tonight.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, no more peace talks, just plenty of damage control. A top Middle East expert on how Washington might heal what is a growing rift with Afghanistan. That coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: A very warm welcome to our viewers across Europe and around the world. I'm Becky Anderson for you at just after half past nine out of London. These are the latest world news headlines here on CNN.

More fallout from Sunday's massacre of civilians in Southern Afghanistan. As US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tries to limit the damage, the Afghan Taliban is scrapping peace talks with Washington. Now, this setback comes as Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, declared that he wants American troops out of his country's villages.

Syria marked the first anniversary of the uprising with pro-regime rallies and more violence. This flag-waving event in Damascus was dubbed a Global March for Syria. Forty-six more deaths are reported Thursday, with activists saying the yearlong death toll is approaching 10,000.

Seventy-five people can now face criminal charges in Egypt over last month's deadly football match. Rioting left 70 people dead. Nine policemen and three officials from the Al-Masry club are being referred for prosecution.

And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says human trafficking is "an affront to our most fundamental values." At the White House earlier today, she chaired a meeting of the task force dedicated to combating modern-day slavery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a priority in the Obama administration, starting with the president, as Valerie said. And the first time we convened the task force under this administration, we laid out a set of commitments. A call to action. And in answering that call, we've tried to elevate the fight against trafficking to the highest levels of policy-making.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Those are your headlines this hour.

Now, Afghanistan's leader has a message for Leon Panetta. Hamid Karzai says Afghans have lost trust in international forces after an American soldier was accused of murdering 16 villagers.

Sara Sidner is live for you tonight from Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Sara, a message from the Taliban on the same day. Peace talks are off. How does all this play into what's going on on the ground?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly makes things uncomfortable for the relationship between the United States in particular and Afghanistan.

And Mr. Panetta sat down and talked with Mr. Karzai, Mr. Karzai asking that some of the timetable be moved up, and also saying that he wanted all international troops out of villages and remote areas and to move back to main bases.

We heard, then, from US officials who said, "No, we think he doesn't mean that immediately. We think that he means that will happen over time." But I spoke with his spokesman, and he said, "No, I meant now. From now forward, not waiting until the day that had been agreed upon."

He also asked that the international forces get this transition done by 2013 instead of 2014. So, you're hearing the frustration, and this is all, obviously, after a US soldier was arrested in connection with the slaughter of 16 civilians as -- in the dead of night as they slept in their homes, including nine women and three children, Becky.

ANDERSON: Sara Sidner's in Kabul for you this evening. Well, my next guest admits the US-Afghan relationship is in trouble and says Sunday's tragedy could not have happened at a more sensitive time.

Middle East expert Vali Nasr says at a scheduled NATO meeting in May, all stakeholders had hoped to show progress in agreeing an exit strategy. Well, when he joined me earlier, I asked him what sort of sweeteners might NATO and the US now offer Karzai and, perhaps more urgently, the Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALI NASR, US STATE DEPARTMENT FOREIGN AFFAIRS POLICY ADVISORY BOARD: We can actually deliver on what they've been asking, which is to transfer four to five of their people from Guantanamo to the custody of the government of Qatar.

The United States has so far resisted this for a variety of reasons. Now, it can become much more proactive on that. It's not a given that the Taliban would be able to return, but it's something that we can try.

And with Karzai, we'll have to deliver on some of the things he's been asking. For instance, maybe we need to impose a moratorium on rotten -- night raids in the villages.

We might have to actually agree to some of the conditionalities that he has put on, at least to provide him with enough political room to be able to come back onboard, and then we can revisit these issues with him at a later point in time.

ANDERSON: That makes sense. This -- I wonder whether this is also on option. The former foreign secretary to the UK, David Miliband here in the studio a couple of days ago. This is what he said he thought needed to happen next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MILIBAND, FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY TO THE UK: I believe we need a UN mediator appointed now, talking to all sides, with no conditions for those talks. And there's a simple formula for stability: all the tribes in, al Qaeda out, and the neighbors on side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NASR: Well, the United States has so far resisted the idea of a UN mediator because the very first thing a UN mediator will ask is for a cease-fire in place. And the American military commanders don't want their hands to be forced by an outside party, so the US wants to control these talks and wants to have some kind of a say in how they will proceed.

But the bigger problem is that even for a UN mediator to be able to convene a conference, you need the Taliban and President Karzai to feel sufficiently -- to have sufficient political capital and room to maneuver to come to the talks.

Karzai now feels that he can only go to the talks if he creates distance between himself and the United States, and the Taliban now think going to the talks has so much political cost for them at home with their own commanders, rank and file, et cetera, that it's better for them to not go to the talks at all.

ANDERSON: A decade on, the Afghan strategy is in tatters. There is no doubt about that. Vali, does it get worse before it gets better, or does it get worse after it gets worse, as it were?

NASR: It could get worse and worse. Right now, actually, we don't have so much as an Afghan strategy as we have an Afghan exit strategy. And the Afghan exit strategy was predicated on certain stability in the three- way relationship between the United States, Taliban, and Karzai.

So, we thought we got the Taliban closer to talks, even as we were fighting with them, and we got them closer to Karzai, and we were maintaining a certain degree of stability in our relationship with Karzai.

Now, two of these pillars have collapsed. Our relationship with Karzai is not good and it's getting worse, and Karzai's beginning to hedge that his survival depends on distance from the United States, not more cooperation.

And the Taliban have decided that the ideal peace talks with the United States is now going to be very damaging to their street credibility and popularity. In fact, they may be able to milk what's happened to gain more support.

So, some of our assumptions are no longer there, and before we rush to the May meeting in Chicago, we ought to sort of step back and see what is the reality on the ground in Afghanistan and devise an exit strategy that reflects that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Vali Nasr speaking to me earlier. And tonight, the FBI and Homeland Security in the US warning of possible violence in America in retaliation for the Afghan massacre. The warning comes in a document obtained by CNN. Go to the website, cnn.com, you'll find the facts there.

A top Iranian official calls for cooperation from the West in return for transparency over its nuclear program. CNN's exclusive interview with one of Iran's most influential officials, next here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: The international banking system, Swift, has cut off Iranian banks blacklisted by the EU over the country's nuclear program. That move makes it pretty much impossible for money to flow in and out of Iran, at least through official channels, putting even more pressure on the country.

Well, despite growing pressure, one of Iran's most influential officials says if the US wants clarity over the country's nuclear program, it will have to cooperate more with Tehran. In an exclusive interview, CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour sat down with Mohammad Javad Larijani, a top adviser to Iran's supreme leader. This is their conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The prime minister of Israel believes that Iran has a nuclear weapons intent and one that will be aimed at Israel. And therefore, this talk and this feeling of crisis and war is all around. Is Iran preparing for war?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD LARIJANI, SECRETARY-GENERAL, IRANIAN HIGH COUNCIL OF HUMAN RIGHTS: We are fully prepared to defend ourselves. And everybody knows in the region that Iran is not an aggressor, but Iran is a fierce defender.

And Netanyahu should be worried about their policies in the region. They are in real crisis. I think the real -- the real bomb is not the atomic bomb of Iran. The real bomb is the great failure of Israel to prove its legitimacy and to define meaningful relations in the region.

AMANPOUR: Meantime, everybody talks about what President Ahmadinejad said a few years ago, that Israel should be wiped from the face of the map. People believe that that means militarily. Is that what the president meant? Is that Iran's intent?

LARIJANI: Oh, definitely not. I think neither the president meant that nor is it a policy of Iran.

AMANPOUR: You said Iran knows how to defend itself.

LARIJANI: Yes. Pretty well.

AMANPOUR: What would you do?

LARIJANI: Well, we know how to do it, so we are fully prepared. Because we have learned this lesson from the hard way and during the eight years of war.

AMANPOUR: There are ways that people are concerned that Iran would retaliate if struck. Closing the Straits of Hormuz. Would you do that?

LARIJANI: Well, here I want to copy the wording of President Obama. "Every possibility is on the table." So, nothing should be excluded.

AMANPOUR: You said that from Iran's part, total transparency is on the table. And yet, today, the IAEA is saying that Iran is unwilling to allow them to go to the Parchin military site. They believe that earlier in the decade, a container area was built for the testing of explosive devices.

LARIJANI: Well, first of all, this Parchin issues is a recurrent issue. Once it has been discussed, and a lot of evidence was given to the agency, but they're still, with the new request, Iran did not reject that.

Iran -- Iran asked in its relation, on what basis, what kind of tests they want to do, where they want to look? And what will be the end result? As I said, two parallel lines. If the Western community is asking us for more transparency, then we should expect for more cooperation.

AMANPOUR: Is anything nuclear-related happening, or did it happen at Parchin?

LARIJANI: Not at all. I think they know pretty well. I think United States intelligence services and the West, they know that we are not after building nuclear weapons. This is part of a game about us.

The Western community can ask only from us transparency under MPT. We also obliged. We have to give them the transparency, but it is also our honest-to-God right to ask for cooperation in other parts of MPT. Let's make it parallel.

AMANPOUR: Iran's supreme leader the other day again mentioned his fatwa against nuclear weapons. He called it again publicly a "great sin." What message is he sending? Is he sending a message to President Obama that Iran will not cross Obama's red line? Will not go military in its nuclear program?

LARIJANI: Iran is serious player in the region. Iran is not after nuclear weapons. The message is clear. Deal with Iran as it is. Iran is not after nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons is not an asset for us. It's more a liability.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons. You see it is a shamble country in terms of security. It doesn't add to our security. We are secure enough. We are strong enough without nuclear weapons, and it is against the fatwa of Ayatollah Khamenei. Nobody is daring to do that.

AMANPOUR: So, even if Iran was attacked, you wouldn't decide to go towards a nuclear military program?

LARIJANI: This is the fatwa of Imam Khamenei. And the fatwa of Ayatollah Khamenei. So if somebody thinks in the world that by attacking Bushehr or other places, Natanz --

AMANPOUR: Or Fordow.

LARIJANI: -- or Fordow, then Iran will be deprived or delayed for 10, 20 years in their progress in the development of nuclear technology, they are deadly wrong.

AMANPOUR: Is there an opportunity for some kind of -- I don't want to use "grand bargain" -- but some kind of big negotiation to normalize relationships between Iran and the United States?

LARIJANI: I'm one of those most outspoken persons in the past three decades favoring -- favoring dialogue with the United States. Even with your fiercest enemy, you should have a line of dialogue and sit down and talk.

AMANPOUR: So, I guess the question is, is all this worth it? The billions of dollars that you've spent? The years under sanctions? The crisis that could be coming to a head? Is it all worth it?

LARIJANI: Oh, yes!

AMANPOUR: Because it actually hasn't materially enriched you.

LARIJANI: No, very much enriched us. We are not secondary citizens of the world. We are number one citizens of the world. We want to enjoy exactly the same rights the United States and the United States people enjoy on an international level.

Don't tell us that you are a little bit below. This is almost impossible that any Iranian can buy it. So, if the United States has the right to enrich uranium, to build its power plant, we have the right, as well. We want to build power plants ourselves, the next one. And we can do it. So, treat us as a first-degree citizen. Then we will be more forthcoming.

AMAPOUR: Mr. Larijani, thank you very much, indeed.

LARIJANI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: And Christiane's new nightly interview show debuts next month on CNN. That is April the 16th in Europe, the 17th in Asia.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. When we come back, Man United looked to reverse their poor European this season as they played a second leg match in Spain. What happened? That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back, you're watching CNN CONNECT THE WORLD, Becky Anderson here for you in London at 10 to 10:00.

Now, making their first Europa League appearance, Manchester United promised they were in it to win it. Well, instead, they were dumped out of it by Athletic Bilbao after a 2-1 defeat in Spain on Thursday, Bilbao reaching their first European quarterfinal in 35 years after a 5-3 aggregate victory.

Pedro in the house with us this evening. United have been really poor in Europe this season. Not in the league, because they're doing all right in that. Why?

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Their mid field's not good enough. That's my personal opinion. I've been saying it for seasons. They were played off the park at the Wembley final in the Champions League by Barcelona last year. It was 3-1, it could've been 4 or 5.

And they need to renew that sector of the field that just shows when you have someone like Paul Scholes who's coming back at 35 years old and he's playing more minutes than even he or Sir Alex Ferguson thought he would.

About tonight, it's quite an accomplishment from Athletic Bilbao, because this is a team who only has Basque players. They don't buy anyone whose not Basque, and they only have players from their own academy. And they beat Manchester United 2-1 tonight, but it could have been 4, 5, or 6. They out shot United 19 to 3 tonight, Becky --

(LAUGHTER)

PINTO: -- which is quite incredible --

ANDERSON: Yes. Yes.

PINTO: -- if you consider that United is used to these big European nights, and they just weren't up for it. They're knocked out 5-3 on aggregate.

Let me just give you a quick update on Manchester City --

ANDERSON: Go ahead.

PINTO: They look like they were down and out, they had lost the first leg to Sporting 1-nil in Lisbon. They were down 2-nil. But they've scored there goals and they're just one goal away from making it through to the quarterfinals.

ANDERSON: So one side of Manchester tonight --

PINTO: Could be. Could be celebrating.

ANDERSON: -- could be happy.

PINTO: Yes.

ANDERSON: They'll be even happier if United get dumped out and they stay in, of course. All right, big rivals.

Barcelona. Let's move on. The footballer who is having an operation, who's this?

PINTO: Yes, Eric Abidal, the French international, he had a problem with his liver last season, had a tumor removed. He missed most of the year. And now, he's just found out he needs to have a liver transplant --

ANDERSON: Oh.

PINTO: -- which obviously is a lot more serious than the condition that he had last year. And his season has come to an end. Barcelona right now, all the players rallying around him. But this is a very popular figure in the dressing room, he's been there for over five seasons, he's won 13 trophies with the team.

And last year when they won the Champions League final here at Wembley, even though he didn't play, he was the one raising the trophy, so --

ANDERSON: Sure.

PINTO: -- everybody really likes this guy. Very popular. It's a shame. We wish him well.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. We wish you all the best if you are watching tonight.

Pedro, lastly --

PINTO: Lastly.

ANDERSON: -- before I let you go --

PINTO: Yes.

ANDERSON: An athlete known as the "Blade Runner" has been talking to us.

PINTO: He has. We've got this series that's Human to Heroes, which we've been running in the countdown to the Olympics, and we've talked to a lot of the athletes who hope to make a big impact at the London Games.

And Oscar Pistorius is one of them. He could be one -- which no one really does, which is a disabled athlete competing in the able-bodied Olympics. He says, obviously, he'd love to qualify, and he still can. But regardless of whether he does or doesn't, he'll come to the end of his career regardless and look back knowing that he tried 100 percent all the time. This is what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSCAR PISTORIUS, SPRINTER: I think success for me looking back at my career when I'm done would be to look back and know that every season, I attempted to do my best, whether it be with my training or my races.

If I look can back at my career and say that I gave it my best with no regrets, I think that would be a successful -- successful ending for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PINTO: Oscar Pistorius, not only a great athlete, also a great guy, very humble and really proves that, despite the condition he has and disability he has, he's up there competing with the best of them.

ANDERSON: An absolute inspiration.

PINTO: Yes.

ANDERSON: And you are back in 30 minutes.

PINTO: I am.

ANDERSON: Thank you, sir. "World Sport" with Pedro.

In tonight's Parting Shots, the Duchess of Cambridge like you have never seen her before, in sneakers and -- get this -- a hoodie. To use a true British phrase, it was all very jolly hockey sticks for the young royal as she took part in a number of engagements today along with her in- laws.

CNN's Max Foster has the royal rap for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The duchess calls in on the British Olympic field hockey team. It was her sport at school. She was a star striker, in fact, but hasn't played for nearly 10 years and feels a bit rusty. But she decides to have a go anyway.

CATHERINE, DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE: Am I going to get given a GPO?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

FOSTER: As she sets off for the practice, she notes that her trousers clash with the pitch. She always has an eye for fashion.

(CROWD OOHS)

FOSTER: At the other end of town, an altogether more sedate affair. Catherine's mother-in-law, Camilla, welcomes children to Clarence House to promote the other big London event this summer, the Diamond Jubilee, and in particular, encouraging children and adults to hold street parties where cakes are obligatory.

We're not normally allowed to film royals eating, but this is something you never see. Royals ironing. Later in the day, the two duchesses meet up with Prince Charles at a community arts project.

FOSTER (on camera): We learned today that royals can play hockey, they can iron -- some better than others. Today, of course, was all about the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Charles and Camilla almost became a side story.

But that's the whole point, really. The Duchess of Cambridge is reinvigorating interest in the whole royal family.

Max Foster, CNN, Dulwich, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: That's right. I'm Becky Anderson, and that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thanks for watching. World news headlines and "BackStory" up after this. Don't go away.

END