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CNN'S AMANPOUR

France and the Global Economic Crisis; Russian View of the Syrian Crisis

Aired April 23, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

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


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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everybody, welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

In the cycles of history, great financial turmoil triggers great political upheaval. And tonight it appears the cycle may be repeating itself in France. In my brief tonight, will French President Nicolas Sarkozy be the next European leader to be swept from power since the global financial crisis erupted?

A number of others have fallen like so many dominoes already, Greece's George Papandreou, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Britain's Gordon Brown, just to name a few. The riots the world has witnessed, angry citizens taking to the streets of these countries, all of this has happened as leaders have adopted harsh austerity measures meant to bring spiraling debt levels under control.

And now France faces a painful question, whether to go for austerity or stimulus spending. In Sunday's first round of elections, Sarkozy came in a close second, behind the socialist Francois Hollande. And polls suggest that Hollande will win the runoff two weeks from now.

But worrisome for the country, both the far left and the far right, had stronger showings than anyone expected.

France is also the world's fifth largest economy, and when it comes to the world stage, it has long been proud of the role that it plays there. It was a leader in the successful intervention effort in Libya last year, and now there are questions about what role it may play at a crucial moment of decision for international intervention in Syria.

We'll discuss all of this with our two guests tonight, France's Bernard Henri-Levy and the United Nations' ambassador from Russia, Vitaly Churkin.

First, we turn to Mr. Levy, or as he's known in France, BHL, perhaps the leading public intellectual in that country, a writer, a journalist and an activist of much renown.

Welcome to our program.

BERNARD HENRI-LEVY, FRENCH PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL, PHILOSOPHER AND JOURNALIST: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: First, what happened? Why has France turned against President Sarkozy, because it does seem very personal?

HENRI-LEVY: The real event of yesterday night is not that. The real event and probably the real disaster is the extreme right breaking all its own records, arriving close to 20 percent.

AMANPOUR: More than even Mr. Le Pen in 2002?

HENRI-LEVY: Of course. The daughter at the end killed the father. This was one of the goal of the game. She made it.

AMANPOUR: With so many young people?

HENRI-LEVY: So many young people and so many old people, she's surrounded by a lot of old Nazis old denial people of holocaust --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: People who deny the Holocaust.

HENRI-LEVY: And she's now surrounded by a lot of old people coming from the Dark Ages of our history. I don't like to say badly about my country when I'm abroad. But I must say that we are a lot today to be in a sort of mourning because of this incredible vote for her critical (ph) fascist party.

AMANPOUR: And why is that? I mean, these are huge insults, if you like, as you admit yourself that you're throwing at the far right. But why do you think this is happening? What are they angry about right now, the people?

HENRI-LEVY: I'm not sure that they are angry. You know, these sort of votes is not a vote of angriness. This is --

AMANPOUR: But they say that they are divorced from the mainstream, they feel that mainstream politics doesn't address their concerns, the high unemployment.

HENRI-LEVY: It is an old tradition in European policy -- you know that -- in Germany and Italy and France. There is this undercurrent running in the -- in the mainstream of European politics and from time to time, it comes back.

When the locks are unlocked, when the taboos are uplifted, when the right has accepted to break the wall, the barrier between the wall of specious (ph), between the right and the extreme right, when the left, the extreme left also feeds the topics of the extreme right, when you have all of that, the hate for North America or sort of the smooth or soft unsaid anti-Semitism, (inaudible), racism, which are expressed more and more in France in a sort of a cool mood, then of course the real fascists, the harder head up again and they express.

AMANPOUR: It is pretty terrifying and dark and bleak, the picture that you've just painted in the last minute or so. What is going to happen then? Is Marine Le Pen going to instruct her voters to vote for Sarkozy? Is Mr. Hollande going to win, the socialists come back to power?

HENRI-LEVY: She will -- she will certainly not decide that, because one of the characteristic of the extreme right in Europe is that their main enemy is never the left. It is always the right. If you look at the history of Europe, the one who oppose fascism were always the right.

The leader on the right, I would say, and those who are first destroyed by fascism was always the right. So Marine Le Pen, it is the name of this brilliant girl, has a real target, a real enemy, who is Sarkozy. She wants to put him out of politics. And she says it. So she will not call for any vote --

AMANPOUR: So you think Hollande will win the second round? And you obviously support him? You support the Socialist Party?

HENRI-LEVY: Yes, yes, yes. I support -- I support -- I work for him. But I don't know. It is still unpredictable. You know, Sarkozy is also a great leader. He has a real -- he had real good achievements during his first five years. So the story is not -- is not finished yet.

AMANPOUR: So let's take it to the world stage. France, as I said, is very proud of the role it's played and particularly in Libya. And you obviously had a huge impact on what happened in Libya. You went to Libya, you met with the so-called rebels, the oppositions of the time. And you convinced your president, Sarkozy, to act there.

Tell us a little bit how did you do that? Here you are socialist philosopher journalist, having this incredible impact on a very conservative president?

HENRI-LEVY: It is, even for myself, even in my own eyes, it is a mysterious story. I was in Benghazi. I had gone through all Syrian (inaudible) saying terrible things, which you know the sort of things that better than me. I was full of that. I really wanted to try something to do. I said to myself, one cannot just stay arms like this in front of that. And I called him.

It was like a bottle in the sea. I called him. But without having spoken to him since years. We were friends before, 20 years ago. But since he was president, we were not on speaking terms. I called. He took me. And I told him what I saw, what I was witness of. And that I met these people who were the leaders of the rebellion.

And they -- that, on my opinion, they were guys which should be supported. And he just said yes. And a few days after, he received them in Paris. He recognized them as the legitimate representative of the -- of the -- of the new media (ph) and he prevented a blow (ph) with Ms. Clinton and with David Cameron.

They are really the three which really put the brakes on history, they prevented a bloodbath in Benghazi. There was a bloodbath, what has happened today in Syria, enormous. This was preparing in Benghazi, and they really stopped it at 5 to midnight, 5 to midnight.

AMANPOUR: So you are saying -- and you've written that Homs today is what's actually happening and could have happened in Benghazi if the world hadn't intervened.

HENRI-LEVY: Exactly. And Benghazi is what could and should be done in Homs in order to stop the bloodbath. Yes, of course. Homs and Benghazi, it's rather similar, you know. It's rather similar even if the geography is different, even if -- it is rather similar.

So Homs is the Benghazi of 2012.

AMANPOUR: Your favored candidate is Francois Hollande. This is what the current French foreign minister has said about him.

"The problem with Francois Hollande is that in matters of foreign affairs, he's always running behind the train." That is what Alain Juppe said this past Friday.

Would Francois Hollande intervene in Syria? Sarkozy has not.

HENRI-LEVY: You never know what a state man will do. Sarkozy, when he intervened in Libya, was the man who received Gadhafi in Paris three years ago. He was the most unexpected president to kick down, to unthrone (ph) Gadhafi. So you never know. History is never written.

And what the -- what Libya proves is that sometimes, when you have two or three women and men, Hillary Clinton, Cameron, Sarkozy, who really want something, who gather their energy, they're like a grain of sand which block the process of the inevitable history. So I don't know.

Hollande can be the man in Syria as Sarkozy was the man in Libya, as Sarkozy can be if he is reelected. He can be also the one who takes the lead of the new coalition, stopping this incredible thing which happens every day, 20, 30, 100 dead, and the international community looks like that, like the weather, like the weather, it will make -- it will be tomorrow.

This is completely disgusting. And why? Because we have -- why did it happen in Libya this way? First? Because Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton succeeded in convincing the security (inaudible). This was the real achievement. Why does it happen in Syria, because there is two states at least, China and Russia, who block any resolution. And this is a shame. This in front of the judgment of history.

When we shall all be judged by I don't know whom, those who block every resolution which some countries try to pass will have a huge responsibility. I hope they sleep well when they learn, when they know that every day, there is 20, 30, 100 more children, women, civilians killed because for realpolitik reasons, they don't want to intervene. This is a shame of our times.

AMANPOUR: Bernard Henri-Levy, thank you very much --

HENRI-LEVY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: -- for joining us.

And up next, we will ask that very question to our next guest, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back. And now to Syria, where heavy shelling continues and 60 more people were killed today, according to the opposition. This comes just two days after the United Nations voted to send as many as 300 observers into the country.

That resolution lacked the threat of sanctions because Russia and China won't support it. And both countries have been slow to support stronger measures against Bashar al-Assad, even as he continues to slaughter his own people. Now the question of why.

So joining me to talk about this is Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador, thank you for being with us.

VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIA'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: We had very strong statement from my previous guest, activist and philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who, as you know, led the intervention or persuaded the international intervention in NATO.

CHURKIN: I'm not aware of that, but maybe this is, in fact, the case.

AMANPOUR: Right. It pretty much is.

(LAUGHTER)

AMANPOUR: He basically said that it's shameful that the same kind of intervention is not happening as every single day what did not happen in Benghazi is happening in Homs and other parts of Syria. Do you not feel that to some extent?

(CROSSTALK)

CHURKIN: Yes, well, first of all, they -- by and large, people admit that Libya is not Syria. Syria is not Libya. We must remember that.

AMANPOUR: But beyond that, there is slaughter.

CHURKIN: We must remember that very clearly, because the situation is much more complex in Syria.

And what the regime changers were offering in the resolution, which the Russian chain of eagle (ph) told those resolutions was for the confrontation, because it meant a frontal attack on the Assad government, frontal cause for him to leave, and he was not about to do that. And opinion polls on Syria were showing that over 50 percent of the population didn't want him to leave. So --

AMANPOUR: But opinion polls in country like that are somewhat (inaudible) --

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CHURKIN: -- conducted by independent -- well, all those figures, you know, they do not always come from reliable sources. The opinions I have seen were coming from Syria, some of the reports of the casualties in Syria come from London.

So you know, we have to -- but the important thing is that the way to deal with the situation in Syria is to establish a political process. This is still a missing link.

One thing we already have in place. We have a Security Council resolution, incidentally, initiated by Russia, adopted last Saturday, for the deployment of the monitoring mission. Our expectation, our hope is that as they deploy, it will be very difficult to conduct violence in Syria for both sides.

AMANPOUR: But it still is happening, even though the resolution --

(CROSSTALK)

CHURKIN: -- they just have 10 people on the ground. Of course, if the Syrian government continues to use heavy weapons in the cities, that would mean that they are breaching the commitment they made only last Saturday --

AMANPOUR: But why do you think they would not breach their commitments, since they have breached their commitments --

CHURKIN: Well, because --

AMANPOUR: -- every single time that you and others have tried to get them to abide by commitments?

CHURKIN: -- because, because I think they must realize that by force alone, this crisis cannot be settled. The crisis --

AMANPOUR: Do you think they realize that? Or do they think (inaudible) --

CHURKIN: I think they do. I think they do. I think they realize. But one --

AMANPOUR: But what evidence do you have to back that up?

CHURKIN: Well, because when we have suggested two or three months ago for the government to come to Moscow and have a dialogue with the opposition, including at the vice president level, you might recall that the Arab League wanted the vice president to speak on behalf of the Syrian authorities in the dialogue with the opposition, they immediately accepted.

It was their position who refused to come and talk to the government. This is one thing which is missing. We need stopping the violence, monitoring the cessation of violence. And we also need the opposition to accept -- to accept dialogue with the government.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe, I mean, seriously, I know that's your position, but do you really believe that after all of this, after more than a year of this, or after all the slaughter, there is a possibility of a dialogue that leaves President Assad in power? Or even a dialogue that's credible?

CHURKIN: I do. I -- well, you know, what -- is he going to stay in power or not is not a matter of concern to us. Our concern is that it must be a Syria-led all-inclusive political process, where the outcome of that process is going to be is a completely another proposition. But in order for that to be determined, the dialogue must take place. And this, I hope --

AMANPOUR: Do you really think that there is time for that now, after all this (inaudible)?

CHURKIN: All conflicts end with some kind of a political deal. The only difference is it going to happen now or is it going to require three or four more years of bloodshed and (inaudible) like we had in Iraq over 100,000 civilians killed? This is the only -- this is the only difference.

AMANPOUR: You said that all conflicts end with a political deal. Obviously, it didn't happen like that in Egypt, Mubarak stepped down. It didn't happen like that in Libya, Gadhafi was killed. Yemen, perhaps it did. Tunisia, it didn't happen. The president left.

You just raised something at the beginning. You called them regime changes. Is that Russia's issue? Is that the -- we're trying to figure out the nub of your problem, why you don't even agree to sanctions, why there is nothing held over the government's head to force them to do what you want them to do? Is it about regime change?

CHURKIN: Well, they are sort of two different issues. First of all, as a matter of principle, we believe that the U.N. Security Council is not about regime change. We believe that should there -- is there -- if there was a crisis in a country, the role of international community should be to help the parties involved to find a political, peaceful way out of this crisis.

And when we saw some of the resolutions, which included sanctions, we knew that those were resolutions which were heading in the direction of regime change by force, which would, in turn, lead only to much more bloodshed in Syria because in contrast to Gadhafi, President Assad does have a strong armed force. He does have support among the population.

So this easy way, which incidentally in Libya, 32 -- 50,000 people were killed. And the country is still in a very difficult state. So even in Libya, it was not a simple proposition at all. But in Syria, the national and regional consequences would have been dramatic. So we were against that kind of a scenario.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the military, but first I want to ask you this, because it's really important. Do you have a threshold, does Russia have a threshold? Is it that right now the U.N. and others say 10,000 people have been killed since this started more than 13 months ago. I mean, is another few hundred? Is it another few thousand? Is it 100,000 have to die before Russia decides that this is enough?

CHURKIN: What has happened -- what has happened already is unacceptable. Ten thousand they say civilians, the government says almost 6,000 people on their side. We already have something which resembles a civil war. We need to have a political track.

AMANPOUR: Is there a threshold?

CHURKIN: Well --

AMANPOUR: Does Russia say this is enough?

CHURKIN: You know, you -- the threshold has been exceeded already. You know, in our view, the conflict could have been stopped last August, when we initiated the presidential statement under Security Council, which said all parties must stop violence from all sides, violence must be stopped and there must be Syrian-led political process, all-inclusive political process.

Instead, the regime change scenario stepped in, which we had to block by our vetoes in the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: And you've also been -- so you're blocking what you believe to be regime change. You've also say, you yourself have been quoted as saying this latest resolution proves that the Libyan model has been retired. Is this payback for what you believe to have been double dealing (inaudible)?

CHURKIN: No, this is not a payback, but we need to be particularly careful, because what was so in the situation of Libya was that the Security Council resolution was manipulated and its terms were greatly exceeded by those who were effecting the regime change in Libya. And you should understand. Our problem is not with Gadhafi having been overthrown.

After all, our relations with Gadhafi were much more remote than of those countries who actually overthrew him. Our problem is that the price of it was the manipulation of decisions of the Security Council. So every time we look now at a draft of a Security Council resolutions and similar situations, we have to be very careful in not allowing any misinterpretation of those resolutions.

AMANPOUR: But you also have said, and your president has said that this is our ally, and we don't just turn against our ally. You also sell weapons to the --

CHURKIN: We are -- they are not our allies. We don't have an alliance. This is a country with which we had a long, friendly relationship.

AMANPOUR: OK, a long, friendly relationship. You don't want to turn against your friend.

CHURKIN: Yes, I think this is a factor. It's a friendly country. We wanted to come to find a shortcut, if you will, if after 13 months of bloodshed this expression can be used, to a peaceful outcome of the crisis. And we don't believe that frontal regime change operation, which was started by some hotheads in the Arab League and supported in some Western capitals is going to produce a short political solution.

AMANPOUR: Let me take you back to the `90s. Russia opposed the intervention in Kosovo, and yet it was your own former prime minister, after 78 days of NATO bombardment, who went and got Milosevic to pull back and to say, enough is enough. That led to the fall of Milosevic and democracy in Serbia. I mean, how can -- how bad can that be? You were on the right side of history in the end there.

CHURKIN: Well, you know, only history will decide who was on the right hand -- the right side and the wrong side --

AMANPOUR: It's democratic (inaudible).

CHURKIN: Listen, we are -- we are, of course, a comparison of Serbia and Syria is more remote than Libya and Syria. There is nobody who's more active, diplomatically than Russia, very tough talk with the government in Damascus. Everybody recognizes that we were the ones who said at least twice the Kofi Annan -- the Kofi Annan mission in Syria.

We also involved opposition leaders, various operation groups, come to Moscow. We talk to them, too, in various places. So you know, we are extremely active across the diplomatic and political spectrum.

AMANPOUR: We hope to continue this conversation, Mr. Churkin, Ambassador Churkin, because many also don't believe that the Annan process has much of a chance of succeeding. But we will watch and we hope to invite you back here again.

CHURKIN: Thank you. Let's think positively.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. And we'll be right back.

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AMANPOUR: And now for our final thought. After those two passionate conversations with Bernard Henri-Levy and Ambassador Churkin and the dilemma over what to do about Syria, imagine a world where memory might be a call to action, as the slaughter in Syria continues.

President Obama today went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington to remember the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War. The Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel used the occasion to ask how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power still.

It was a stunning reminder for me of another April day 19 years ago, when President Bill Clinton first dedicated that museum. At the time, Bosnia was burning and the world still had not intervened. And Wiesel turned and made a dramatic public appeal directly to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIE WIESEL, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR AND AUTHOR: We have learned some lessons, minor lessons, perhaps, that we are all responsible, and indifference is a sin and a punishment. And we have learned that when people suffer we cannot remain indifferent.

And, Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: It was an electrifying moment from somebody who would know. But it would take another 21/2 years before intervention happened in Bosnia. And as our guest, Bernard Henri-Levy has asked about Syria, what will be the time, quote, "when one must have the elementary dignity to say `stop'?"

That's our program for tonight. Thank you for joining us. Goodbye from New York.

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