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Egyptian Elections; Iran Talks

Aired May 23, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program. My brief tonight, two major developing stories, Egypt launches itself into a democratic future and Iran in nuclear talks with major powers tries to head off yet another Middle Eastern war.

First, though, to Egypt, where for thousands of years power has resided in the hands of the pharaohs, of kings and of military strongmen until this historic day when, for the first time in living memory, no one really knows who will be the next president. That truly does rest in the hands of the voters. And tonight, polling stations were so crowded that voting was extended for an extra hour.

That headline you're looking at in one of Egypt's largest newspapers says, "Rise Up, Egyptians," and they surely did. Look at this picture, snapped at a polling place by our correspondent, CNN's Ben Wedemann. It's the purple finger that's come to signify democracy in so much of the Arab world now.

And remember Wael Ghonim? He's the former Google executive whose Internet activism helped galvanize last year's revolution and the turnout in Tahrir Square. And that moment led to this day.


WAEL GHONIM, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: The first time for me to vote for a president and I think for many people from my generation are doing the same thing. And I think it's a historical moment, no matter when, at the end of the day, it's a time where the new president understands very well that it's the people who put him in power.


AMANPOUR: And even as Egyptians head to the polls, power is the subject of very real questions about the military, whether it will give up easily power to a civilian president, with its massive wealth and deep institutional ties across the country, the army has run Egypt since the revolution last year. And in a moment, I will speak with a key military figure, the retired General Sameh Seif Elyazal.

At the same time, though, today, in Iraq, the United States, Europe, Russia and China are locked in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. After months of saber rattling by Israel and biting U.N. sanctions, all sides are finally at the table, but can they finally reach a deal?

And later in the program, I'll talk about this with two very knowledgeable insiders, Hossein Mosavian, who was formerly part of Iran's negotiating team and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who has helped set American policy in the region from the State Department to the United Nations.

But first, let's go straight to Egypt, its democracy and its military and retired General Sameh Seif Elyazal is a close adviser to the ruling SCAF, that is, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and he joins me now from Cairo.

General, thank you for being with me. Tell me, what does the military --

GENERAL SAMEH SEIF ELYAZAL, (RET.), EGYPT: A pleasure, a pleasure to be with you.

AMANPOUR: What does the military want on this historic day? Will it give up power to a civilian president?

ELYAZAL: They will definitely do that and there's no hesitation. They will do it on the 30th of June. If the result for the first round of election will come with a president with the coming few days, in a few days (ph) they're going to announce there is also the first round.

They will give up immediately after that, and they will not even wait till the 30th of June. So I have no doubt whatsoever that they will hand over the power to the new president at the right time.

AMANPOUR: Does that come with strings attached, General? I know you talk to them regularly and we know that the military is concerned about its role in post-democratic Egypt. What strings do you think are attached? What negotiations are underway? What powers do the -- does the military want to keep for itself?

ELYAZAL: Well, I don't think we need anything in the coming period regarding the political life of Egypt. I don't think that they want to be involved directly or indirectly with the political life.

They may need maybe the new constitution a few things which they want and they believe it is for the good of the country to have it, such like the declaration of war, that the president, the new president cannot declare war to any country until they go back and consult them. This is one thing.

The second point, which is a big issue, I think and debated for a long time now, that the budget of the military, of Egyptian army has to be kind of confidentiality. It means that they can discuss it in the parliament and the people assembly but in maybe in a subcommittee and not publicly in the general assembly or to the people.

AMANPOUR: And why do they want that level of secrecy?

ELYAZAL: Well, actually, for a long time now, we don't actually put that publicly to the normal -- I mean, we are still in the first year of democracy. So maybe later on they can do that. But maybe step by step, they will do it for a certain level and then a few years from now it can be declared openly.

AMANPOUR: And what about the issue of a defense minister? Does the army want to have a say over who's the next defense minister, even in a civilian government, who may be holding various cabinet positions?

ELYAZAL: I think we are not ready yet for civilian minister of defense, maybe the -- I think what they want as well is to have a general whatever somebody from the military to be the next minister of defense. And they will not accept easily a new civilian minister of defense for the coming period. Maybe later on, 10 years from now, there's going to be another issue.

But the minister of defense will be announced by the president. But I think we are -- we're going to have like four ministers be announced by the president himself or at least advised by the minister, by the president to the prime minister, such like foreign affairs minister, minister of defense, minister of interior and minister of finance.

AMANPOUR: What, they will all be military, all of those?

ELYAZAL: No, no, no, only the minister of defense --


ELYAZAL: -- will be military, but the rest will be civilian. But (inaudible) actually nominated by the coming (ph) president, I believe.

AMANPOUR: And there was some talk about the military wanting to have a constitutional sort of guarantee that they could intervene in the event of a catastrophe. Now I don't know how that catastrophe is defined, but again, is that something that the military is trying to get?

ELYAZAL: I think this is the rumor, nobody actually in the military or SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, wanted that. I'm not sure even if there is a subject with anybody. But it's the some political groups in Egypt they mentioned that. But believe me, no one of them wanted that.

AMANPOUR: And what about we've talked about the military's massive holdings. According to some figures, they could control about 40 percent of the economy and it's industries and it's real estate and it's all sorts of economic activities. I see you crossing your arms there, now. Do you think that this is something that the military will hang onto?

ELYAZAL: First of all, let me correct the percentage. I can assure, again, that the penetration of the armed forces in Egyptian civilian economy is not exceeding 10 percent. It's between 8-10 percent max and lots of people are saying it's much more than that.

Let me tell you as well as the daily involvement in the economy, Egyptian economy, not in the political sense (ph) in the major issues, like they are not partnered in banks in Egypt or even holding banks or owning banks. This is number one.

Number two, they are not in heavy industries. They are only maybe in the small industries, bottling waters and some food stuff. They are not (inaudible). So their involvement is minor. It's only 8-10 percent, and this is for sure the right figure.

AMANPOUR: And that's for sure what they're going to want to keep, I guess because economists say that if you're really going to have a thriving economy, you've got to start sort of dismantling a lot of the state-run nature of it. It has to have a lot more competitiveness. Is this something that the military will accede to?

ELYAZAL: Well, yes, again, they don't really want to compete with any other commercial companies or factories in Egypt. They actually -- the idea started by having their own products for own people.

We have like 750 people working in the army and of course, if you like to buy fruits, vegetables, food every day for them, you may affect the local market by raising the price. So they -- the idea came is that (inaudible) production for them, for themselves.

And then they start to have some seven or eight supermarkets for military people in Egypt. Right now (inaudible) as well to buy with the same price like the military people and their families.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk about the balance of power. You're obviously in close contact with the military leaders. Number one, do you think that Field Marshal Tantawi will resign after the elections?

ELYAZAL: I don't think he will be in the political life in Egypt or he wants to be the next minister of defense. I think he is running the show now.

Actually, the acting president, if I may, ask (ph) between two brackets. But I don't think he will come back to be a minister of defense. It's not in this part of the world. You cannot do that. So most probably I think he will resign and he will not be involved in the political life of this country.

AMANPOUR: And do you believe that this democratic election will bring stability to Egypt?

ELYAZAL: Not immediately, but I would say, yes, we're going to start the kind of stability. But it's not like a matter of day, or night, that second day we're going to have stability.

We're -- we have to work for that. People are expecting a lot from the next president, not only actually expecting, but people are frustrated, economy is not very healthy, security is not very stable. So he has to do a lot of work to -- in order to get stability back to this country.

AMANPOUR: And who is the military's favorite candidate in the slate that's running today?

ELYAZAL: I didn't hear that well, Christiane, sorry.

AMANPOUR: Who would the military prefer to win the election?

ELYAZAL: Ah. Well, no one, I -- believe me, and I'm, again, sure for that. They don't care really about secular candidates will come on power or Islamists (ph).

They will deal with anybody and, again, we can't expect the results, the people of Egypt, they have the control in their hands by their -- by voting for the president. They believe he will be the right one at the right time for this country. So I don't think we have any preferable one.

AMANPOUR: General Elyazal, thank you so much for joining me from Cairo on this incredible day. Thank you for being with us.

ELYAZAL: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

Clearly, a historic day in Egypt. And now the world waits anxiously for progress reports from Baghdad as Iran and western powers debate whether to take crucial negotiations into another day. But first, a snapshot of democracy. Take a look at this picture. It shows how the election cuts across Egypt's cultural divide.

But there's another group that cuts even more at stake. That story, coming up.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. And now to the Iran talks. Nobody expected a fully negotiated deal to come out of those talks in Baghdad today. Instead, the world is waiting to see if the outlines of a deal are even feasible, with confidence buildings measures from both sides aimed at ensuring that Iran is not producing a nuclear weapon.

And it's heading off an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. So joining me to talk about the prospects for an agreement are Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, a former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team, and in Washington, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs. Gentlemen, welcome to you both on this very important day.

Let me ask you, from your perspectives, first to you, Ambassador Pickering, what is the P5+1 putting on the table? What are they telling Iran and offering Iran?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: We don't actually know, Christiane, what the dope stories say is a combination of a deal on the Tehran research reactor in return for Iran cutting off 20 percent enrichment.

Perhaps helped and induced by the idea, a new idea, that the U.S. would help to improve the efficiency of that reactor and maybe over a period of time enable it to operate on uranium at 3.5 percent enrichment rather than 20 percent enrichment.

And there has been some rumors, anyway, of confidence building measures in the area of the aircraft spare parts, which has been around for a long time.

But this comes against the backdrop of seemingly an agreement with the IAEA in the last 48 hours, which is pretty good, if it works, to allow the IAEA access to some of the areas that they were forbidden access to, generally military installations where there were reports of activity taking place having to do with the nuclear program of a military character and perhaps also a way for Iran and the IAEA to cooperate in a sense exploring what really happened before 2003 in the area of possible military developments in Iran's program.

And I emphasize that the U.S. intelligence says those were stopped and they haven't reported them being begun again.

AMANPOUR: Right. And that is the same as Parchin military site that we've been talking about for so long. I want to now --


AMANPOUR: -- turn to Ambassador Hossein Mousavian. What do you know has been put on the table? Are you in touch with any of the nuclear negotiators, people around them?

AMBASSADOR HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN, FORMER MEMBER, Iran NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: What I heard Iran has proposed a five-step plan. Russians, they have already prepared a new plan. They had before one proposal.

But for this talk, they have prepared another proposal, second proposal. And western countries, the U.S. and the European allies, they have prepared a third plan, which for today, the Iranians, they have proposed the five-step plan to P5+1. And the P5+1 has proposed Iranian, the plan which has been proposed, prepared by European and American, which is a detailed step-by-step plan.

AMANPOUR: And is it something that the Iranians can accept? You just heard what Ambassador Pickering said, you know, stop negotiating up to 20 percent and other related events. I know people do want to see Iran ship out its stockpile of 20 percent. I know it has been proposed that Iran stop its enrichment and stop the facility at Fordo near Bond (ph).

MOUSAVIAN: It depends very much, Christiane, to the whole package. I mean, the first step I'm afraid the P5+1, they ask too much from Iran. I mean, they ask Iran diamond, to give diamond in return for peanuts.

This is the problem which I'm very much afraid may happen in Baghdad (ph) talks. What Europeans, Americans they are very much concentrated on is the 20 percent, as Tom said, and also they want Iran to add to this (ph) possibility that I mentioned, questions.

AMANPOUR: So the potential signing of a deal on Parchin with the IAEA?

MOUSAVIAN: The deal already agreed in Tehran, between Jalili and Amano.

AMANPOUR: So they will get into Parchin?

MOUSAVIAN: The deal already they have agreed.

But it is not signed because Tehran was waiting to see what would be the outcome of political negotiations --

AMANPOUR: So Tehran's holding that deal to the Baghdad talks?

MOUSAVIAN: Intellectually (ph), because the issue is political rather than technical. I mean, for the IAEA, Iran would have no problem to cooperate with the IAEA, to have this all questions. But the fact is to add this the possibility that I mentioned, it means Iran would have to implement additional protocol and even Iran would have to give access beyond additional protocol.

And asking Iran for stop 20 percent, to implement additional protocol, to give access beyond additional protocol, this is practically the diamonds the P5+1 they want, and as Tom said, here you are, if they are going to propose Iran spare parts for airplanes, this would be the peanuts --


AMANPOUR: But Iran does want spare parts for airplanes, and obviously what it wants is rolling back the sanctions.

Ambassador Pickering, is there any likelihood that the P5 could even be discussing lifting or rolling back any of the sanctions at this point?

PICKERING: Well, all negotiations begin with each side putting on the table its most extreme demands. And certainly the rumor mill was churning here in the last 48 hours with the idea that sanctions wouldn't be put on the table, don't count on sanctions. But negotiations have their own dynamic, Christiane.

And speculation about what's happening in a closed room is always very futile. I would only say that I hope, in fact, that the negotiations are broad enough and comprehensive enough and detailed enough that now or in a future meeting -- and I would count a future meeting as a success here -- they will be able to discuss the issues and obviously winnow through them.

I've long been of the view that to have everything settled in one fell swoop is probably a council of futility. It is just too complicated. There are too many pieces. There is too much going on, there are too many compromises that would have to be made.

Whether they could begin small and build, I don't know. Iran has some very serious concerns. The United States and the Europeans and Russia and China have some very serious concerns. The good news is that apparently it's now 10:00 or 11:00 at night in Baghdad and they haven't reported out. I hope this is good news that they're still talking.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- ?

PICKERING: But I would say there are three things to look for here. One is will there be another meeting? Secondly, have they developed any kind of the beginning of an answer to the problems on the political side? And the third point is are they backing or are they supporting what Iran and the IAEA have apparently done? These are the things I think to look for.

AMANPOUR: So if those are the things to look for, Ambassador Mousavian, one of the things you have said is non-negotiable is the demand that Iran completely stop its enrichments.


AMANPOUR: Even the Israeli defense minister told me in an interview not so long ago that Israel could see, at least from his perspective, a 3.5 percent enrichment. Of course, all the other stockpiles would have to -- would have to be shipped out and the Fordo would have to be -- would have to be stopped. So do you think that this is a place where the two sides can come together?

MOUSAVIAN: Yes. I think the main issue for Iran is the legitimate rights for enrichment. Iranians are already posed for Iran to have 5 percent maximum (inaudible) to 5 percent and to stop 20 percent. You remember, it was proposed first by Iranian president. Unfortunately, at that time, the Europeans and the Americans, they rejected.

Therefore, it shows there is potential about the level of enrichment and also about the stockpile confidence-building measures on the stockpile.

They can sit together to discuss what is the percentage of consumption of the current (inaudible) stockpile for Iran and the rest, rather than stockpiling, which would be problematic for international community, they can either export it or convert it to the pallets (ph) to the few robbed (ph).

But in three major issues, Christiane, for Iran, recognizing the rights, gradual lifting of sanctions and normalizing the file (ph) in the IAEA, if as Tom said, if there is a broad (ph) package, including these three major elements for Iranians, then I'm almost confident Iranians would be cooperative for a maximum level of transparency, signing the agreement already agreed in Tehran tentatively to give the required access to IAEA, addressing all possibilities I mentioned, even to implement additional protocol and to have the maximum cooperation with IAEA.

AMANPOUR: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. Ambassador Mousavian, Ambassador Pickering, thank you for joining us. We'll keep watching this story.

PICKERING: Thank you.

MOUSAVIAN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: A really interesting and vital conversation and vital story, and it is a rare day when we can see maybe a silver lining in the clouds above Cairo, possibly in the clouds above Tehran. But those clouds are still there, and we'll explain why when we come back.

And after the program, please visit our website, where ordinary Egyptians have stepped up to tell us what they want from their new president at our open mike. Hear the voices of this historic election at We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And for our final note, Ambassador Mousavian tells me that he does believe these talks in Baghdad will go on for a further day. And now imagine a world where you win a revolution but you might lose your rights.

Fifteen months ago, as we've been saying, Egyptian women stood in Tahrir Square with their fathers, their sons, their brothers and their husbands and they became the collective face of the Arab Spring.

Now they stand on lines, separate lines from the men, waiting to cast their vote. But no matter who wins, women will hold just 2 percent of the seats in Egypt's new parliament, the same parliament that's considering lowering the legal age of marriage for girls, from 18 to 13, amid some calls for sharia law in the new constitution.

For the women who stood on the front lines of history, the revolution is far from over and their struggle continues. That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Log on to and email us at