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Queen Elizabeth Metts Ex-IRA Commander; Nora Ephron Remembered; Latest from Syria

Aired June 27, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

If the bloodshed in Syria seems endless and hopeless, or in Afghanistan, or Iraq, and the list goes on, stop for a moment and consider what we saw today in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Two people who were once the bitterest of enemies, Queen Elizabeth II, the symbol of the British occupation in Northern Ireland, and a once-feared commander of the Irish Republican Army, which was fighting to break free, Martin McGuinness.

These two people shook hands today, a simple but huge act. And to fully understand it, remember that for decades Northern Ireland was riven by sectarian violence, Catholic nationalists against pro-British Protestants, more than 3,000 people were killed in what was euphemistically called the Troubles. Among the dead, the Queen's beloved cousin, Lord Mountbatten.

My brief tonight: peace can work, but it does take work. Northern Ireland has emerged from deep division into a power-sharing devolved (ph) government. Top-level diplomacy by President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped guide and nudge and even push the parties into the now-famous Good Friday Agreement 14 years ago.

And, yes, parts of Northern Ireland remain segregated, with peace walls keeping communities apart. But the arc of history, no matter how slowly, does eventually bend towards justice and reconciliation.

So what can the rest of the world learn from Northern Ireland? Tonight, I will ask Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, formerly the political wing of the IRA. But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Blood in the streets of Damascus, fighting in the name of God or country? A civil war or utter chaos? And --


AMANPOUR (voice-over): She wrote about women and trouble and women in love. And always Nora Ephron wrote with wit and with heart, a life remembered, later in the program.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first to Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein. Thank you so much for joining me from Belfast. You have said --

GERRY ADAMS, PRESIDENT, SINN FEIN: Thank you, Christiane, for having me on your program.

AMANPOUR: You have said that it was the right thing to do for the right reasons at the right time, to shake the Queen's hand. Why was it such a huge thing for Martin McGuinness to do today?

ADAMS: Well, I think it was a big thing for both of them and for the four principals who were together today. Our island is still partitioned. We have a legacy of conflict, many outstanding issues, including friends of mine and neighbors who were killed by British troops. All of those issues have to be resolved. But a large section of our people have an allegiance to the Queen of England.

And what Martin was doing symbolically was reaching out to all of those people. Part of the relationship building process, which is a new phase of the peace process between the people of this island and the people of this island and Britain.

So it was a very, very good thing to do, and it has caused some hurt and some pain, with some Republicans, especially with people who were victims of British state violence, but notwithstanding that, the only way you can build peace is actually to show leadership. And Martin did that.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, some of your members did actually say that it was a huge ask to ask Martin McGuinness to do that. Was there any thought of actually not doing it?

ADAMS: Well, we needed to do it on terms which were acceptable to us. And it's very important that this wasn't part of the Jubilee celebrations and, you know, we have no issue with the Jubilee celebrations but we don't really want to be part of those.

It was really important that the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, was there, that this event was organized by an all-Ireland baria (ph), a voluntarily charitable association called Cooperation Ireland. And today's meeting was an engagement to celebrate the arts in Ireland. So you can see that all of those of these created a platform to make this township and the discussion among the four principals possible.

Had we considered not doing it? Well, before we did it, we engaged with our membership across the island. We held on the night before the announcement before our leadership met, we held up to 40 meetings.

We also engaged with campaigning groups, with victims' families of British-led (ph) violence and all of that was an attempt not to do something which was just done by a leader, but something which represented a grassroots movement and which had the support or at least the tolerance of our members and others who would be close to us.

AMANPOUR: What was said between Martin McGuinness and the Queen? Obviously the first handshake was behind closed doors. Was there anything of substance said?

ADAMS: Well, Martin welcomed her, and we are the island of welcomes - - commanded some of what she said in Dublin and significantly her remarks about all victims. And I think that's really, really important. And you know, Martin McGuinness, like me, we're United Irelanders. We want to see an end to partition. We also need to understand that the united Ireland that we want has to include the Unionist people.

So Martin wouldn't have said all of that, but he would have alluded to that in a very few, brief moments that they talked together. And I think he himself said when he shook hands with the Queen, he was actually symbolically shaking hands with hundreds of thousands of Unionists.

And you know, you have been here, you have been here when times were difficult. We are a small island. We have a beautiful country. Our people deserve a better society and the Irish flag is a flag that has orange as its national color, along with green and white. And the white signifies peace and equality and harmony between the orange and the green.

So we need to try and create the type of accommodation which makes that possible. We need to eradicate sectarianism. We need to bring down artificial divisions among people and start dealing with issues of equality and justice.

AMANPOUR: Well, Gerry, what is it going to take, then? You sound like this isn't over; there's many issues, as you've just said, that continue. And we did say there are these walls. There is still separation between the communities. What is it going to take to fully resolve this?

ADAMS: Well, it's only when the people come up together in peace and have a sense of ownership. You know, the history of the world and of colonization is filled with stories of other powers going in and colonizing or dividing and putting under conquest. And that's what happened in Ireland.

And you know, the Unionists, for a very long time, were in charge of a little of one-party state. Those days are over. Thinking Unionists know that and many of them are very pleased that is the situation.

You know, Republicanism mostly founded 200 years ago by Protestant Irish men and Irish women, that history needs to be reclaimed by today's Protestant people, by proud radical progressive history of egalitarianism and fraternity and solidarity.

So you know, it's all possible to do all of this and more peacefully and democratically, to exchange ideas, to discuss, to lead by example, to share kinds (ph). And I think today's meeting and the handshake moves us all onto a different plain, onto different fields and the relationship building. But who could refuse to talk now on the island of Ireland when these two iconic figures are showing the example that they showed today?

AMANPOUR: You talked about the color orange, the Queen obviously wore green today. What is it, you know, what are the risks for some of the harder-line dissident members of the IRA, who are still active? And there were protests today against her visit. Does this embolden them? Or does this not?

ADAMS: Well, it's hard to know and there were protests and I'm all for protest as long as they're peaceful and democratic. And you know, I'm from Ballymurphy in West Belfast. And some of the people there were very, very hurt by the British forces. Many neighbors were killed. And those issues need to be resolved.

The British government has put obstructions in place of some of the families who have been seeking truth and seeking to get into a heating process. So not only is that the right thing to do, but that also avoids any of these issues that have been exploited by those who are on the peace process. And the people I refer to in Ballymurphy are very, very much for the peace process. But they haven't been dealt with fairly by the British state.

The -- you know, the small groups who are referred to as dissident Republican groups know dissent is a very good thing. You know, there are lots of Republicans who would disagree with what we're doing, but they'll stay supporting us. And they'll stay supporting the peace process. So these are more anti-peace process, individuals or small microgroups. They don't have any popular support whatsoever.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask --

ADAMS: And the fact is we do have a peaceful and democratic way forward. And those people should sign up for that.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, then, because obviously the history of this fight, there have been hard men on all sides. Martin was one of them. I mean, Northern Ireland, there was the emblematic kneecapping and all that kind of stuff.

When you look at Syria, for instance, in this what seems like an intractable now sectarian divide, is there any hope you can see, any first steps that should be taken to try to do what happened in Northern Ireland, to try to solve that?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, I don't think we have any right to preach or to impose or to lecture others. The international community has a big role to play in conflict resolution. You change people by changing the political conditions in which they live.

Dialogue is central to that. If you wanted one lesson out of our process, even though I have public office and was elected by my peers, and Martin McGuinness and others were elected by our peers, the British and, indeed, the Irish government refused to talk to us.

We were censored on broadcasts. We -- our voices couldn't be broadcast. Our words couldn't be carried. Once the talking started and once people had to listen to each other, and once people then started to focus on solution, as opposed to what happens in war, what happens in war is you have an enemy. And you have certainty. And you then demonize your enemy and then the killing and the ongoing conflict continues.

It's easier to make war, ironically enough, than it is to make peace, because there aren't any certainties about peace processes. You have to think about that the other person, who was your enemy, as a human being. You have to actually reflect that you may not agree with him or her, but they have opinions and they're valid from their point of view.

And the whole issue of justice, the whole issue of equality, that people aren't being treated properly or people are being downtrodden, of course they raise up. It isn't an Irish phenomenon. This is part of the human condition that people will resist violently or in a peaceful way. But people don't like being treated improperly.

We've seen this with the gender issue, the way women have been treated. We've seen it with ethnic minorities and we've seen it, particularly, in the whole history of colonization across the world. So the international community needs to be upholding the primacy of dialogue and the dignity of human beings, human rights being the order of the day. And the right and entitlement of dialogue.

AMANPOUR: Gerry Adams, thank you very much indeed for joining me on this day.

We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and now to Syria, where the conflict has dramatically changed since it began as a peaceful process in the height of the Arab Spring. Now opposition groups are armed and organized, facing down a regime, willing to fight fiercely to protect its power, a fight the opposition has taken directly to Syria's capital, Damascus.

Bill Neely is international editor for ITV News. He's reported extensively from Syria and he joins me now from Damascus.

Bill, thanks for being there. Tell me what you saw today that seemed to be a shift from what we've been seeing over the last weeks and months.

BILL NEELY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I saw a couple of interesting things. I went to a television station about 15 miles south of here and along the road to that television station, there were multiple army checkpoints, tanks dug in at the side of the road, armored personnel carriers and many, many troops.

Now I've been coming here for seven months. This is my fourth trip. There's no question that was the biggest security, the biggest ring of steel around the capital that I've seen so far.

AMANPOUR: So, Bill --

NEELY: And we went to a television station, just hours after President Assad said that his country was in a state of war. There was further proof of it, this television station, which is a pro-Assad station was attacked by perhaps, as many, people say, as 30 gunmen in 10 vehicles.

They killed seven of the staff. They kidnapped 11 others. And that's a big change for the rebels, because that wasn't a military target. It is a civilian target. And they crossed a line there by killing journalists. They're doing, in a sense, exactly the same as the regime has done in deliberately targeting journalists.

So every day, every week, and certainly in my experience, this conflict is deepening and it's certainly encroaching now here in the capital of Damascus.

AMANPOUR: So given this way it's shifting and given the now sort of shifting tactics of the rebels, do you feel that there's, A, a sense of siege in Damascus? Do you think the government is feeling more and more concerned? And is there a feeling that there might be an internationalization of this? Will more weapons come into both sides?

NEELY: Well, I think let's linger for a moment, just on the words of President Assad yesterday. I mean, he said this country is in a state of war. Now that one word, it's a word he simply wouldn't have uttered, even a few months ago, because it would have sent out all the wrong signals. He spent months telling us that this is a terrorist problem, that armed groups, armed gangs of criminals, well, now he's saying it's war.

I think that word will unsettle a lot of his people and certainly people here in Damascus are much more unsettled than they were. I used to have conversations with people here and they'd say, oh, yes, this is a problem in the rural areas. It's a problem in Homs and Hama but, you know, those people are always sparring with each other.

Well, they can't say that any more because there have been, you know, double suicide attacks here in the capital. And in some of the suburbs, there is now nightly gunfire, so people -- the people are concerned. As to your second point, it's becoming clearly more internationalized. And again I think we saw that yesterday when NATO, for the first time, issued a strong statement.

A NATO plane was shot down by the Syrians, a Turkish jet. And NATO condemned the action. At the weekend, of course, where they're going to have a U.N. convened meeting, which will involve Russia, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov is going to attend, as well as regional powers.

So again, week by week, it's becoming a more militarized crisis and a more internationalized one.

AMANPOUR: And briefly, to finish, what, if any, sort of activity are the U.N. observers doing? Or is their mission all but over?

NEELY: I think their mission is all but over. I mean, they're all dressed up every day, but they've nowhere to go. Their mission has been suspended. And their chief here, a Norwegian general, did try to indicate yesterday that maybe they'd go out in the next few days. And he was very quickly slapped down by a message from New York, that this mission is suspended.

They're obviously reviewing their options. They may take these U.N. soldiers out and replace them with something like political observers or human rights workers. But I think the mission was almost dead from the beginning. They came to monitor a cease-fire that simply did not exist. It certainly doesn't exist now, and all those monitors are staying in their hotels.

AMANPOUR: Bill Neely, thank you so much for joining me from Damascus.

And the images of violence in Syria are almost numbing. They make you long to see something humorous and humane, the kind of movie, perhaps, that Nora Ephron would have made. We'll look back on her extraordinary life and work with her friend and colleague, Rita Wilson, when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, it's hard to imagine a world without Nora Ephron. In 1996, she gave the commencement address at her alma mater, Wellesley College. "Above all," she said, "be the heroine of your own life, not the victim," and she concluded, "I hope that you find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there."

Nora Ephron broke the rules, made a little trouble and gave the world great gifts as author, screenwriter and groundbreaking director. She died Tuesday, way too soon, at the age of 71, from complications of cancer.

Her friend, Rita Wilson, appeared in a play that Nora wrote, along with her sister, Delia Ephron, "Love, Loss and What I Wore," and of course she also starred with her husband, Tom Hanks, in one of Nora's biggest hit films, "Sleepless in Seattle."

Rita Wilson joined me a short time ago by phone.


AMANPOUR: Rita Wilson, thank you so much for joining me.

RITA WILSON, ACTRESS: Well, Christiane, thank you for having me on the show. It's a privilege to be able to talk about my dear friend, Nora.

You know, it was completely shocking, because Nora did a thing that was actually a gift that she gave to all her friends, which was she didn't tell anyone that the last six years she had been battling this disease.

And knowing her, what she was doing was understanding that if she had spoken to anybody and if she had told anybody, that everybody would have treated her differently.

And she didn't want to be treated differently. She wanted to have uncensored, unfiltered friendships and time with her friends, so that it didn't alter the relationship. And she -- I think she was absolutely right about that, and it was a gift that she actually gave all of us.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, then, to talk about not just your friendship with her, but you also worked with her. You were in her play, "Love, Lost and What I Wore," and certainly your husband, Tom Hanks, has been in her movies, "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail." What was it like to work under Nora Ephron as a director?

WILSON: Absolutely exhilarating to work with her. I -- in "Sleepless in Seattle," I did a scene that was describing a film called "An Affair to Remember."



WILSON: And she gave me the script and I was absolutely thrilled that I got to act in a movie written by her.

So when we were shooting on that day, she said this amazing thing. We just had a blast. It was great. It was fun.

And she said, "You know, whenever I tell this story, I don't know. I imagine that blanket, that blanket that she puts over her knees."

And she says, "What if you take the napkin and pretend it's the blanket?"

And, honestly, that was the most beautiful piece of direction. And she didn't say that in front of everyone. She would whisper it in your ear. She never made you feel that you were doing something wrong. She only made you feel as if, "Wouldn't this be fun? Let's try it this way."

And you know, that, combined with the amazing words that she wrote that we all got to say, was an amazing experience, truly.

AMANPOUR: And Meryl Streep, who she also directed and she wrote screenplays for, has emailed that, reading all the comments about her that are going along on various websites and online right now, she said, "You realize how many women considered Nora a friend, people who never met her except through her writing.

"She had such a wide circle of intimates. And she'll be such a big absence in so many people's lives."

How do you think that she will be remembered? What do you think her legacy is?

WILSON: It's so hard to extract the legacy from -- that the world would have from the legacy that she has with me personally. But I will attempt to say that the legacy that she has left with me personally is, you know, to always say yes. She was so supportive. She was so empowering to her girlfriends, to her men friends.

She allowed everybody a voice at the table. She was a person who didn't say, you know, she never made you feel bad. She never made you feel small. She could do that. You know, we -- she was the most witty, most intelligent, most, you know, hilarious person at the table, nine times out of 10.

And she could have taken anybody down at any point. But she didn't do that. She didn't use her intelligence in that way, and she didn't use her wit in that way.

And I think, you know, for me, as Mike Nichols said, you know, when my dad died, "Rita, the conversation continues." I think it will be a continuation of my conversations with her and my discussions with her and the friendship that we have.

I don't think she's going away in my soul. She'll always be there. And I think she'll be there for many women, many, many women. I often go to websites just to see her quotes, because they're so funny and so true. She always spoke the truth. She would say what you were thinking. And that was always just hilarious and kind of spooky, in a way.

AMANPOUR: One of her greatest gifts.

Rita, thank you so much for sharing your memories today.

WILSON: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Nora Ephron's wonderful life. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.