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Will Russia Relent on Support for Syrian Regime?; Examining President Obama's Foreign Policy

Aired July 3, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. For months now, the Russians have stood by their man, even as much of the world called for an end to the brutal regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

But now Western negotiators believe they may have won an important diplomatic concession, an agreement signed by Russia and the rest of the Security Council that calls for an end to Assad's rule by, quote, "mutual consent."

My brief tonight: is Russia finally coming around? To U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, mutual consent means just one thing.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad will still have to go. He will never pass the mutual consent test, given the blood on his hands.


AMANPOUR: But Russia says, "Nyet," today accusing it's negotiating partners of distorting the agreement. My guest tonight was in the negotiating room with the Russian foreign minister. He's William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, and he joins me in a moment.

But first, a look at what's happening later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): President Obama's foreign policy. It looks one way to American voters, but how does it look to the rest of the world?

And a political prodigy speaks to the powerful.

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): That was 35 years ago. Today, he'll speak to us.


AMANPOUR: And we'll hear from Secretary Hague in a bit. But first, is Russia on board with the call to end Assad's rule? I spoke with the British foreign secretary moments ago.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary, thank you so much for joining me from London.

HAGUE: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Let's get straight to Syria, which I know is occupying a lot of your time and attention. The latest round of meetings this weekend produced a communique, but there seems to be a lot of dissent and differences over what exactly was accomplished. I know that you yourself, also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, has said that this does call for President Assad to step aside.

What makes you think that?

HAGUE: Well, what was in this communique was what a transitional government in Syria should look like, and I think it was a step forward, having that. There were many things that we wanted in the communique that we could not reach agreement with the Russians and Chinese about. So it is only a step forward. I don't want to overstate this at all.

But what was in the communique was that a transitional government in Syria should include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, and be formed on the basis of mutual consent, mutual assent, which means that each side can veto, if they wish, the people from the other side, who would be in a government.

Of course, that would mean that President Assad could not be part of such a government. No one can imagine the opposition agreeing to that. And so I think it was good to have that established among the permanent members of the Security Council, that when there is a transitional government, that's the basis on which it will be formed. Of course, the challenge now is to try to implement that agreement.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. And do you believe, though, that Russia is on board with that statement? Because it's also been saying since the communique was issued that it actually forced a compromise not to call for President Assad to step down. So, again, there does seem to be a division. What do you believe Russia understands by that communique, that Assad has to go? Or not?

HAGUE: Well, I think it's very clear, the meaning of it is very clear. Of course, as always, as with any diplomatic agreement, people can sometimes read into it what they wish to read into it. And Russia, of course, will want to say that they were able to defend their position. But, clearly, it was a change for all of us to be able to agree that that's how a government should be formed.

And no one can imagine in Moscow or anywhere else that mutual consent would involve President Assad being part of that government. So I think -- I personally that is very clear.

But of course, we look to Russia to do what was also in the communique, which is to put pressure on all involved, now to implement that and to implement the all six points of the Annan plan, including a cessation of violence. And that, as I say, is now the next task.

AMANPOUR: So let's just take the cessation of violence first. The opposition, as you probably know, of course, has said that it's just a nonstarter.

There's no reason for a cessation of violence, that this communique fell far short of what they had been hoping for, and that they weren't going to, and in fact, one of the opposition leaders told me that yesterday. How do you envision a cessation of violence being established? And what do you think Russia will actually do now to exert its influence on Assad?

HAGUE: Well, I think several things need to happen. One is that Kofi Annan now needs to take forward what was agreed Geneva and present that to all involved. That includes the opposition, who I hope, incidentally, will come together in the current meeting in Cairo in a single cohesive organization for the time being.

And also to the Assad regime, he has the five permanent members of the Security Council behind that. And I hope that Russia will indeed use its leverage, which is considerable, over the Assad regime to say, this is the plan that now has to be followed. If that doesn't happen, then clearly we will want to pursue it in other ways.

I think if those things don't have any effect, the countries like United Kingdom will be seeking a Chapter 7 resolution at the U.N. Security Council to mandate the implementation of the Annan plan and threaten consequences for those who do not implement it.

AMANPOUR: A former British prime minister, Tony Blair, has said this weekend in a widely circulated interview in the "Financial Times," that it's time to change tactics on Syria, and to have much more muscular diplomacy. And indeed, as he called it, "the judicious use of force" to protect civilians and to encourage the kind of things you're talking about, the political reform and eventually the economic reform.

So when you say consequences, under a Chapter 7 U.N. resolution, are you ready as an international community to use or threaten the use of force?

HAGUE: What I'm talking about in the immediate future or near future that should be in such a resolution is sanctions or the threat of sanctions on those not cooperating. And I hope also, by the way, that the Friends of Syria, this Friday will agree other wide-ranging sanctions that are from countries that haven't yet implemented them on the Assad regime.

Clearly, without division on this with Russia and China, there isn't any realistic prospect at the moment of a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes or contemplates the use of force. So that's not attainable at the U.N. Security Council.

I don't think we should rule anything out for the future, though. This is a rapidly deteriorating situation in which many thousands of people have now tied, terrible torture is being committed. No one knows what will happen over the coming months if we don't achieve that transitional government. And so we should take nothing off the table for the future.

AMANPOUR: Well, then, let me ask you -- you mentioned torture and, as you know, Human Rights Watch is coming out today with a massive document, describing an archipelago of torture in Syria.

At least 27 sites around the country, military sites, intelligence sites, other such sites of torture by the Assad regime. So what can -- when that comes out, what is the response? Does Assad get referred to the Security Council? Or, rather, to the International Criminal Court? What happens?

HAGUE: Again, we're up with this -- up against the same problem. Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court. And a nation can only refer to the International Criminal Court by the U.N. Security Council. And we've no indication that Russia or China would do that. And so we are blocked for the moment on that route.

What we're doing in the United Kingdom is helping to gather the evidence of abuses. I have sent teams to the borders of Syria to gather evidence from people fleeing Syria about the crimes that have been committed.

The Syrian activists who documented the terrible massacre at al-Houla were trained by the United Kingdom. So we are trying to make sure the evidence is amassed, so that one day, justice can be done, whether by the people of Syria or by the international community.

AMANPOUR: You say it's deeply frustrating for you and also the opposition is saying that it's deeply frustrating for them. They feel that the international community is sitting on its hands while more and more of them are dying.

Let me play you this little bit of an interview that I conducted with a defected Syrian army soldier.


ABDALHAMID ZAKARIA, DEFECTED SYRIAN ARMY COLONEL: Honestly, the international community deserted us. No one cares about all the bloodshed in Syria. We only heard words and promises. But in fact it's just much ado about nothing.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary, what's your reaction to that?

HAGUE: Oh, I can entirely understand that that is how many people in Syria will feel, because it is hard for them to see the things that we are doing. And of course, they're not necessarily party to all these disagreements I've been talking about on the U.N. Security Council and all the difficulties of taking action, a whole range of actions that we might like to take.

But I would stress that it's entirely wrong to say we're not doing anything, that we're doing nothing. We have, in the European Union, imposing sweeping sanctions on Syria. We've cut off a large part of the government's revenues. We are sending a lot of humanitarian aid to the region. We are doing the work on documenting abuses.

We're giving practical support to the opposition outside Syria. We're encouraging other countries to impose sanctions and we are doing this painstaking work with Russia and China to try to advance a common position that would lead to a peaceful solution. So we're doing all of those things. The world has not forgotten Syria. And as I say, we must not rule out doing anything in the future.

AMANPOUR: I hear exactly what you're saying. So my question then is how long are you going to give it? Because look, I'm talking to the foreign secretary of Great Britain, who along with the French organized a muscular response in Libya.

And as you know, that went through the Security Council. But previously the British, along with the Americans and the international community have done it independently of the U.N., for instance, in Kosovo. So you can do it. I know you don't want to do it right now; you want to go through the U.N. How long are you going to give it until you decide, if you ever do, that there has to be some kind of intervention?

HAGUE: I don't think it's possible to give a precise answer to that question, nice though it would be to be able to do so. It does, of course, depend how the situation develops. And there are important differences between the situation in Syria and in Libya, not least that lack of unity with all of our partners on the U.N. Security Council, hard though we have worked on them.

And it's a much more complex situation on the ground, and would require a military intervention on a vastly greater scale than was the case in Libya in order to be effective. So these are obviously all factors.

But we're clearly going to need to apply more and more pressure to the Assad regime. I hope that with the Friends of Syria meeting this weekend, which about 100 countries will be attending, that we can really ramp up that pressure, not just from America and Europe, but from large parts of the rest of the world as well.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary William Hague, thank you for joining me.

HAGUE: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And we'll have more from William Hague tomorrow on Iran. He has real hope and real plans for negotiating an end to the nuclear standoff. And as we head to a break, take a look at this video from Syria.

We've seen many funeral processions for the civilians, who've been murdered by the brutal Assad regime. But when Syrian soldiers are killed, someone grieves for them, too. On our website, we have a powerful report from inside Syria on the sorrow shared by all sides. That's at We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn our attention to the world of President Obama's foreign policy, how it measures up now and what we might expect in a possible second term.

Tonight, we get two perspectives, one view from the United States and another from overseas. Here now are Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker," and Bobby Ghosh, the former world editor for "Time" magazine, and now its editor at large.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much indeed for joining me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for having me.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you first and foremost for a U.S. perspective, President Obama, how does it measure up to U.S. voters, his foreign policy?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I mean, the truth of the matter is that foreign policy has not been much of a role in this election so far. But if when the American people are asked in the polls, it's a strong suit.

So it's this funny situation where the White House and the president would like to emphasize his foreign policy, what they see as successes, a whole lot more because it's showing up as more popular than, say, his health care law or the way he's handling the economy.

So you saw on the anniversary of the rain on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, that they made a big push to remind people that, yes, this president killed Osama bin Laden.

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

LIZZA: And so they'd like to talk about it more.

AMANPOUR: But as you say, it's not exactly top of the list. In fact, the latest polls show that it's like, you know, 15 out of many different priorities for people in the United States, although he's doing better on foreign policy than candidate Mitt Romney.

LIZZA: In terms of the public's view of the two of them, absolutely. And I think --

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

LIZZA: -- I mean, that's to be expected. I mean, Mitt Romney hasn't even -- he hasn't really laid out a foreign policy vision yet. The last speech he gave about foreign policy was in October; and I think Mitt Romney's political advisers rightly assume that that's not an issue that's going to help him get to the White House. So he's a bit of a blank slate right now.

AMANPOUR: Bobby, you traveled the world. You see how President Obama's policy is viewed around the world. Is it as popular -- is he as popular as he was when he first took office? Are the people -- do they feel that this promises have measured up in terms of foreign policy?

BOBBY GHOSH, "TIME" EDITOR AT LARGE: No, I'm afraid not. I think the expectation with Obama, just as they were in this country, they were even greater internationally because he came after, what from the global perspective was a deeply unpopular president, George Bush.

So expectations for Obama were very high. But we've seen in the latest polling that almost universally, anywhere in the world, you ask the question, his ratings have fallen quite steeply. They're still better than George Bush. But it's been three years and it's a little hard for the administration to take any real satisfaction that it's better than George Bush.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's look at this poll that we have, in fact, that shows Europe, various Muslim countries, Russia and China, where, in fact, those ratings have gone down since 2009. What do you think it is that is actually cause that? What's the most dramatic, most visible reason for that decline, do you think?

GHOSH: Well, see what -- let's look at what was expected of him and what he promised. No unilateral military intervention by the United States. Well, the drone campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan, in places like Yemen, is the opposite of that.

They would hope that he would bring about some forward movement on climate change. He has failed to do that. So the things that the world cares most about, and they hope the United States would, if you like, reform, or show a different face than it did under George Bush, those things have not happened.

So the president is really being hoist on his own petard. He's being judged by -- not by George Bush anymore, but by the promises he made, by the standards he sought to set.

AMANPOUR: Ryan, Bobby talks about climate change and other such things. You've also written about what might happen in a possible second term.

Where do you think the priorities will be? You've mentioned climate change.

LIZZA: Well, and what I wrote about is that this is almost is sort of sad, because I think this is an issue that Obama has -- cares deeply about and has said privately in the second term it's something that he would -- it's something that he believes.

It's one of the few things in the remaining time he has in office, whether it be just a few months or a few years, that he could do something that would affect the world decades from now. He's mentioned -- he's talked about two things: nuclear proliferation and climate change.

Unfortunately, at the same time, if he does win a second term, climate change is not going to be something that a Congress of the United States is going to be very eager to tackle. So on the one hand, he knows it's one of the most important issues he could address and would like to. On the other hand, the politics of it, even if he wins, will be as bad as they are right now.

AMANPOUR: So let's get a little bit to the nitty-gritty. And part of it is this famous phrase that actually the Bush administration had, "the freedom agenda." And it seems -- from my travels anyway -- around the region, certainly in the Arab Spring, that Obama is perceived to have fallen short on freedom in that part of the world.

And particularly with Syria -- I mean, look you wrote about "lead from behind," when it came to Libya. Now did zero action of any intervention on Syria to stop the killing. Does that bother people in that region?

GHOSH: It certainly does. But it's not just Syria. It goes farther back. Obama was perceived to be very late in coming out in support of Tahrir Square. His administration is seen as having supported Mubarak until it became no longer tenable.

Then came Bahrain, which is an American ally, where the administration essentially took the opposite line to what it had just taken in Egypt, where it stood in, if you like, with the dictators, with the king, rather than with the street. And now comes Syria, where the administration hasn't really been able to articulate a clear, coherent strategy for justifiable reasons, perhaps, given the nature of Russia and China and (inaudible).

But for people in the Middle East, this all adds up to a sort of -- a betrayal of Obama's own stated position. We remember that he goes out in 2009, gives that great speech in Cairo, sets the bar very high, in his own words, and then now he falls well short of that.

LIZZA: And it's, in a sense, his problem with the American people and his problem with especially the Muslim world, but internationally in general, his expectations. He didn't prepare the American people for how bad the economy was going to be, and especially with that Cairo speech, which set expectations so high in the Muslim world, he -- that he couldn't possibly meet them.

AMANPOUR: But there are things that he could have done. For instance, even right now, we see the military, which is heavily subsidized, the Egyptian military, by the United States, has basically taken democracy from the elected institution in Egypt. And people are saying that there was virtual silence from the United States while that was going on.

GHOSH: Yes. And ironically, in the last hours of the Mubarak administration, it was phone calls from Washington to the generals in Cairo that enabled, if you like, the final act of the Mubarak presidency to take place.

Washington was able to persuade the generals to essentially let Mubarak go. But then after that, nothing else. It seems like there's been very little communication. Washington continues to send aid to Egypt, continues to send them military supplies.

And when the generals were hijacking the -- authorizing democracy, as you point out, watching them, was strangely silent. And people remember these things, because they look to --

LIZZA: I also -- but I think that sometimes we overestimate what the United States could actually do in Egypt. It's true, Obama was not -- he was a few steps behind the protesters in Tahrir Square. He didn't want to get ahead of them. He only abandoned Mubarak at sort of -- when it was clear he was going to go anyway.

Incidentally, I remember the last conversation Obama had with Mubarak. I asked a White House official to sort of give me a readout on it. What was the final moments in that conversation?

And he just sort of dismissively said, well, Mubarak's final comments were essentially Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, warning our president that that's what was coming, you know, --


AMANPOUR: And yet better to try to work with them than not, presumably.

Can I ask you the great unspoken? Is the Middle East peace process, that is still what I hear resonates the loudest in that part of the world. Quickly, do you think that President Obama will address that in a second term? With presidential involvement?

LIZZA: I've done some reporting on this, and I know for a fact that the president's position on this is that if he's reelected, he will not personally invest in the Middle East peace process unless he's assured by Netanyahu that Netanyahu is ready to reach a deal. That is the president's position.

AMANPOUR: Well, no movement there, then.

GHOSH: Doesn't sound like it. He's managed to find -- he finds himself in a position where he's equally unpopular with the hawks in Israel as with the Arab street. So he's in a no-win situation with the Middle East peace process.


And that goes back to that Cairo speech, where he's set expectations very high for the Middle East peace.

GHOSH: Exactly. Yes.

AMANPOUR: But it is, no matter what the expectations are, the thing that is -- that governs the views of the United States and peace in that reason, in any event.

Ryan Lizza, Bobby Ghosh, thank you very much and good luck in Yemen. We want to know what you find there.

We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And a final thought tonight. The author, Harper Lee, begins her classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," with this quote from the British writer, Charles Lamb.

"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once."

Imagine a world where politicians were children once. Earlier this evening, my guest, as you know, was Britain's distinguished foreign secretary, William Hague. But that same polished public servant was once a dazzling schoolboy prodigy.

Back in 1977, at the tender age of 16, young Master Hague gave his first political speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, England. His audience included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And as you'll see, it was she who led the applause for his youthful, robust defense of conservatism. Take a look.


HAGUE: Most of all, they want to be free, free from the government, the government they think should get out of the way. Don't intervene, don't interfere in their lives. And I trust that Ms. Thatcher's government will, indeed, get out of the way.



HAGUE: There is at least one school -- I think it's in London -- where the pupils are allowed to win just one race each for fear that to win more would make the other people seem inferior. That is a classic illustration of the socialist state, which draws nearer with every Labor government, and which conservatives have never reversed. It's all right for some of you. Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.




AMANPOUR: Amazing no matter how many times you see that clip. And Ms. Thatcher later told him that his speech had been thrilling. Twenty years later, William Hague would become the leader of the Conservative Party, and in 2010, he was named Britain's foreign secretary.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.