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Previewing Libya Elections; Iran Talks Continue; Maldives in Peril

Aired July 4, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And as Americans celebrate Independence Day, we wanted to take a look at some other budding democracies around the globe.

Libyans are set to elect a national congress this weekend to oversee the creation of a new constitution. This less than a year after Moammar Gadhafi's death at the hands of rebel fighters.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): I'll speak with Lindsey Hilsum, a veteran foreign correspondent who was in Libya chronicling Gadhafi's extraordinary fall.

And in the Maldives, a sinking island atoll, a destination for millions of tourists around the world whose first democratically elected leader was just recently deposed. I'll speak to the former president, Mohamed Nasheed. He's in the United States, seeking American support for a young democracy in danger of dying on the vine.


AMANPOUR: But first, Iran continues to assert its independence, its right to a nuclear program. As talks on the issue continue, I discuss the chances for progress with the British foreign secretary, William Hague.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe that the talks are currently underway have any hope of producing the result that you want?

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, there is some hope, otherwise we wouldn't be engaged in them. And our efforts, again, are devoted to a peaceful negotiated solution. But we haven't yet seen evidence from Iran of a sufficiently serious approach to those negotiations. So the short answer is there's some hope. But we haven't seen any -- we haven't seen those hopes come to fruition in any way so far.

AMANPOUR: As far as, Secretary, as you know, you've imposed very, very strong sanctions, the toughest yet, along with U.N. partners and the United States. And they are really hurting inside Iran. And Iranians tell me that they're being offered, quote, "peanuts for diamonds." Is that a fair characterization?

HAGUE: No, not at all. Of course that is their characterization of these negotiations. They haven't been led to believe any such thing. Of course, if we could settle the whole nuclear issue with them, and if they could show the world that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, we would actually help them with civil nuclear power.

And their rights would be no less than the rights of any non-nuclear weapon state under the non-proliferation treaty. And, of course, that's self-evident.

If we can settle the issue, those things will be true. But what they haven't come forward is -- with is the -- that evidence and that progress and those measures that would assure the world that their program is for peaceful purposes. And until that happens, then there isn't going to be a breakthrough in these talks.

AMANPOUR: There's right now an increased U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf area around the Straits of Hormuz area. Do you believe that this is moving towards a military solution? And if Israel or the United States were to attack Iran nuclear facility, would the U.K. take part?

HAGUE: Well, we take nothing off this table. I've often made that clear. But as things stand now, 100 percent of our efforts are devoted to a peaceful, negotiated solution. And so we are not advocating military action. We're not calling for that. We think when negotiations are going on as they are at the moment and while there is a possibility of a peaceful negotiated solution that military action would be mistake.

And so I think that makes clear our position. But we take nothing off the table for the future.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, you have a great event coming to England, the Olympic Games. What is going to be your favorite games to watch?

HAGUE: Well, I'm hugely looking forward to the opening ceremony, actually, and then, well, everybody can pick their sport after that, but since I used to do a lot of judo, I'm looking forward to watching some of that.

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

HAGUE: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And now turning to Libya, nine months after Moammar Gadhafi's death, Libyans are preparing to go to the polls this weekend. They'll elect a national congress that will be tasked with choosing a government and creating a committee to draft a constitution.

Journalist Lindsey Hilsum has been covering Libya for many years, and she had a close-up view of Gadhafi's final chapter. She was in the country from the first stirrings of revolt last February. And I recently spoke to her about her new book, "Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution."


AMANPOUR: You've been around the world, we've crossed paths so many times. What surprised you the most about this particular story?

LINDSEY HILSUM, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think it was -- I didn't really know about Libya before I went in. And I was just blown away by the people. They were so enthusiastic. They were so determined and they were so funny.

And I realized you had this strange situation where you had this man, Gadhafi. He was like a toad. He'd been sitting on the top of this country for 42 years without moving or changing. And yet these people were so alive.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about Gadhafi, because you've met him, I've met him. He seemed so crazy. Was he?

HILSUM: I think in the end he was crazy. I think it was a classic example of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don't think he was crazy necessarily when he first came to power in 1969. And as I chronicled in the book, he was greeted with huge enthusiasm. I met many people who loved him.

One of the things in the book, Mukhtar (ph), talks about how as a kid he saw Gadhafi as a rock star. He thought that he was the most fantastic thing ever, having won a prize at school which was a flight on an airplane because he'd written an essay about how great Gadhafi was.

But as time went on, Gadhafi had these idiosyncratic ideas about how the country should be ruled. He saw himself as a philosopher king. And some of his ideas were nuts.

AMANPOUR: I remember interviewing him when he said, you know, just not long before he fell, that my people love me so much they will die to protect me. That kind of delusion, what effect did it have on the people who you talked to, who were then rising up against him?

HILSUM: I think Libyans have a sense both of humiliation as well as fear. Of course, the main thing was fear, because it was a brutal government, but also they felt embarrassed that this man, Gadhafi, this crazy guy in the robes with the Botox face, that he was the one who represented them.

AMANPOUR: And you do talk about this terrible prison massacre that took place in the late '90s, Abu Salim prison. My question to you then is -- was it Tunisia and Egypt that really prompted the Libyans to rise up and say, well, if they can do it, we can do it? Or was there an even deeper reason for them to want to go after Gadhafi?

HILSUM: It was both. I had never heard of the Abu Salim massacre before I went and then I went to meet some of the families. And there was one little old man, he came up to tell me his story. He told me how his brother-in-law had been kept in this terrible prison.

And that he had taken -- every two months, he had gone up and to Tripoli and taken food and clothing and that he said, "I did that for 14 years, leaving the stuff at the gate, before they told me he was dead," because his brother-in-law had been one of the 1,270 men massacred in cold blood in Abu Salim prison in 1996. And people don't forget things like that. People don't forgive with things like that.

AMANPOUR: And that massacre


AMANPOUR: Was Gadhafi and his interior minister, the fabled and hated Senussi --

HILSUM: Yes, his brother-in-law.

AMANPOUR: -- a show of strength?

HILSUM: I -- it -- we still don't know why did they do it, because these were prisoners, political prisoners, mainly Islamists, who had rioted because their conditions were so terrible in the prison. Many of them were dying of TB. And the prisoners thought they had done a deal to get better conditions. But then they herded them into this courtyard, put these soldiers around the roofs and gunned them down.

One of the people I speak to in the book, who was an eyewitness in another cell, talked of how he saw the walls of the courtyard turn red.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk about how it's not easy, also, to cover these conflicts. I mean, you and I have been around. But this last year was terrible for our brotherhood and sisterhood. In Libya, we lost Tim Hetherington, we lost Chris Hondros, we lost Anton Hammerl, all photographers. How difficult and scary was covering Libya?

HILSUM: Well, I was mainly in the east on the eastern front, and it was very scary at times, because it was -- it was kind of wild. Sometimes we were a danger to ourselves as journalists because we need to be told we can only go this far and no further, because we will go as far as you can go.

AMANPOUR: It's the only way to do it, though.

HILSUM: And -- that's right. But that meant that we could get right up to the front line and even cross the front line. And it was hard sometimes to tell where the front line was. And then shells would come in and then -- and then there was all sorts of craziness because these guys, the rebel army, they were forever firing into the air. What goes up must come down. People were being injured because of that.

So it was a pretty chaotic situation. Misrata was the most dangerous place. That was the city which was under siege, and the journalists we -- who we lost, two of them were killed there because they were being shelled the whole time.

So, yes, it was a dangerous -- it was a very dangerous situation, but I think that we all felt -- we felt compelled to cover this story because this one of the most extraordinary and exciting stories of our time. This was history happening before our very eyes. I didn't want to be anywhere but Libya.

AMANPOUR: You were in Misrata when Gadhafi's body was finally brought there, after he'd been killed. What was that scene like?

HILSUM: It was extraordinary. They -- I mean, Gadhafi's death was savage. He was pulled limb from limb and then they put his body in a sort of meat storage facility. And I think it was very gruesome, but for Libyans it was really important.

They went through, one by one, and people filmed this body on their smartphones. Now for that, I look at it and go, ugh. But you know, they needed to know he was dead. It was somehow very important.

I met the guys who had captured him. They said they weren't the ones who killed him. I'm not sure about that. And they had taken off him some of the paraphernalia, his boots with the Cuban heels, the little amulets, African good luck charms and --

AMANPOUR: Cuban heels?

HILSUM: A Cuban heel is like an inch and a half. He wanted to be taller than he was. Even --

AMANPOUR: He was already tall.

HILSUM: Even so, he wanted to be taller, he wanted to bigger than anybody. And a -- his golden pistol, which I actually got to handle. He had this golden pistol with a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, which was just extraordinary.

But you know, he still had this hold over people. In the book, I have a story of a young woman, whose father was murdered by Gadhafi's people in London. And when she found his body, she found him lying in a pool of blood. And he had meat skewers through his face.

She went to see Gadhafi's body, and she -- and I asked her how she felt, and she said, "You know, I looked at him and I thought, he's so small. He's just a man." And then she began to cry and she said, "You know, the last time I saw a body like that was when I saw my father's body."

AMANPOUR: And it's incredibly difficult to cover what's going on in Syria right now.


AMANPOUR: And we've lost friends there. We've lost three. We've lost Remi Ochlik and Tony Shadid -- and I'm going to cry. Aah!

HILSUM: Yes. It's very difficult. It's very, very difficult. I mean --

AMANPOUR: How did -- how does one summon the strength and the passion to keep going and doing this? And what did Marie tell you her last encounter with you when she was going from Beirut?

HILSUM: Marie -- see, I had dinner in Beirut with Marie before she sneaked over the border into Homs, into Syria. And I said I couldn't go, it was beyond my danger threshold. I couldn't do it. But she said -- she said, "Anyway, it's what we do."

And then I spoke to her -- I spoke to her on Skype just a few hours before she was killed by a shell that came into where she was staying. And she said, "Lindsey," she says, "this is the worst we've ever seen."

And she felt very passionately that that story of what was happening, the killing of civilians, of women, of children by the regime in Syria, it had to be told and that it was incredibly important that she should be there as an eyewitness.

And I agree with her. But she was my friend and she paid with her life.

AMANPOUR: Well, I hope that people are listening and I hope the paralyzed political reality that we're living and watching right now is somehow galvanized by all those eyewitness reports that she sent out and that others are sending out now from Syria.

HILSUM: Oh, so do I, although I don't think it's simple. But I can't believe that there's nothing that can be done. There has to be a much stronger, at least a much stronger diplomatic push and much more work with the Russians, because children are being massacred. Children are being massacred and we're sitting here.


AMANPOUR: So as Libya struggles to recreate itself, the island nation of the Maldives and its former leader attempt to keep their heads above water, figuratively and literally, a tale of global warming and political survival when we return.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn to a nation that is literally trying to stay afloat. I'm talking about the Maldives, an island archipelago more than 1,000 atolls in the Indian Ocean. It's one of the lowest lying countries on Earth, and perhaps the worlds most dramatic example of the damage wrought by global warming. Scientists say that it's slowly sinking into the ocean.

My next guest is the former president of the Maldives. And he's made the fight against global warming his life's work, as chronicled in the recent movie, "The Island President."

But Mohamed Nasheed is up against more than just rising tides. Nasheed became president of the Maldives in 2008, after winning the country's first-ever democratic election. But in February, Nasheed was forced out of office.

I spoke to him when he was in the United States, looking for American support to restore democratic rule in his country.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. If it was before February, I might have called you President Nasheed.

MOHAMED NASHEED, FORMER PRESIDENT OF MALDIVES: Well, thank you very much for having us and in 2008, we had our first multiparty elections after 30 years of dictatorship. And this was when I was fortunate to have been elected.

But 31/2 years after that, last February, the dictatorship is back. And President Gayoom, with the military and the police and Islamic radicals, overthrew the government. They staged a coup and they've got my vice president as a facade and we are now back to square one again.

AMANPOUR: This video that's behind me, when you were president, you had a cabinet meeting in full scuba gear, and it was to bring attention to climate change and to the threat to the Maldives. But now you're struggling to try to get the United States, at least, to recognize that there was a coup against you.

NASHEED: This was the first time that the coup was televised in the Maldives. There is so much footage of it, hours and hours of beatings and what happened during that day. And it is really quite baffling that why the United States has not been able to come to the same position as, for instance, the Europeans.

AMANPOUR: Your successor, Mohammed Wahid, has done, who's now the president, says it wasn't a coup. You resigned.

NASHEED: Well, I was forced to resign. The military -- the perpetrators threatened me. They threatened to kill me, my children, my family. They also threatened to go on rampage in Mali. So I had to resign. There was no way that I could have not resigned at that moment. If I didn't do it, that would have been really very detrimental to the people of the Maldives.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about President Obama, who apparently you were so friendly with, that he told you his favorite jazz clubs here in New York. Are you disappointed that President Obama hasn't come to your defense?

NASHEED: Well, I think safeguarding democracy and rule of law and freedoms and basic principles that we all believe in, countries and governments must back that. And if we aren't able to do that, this is going to be such a bad place to live.

AMANPOUR: You wrote in "The New York Times" an op-ed just after you were overthrown in a coup. "Let the Maldives be a lesson for aspiring democrats everywhere. The dictator can be removed in a day, but it can also take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of his dictatorship."

NASHEED: The lesson is that we cannot let the past be with us while we go for the future. We must be able to find it out. We must be able to operate it and surgically remove it. I don't think we will be able to consolidate democracy with the dictatorship or rather the remnants of it around.

And, exactly, I would argue the same thing in Egypt or elsewhere, that we will not be able to have unity governments as such. You must take a side and you must decide on which side to take and back it. Sitting on the fence doesn't necessarily resolve conflict.

AMANPOUR: It's not just this conflict that is taking up your time right now. It's also the climate. That is what you really came into office to deal with, climate change. I want to play you something that you said when you first came into office.


NASHEED: There are those who tell us that solving climate change is impossible. Well, I am here to tell you that we refuse to give up hope.



AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, your democratic experience didn't work, hasn't yet worked. Do you still think your fight to solve climate change will work?

NASHEED: This story is not over. It goes on and we must -- we must fight on. Climate change is a serious issue. It is happening now. The science is slaughtered (ph). It is very clear to all of us. And we cannot relent on that. We must be able to save the planet, and we must be able to tell the people what is happening.

AMANPOUR: How do you do it beyond those noble words? We've seen in your documentary, "The Island President," you know, cajoling and confronting, you know, the Indians, the Chinese, the Americans. It seems such a political issue.

NASHEED: Well, for many, it is a political issue. They kind of feel that the West is out there to get at the developing countries because they are suddenly developing very fast and they want to control it. We want to tell everyone that development is not necessarily equal to carbon emission. There is new technology.

And this new technology can be used and if you want to be the leaders of tomorrow, you have to embrace the future, not the obsolete fossil fuel technology. I think we can have enough electricity through renewables.

AMANPOUR: And what will happen to the Maldives, which is obviously a destination for more than a million people every year, a holiday destination? What will happen if this climate change is not tackled in time?

NASHEED: Well, the Spanish, even a few centimeters right off sea level rise, is going to have such challenges on the Maldives. We already have 16 islands where we are having to relocate people. We have 70 islands where we need water. Our fish catch is dwindling because of temperature changes in the ocean.

So then we are having a whole set of very serious issues. We are having to spend so much on adaptation, for the embankments, the developments and the water breakers are very, very expensive. So we are having to spend more money on it, money that we could have spent on health care, on education and on other very many social issues that are very needy.

AMANPOUR: As you face your future now, what is more important to you? To battle to restore democracy, as you say, to the Maldives? Or to save the climate?

NASHEED: Well, we must have a planet to have a democracy. And then again, both these things are very interrelated in my mind. I would always argue the biggest adaptation measure is democracy.

Without democracy and without good governance, you won't -- you will not be able to come up with the right decisions. You will not be able to do the proper work that has to be done. So they are very much interrelated and linked.

AMANPOUR: Mohamed Nasheed, thank you very much for joining me.

NASHEED: Thank you very much for having me.


AMANPOUR: Liberty and justice for all is a dream shared by people in the Maldives, in Libya and around the world. For Chen Guangcheng and his family, that dream is becoming a reality. A very special Independence Day, when we return.


AMANPOUR: And now a final thought on the real meaning on independence. July 4th, Independence Day in the United States, is traditionally celebrated with fireworks, a gift, you might say, from China, the country that invented them.

For one Chinese family, America has now returned the favor. Imagine a world where freedom is a three-bedroom apartment with a view.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): You know all about Chen Guangcheng by now. He's the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest, created a diplomatic storm and eventually was granted his freedom.

Well, this is an Independence Day update. Chen and his family have been in the United States for a couple of months now, trading their rural farmhouse for college digs in New York's Greenwich Village.

As a law student at New York University, Chen now spends two hours a day learning English, often using -- and what could be more appropriate today -- the Declaration of Independence as his textbook.

And he uses his freedom to call for better treatment for his family, still living under threat back in China, especially his nephew, Chen Kegui, who's been held incommunicado for over two months by Chinese authorities.

Meantime, with the help of his wife, Yuan Weijing, Chen is preparing to write a book while working on a range of human rights issues, including the protection of disabled people. It seems every day we hear of another great leap forward.

China now has more millionaires than North America. China leads the world in college educated workers. But even though Chen Guangcheng can't enjoy the view from his window, he sees something the Chinese government still fails to see: it's there in his textbook, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.