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What is Next for Syria?; Mexico's New President

Aired July 5, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

My brief tonight: what can save Mexico? Mexico once was Latin America's economic powerhouse, its strongest player on the world stage.

Today, though, Mexico seems to have lost its way. Its economy is struggling and more than 50,000 people, mostly civilians, have been murdered in the drug violence that has racked the country in the past six years. That is eight times the number of American soldiers who've been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Whether or not Mexico can emerge from this war as well as from an anemic economy will now depend on Enrique Pena Nieto, who won the presidential election this weekend. Despite his main challenger refusing to concede defeat and demanding a recount, Mr. Pena Nieto is expected to be sworn in December 1st.

Yep. That is how long the transition takes. And I'll speak to him about the overwhelming challenges he faces in a moment. But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Putting Syria's dictator on the couch: Assad speaks out. But what is he really thinking?



AMANPOUR (voice-over): In the beginning, there was a cold hard scientist who kept the faith.

We'll explain.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit.

But first, my conversation with the man projected to be Mexico's president.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Pena Nieto, thank you very much for joining me.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, MEXICAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (via translator): Christiane, thank you very much, it's a pleasure for me to be on your program and to greet your audience.

AMANPOUR: Well let me ask you, can I call you president yet? There are recounts and as you know, there are allegations of vote buying. Are you confident that at the end of the day, you will be the president of Mexico?

NIETO: I am the president by decision of the majority of Mexicans, and this is a whole process that is very strictly following the law, which will be in the month of September, when the electoral tribunal will qualify the process and legally designate me as president.

But it's clear that I have won these elections with a wide margin of the vote that supports the national undertaking that I lead.

AMANPOUR: Does is worry you, though, these charges of pre-paid gift cards and vote buying?

NIETO: No, Christiane, because there's no ground for much of it and let's give the electoral tribunal to weigh the evidence presented regarding these statements which, as I repeat, have no grounds. I'm the first one in condemning any practice of any political party, including mine, that resorts to the vote buying through coercion to conditioning the participation of Mexicans, the voting process.

AMANPOUR: Clearly, Mexicans are fed up and they want change. One of the things that we all see from outside is the terrible spiral of violence, the drug-related crime. You've mentioned that as one of your priorities as president. What are you going to do that's different to what your predecessor did?

NIETO: We have to take specialized training of our police forces in order to combat certain types of crimes. I'm pointing to three, which are the ones that are provoking the greatest of violence: murder, extortion and kidnapping.

These have to be granted special focus in certain sectors of policing so that we fight this sort of crime head-on, which I am persuaded will allow us, in the short term, to reduce the indexes of criminal activity.

We have, unfortunately, seen a rise, in recent years, of murders, which we must put a stop to and gradually begin to reduce these levels of violence and crime, and find social support in that for a policies of matter of -- matters of public security.

AMANPOUR: This is obviously a war, Mr. Pena Nieto. There are something above 50,000 Mexicans who've been killed since 2006. How many police forces are you going to be able to put on the streets to deal with this?

NIETO: Now we have a federal police force, which has been great achievement for this government, 36,000 individuals.

I want to strengthen the civilian forces to 50,000 members. I want to create a national gendarmerie, which is what I called it, a national gendarmerie, consisting of 40,000 elements, which today are members of the army and which are concentrating on this task of combating the lack of security.

AMANPOUR: And, of course, the U.S. is watching very carefully and reading your every statement on this issue. Will you be able to emphatically deny that there will be any kind of resorting to deals with drug lords, or to any kind of truces with the drug lords?

NIETO: I've been very clear and emphatic. With organized crime, there is no truce, there is no treaty, there's no agreement. That does not fit within the responsibilities of the Mexican government, not the government that I will head as head of the executive branch. We have to face organized crime, and -- which is my commitment, my challenge to return to Mexico peace and security.

AMANPOUR: As you know, human rights organizations have said that, under the outgoing president, Calderon, there are a lot of abuses committed in the search and in the fight against the drug war, execution, disappearances, that kind of thing.

And one of the problems is that the military is self-investigating. So the question that human rights organizations have is would you, under your presidency, have a civilian oversight, a civilian accountability for any kinds of crimes that were committed in the pursuit of the organized crime that you want to go after?

NIETO: My commitment is very clear, in terms of respect for human rights, Christiane. And to my commitment because police forces, in their access against organized crime, they must observe all protocols that guarantee respect for human rights.

For the organizations that have defended human rights, I'm here so that all issues and isolated cases are reviewed, which, unfortunately, we have observed in this war on organized crime, where human rights have been violated.

There is a commitment of the government that I will lead to respect human rights, individual guarantees of human rights, and so that the government's actions are always professional within the boundaries of the law and then with respect before individual rights.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Pena Nieto, as you know, the PRI party, as you know very well, had a stranglehold on politics for more than 70 years, and many call it a party of the past, a party of authoritarianism and not really a democratic party.

You're obviously a new face, and you brought the party back to power after 12 years. I know President Obama called you to congratulate you.

What can you do to convince and assure President Obama and the rest of the world, the Mexicans, of course, that you are committed to democracy and not the old ways of the past?

NIETO: Look, Christiane, one condition, one basic condition of democracy is the participation of political parties. My political persuasion, the PRI, is a party with a history. But now, it's part this environment of democracy which, fortunately prevailed in -- prevails in Mexico.

Mexico has changed; it's gone through a change in evolution in its democracy which has led to my party to take on a new role with a new attitude.

This profile of respect for human rights, and in order to be able to compete within an environment of democracy, seems to me that, through states, that my party, once it takes on power is a step backward for democracy, is a statement in and of itself that's anti-democratic.

AMANPOUR: Regarding the United States, you've called on the United States to engage in comprehensive immigration reform. So I want to know what you mean by that.

NIETO (through translator): I have committed to supporting civil organizations that work in the United States, which have struggled for immigration reform, to support their work.

And in the bilateral relations that we forge with the United States government to emphasize this reform, which, no doubt, should acknowledge the value and contribution that millions of Mexicans who live in the United States bring to the table in terms of that country's economic development.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, let me ask you, because you've spent a lot of time running for this office. You were governor previously of the state of Mexico.

How does it feel to be on the verge of becoming president of Mexico?

NIETO (through translator): I feel full of enthusiasm, full of commitment, understanding very well the challenges that we face. But the experience of having governed the state with the highest population in our country, 151/2 million inhabitants. Now as of this experience, to serve all Mexico.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President-Elect, thank you for joining me.

NIETO (through translator): Christiane, very kind of you to give me this interview. A respectful greeting to all your audience and thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And how does he plan to revive the Mexican economy? Head to to hear more of our conversation. And coming up, inside the mind of Bashar al-Assad. I'll talk to a reporter who's had a rare interview with him, after a break.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. Earlier this week, Turkish journalist Utku Cakirozer sat down with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, for a 2 1/2- hour interview. The Syrian government claims it granted the interview, quote, "based on Syria's policy of opening up to the mass media."

Utku is a reporter for Jumhuriyat, Turkey's oldest independent newspaper, and he joins me now from Ankara for his first appearance on international television since he spoke with President Assad.

Utku, welcome to our program. Thanks for joining me.

UTKU CAKIROZER, JOURNALIST: Christiane, thanks for inviting me. It's a privilege for me and my greetings to your audience.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much. We want to ask you because, look, it's quite rare, despite what the Syrians say about inviting journalists in, CNN has not been able to get in recently.

So we want to know what impressions you came away with from your interview with President Assad. Beyond the specifics, did you get the idea that he really knew what was going on outside the palace walls?

CAKIROZER: I think -- I think he knows what's going on, but it seems that he doesn't really want to accept it. He has his own framework and he believes that the people are backing and behind him and he even compares himself with Shafed Levy (ph) of Iran, and he says that why he lost is that the people was not behind him, but people are behind me. That's why I'm still alive. Otherwise, I would have been, too.

AMANPOUR: You know, I was always struck -- and I've been struck since this all started, I mean, you know that like 16 months ago, President Assad could have shaped this whole thing. People, when they're asking for him to step down, they were just asking for reform.

And you asked him the same. You said, "Do you regret the fact that last year you crushed the first democratic protest with arms?" And he said, "Well, at the end of the day, we're all human. We can make mistakes."

Do you think he thinks it's just a mistake? Or it's a significant strategic error?

CAKIROZER: I think he just thinks that it was a mistake and, you know, in the aftermath of this statement, he continues like saying, I might have mistakes but the interventions of external powers are more harmful and much more than my mistakes.

So I don't think he thinks that it was a big error, and he still think that he did the right thing. And he even thinks that his people's support is more and more behind him nowadays, you know, in comparison to the earlier days. It's interesting.

AMANPOUR: It is interesting and it's kind of incredible for us who are witnessing, at least from this distance, it reminds me a little bit of what I asked then Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, back in February, when the protests against him were just sort of really gaining strength.

And I asked him whether he would step down as the rest of the world was asking. I just want you to listen to this.


MOAMMAR GADHAFI, FORMER DICTATOR OF LIBYA: They love me, all my people with me. They love me all.

AMANPOUR: But if they do love you --

GADHAFI: They will die to protect me, my people.

AMANPOUR: Col. Gadhafi, the President of the United States, the leaders of Britain and other leaders are calling on you to step down, to leave Libya, to leave your position of power. Will you do that?



AMANPOUR: You know, Utku, that must go down as the all-time greatest sense of denial in certainly modern history. Do you get the impression that Bashar al-Assad is in denial? Because even to you, he said, you know, why should I kill my people, who are behind me?

CAKIROZER: Yes, he was not that much sarcastic as Gadhafi, because I also watched your interview with Gadhafi at that time. But he was very calm. He was very quiet.

But in comparison to Gadhafi, I think there is some element of truth in his words, because you know, most of the middle class people in -- especially in cities like Damascus and the other big cities sort of are sort of concerned about what happens next, if Assad leaves, then what happens?

And not only the middle class people, but also the Christians, for instance, I hear that they are also concerned of the aftermath of Assad, if predominantly Sunni, predominantly Muslim Brotherhood Party comes to power. So I think he is sort of self-comfort (ph). He finds himself comfortable and self-confident because of these -- he knows that people are concerned about the aftermath.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about the aftermath. Do you think that he will ever step down voluntarily as the latest communique, I know there's wrangling over semantics. But the latest communique from the world powers after this weekend's talks called for a transitional party that basically says without him. Do you think he will step down voluntarily?

CAKIROZER: According to what he says in the interview, if his people wants him to leave, then he would leave his seat . I asked him, I mean, are you going to keep your seat up until you die? And he said, no, I mean, it's up to my people, if they do not elect me.

But on the other hand, regarding your view on the international community, I don't think Assad gets the same message that the international community is united that he has to leave because when I asked this question to him about the Geneva talks and the transitional government issue, his reply was that I haven't yet talked to Annan or Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

But looking at what they are saying, I think he is -- especially referring to Lavrov's statements, there's a problem with this text. There was only one statement that I was expecting to be there, which was the Syria future is going to be determined by the Syrian people. And it's there. So this is enough. This is livable, he said.

So I think he doesn't think that the international community has sort of found consent (ph) on proceeding this process without him. And he is very much sort of attached to Russia. He believes on that they're going to defend him. This is the impression I got from the interview.

AMANPOUR: And you also noticed, when you were interviewing him, it shows up in your interview that there were drawings and pictures that his children had done. And you asked him about his children and how they're processing all that's going on around him, what he tells his children. How did he respond?

CAKIROZER: Well, you're right. I mean, I think -- I mean, he was like -- he was rather than a president, he was like a father, because he said that they're shocked. I mean, seeing this news (ph), they are shocked. I'm at home; we are all speaking about these issues and I'm saying to them, they're terrorists, they're bad men.

But then also he said something which I was sort of surprised, which was that nowadays, they're talking at home about kidnapping of students from -- of the classmates of his children. And so he said, I mean, look what we are -- look how we are grooming our children. I mean, he was speaking like a daddy rather than a president or a dictator.

AMANPOUR: And even as he's told you that he was making mistakes -- and you pushed him, you know, you asked him, isn't it possible that these crimes that you're talking about may have been perpetrated by units under your command, and again the president says, "Of course, mistakes have been made all the time. Crimes are committed." But then he says, "Is the state to be held responsible?"

I guess I'm struck by this constant, you know, sort of shoving off of responsibility as if -- as if his army and his security forces were operating under their own command.

CAKIROZER: Yes, you're right, I mean, he was -- I mean, he was saying either individual or sometimes institutional, but he was sort of isolating himself and the state, what he would -- what he meant, the state from this responsibility, you are right. I mean, I asked two -- I think two times, and he sort of -- he says he might have some mistakes, but then he doesn't take the full responsibility.

And in addition to that, I also asked the U.N. reporting of U.N. Human Rights Council has had a 20-page lengthy report, which has put the most of the blame on the regime and the (inaudible) regime and the Syrian army.

But then he just simply said that he meant that he doesn't care, these reports. And that these reports, these U.N. reports -- he knows how these U.N. reports are prepared, I mean, by the dominance of some Western powers rather than objective reasonings. So this is how his reasoning is.

AMANPOUR: And, Utku, I was really struck because he invited you in as a Turkish journalist because of the shootdown of the Turkish plane and he wanted to apologize and say they didn't know it was a Turkish plane, thought it was an Israeli plane. But he was really harsh about Prime Minister Erdogan. I mean, he said that he was, you know, he had lost his standing, that he had no credibility in the Arab world, that he had failed on the Arab stage. Were you struck by his strong, harsh words against Prime Minister Erdogan?

CAKIROZER: Yes, actually, I'm surprised but on the other hand, I was expecting him to react, but not that much harsh, because, you know, the Turkish prime minister was also very much harsh on him for along time, but also especially after the shooting down of the Turkish fighter. So the two, I mean, you remember these two leaders were sort of very much friendly.

I mean, just 15 or 16 months ago, having holidays with their wives, so for me, I was very much curious about, you know, to get his part of the story, how they sort of get that much polarized. I mean, the two leaders, the two friends get that much polarized. That -- so some part of the interview has been focused on his relations with the prime minister.

And he was very much sort of focused on prime minister rather than the Turkish people, really, you know, the Turkish government rather than the Turkish people. He was sort of trying to give his messages to the people.

AMANPOUR: Right. And Utku, finally, do you get a sense what his general mood is and whether he plans to continue and just fight this out to the end?

CAKIROZER: Yes, unfortunately, I got this feeling that he's going to -- he's going to continue and maybe more and more, because he said he calls them the opposition as the terrorists, and according to him, there is only one problem in his country, which is terrorism.

And he told me a lot about the reform process and according to him, everything is all right in the reform process. But the only problem is the external interventions coming from Americans and Western powers, including Turkey. And other than that, he names his struggle as a struggle against terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Utku Cakirozer, thank you so much indeed for joining us with all your insights.

We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where scientists keep the faith. You may have heard, of course, about the discovery of the so- called "God particle." It's also known as the Higgs boson, a subatomic piece of the cosmic glue that makes creation possible.

Peter Higgs is a physicist who first theorized its existence 48 years ago, and he doesn't care for the term "God particle." Higgs is an avowed atheist. But imagine the faith that it really did take to spend all those years waiting to have his theory confirmed.


PETER HIGGS, PHYSICIST: For me, it's really an incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime.


HIGGS: It's taken --



AMANPOUR: So what exactly is the Higgs boson? Think about the vast emptiness of space, particles would just keep racing through at the speed of light and never take form or life if it weren't for a kind of glue that sticks them together and allows them to take on form or mass. That glue is the Higgs boson.

Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek said of the discovery, "It seems my faith has been rewarded." Science and faith may appear to be worlds apart, but believing what you can't see may be the glue that holds them together.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.