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CNN'S AMANPOUR

US-Pakistan Relations; Putin's Changing Stance on Assad

Aired July 9, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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

Tonight we look at the marriage from hell, the one between Pakistan and the United States. Since 9/11, the two countries have been forced to stay together for the sake of Afghanistan and to fight terrorism, not to mention keeping an eye on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

And like many other unhappy couples, they bicker a lot. Finally they reached an impasse when one of them refused to say "I'm sorry." Last week, they patched things up after seven months of Pakistani demands, the United States did choke out an apology of sorts for a NATO airstrike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

My brief tonight: Washington may now be saying "all better," but to many in Islamabad, "sorry" is too little, too late. Today, more than 20,000 people marched on the capital to protest the rapprochement. Almost three-quarters of Pakistanis now say the United States is their enemy, according to a new Pew poll.

And look at this image, President Obama on the receiving end of that regional symbol of disrespect, the hurled shoe.

There is one positive sign: trucks are once again rolling from Pakistan to the war in Afghanistan. Those supply routes were closed during all the haggling over the apology. In a moment, I'll have a rare interview with a Pakistani official, that country's ambassador to the United States.

But first, here's what's happening later in the program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Is Putin hedging his bets? Syria's dictator may be running out of time and bullets.

And the "God particle's" unknown hero, one of the first Muslims to win the Nobel prize. But to Pakistan, he's not a Muslim. We'll explain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: But first, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, was instrumental in patching up this latest round of strained relations. And I spoke to her earlier from Karachi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Rehman, thank you so much for joining me.

SHERRY REHMAN, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Pleasure.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Rehman, tell me how this "sorry" came to pass. As we all know, it was demanded. It was asked. It would have been liked by Pakistan had it happened in the last seven months.

You spent a lot of time pressing for it. I read that you were shuttling back and forth between the White House, State Department, and you were told no, it's not going to happen. Walk me through how it did happen.

REHMAN: In effect, it was about Pakistan seeking the apology or the word "sorry," really, for the death of 24 soldiers at an incident at what we call a tragedy in Salalah (ph) in November last year, when 24 of our soldiers were killed.

So it did cause a huge, not just moment, but interlude of public grief and shock over an ally, you know, doing this and not apologizing. So I think we needed very importantly to get over that glitch. And it wasn't just that it needed to be done for us to move on and to seek some closure on issues that were holding us back.

AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, why do you think that it was so hard for this to be forthcoming? Why did it take seven months for, apparently, national security adviser Tom Donilon to first say no to the secretary of state, you can't apologize; and then say yes, you can?

REHMAN: Well, I haven't been privy to the inside --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: But you were, Ambassador. You were privy to it.

REHMAN: -- (inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: -- You were privy to it.

REHMAN: -- yes.

AMANPOUR: You were the interlocutor.

REHMAN: Well, I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm -- my job is -- my job, Christina (sic), is to talk about what we can do from here. It really is not going to help both countries for me to go into details that might hold us back. And I think we need to look forward.

Certainly, there was a delay. And there were occasions when I think that it was almost on the table. And there were occasions when it looked like it's off the table.

AMANPOUR: Well, in the last seven months, this very vital relationship has basically been on hold. Some here in the United States have said the fact that the "sorry" was eventually forthcoming, seven months later, despite the fact that the White House put a lot of pressure on Pakistan -- the U.S. tried to shame Pakistan in the news media.

You know perfectly well that your own president was denied a bilateral meeting with President Obama at the NATO summit. It's been described here as a failure for the U.S. policy of bullying Pakistan.

Do you see the U.S. as bullying Pakistan? Or do you believe you have a better relationship than that?

REHMAN: I certainly think that there were pressures on Pakistan and I don't think they were all applied in one coerced (ph) advice or a series of articulations that were constructed or planned by the administration. I think that what did really happen was it perhaps may be the politics of election year in Washington playing itself out.

And as far as Chicago was concerned, we were told from day one that there was going to be no bilateral -- for Pakistan, it was very important to demonstrate that we are committed to a responsible global enterprise of bringing peace and stability to Pakistan, to an alliance, rather (ph), and that Pakistan wants to play a clear and responsible role in that, and a constructive role in that.

AMANPOUR: You know, to all of use who follow this quite closely, it really does look like simply the latest episode in a really embarrassingly and appallingly dysfunctional relationship. We're told that this is the most important relationship for the United States and perhaps even for Pakistan. And yet it looks like a horribly, consistently squabbling couple that really should be headed for the divorce court.

What on Earth is going to make it something better, as you rightly point out? There's a war and a country to stabilize next door.

REHMAN: We need to understand that certainly Pakistan is looking for some amount of strategic sympathy in the losses we have incurred over the last 10 years. Christina (sic), we didn't have more than one suicide bombing before 2001.

So it's not that we are saying that all our troubles or volatility, even within parts of Pakistan, have come as a result of joining force with the United States and NATO. But much of it has. I think there needs to be less tough talk in public.

There's a trust gap, also, a trust deficit that you know about between the two countries, and we must work to build that, because both people are quite able to work together when left on their own.

It's when we get into the complexities of, you know, for instance, drones, that the whole drone program is seen as -- it tests the relationship at every juncture. And we honestly feel that there are better ways now of eliminating Al Qaeda, which has been done with our help. And we have been doing that consistently. We're the heavy lifters in this relationship.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, clearly, the apology seems to have meant that the drone program continues. That's correct, right? You have agreed that the drone program continues?

REHMAN: No, we have not agreed on anything. In fact, those conversations are yet to happen. As I said, the apology has opened the space for an opportunity where we can have constructive conversations that might be -- might -- that might be to the satisfaction of both sides. Right now, we have given no go-ahead at all.

There's no question of it. We also consider it -- the drone program, we consider it counterproductive to all our goals in the sense that it radicalizes for the -- it radicalizes foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint.

They also see it as something that -- and quite rightly, no way to be in countervention of international humanitarian and human rights laws. So these are important, I think, points to consider. They can't just be brushed aside.

AMANPOUR: Well, Ambassador --

REHMAN: And Pakistan is facing up to this challenge --

AMANPOUR: Ambassador --

REHMAN: -- on a daily basis.

AMANPOUR: Are you saying that the United States is in violation of international law when it conducts drone strikes on your territory?

REHMAN: This is something that Pakistan has consistently said.

AMANPOUR: Do you buy the administration's way of recognizing militants? As you know, they say that any male of military age is a militant when they strike. You accept that accounting? I know you don't accept the program. Do you accept the accounting?

REHMAN: I think that is also worrisome because this leads to what you call signature strikes, if I'm not mistaken, where a certain level of suspected activity generates or motivates the trigger for -- I really don't know what motivates the trigger for X level or Y level of drone strikes.

But I do appreciate that, while it may be seen as a tool that is absolutely precise and reduces collateral damage, I think that it is -- it has far outweighed its -- the damage it does really doesn't outweigh its benefits.

So it is something that is not only radicalizing large swaths (ph) of the population and it is also seen as predatory. It's seen as against the law. And it continues to challenge a relationship that can actually accomplish a lot more on the ground than we are doing today in eliminating terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Are you aware that President Obama himself personally oversees the strike list in certain sensitive cases?

REHMAN: We have not heard that that is actually the case. We need -- we would need to be told officially for me to give you a state response to that.

AMANPOUR: You talk about a lack of trust on all sides. When people here look at what one can do together they point to the sentencing of the Pakistani doctor for helping in pinning down and tracing Osama bin Laden before the strike on Osama bin Laden's compound. I mean, sentencing him to 33 years is something that here in the United States people simply couldn't understand.

REHMAN: Dr. Afridi was, number one, he had no knowledge that the goal that he was working for -- he knew he was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency, but he had no knowledge that he was seeking to bring Osama bin Laden in, number one. So let's not lionize him.

Number two, he was contracting with many terrorist outfits, at least one that we know of on the ground. He was even kidnapped by one, and he was in many transactions on the ground, all over the place. He is one of many such people who have been convicted for such actions.

And his conviction is really for contracting with one of the terrorist groups that is waging or attempting to attack our soldiers. We've had several beheaded recently. Certainly our government would have considered a feather in our cap to get Osama bin Laden.

We do not want to play host to terrorists, international terrorists. They haunt our own people and our own children, our girl schools, our hospitals, our Sufi shrines. They have bombed almost every day, including our police and security services. So it's not on your television screens, but our daily reality has, over the last 10 years, changed.

We are a resilient people, but it doesn't help to tell us to continue to do more. It is our fight as much as anyone else's, because we are committed to eliminating terrorism at its root and source.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Rehman, thank you very much for joining me.

REHMAN: Pleasure. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And from that dysfunctional marriage between the U.S. and Pakistan, we will turn to another complicated relationship, between Syria and Russia. But first, take a look at this picture. Those are Pakistani children receiving polio vaccinations in Peshawar (ph).

But militant leaders are now trying to hold the vaccine hostage in a symbolic protest. They want to drive home their claim that drone strikes do much more damage than polio. You can read more on this at amanpour.com/Facebook. And we'll be right back.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn to Syria and the question, why is Russia so willing to remain a stalwart friend and ally to Bashar al-Assad? Today in an interview with German television, Assad defiantly insisted that he will hold onto power.

So far, he's managed to do that, thanks, in part, to Russia, which has protected Assad more than once from tougher sanctions threatened by the U.N. Security Council. But lately, President Putin seems to be hedging his bets. Or is he? A Russian military official said today that it will no longer be selling new weapons to Syria.

Tonight we want to get the Putin perspective and for that we turn to Dimitri Simes, the Russian-born president of the Center for National Interest. He's maintained close connections to key Russian government officials, and he joins me now from Washington.

Dimitri, thank you for being here.

DIMITRI SIMES, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR THE NATIONAL INTEREST: Pleasure.

AMANPOUR: So let's get to the bottom of this -- of this issue of weapons, because there's some conflicting reports about it. Is this a state policy? Do you believe that Russia will no longer sell new weapons to Syria? And if not, why not?

SIMES: Well, Russia was not selling new weapons to Syria for, I would say, quite some time. And, first, they're saying that there are no new contracts and they will sign no new contracts. But then there is also a reality that the Assad regime has no money to pay for Russian weapons. So obviously it becomes economically much less attractive to Russia.

Last but not least, the Russians understand perspectives in the region. President Putin just came from Israel, from Jordan, and he understands that the Israelis, who were quite ambivalent regarding removing Assad, now want him to go. And I think it puts Putin in a difficult station. He does not want to be the only guy supporting this failing tyrant.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, that's my question. Is he supporting this failing tyrant? What is the strategic calculation of President Putin?

SIMES: I think he's supporting him but up to a point. As you said, they certainly do not want to denounce the Assad government too much at the U.N. Security Council. Together with the Chinese, they oppose new sanctions. They're talking about both sides in Syria being equally responsible for violence. They do not want to appear abandoning their old client, Bashar al-Assad.

At the same time, they're not supplying him with new weapons. They made clear publicly that they would not use force on his behalf. And apparently they told privately both the U.S. government and, more important, the Assad inner circle, that they're not committed to Assad personally.

And if he would go, they would not necessarily welcome it, but they would appreciate it and they would not oppose it in any shape or form. So when you see defections from the Assad inner circle, I think to some extent these defections are encouraged by this Russian ambivalence and by a sense that Bashar al-Assad can no longer fully rely on Moscow.

AMANPOUR: OK. So you're painting a picture of a gradually distancing Russian government, a gradually distancing of by President Putin and the rest of the Russian establishment. What is it -- is it -- is it the arms, or is it something completely other?

Is it just that the Russians don't want outside interference? Is it just that they don't like what they think is going to be an - a radical Islamic alternative to Assad? What's the real reason?

SIMES: Well, I think there are a lot of real reasons, and you mentioned that concern over Islamic extremists in Syria. There's a concern that's genuine. They are very aggressively trying to promote Russian arms wherever they can.

Putin just today had a meeting with Russian foreign ambassadors and told them one of your responsibilities is to promote the sale of Russian weapons, for them to appear kind of disregarding their previous contracts in the Syrian case, that's problematic.

But the most important thing is that they do feel that this is another American-led humanitarian intervention, that their perspective is not sufficiently taken into account, that American clients are usually protected. Russian clients are usually punished.

They also feel that in the case of Libya, they kind of met the United States halfway, but as a result, there was a full-scale air war against Gadhafi. That was not something they expected. That was not something they believe they were told would happen by President Obama.

I was in Moscow when Russia decided to abstain during the Libya revolution, and that was the result of a personal phone conversation between President Obama and President Medvedev, the call initiated apparently by President Obama.

And Medvedev was severely criticized later, including by Putin, for kind of giving up to Obama and allowing NATO military intervention in Libya. So the Russian position basically is if NATO and the United States want to interfere in Syria, Russia is not going to stop them, but Russia is not going to support it, either.

AMANPOUR: OK. So is this -- is this payback? Is this tit for tat?

SIMES: I think it is not a payback. I think it is a sense that Russia is a great power and if they want Russia to be involved in something so controversial as a Syrian military intervention, Russia should be treated as a full-scale partner. Otherwise, Russia would not resist, but Russia would not help, either.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say Russia wouldn't resist. Do you mean if the United States decided to gather its own coalition and do, for instance, what it did in Kosovo, do an end run around Russia, that Russia would not resist?

SIMES: Well, since you asked, recently had a top-level Russian delegation hosted by the Center for the National Interest, it included a senior Russians official being there in an official capacity. And we had a private dinner this question was raised, and the answer was very clear.

Russia would not welcome such an intervention; Russia would not approve such an intervention. It would not resist such an intervention and this intervention would not become a major issue in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's a bit of a green light, in my book. What do you think of Hillary Clinton's statements, for instance, at the latest Friends of Syria, "Russia, get off the sidelines," that kind of thing?

SIMES: I think it's quite unhelpful, because Russia clearly is trying to meet the United States halfway behind the scene. They are not delivering everything Secretary Clinton want, but they are trying to do something.

But most important, if you understand Putin's psychology, the last thing you will want to do is to put him publicly into the corner if you want his cooperation. So I think on Secretary Clinton's part, this megaphone diplomacy is primarily for domestic consumption. And I almost have an impression -- so sorry to be cynical -- essentially it suggests to me that Mr. Obama's administration does not want to intervene in Syria, and want to use Russia as an alibi.

AMANPOUR: Dimitri Simes, fascinating perspective, thank you so much for being here.

SIMES: Pleasure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And so you heard it. And as Russia weighs its options and its alliances, we'll return again to Pakistan, where a rogue scientist is a hero and a true science hero is, to quote Sir Walter Scott, "unwept, unhonored and unsung."

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, last week most of the world cheered the discovery of the so-called "God particle," but in Pakistan, the silence was deafening. Imagine a world where a merchant of death is rewarded, while a scientific visionary is disowned and forgotten.

Abdus Salam, Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, the first Muslim to win the physics prize, helped lay the groundwork that led to the Higgs boson breakthrough. And yet in Pakistani schools, his name has been erased from the textbooks.

That's because Abdus Salam, who died in 1996, was a member of the Ahmadiyya sect, considered heretics by the Sunni majority and barred by an act of parliament from even calling themselves Muslims.

In sharp contrast, another Pakistani physicist, the infamous A. Q. Khan, a Sunni, is lionized as the father of his country's atomic bomb, even though he's confessed to spreading the technology to some of the world's most dangerous regimes, including Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Abdus Salam is officially forgotten in his own country. But his life's work lives on, a quantum leap towards understanding our universe.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, amanpour@cnn.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

END