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Possibility of Action in Syria Lower than Ever; Interview with Qatari Prime Minister; Interview with Mongolian President

Aired September 24, 2012 - 00:00:00   ET


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

After months of unimaginable violence, and a mounting death toll in Syria, the possibility that real action will be taken to stop the slaughter has, until now, seemed lower than ever. The United Nations have been the only source of hope for a resolution. But listen to what the U.N. secretary-general told me back in May.


BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: There was a huge violation of human rights. It's totally unacceptable and intolerable situation. Too many people of Syria have suffered and there have been too many people have been killed.

AMANPOUR: But what is the plan B?

BAN: At this time, we don't have any plan B.


AMANPOUR: No plan B. That was a stunning admission from the United Nations' top man. But now possible glimmer of hope, and it comes from one of the Arab nations, the state of Qatar.

Qatar is a tiny country with big money and big power. Oil and gas rich, Qatar holds real clout in the Arab world. It played a key role in the libertarian of Libya, was the first Arab nation to recognize the rebels and to support NATO's mission there. Libyans were so thankful they hung the Qatari flag over a Gadhafi compound in Tripoli.

Now Qatar's sights are on Syria. They have publicly supported the rebels for months, and just moments ago, the country's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, told me that Arab countries are close to finalizing their own plan B to try to stop the slaughter in Syria.


AMANPOUR: Sheikh Hamad, thank you for joining me in the studio.


AMANPOUR: This year's U.N. General Assembly is happening against the backdrop of a total United Nations failure to do anything about stopping the violence in Syria. From your perspective, Qatar, you yourself announced that eight months ago that our recruits should possibly go in to stop the slaughter. It's still happening; those troops haven't gone in.

What hope is there of stopping the situation?

AL-THANI: We believe that we would like to do this peacefully. It doesn't look --

AMANPOUR: So no-fly zone, no no-fly zone?

AL-THANI: No, no, I would like to continue. We wish and we believe that we can solve it peacefully. I don't think this is the situation because Assad have one solution, is to go through the violence and killing his people to win the war, if we want to put it as a war.

I believe that there is a plan B, and I believe that, within a month, we are watching the Lakhdar Brahimi mission now. But --


AMANPOUR: The new U.N. Arab envoy.

AL-THANI: -- yes.

But I believe within weeks, we should have a plan B. And there is a responsibility among us, as countries, not necessarily to go to the Security Council for full pledge for a resolution, but -- and we -- because we are not talking about war, but we are talking about saving the people of Syria. And I think there is responsibilities and we have to fulfill our responsibilities.

AMANPOUR: Briefly, what would the plan B be?

AL-THANI: Well, you need to make safe haven areas, first of all.

AMANPOUR: That would require a no-fly zone.

AL-THANI: That will require a non-fly zone. If the Syrians want to break that, that's another subject. That's need also somebody to have the teeth to tell them don't do that, because that will not be allowed.

And I believe we need more humanitarian aid to Syria, not only for the people in the border. Inside Syria, there is more than 2 million people leaving from their places with no home, which they need help.

AMANPOUR: Who would participate in this plan B, as you put it out, the safe haven, safe areas --

AL-THANI: I believe there is a lot of Arab countries who will participate. And there is also European countries who will participate. And what we need, we need United States of America, I know, to be more frank, that there is election now.

And we are in an election period. So maybe that's not a diplomatic way to say it, but I hope that after the election, the American government look at this matter in different way.

And I always meant no military intervention. But we need to take some measures and we need these measures with the United States, the European countries, the Arab countries, the Muslim countries, to save the Syrian people.

AMANPOUR: What is the risk for the United States of not being involved at all? Some have said that the day after, if Assad falls, it means the U.S. will have no allies on the ground.

What do you think the risk is for the U.S.?

AL-THANI: This message, people saying it, but it's cleverly been said by al-Assad people, that there is no alternatives. If I am not there, there will be chaos. We hear this everywhere.

We have a Libyan election. I know it doesn't went well; especially I'm sorry for what happened to the American ambassador, which is a tragedy, not acceptable by all measures.

But also we can take Tunisia as an example. We can take Egypt as an example. We can take Yemen with all the problems as an example. The alternative, the Syrian people have to decide their alternatives.

And I believe time come now to let these people decide what they want. The problem that we would like to think and we would like -- we would like to think on their behalf and we would like them to implement.

That cannot happen in the Middle East. There is a change in the Middle East happened. We have to accept that there is a change and this change need us to help them and to tell them this is possible, this is not possible.

AMANPOUR: Is Qatar providing weapons to the Syrian uprising?

AL-THANI: No, we are not providing weapon to the Syrian uprising as they mentioned. But there is many kinds of logistic help we are giving them, humanitarian and, you know, we are sending medications.

We are treating the Syrian people in Lebanon and many other countries. That's what we are -- we send a lot of help to the people -- and Qatar is a small country.

AMANPOUR: But a small country with a huge amount of money. In fact - -

AL-THANI: The money -- the money not everything. The will is more important than the money. A lot of country have the money. But they don't have the will.

AMANPOUR: Well, we've seen that almost no countries have the will to actually stop what's going on in Syria.

And just recently, President Assad gave an interview to the newspaper "Hayak (ph) " magazine. He slammed you and your country. He said, "Qatar uses the power of money and revolves in the orbit of the West to repeat the Libyan scenario."

What is your response to that?

AL-THANI: Well, I don't want to respond to him, but I want to respond to him in different way. He has to think why Qatar and the others interfere in Syria, because of his failure, not to sit and finalize the problem with his people.

He have to sit with his people and he have to give power to his people. I believe he has to do a transition period to try -- to give power in an organized way to the people of Syria. He can throw left and right the skews (ph) about what happened.

But no one can interfere in any country. We don't believe that's the right thing. But what he's doing to his people, let all of us interfere, because there is children being killed, women being raped.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe this peace plan that you're talking about, is it going to be a bunch of Sunni countries versus Shiite? Is it sort of a proxy struggle over Syria?

AL-THANI: Well, that's a very dangerous scenario if we say Shia and Sunnis. And there is a lot of people from both sides playing this. And I think this is very dangerous solution or very dangerous scenario.

I believe that we should work in the region to -- forward go to the peace. And peace that means religion, we have to respect each others' religion or whatever we believe in it, Christian, Muslims, Jew or anyone, if we want to live in a peace in the region.

And we have to work our differences in the table, among us, without interference or without thinking somebody can influence the other part.

But my fear, that if there is a Sunni-Shia war and escalation (ph), there is people working for this. Nobody will win on this. This is -- will be -- a fire will burn everybody and we should avoid that by all means.

AMANPOUR: One more question on this issue: do you have any reason to believe beyond hope that the United States will get more actively involved after the election?

AL-THANI: Well, I think you should ask the officials --


AMANPOUR: We will; we've asked many, many times. I'm just wondering if you could enlighten us.

AL-THANI: You know, sometimes you hope something and sometimes you sense something.

AMANPOUR: So you sense it?

AL-THANI: And I believe -- I believe that United States have a duty in our region and have a duty for the peace and stabilities, and they have to have fair hand in this problem. And I always meant -- I'm not talking about military action more than to have a solution.

And also, I really hope that Russia and China join all of us for to find the solution, not exactly what they want or what they -- what we want. It's exactly what the Syrian people want, in my opinion.

AMANPOUR: Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

AL-THANI: Pleasure.


AMANPOUR: So is there light at the end of the tunnel? We will be watching. Qatar may be one of the richest countries in the world, but when we come back, another remarkable success story, one that will surprise you.

But before we go to break, one last picture from Syria.

This is what passes for a playground in the Syrian city of Aleppo these days. Instead of bouncing on a seesaw, these children are playing on a burnt-out government tank. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back. Question: what's the fastest growing economy anywhere in the world today? If you say China, you'd be wrong, because it's Mongolia, which is landlocked between China and Russia, among others, and it's growing at more than twice the rate as China.

Indeed, at a staggering rate of more than 17 percent a year, which may explain why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a pilgrimage to Mongolia along with Vice President Joe Biden and before him George W. Bush and a parade of other Western and Asian powers, including China, along with corporate titans by the planeload.

Mongolia's secret? It sits atop a mountain of mineral wealth -- coal, copper, gold -- and a torrent of global money is forcing revolutionary changes.

Now Mongolia managed the change from traditional nomadic herding culture to major economic political power and from Soviet-style Communism to democracy. All of this lies squarely on the shoulders of my guest, President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj.

Mr. President, thank you for joining me. Thanks for coming into the studio.


AMANPOUR: So tell me, what does this immense wealth, particularly compared to what's going on in the rest of the world with very poor economies, what does this mean for Mongolia right now, the pluses and the minuses?

ELBEGDORJ: This is a great opportunity. This is plus. But we have to manage that. We have to share that great opportunity with all our people.

AMANPOUR: Because right now I read, despite this huge wealth that you have, there is growing inequality and there is a big worry that it won't be spread around, the wealth won't be, and that there will be too much corruption, as so often happens in rapidly emerging economies.

ELBEGDORJ: You know Mongolia has two striking differences in our region. One is urban country, governed by our people. Because of that, people are smart. People really, you know, make changes. If we make bad decisions as government.

And also the other thing, of course, technology. You know (inaudible) technology (inaudible) we learn what countries are failing, what countries are succeeding. (Inaudible) to succeed.

AMANPOUR: You spoke during your United Nations speech about really making an effort to make sure corruption is not the law of the land, so to speak. What are you doing? What rules are you implementing so that some of these mining corporations, some of these companies don't just come and plunder or a few people don't just get rich?

ELBEGDORJ: You know, Mongolia is there. I regard my country as the democratic country in the East. And Mongolia is most liberal and (inaudible) democracy since 1990. But I see corruption as a mortal enemy for young democracies. And most of the emerging democracies are failing because of the corruption. And we have a policy, zero (inaudible) corruption. And we have to deal with that issue.

AMANPOUR: And do you have the structures in place to make sure that zero tolerance is implemented?

ELBEGDORJ: We have a law there. We have anti-corruption agency. And we have independent judiciary.

AMANPOUR: So what is the sort of state of the race, if you like, for your mineral wealth between China, which really wants it; the United States wants to send its businesses here. What is going on and do you favor anybody?

ELBEGDORJ: You know, we would like balance our investment in Mongolia. And of course, there is a certain standard, a standard related in (inaudible) safety. It's -(inaudible) related corporate responsibility. If -- and also it's (inaudible) with our people's interests. If you are a (inaudible) that is not you are welcome to make business in Mongolia.

AMANPOUR: We just talked about being landlocked, and we have a map here on the table. So here you are. In terms of exporting what you have, the fastest route looks to be through China.

Am I right?

ELBEGDORJ: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And does that mean Chinese companies will inevitably be given preferential treatment?

ELBEGDORJ: No. I think we need to build some infrastructure. We need to have more gateways to Russia and to China, to other markets. We are now preparing to (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: And what do you make of the U.S. pivot towards the Pacific, pivot towards Asia?

ELBEGDORJ: You know (inaudible) U.S. we have a (inaudible) connection. We have a common strategic interest. Our men and women in uniform actually serve together in Iraq; now we're serving in Afghanistan, in other hot spots.

Also, U.S. is pivotal to balance those investments. You know, we have two large neighbors, and we call other neighbor policies, certain neighbor policy. We really need certain able investment in Mongolia in order to balance those investments. If we got good opportunities, if in large those buy (ph) in Mongolia, I think our neighbors will benefit as well.

AMANPOUR: Let's move from economic growth to some of the other geostrategic issues. You were in Iran recently for the non-alliance meeting. You were the first foreign head of state, the first foreign president to be taken to Natanz, which is Iran's main center for uranium enrichment. Why do you think you were taken there? And what conclusion did you draw, if any, from being there?

ELBEGDORJ: There was open opportunity to any head of state who is participating in the non-alliance movement meeting, and I thought, why I do not use that opportunity? And I went there.

AMANPOUR: But for what reason? To transfer that technology to you? Or to see whether Iran is actually conducting a peaceful enterprise rather than what some (inaudible) military want?


ELBEGDORJ: Yes, our position is clear. It's still now during that time it was clear. You know, Iran's nuclear activity should not danger any independent nation's security. Second, you know Iran should comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution.

Also there is one thing related to Mongolia. Mongolia has a status nuclear free weapon zone status. And since 1992 and supported by several resolutions of the U.N., I think that is status not only important in our region. That is a status is important for rest of the world.

AMANPOUR: And when you look at one of your further neighbors, North Korea, also represented at the non-ally meeting, do you believe that the new leadership of Kim Jong-un intends reforms? How do you read what's going on there? Or will it be same thing?

ELBEGDORJ: I think Mongolia really uniquely positioned towards North Korea. We have an embassy in North Korea. We have an embassy in Seoul. We have some, of course, good relations and established relations with North Korea.

And I think North Korea have to make some reform in terms of economy. And you know, we have something to share with them, not only with North Korea, with other Eastern countries, other countries in the region, you know, to share and our experience related transition to democracy, transition to market economy.

AMANPOUR: Let me just go back to the democracy in your own country -- and you were one of those instrumental in fighting for that.

But the previous president has since been arrested and there are charges against him. He has complained and other independent observers have complained that this is entirely politically motivated and that he has not been treated according to the kind of internationally admissible norms.

You just told me that, you know, you spent a lot of your time studying in the United States at the Kennedy School of Government. Why would you sanction such a thing, as you're trying to become a respectable democracy?

ELBEGDORJ: You know, Mongolia has a policy, zero tolerance of corruption. And I fought for freedoms since the cold winter in 1989, for 23 years. And I regard that corruption is the mortal enemy, but also no one is above the law. That's the essence of democracy. And because of that, we have to be very tough in order to sell (ph) our people's historic choice to freedom. And we need to rid of corruption.

AMANPOUR: And does it bother you that some people think because of when it happened, during an election season, the fact that he can't run any more, that it's tied to political motives?

ELBEGDORJ: Yes. Usually I think corruption is related with power and with questionable wealth. When those corrupted people, when they usually are under investigation, they try to create the court of public opinion in order to avoid the court of law. Those things happening. And I usually ask our allies -- you know, to look those evidences carefully, which is (inaudible) court.

AMANPOUR: President Elbegdorj, thank you very much for joining me.

ELBEGDORJ: Thank you very much having me.

AMANPOUR: And tonight, we've just focused on Qatar and Mongolia, only two of the many nations represented this week at the U.N. General Assembly. After a break, we'll see who's not there.

But first, a last look at Mongolia. These are yurts, the portable dwellings for Mongolia's nomads. This one comes with a satellite dish and solar panel. And this next one is used as a polling place. Ancient tradition meets the modern world.

And for a look at the history of the cultural clash between ethnic Mongolians and the Han Chinese, we've posted a report at, and we'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as we've said, the general assembly, 116 heads of state, a meeting this week here in New York. In the past, it's provided great theater. But some of the colorful players who once grabbed the stage won't be there. Imagine the U.N. with some of its most compelling characters.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Three years ago, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi wanted to pitch a tent instead of taking a hotel room. Then he gave a rambling rant that went on for an hour and 36 minutes. Gadhafi, as we know, was killed last year and the Arab Spring has brought down the curtain on other larger-than-life figures.

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a long-time U.S. ally, went from presidential palace to a cage in court. But in 1989, he addressed the general assembly, declaring the time was right for Israel and the Palestinians to exchange land for peace. It still hasn't happened.

And then this Hugo Chavez, six years ago from this platform, he called President George W. Bush the devil.

HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Today the devil came here.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This year, he stayed home in Venezuela, battling cancer and a serious political challenge to his 13 years as president. However, the show must go on.

And Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will once again seize the spotlight. Only last year he questioned the Holocaust and 9/11, prompting a walkout by the United States and other Western countries.

This will be his eighth appearance. But according to Iran's constitution, he can't seek reelection, so this will be his swan song.


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