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Interview with Mario Monti; What to Do about Syria?

Aired September 25, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting as usual from New York, which has become the epicenter for a gathering of world leaders. They've gathered here for the kickoff off the United Nations General Assembly, 120 leaders to be exact, and I'll be talking with a number of them this week.

"The New York Times" calls this event "diplomacy's annual trade fair," and there are many crises on the agenda. There's Syria, there's Iran's nuclear program and another item that seems to fester and grow more frightening with each passing month, and that is the looming specter of a European financial collapse and the threat it brings of a global meltdown.

The chaos in Greece has dominated the headlines and it's often thought of as a linchpin to the euro crisis. But economists say the scariest scenario is in Italy. Italy is Europe's third largest economy and it is $1.9 trillion in debt, which is about 120 percent of its GDP.

You'll recall that a year ago under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Italy came perilously close to falling. My guest tonight is Mario Monti, who replaced him, an economist who's now known as Super Mario throughout Europe. As Italy's unelected prime minister, Monti was given a bit more than a year to turn around the ship of state. Can he pull it off? I will speak to the prime minister in just a moment.

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


AMANPOUR (voice-over): As Syria's death spiral goes on, diplomats gather to debate. But where is the plan to end the killing?

And imagine a world without people. In Spain they built the city of the future, but today it's a very expensive ghost town.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first Super Mario, as he's become known, Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti.

Thank you for being here, thank you for coming to the studio.


AMANPOUR: Super Mario is a big title, and you have a superhuman job to do. The first question of course is after all these measures and methods and structural reforms that you've done, why is Italy still in a recession?

MONTI: It's normal that Italy is still in a recession because the measures we introduced, if anything, did deepen the recession a bit. Their purpose was to take Italy out of being in a financial big storm. That has been achieved largely. But that, of course, in the very short term, is not going to help the real economy.

So we put in place the prerequisites for Italy to grow, I believe, beginning sometime next year. But above all, we took, I'm confident to say, Italy out of the list of the countries that might have created a big European fire.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, it seems, according to economists and all these people who've studied this that Europe's fate is really dependent on Germany's attitude. And recently George Soros has said Germany should either lead the Eurozone out of this crisis by boosting growth and other measures, or leave.

Do you agree with that?

MONTI: I believe that in Europe, we have a collective leadership. We are a community of 27 member states, 17 in the Eurozone. But of course, some are more powerful than others. And obviously Germany is.

Leadership from Germany is welcome, especially if, at the same time, the German leaders are able to lead their own domestic public opinion to understand the responsibility of leading Europe. I think Chancellor Merkel has gone a long way towards gradually achieving this.

And I must tell you that since June-July this year, I'm much more confident about the future of the Eurozone, first of all, because we are not going to ignite an Italian-generated fire; and second because, also thanks to the evolution in Germany, the mechanisms for the governance of the Eurozone are being improved, I would say, by the month. That was a bit late, but I think we got there.

AMANPOUR: There's still quite a lot of turmoil on the streets. We're just getting some live pictures in from Madrid, where big protest demonstration was called for today. And it looks to be quite vigorous out there on the streets of Madrid.

There's a lot of pain being felt by ordinary people all over the world, all over Europe, not only in your country where there have been quite a lot of suicides, but in Greece as well. In Spain today, the front of "The New York Times" had a terrible picture of a man having to forage in a garbage bin for food.

MONTI: Can I borrow an expression that President Obama used this morning in his speech to the general assembly, he spoke, talking in -- of the Arab world after the spring of painstaking work of reform. That exactly applies equally to domestic reforms in each of our countries.

And I'm glad to say that although the Italian people has been subjected by the government I chair to an unprecedented amount of sacrifices, and of disciplines and of eliminating privileges and ranks (ph), the Italian people so far has behaved in a highly responsible manner, as if they clearly understood -- and I believe they did clearly understand -- that this is for the improvement of their prospects and the prospects of their children. But of course, this requires quite a bit of pedagogical effort by governments.

AMANPOUR: To explain?

MONTI: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because obviously you were the unelected prime minister. There are elections coming up. Will you run? Will you enter the race for the leadership?

MONTI: No, I will not run for the elections. By the way, I don't need to, because the president of the republic appointed me senator for life. And I think it's important that the full political game resumes in Italy, hopefully with a higher degree of responsibility and of maturity. We are helping that by being part of the European Union. Obviously, I will facilitate as much as I can the evolution.

AMANPOUR: Some are suggesting that Italy should ask for a bailout, precisely because of the stringent sort of straitjacket that comes with that, that would then be locked in, no matter who came after you, if you were no longer prime minister.

Does that make sense to you?

MONTI: If I were cynical enough, it might make sense. I much prefer that we have, under the leadership of the government, a collective effort in Italy to show to ourselves and Europe and the world that we can -- we can make it.

Now I am proud, having contributed with a few other European leaders to now Europe having been placed the appropriate mechanisms to facilitate those countries which are doing their homework correctly, to have in the marketplace declining interest rates. And I hope therefore that, number one, we will not need to ask for the use of that instrument, that we ourselves helped put in place in Europe.

But secondly, if we had to, that is devised in such a way that it would not amount to a surrender of sovereignty as Greece, Ireland, Portugal had to. And I believe, therefore, that Italians will continue to behave responsibly, more than they are usually credited internationally.

AMANPOUR: You had a rather famous now showdown with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, last summer, when you were discussing this whole notion of borrowing costs for Italy and Spain. How did that go? I mean, we hear you sort of really threatened to hijack the meeting unless you got what you wanted.

MONTI: Well, the terminology you use is pretty colored.

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible)?

MONTI: It was not a showdown. It was a vigorous working together. And I think everybody is now happy that what we agreed unanimously, albeit at 5:00 am in the morning, I must admit, is well received.

AMANPOUR: But you did have to say that you would block all deals until Chancellor Merkel agreed to take action. I mean, you had to get tough.


MONTI: It was -- it -- I had to get convincing, which can be done softly. And it was -- at no moment it was personal against Chancellor Merkel.

AMANPOUR: How about against Silvio Berlusconi? He's recently been giving interviews, in which he's predictably criticizing you, saying that you're pandering too much to the Left. But nonetheless, he's starting what some are calling a reelection campaign, his boat (ph) tour around. What do you make of that?

Do you think he'll rejoin politics? What would that mean for Italy?

MONTI: Well, he never left politics.

AMANPOUR: Prime ministership.

MONTI: Yes, he left prime ministership and his party, the party that he still chairs, has been one of the three key parties in supporting the estranged (ph) majority that I govern with.

So whether he decides to step back directly into the scene and run for election as prime minister candidate, I don't know. This is clearly within his right. I have no idea. But I saw in him one of the most consistent supporters of the action taken this year by the government.

AMANPOUR: Let's go slightly further afield with things that you're very involved in, and that is the Arab Spring that President Obama was talking about.

In view of what the president said this morning, reflecting on the violence that has erupted over the last several weeks, what is your view of Italian relations with Egypt, with Libya? How are those new Islamist- flavored democracies going to work with Italy and Europe?

MONTI: You rightly say with Italy and Europe. We are very active on both accounts because as Italy, a country and government, we take a very active interest in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa. And you mention in particular Egypt.

I had early talks with now President Morsi when he was still a candidate. Then he visited us in Rome. By the way, having a very powerful impact on the business community of Italy with which he had a meeting in Rome, and we clearly support his efforts. Equally we do it with the more critical situation of Libya.

But you also mentioned Europe, because Italy is working in order for Europe to solve its domestic problems as soon as possible, and the Eurozone was one of these. And also to project itself more cohesively on the Mediterranean and Middle East and North Africa, because I think that is the place in the world where we must exercise a soft but -- soft but strong influence.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Monti, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

MONTI: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And Europe's economic woes will be one of the issues addressed this week at the U.N., as we've been saying.

But dominating the discussion is the civil war that continues in Syria. And in a moment, I will ask Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, if there's a plan to end the bloodshed there. But before we go to a break, a last look at some of the hubbub in New York surrounding the U.N. meeting.

Those there are protesters outside the city's Warwick Hotel, where Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is staying during this week's meeting. He is perhaps New York's most unpopular guest. We will be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. At this year's U.N. General Assembly, Syria's civil war is top of the agenda. There will be a lot of talk about the violence there; there already has been a lot of talk as well about the climbing death toll. But even those leaders making those speeches are skeptical that any real action will come of it.

So far, diplomacy hasn't really worked, but British foreign secretary William Hague says that everyone's still trying. And I spoke to Mr. Hague just moments ago as he dashed between meetings at the U.N.


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


AMANPOUR: Thanks for coming into the studio.

Obviously a lot of talk about Syria from the podium at the U.N. General Assembly. Just this week the prime minister of Qatar told me that he felt that there was a plan, that there's going to be some kind of safe area, no-fly zone. Do you know anything about that?

HAGUE: No, these, of course, people float these ideas from time to time. That's understandable, given the gravity of the situation.

But of course whatever we've discussed it, such as in the U.N. Security Council a few weeks ago, the U.N. high commission for refugees was very clear that that wasn't the answer. Safe areas weren't the answer unless you were sure you could protect everybody in the (inaudible).


HAGUE: (Inaudible) requires a major military intervention. So I think everybody can see the difficulty with that. But of course, it's right to think of what else can be done. We shouldn't rule out any option. We don't know how even more terrible this situation is going to be --


AMANPOUR: Do (inaudible) what else?

HAGUE: No, there is no plan B that everybody has agreed on. (Inaudible) I don't want to give you that impression at all. We will be meeting in a Friends of Syria this week. We'll have a meeting, particularly on Friday, a huge number of nations who think alike about this. But we are at a diplomatic impasse in the U.N. Security Council, as you know, with Russia and China.

There are many things we can be doing even in the absence of an agreement: the humanitarian aid that has to flow, the support for the opposition, nonlethal support in our case --

AMANPOUR: Is that happening now (ph)?

HAGUE: Well, no not ineffectually (ph). Other countries can do more in that regard. We are -- we're doing quite a bit from the U.K. Some of the communications equipment, for instance, we're sending is being delivered now.

We could put more pressure on isolating the regime, particularly from states that haven't fully implemented sanctions. We can document human rights abuses. We can prepare for the day after. We could do all of these things. We have a lot to do on Syria. But it doesn't resolve the problem as things stand.

AMANPOUR: It's a bit depressing, actually, hearing you say that.

HAGUE: Yes, it is.

Yes. But we have to be straight with the world. We are blocked in the United Nations Security Council from the world being able to put its full weight behind a transitional government in Syria, something that is an obvious solution, obviously part of the solution to this terrible crisis. And we will keep trying. I will discuss it with the Russians this week. But there isn't --

AMANPOUR: Have you had your meeting --


AMANPOUR: -- Prime Minister Lavrov?

HAGUE: I have not yet, no. That will be later in the week.

AMANPOUR: Anything more you can tell him and can you figure out why it is the Russians are so implacably against?

HAGUE: Well, you know, we've had this debate with the Russians a long time, since I went to Moscow in May. Our prime minister met President Putin last month. And we argue that it's not even good for Russia's own interests in that region to see a complete collapse of order in Syria.

They agree with us; there should be a transitional government. But they're not prepared to join us in a U.N. resolution that brings it about.

I think with Russia they do not want to give what they would see as another victory to Western foreign policy, like Libya, as they see it. But this is not Western foreign policy. This is the people of Syria and this is the Arab world, and many countries of Africa and Latin America, who want to see a solution.

AMANPOUR: Is it fair, do you think, for the people of Syria, about whom you all talk so eloquently, President Obama did, your leadership does, everybody talks to eloquently about trying to help the people of Syria. And yet what you're telling me is that their salvation is basically hostage to the Russians.

HAGUE: Well, of course, the U.N. Security Council does require agreement. That's how it's constructed by our ancestors in 1945. That doesn't mean we can't go anything. We can do all those things that I have described.

And all options are there for the future. So it doesn't mean the international community does nothing. But it does mean that we are constrained. Of course it means that.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you something that the new U.N.-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, just said.




AMANPOUR: Has he shared any of those ideas? And do you think it would be any more successful than Kofi Annan was?

HAGUE: Well, he's a very wise man. And he's right (inaudible) how difficult the situation is. I will be meeting him tomorrow to discuss any further ideas.

But there isn't a magic idea. The idea that, you know, we could just bring out of the cupboard, here is the magic solution to this, that isn't there, because I think people can see that there are great disadvantages to alternative courses of action as well as it being easy to advocate.

AMANPOUR: Right. I mean, you --


AMANPOUR: -- disadvantages. But obviously so many people focus on the advocacy for it. And, again, we keep bringing up the past times that it's happened, whether it be Libya, whether it be Kosovo, whether it be Bosnia. So it is possible that you just don't want to do it in that way.

HAGUE: Well, it is possible for -- it should be possible for the U.N. Security Council to mandate the way forward. That is what we're trying to do.


HAGUE: In the absence of that -- well, of course, it is important to see the disadvantages to that, too. And so I'm not ruling out any options for the future. We do not know how this crisis will develop.

But it's important, even after our success in Libya and protecting people, it's important we haven't become gung ho about that or so that every situation is exactly the same. There are clearly greater dangers to neighboring countries of sectarian conflict in Syria than was the case --

AMANPOUR: But I'm hearing --

HAGUE: -- in Libya from an outside intervention.

AMANPOUR: -- I'm hearing, for instance, countries in the neighborhood, I mean, look, Turkey is now under huge pressure from its own people, because this thing hasn't been resolved and Turkey has brought in hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the government is under a lot of pressure from its people.

The Israelis are saying, from what I'm hearing, that they're concerned that there's now real lawlessness on the Israeli-Syria border, because Assad has had to bring down the troops from the Golan Heights.

So actually letting it continue is much worse than trying to do something about it. I understand what you're saying about it's difficult. But I've also been told that by many leaders, that had the United States led from the beginning, it would have been more -- it would have been easier to do something.

Do you feel that way?

HAGUE: Clearly, any outside, any military intervention in this region would require the full military force of the United States. This is not something that countries like France and the United Kingdom would be able to handle on their own. So that is true.

But I think the United States has set its policy in the right way. It's obviously -- it's the same policy that I'm talking about here, that is trying to bring about a solution without doing anything that risks making matters worse.

AMANPOUR: On a side but related issue, you're here also in your capacity to support and announce funding for an effort to end gender- related violence in war. What is it you're trying to do? There's already a statute that says rape as a tool of war is a war crime.

HAGUE: Yes, there's already -- you're quite right. There are a lot of laws against this. But there isn't a lot of action. And we have seen in conflicts, whether they be in West Africa, in the D.R. Congo, in Syria, now, we are seeing rape as a weapon of war, sexual violence as a means of conflict.

And people think they can just get away with it. And so we are doing, well, several things. We are going to use our G-8 presidency next year to ask the most powerful nations in the world to join us in action on this.

I'm creating a team of our own experts, who can go to such a region and help document what has happened and ensure that justice is one day done. But working with the U.N. special representative on this subject was -- I held an event this morning.

And I think that there is a moment there, as there was in the 18th century on the slave trade, as there has been in our own times, and arguing for an international arms trade treaty, there is a moment we can capture now to raise the international awareness on this issue and do something about it on the ground, so that people know you can't just use rape as a weapon of war and get away with it.

AMANPOUR: Very important.

Foreign Secretary, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

HAGUE: Thank you very much.



AMANPOUR: So Syria still stands out there as an almost impossible problem to try to solve. We will continue to try to seek answers to it.

But after a break, we'll go back to Europe with its financial hubris that turned castles in Spain into castles in the air, we'll explain.


AMANPOUR: A final thought tonight, earlier we spoke to Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti, about the financial crisis in Europe and now a stark illustration. Imagine if they built a new world and nobody came. That's what's happened in Valencia, once the crown jewel of a new dynamic Spain, but now a monument to wretched excess.

Valencia has poured millions of euros into a city of arts and sciences, complete with opera house, aquarium, IMAX cinema, science museum, but with cost overruns, accusations of corruption and plummeting property values, the city is more like an expensive ghost town.

Then there's the new airport, which is yet to see its first takeoff and landing and an unfinished stadium that looks more like an ancient ruin.

That is it for us tonight. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.