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Interview with President of Tunisia; Interview with Marc Grossman

Aired September 27, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



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

It's been almost two years since a young fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the Tunisian government office. He died from his burns, but his friends and family said that the real cause of his death was the loss of hope, that he would ever find opportunity or dignity in Tunisia.

That single act gave birth to revolution in Tunisia and then all over the Arab world, in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and beyond. But Tunisia's uprising was seen as a model. After months of protests, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left the country peacefully, paving the way for democratic elections.

But as with all the Arab Spring uprisings, it was not that simple. And to the extremists, the ultrareligious Salafis began attacking liquor stores, theaters and, indeed, the very idea of democracy itself.

And then this month, hundreds of demonstrators in the capital of Tunis joined the wave of anti-American protests all over the world over that Internet film that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. They clashed with police and they set fire to the U.S. embassy. Four people died.

And yet there are strong voices of moderation in Tunisia. Among them, its president, and I'll be speaking with him in just a moment. But first, a look at the other stories we're covering tonight.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): The coalition's conundrum, NATO troops can't leave Afghanistan safely until the Afghan army is trained. But how do you train an army which is trying to kill you?

And we don't have to imagine a world where free speech is under attack. In Pakistan, a beloved movie palace has paid the price.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first, the president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, welcome to our program. Thank you for coming in.


AMANPOUR: President Obama paid moving tribute to how Tunisia set the example for the uprisings across North Africa. And yet today Chancellor Merkel of Germany has announced that she will be canceling a trip to your country because of safety concerns in the wake of all these protests.

What's your response to that?

MARZOUKI: Well, I would like remember you that, in fact, the Islamists' movement is a very wide spectrum and at the far right of this very wide spectrum you have the Salafis movement. And the Salafis movement itself is a wide spectrum.

You have part of this spectrum represented by people who are just matter -- for them it is a matter of a relationship against a foe (ph). And then we have within this part of the spectrum, the tiny minority. It's a tiny minority within the tiny minority who are Salafis, jihadists.

And those people are against democracy or against women's rights or against human rights at all, are against West and so forth. And this tiny minority, no more than 3,000 people in (inaudible) Asia --

AMANPOUR: Three thousand?

MARZOUKI: Three thousand, no more, by the report of the police, just 3,000 people. You know, this Black Friday now when you have this rights against the American ambassador, they were just 300 people --

AMANPOUR: Who were they? Were they -- were they terrorists? Was this Al Qaeda or was it just these --

MARZOUKI: I think -- I wouldn't say that they're linked to Al Qaeda. Maybe some are linked to Al Qaeda. But I think that -- in fact they are the product of the Tunisia society, you know, (inaudible) poverty, illiteracy and so forth. So they are part of our society but they are, I would say, the dark side of our society.

And this is why dealing with this problem is quite difficult, because they are Tunisian but also they -- I think they are now the most important threat against Tunisia, not against the stability of the country, because this country is stable, but against the image of Tunisia. You know, just imagine, we have more than 5 million stories every year in Tunisia --

AMANPOUR: Tourists.

MARZOUKI: -- tourists -- and this is very important for the economy of the country. So when you have just one tourist, you know, injured by this kind of guy --


MARZOUKI: -- imagine the newspaper in Europe saying, look -- and then you have economic crisis of the country, just because of very, very few people.

AMANPOUR: Well, I want to get to how you're going to overcome that in a second. But your direct response to Angela Merkel canceling her visit?

MARZOUKI: In fact, I knew that she would not come to Tunisia, but not only for security reason, because I think (inaudible) very complicated. I'm quite sure that Angela Merkel is backing the democratic process in Tunisia since she sent us a lovely message saying, look, I am coming, but probably not now.

But she will come and I'm quite sure that Germany, Europe and the United States are backing the process in Tunisia because everybody knows that Tunisia is a lab (ph), and that if we do not succeed the transition to democracy in Tunisia, it will never work in any other part of the Arab world.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the United States. The U.S., I hear, wants Tunisia to pay for the damage to the embassy, to the school that was attacked. Will you do that?

MARZOUKI: Look, I have had a very good meeting yesterday with Ms. Clinton, and she assured me that she's personally a friend of Tunisia, that the U.S. government is a friend of Tunisia, that they are going to help us (inaudible) our security forces, training our security forces, backing our -- giving more military equipment. So I think that the situation is quite different than you are describing --


AMANPOUR: -- haven't asked you to pay for the damage?

MARZOUKI: She didn't talk about this issue.

We talked just about how the United States would improve support the Tunisian government because our American friends know very well that of course, the Tunisian population and the Tunisian government were extremely shocked by what happened and they are extremely against it and they want really to set up a new democracy and Tunisia, once again, is very -- it's a lab (ph) of the Arab Spring.

So we have -- we have to succeed. And our friends have to support us to succeed.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, I just want to show you some video that they'll play on that wall there. It is from last spring, months ago, but it is a group of Tunisians shouting, "Obama, Obama, we're all Osama."


AMANPOUR: So as you see this video, I want to ask you how you then get control of what you say is a very small minority, but nonetheless a minority that has made its presence felt and that is terrifying the bejesus out of everybody, particularly here in the United States. How do you fight these violent (inaudible)?

MARZOUKI: We -- you have the same problem. We don't mix up in Tunisia or in the Arab world the far right groups Europe or the white supremacists in the United Nations, or the American people or the American government. So why? Should we be mixed up with -- once again, with a very, very tiny minority. There --

AMANPOUR: How do you combat them, because here they are, you have to admit, violent, the supremacists and the neo-Nazis have a different way of behaving -- bad, but not quite like this.

MARZOUKI: I must admit that we didn't realize how (inaudible) they can be for the stability -- for the -- for the image of the country and not for the stability, but because, once again, Tunisia is (inaudible) countries. It is a stable (ph) society. We are not afraid from these guys. But they are harmful for the image of Tunisia.

And now we have to (inaudible) the issue very seriously. I must admit that it wasn't easy for us, you know, to have you crack down on this -- on this guy because we have been in prison ourselves. Many have been submitted to torture.

We do know what does it mean to be in prison, what does it mean for families and so forth. This is why we -- I admit that we -- it's very, very difficult for us to (inaudible) repression, repression, repression. But now we are -- we are dealing with this state of affairs. I'm happy to take our responsibilities and we are going to take our responsibilities.

AMANPOUR: Has this event, if you like, this film and then the protests and the violence of this month, has it been a turning point for you?

MARZOUKI: Yes, yes, because we realize that those guys, in fact, were dangerous for our image, once again, the image of Tunisia abroad. But now they're threatening our relationship to our -- to the -- to the whole -- to the whole world. And now it's a matter of national security. And we are also very upset by what's going down on the northern part of Mali.

We're afraid that our tiny minority could be linked with another -- other many tiny minorities and that they became a danger -- a majority of them became very dangerous. This is why we are sure that we are going to attack the problem with the help of our (inaudible) friends, because it's really -- it's becoming a real problem in this area of the -- in this part of the world.

AMANPOUR: And you mentioned, you know, big business for Tunisia is tourism and you know, there are fewer and fewer young ladies going to the beach in their bikinis. You know, we've seen Salafis attack liquor stores, theaters, this and that. Again, this is a law enforcement situation. Can you get that under control to protect your own economy?

MARZOUKI: What -- you talk about, you know, exhibition. We have had more than 280 exhibition last year, only six -- only six was observed by Salafis. Those give you the scale (ph), once again.

AMANPOUR: You mean art exhibitions?

MARZOUKI: Yes, yes, art exhibitions, so forth. But also the newspaper would talk about the six disturbed by the Salafis and that by the 280 who are not disturbed by the Salafis. So once again, please, the scale of the problem must be said like it is, you know. It's a minority. They are very harmful for the image of Tunisia.

But in fact, it's still a minority and (inaudible) to tackle the problem from the -- not only from the security point of view, but also social and economic onto it, because those guys are jobless, are poor, are the illiteracy and so forth. So it's easy, you know, to say just crack down by the security forces. But also we have to take -- to tackle the roots of the problem.

AMANPOUR: Well, exactly. The root of the problem is, of course, the economy. And that was Bouazizi's rallying cry when he set himself on fire. You said that you had asked, when you came into office, for sort of a social political truce. You asked for about six months, and we have your words on the wall. "If things aren't working out within six months, I will submit my resignation."

Right now, unemployment has gone from 13 percent in January of 2011 to about 18.3 percent in January of this year. Are things working or not? And does that put in play your promise? I mean, are you going to resign over this?

MARZOUKI: No, I'm not going to resign because we are, you know, we're seeing the hand of this nightmare, I'd say, because you know, we -- it's (inaudible) of government and we have to take (inaudible) same times having (inaudible) new constitution, having new laws and solving the social and economic problem.

Nobody could do this in one year. We need to be gods. And we are not gods. We are just humans.


AMANPOUR: I just wondered why you would put that statement.

MARZOUKI: No, and I think that we probably we are going to have elections in few months in the -- it has been nothing to resign now because we will submit all our policy to the public, to the opinion of the people and then (inaudible).

So and then we will -- I will be proud to go to say, look, what (inaudible) in one year, in one year, in 11/2 year. Now we have a constitution. We have a democratic state. We deal with the problem of this -- of Salafis and so forth. And you know --

AMANPOUR: Are you optimistic?

MARZOUKI: (Inaudible) invest in Tunisia if we -- if you don't have the stable government. This is the prerequisite, you know. So we are organized that the prerequisite of having a new economy and social development and so forth.

AMANPOUR: Are you optimistic and that you can get a really progressive constitution that doesn't have fundamentalist anti-women provisions --


MARZOUKI: Absolutely, absolutely. We are going to have one of the best constitutions of the world, promoting human rights, women's rights, you know, the world's about women are complimentary of the -- completely forget about it, you know.

AMANPOUR: That was terrible. It was like a helpmate to a man.

MARZOUKI: Yes, yes. But --

AMANPOUR: And that has no chance of passing?

MARZOUKI: Absolutely and sharia also --

AMANPOUR: No way sharia.

MARZOUKI: The world is not -- will not (inaudible) the constitution. We're going to have real progressive constitution with all human rights protected. The problem will be to implement this very nice constitution. This will be another problem. But yes, we are going to have secular (ph) constitution, very good constitution.

We're going to have fair elections. We're going to have a new democratic state and stable state and then I hope that the economy will recover because you cannot have an economic recovery without solving the source, the political problems.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. President, Tunisia is the cradle of the Arab uprising. I wish you all the best.

MARZOUKI: Thank you, thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for coming in.

MARZOUKI: Thank you so much. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, the NATO coalition in Afghanistan has a problem. It can't leave safely until the Afghan army is trained. But how do you train an army that's turning its weapons on you?

First, take a look at these pictures though. Bikinis, as I mentioned, once were popular in Tunisia. One of the great resort destinations in the world. But with religious conservatives growing in numbers and power, some women are choosing to cover themselves up. Tourism continues to suffer. But as the president said, that is going to be tackled. We will be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. After a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States is getting ready to hand off the country's security to the Afghan army. But after NATO halted joint missions with the Afghans, at least most of them, in response to insider attack, there are growing concerns that the local army isn't yet prepared to hold the country together.

And many Afghans worry that their country may indeed once again slide into civil war. With me now to discuss and assess is Marc Grossman. He's the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: The exit strategy? I mean, look, President Obama talked about Afghanistan in his U.N. speech. But, Mr. Grossman, one line and only to talk about rushing for the exit. The exit strategy is based on, as you know very well, getting the Afghan army up.


AMANPOUR: How can that happen if right now these joint patrols, many of them, have been highly restricted, if not completely halted? How can it happen?

GROSSMAN: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me. Let me try to answer your question in three ways. First, I think it's very important, when you talk about rush for the exit, when I look at this, I don't see a rush for the exit at all.

And here's why I make that argument. First, we're in a -- we're working with our friends and our allies to bring that Afghan National Security Force up to about 352,000 troops. Then we'll go down over the years, but now about 352,000. And I know you follow this really closely.

But over the past few months, in Chicago at the NATO summit, we were able to get $4.1 billion from the international community for the funding of that Afghan National Security Force and Tokyo $16 billion for economic development going forward in Afghanistan.

And so I think that there's a huge effort going on here to make sure that that Afghan National Security Force works and it's not a rush for the exits.

AMANPOUR: OK. You're right. There is a huge effort and by the Pentagon and the U.S. assessment, itself, despite a decade-long $33 billion allied effort. Afghan security forces, quote, "continue to confront challenges, including attrition, leadership deficit, limited capabilities and staff planning, management, logistics and procurement. This is by the Pentagon.

GROSSMAN: Well, of course they do. I mean, you've built up an army from basically nothing to 352,000. I think the interesting statistic in all of that is think back to Lisbon in 2010, when the allies in Afghanistan decided they were going to go on a transition strategy so that more and more and more geography in Afghanistan is controlled by Afghans.

And what's that number today? 75 percent of Afghanistan is currently under the control of Afghan security forces. And it'll be 100 percent by the middle of next year.

AMANPOUR: I know that's the intention. I know that we -- that's what you're all trying for. But I also know from friends and colleagues who are on the ground that it's not as rosy as you'd like to portray it, particularly now with trying -- with having these joint patrols and these training missions stopped. I mean, surely that must be a problem.

GROSSMAN: Christiane, first of all, let me say that I --

AMANPOUR: Is there a date to lift those restrictions? Will they continue?

GROSSMAN: Well, first of all, let me say, I mean, I'm not here to say this is all rosy. I mean, I work on this every day. This is very, very difficult. So I don't want to be in a position of saying it's all fine. It's a huge amount of work to try to get this job done. But I think what we've been able to do as the Afghan National Security Forces is a creditable thing.

On the question of these insider attacks, you know, I think we should just be honest with each other. They're terrible. And both the United States and the United States, ISAF and the Afghans are trying to do all they can to make sure that they don't happen again. Will that number come to zero? I don't know.

But can we lower that number? I'm sure we can. I don't know if there's a date yet to resume these patrols, and I don't think there will be a date until we're sure that we've done something here to try to end these insider attacks.

AMANPOUR: Won't that sort of be detrimental to try and to train these forces up? I mean, that's what your exit strategy depends on. I mean, I know you're going at the end of 2014. But in order to go safely, and leave the investments, so to speak, without crumbling, you need these forces.

GROSSMAN: Well, again, I don't mean to be argumentative. But the question about we're going in 2014, now don't forget, in May, the president signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. He flew all the way to Kabul to do it. And so the idea that we're going in 2014 with the implication that then there's nothing left after 2014, I don't think that's right.

And what the strategic partnership agreement says is, is that after 2014, there's going to be an American presence of some sort in Afghanistan. I don't know how big it'll be. But there's going to be an American commitment to Afghanistan. And it goes to one of your first questions, which is how do the Afghan people feel about this?

It's my observation -- again, I don't say that I have perfect information or perfect knowledge. But it strikes me that since we signed that strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, the anxiety level in Afghanistan has gone down some.

AMANPOUR: Maybe in some places, but all the people I'm talking to say that there are people in villages north, south, are very concerned that if there isn't a strong Afghan army that the place could descend into civil war again.

And there are already people positioning themselves in case things don't go right. So if there is not a military victory to be had, part of the U.S. exit strategy and the transition is also to have some kind of political reconciliation.

That hasn't happened either. Tell me where we are and will we see the Taliban coming to any meaningful talks. Where is that?

GROSSMAN: Yes. I'd be glad to talk about that. I don't know if we'll see the Taliban coming to any meaningful talks with the United States of America. In the job I was given when I took this responsibility on a couple of years ago was to see if we couldn't create a diplomatic surge to go along with the military surge and the civilian effort.

And we tried to do that in two ways. First, we tried to create a regional structure for Afghanistan. Among the best advice I got was there's not going to be a successful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan unless it's inside of a successful, stable, prosperous region. And so we tried to do that. And you know we've created this structure now around Afghanistan.

We also were asked to see if it might be possible to find some Taliban to talk to and see if, one thing, we might be able to open the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan --

AMANPOUR: And where does that stand?

GROSSMAN: Well, we talked to the Taliban for a number of months in Doha and unfortunately on the 15th of March this year, they decided they were going to suspend those negotiations with us. I think that's too bad.

AMANPOUR: Does it concern you that a lack of political reconciliation also could be very risky post-2014?

GROSSMAN: Well, sure. I mean, but two things. One is that your question to me was did I expect that there would be Taliban talks again with the United States. Maybe, maybe not. But the important --

AMANPOUR: With the United States, with the Afghan --

GROSSMAN: That's the important thing.


GROSSMAN: And I think that there's more and more evidence that some of the Taliban -- not all; I don't know what percentage it is, but some Taliban are ready to reach out and begin that conversation with the Afghans. So I'd say there's probably more chance that they'll be Afghan- Afghan conversations than perhaps an Afghan -- Taliban-American conversations.

AMANPOUR: Do you think -- do you think there will be a descent into civil war? I mean, I've heard some very top-level officials say that there might be. But we know it won't affect us, the U.S. It might be, you know, on the ground.

GROSSMAN: I think all the structure we've tried to create, the regional structure, the economic structure of part of that region, (inaudible) the historic trade routes, so somebody in Afghanistan (inaudible) a job, which is a really important thing.

And then building up the ANSF, the money for the ANSF and then this very important commitment that was made by the international community of Tokyo -- no small matter -- I think that history tells you that if the international community will stay committed to Afghanistan, and will pay some of these bills over time -- not all of them, but some of them until they have every chance of having some space to live a life that Afghans would like to lead.

AMANPOUR: You're probably aware of a new study that's come out about the drones, which is basically saying that, yes, it has, you know, killed quite a lot of (inaudible). Apparently only 2 percent of the very top leaders have been killed, but it's also causing a big backlash among civilians and a lot of civilian deaths as well. And that, of course, continues to inflame sentiments on the ground.

That's going to continue to be part of the policy, though.

GROSSMAN: Well, I know this is going to be disappointing to you --


GROSSMAN: -- we can't. I'm not in a position to --

AMANPOUR: I know you're not. But does it worry you how it's manifested on the ground?

GROSSMAN: Well, here's the thing about the ground. One of the things I think -- and we're switching out of Pakistan just for a moment -- it is that I think that Pakistanis have come increasingly to the understanding that if they're going to have a sovereign, strong country, then they need to also be dealing with counterterrorism in a way with us.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they've got to that realization?

GROSSMAN: Well, I'm not sure; but let me give you a couple of -- a couple of indicators. One is that the parliament of Pakistan, earlier this year in kind of assessing where U.S.-Pakistan relations were going, what did they say? We want a strong, sovereign Pakistan, no foreign fighters in Pakistan. No Pakistani territory should be used to attack other countries.

And so my argument to them is, look, if you want to enhance your sovereignty, let's do some of these counterterrorism operations together. And we ought to be able to find a way to do that so that it enhances your sovereignty, not diminishes your sovereignty.

AMANPOUR: And in fact, (inaudible) let's hope that it happens.

GROSSMAN: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Mark Grossman, thank you very much indeed.

And we'll be right back after a break.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, against a backdrop of this month's anti-American protests this week, President Obama went to the United Nations to give a stirring defense of free speech.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.


AMANPOUR: But we don't have to imagine a world where free speech is under attack. It is in Pakistan amongst other places, where the Nishat Cinema in Karachi was a beloved landmark. Last Friday, as National Public Radio Steve Inskeep has reported, it was destroyed by a mob under the guise of protesting that infamous YouTube video.

The Nishat first opened in 1947, the same year that Pakistan declared its independence, often bridging the conflict with India to present the best of Bollywood. It was also a window on the world beyond, where Pakistanis could cheer Indiana Jones and other Hollywood heroes. Now one more window is closed.

That's it for tonight's program. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.