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Car Bombing in Lebanon Sparks Protests and Violence; Children and the US Election

Aired October 22, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

Many feared it would happen, and it has. The war in Syria is spilling over its borders, infecting neighboring countries. First, it was Turkey and now it's Lebanon.

Protests and violence erupted all over Lebanon this weekend after a massive car bomb killed one of the country's intelligence chiefs in Beirut on Friday, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, Lebanon's Sunni-led opposition figures are blaming the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and even the prime minister, who heads a fragile ruling alliance with Hezbollah, agrees.

Lebanon is a country divided from within. The government and its people are largely split between the pro-Syria Shiite group, Hezbollah, and the Sunni-led opposition alliance. These tensions have been simmering since the Syrian uprising began 19 months ago.

Many suspect the assassination of the intelligence chief Hassan was Syria's revenge because he had led an investigation into a Lebanese politician who had been accused of working with Syrian officials to plan attacks inside Lebanon.

In a moment, I will speak with Lebanon's former prime minister, Fouad Siniora. But first, a look at what's coming up a little later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): President Obama was a kid once, so was Mitt Romney. When it comes to picking the winner in this year's presidential election, kids rule.

And 50 years ago, President Kennedy and Khrushchev went eyeball to eyeball over missiles in Cuba. The story goes that Khrushchev blinked and nuclear war was averted. But the true story is even better.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, my exclusive interview with Fouad Siniora, the former Lebanese prime minister addressed crowds gathered for Wissam al-Hassan's funeral, demanding that the government should resign. That was over the weekend.

But he's also calling for calm. And after a weekend of violence and opposition, protests called for today didn't materialize. I spoke with Siniora just moments ago.


AMANPOUR: Fouad Siniora, thank you so much for joining me.

Let me ask you, are you calling for Mr. Mikati's government to resign and, if so, how do you answer your Western friends and even the president of Lebanon, who say that would not be a good thing at the moment because that would plunge your country into further instability?

FOUAD SINIORA, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF LEBANON: I think the country completely --

AMANPOUR: But are you calling for them to stay down?

SINIORA: -- cannot --

AMANPOUR: Are you calling for him to step down?



SINIORA: For sure. Yes --


AMANPOUR: And you're not worried?

SINIORA: -- (inaudible) government, for the sake of the country.

At all, actually, because our constitution really gives all the necessary, let's say, measures in order to handle this situation, whereby a caretaker government will -- it will -- I mean, the present government will assume the caretaker government and then there will be complete discussions and the -- under the patronage of the president so that to form a new government that is a neutral government, independent --

AMANPOUR: Yes, Mr. Siniora, in that -- in that regard, as you know, people have pointed the finger of blame for this incident at the door of President Bashar al-Assad.

Even the French foreign minister has said that, while the investigation continues, it probably was that regime. He went on to say the interests of Bashar al-Assad, who is a manipulator, is to expand the contagion into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

The fact that you are now calling for the dissolution of the government, are you not playing into the very hands of Syria, which wants to see instability in your country, in thank you and elsewhere?

SINIORA: Not at all. Actually, this government is in the hands of Syria and the Iran at the same time. What we are saying is that it is the best thing that really guarantee stability in the country, is to have a neutral government. Otherwise, this is something that will lead the continuation of tension in the country. And this by itself will play more in the hands of Syria.

AMANPOUR: You talked about how the government is not neutral, that it's sending arms and materiel and else -- other things to the -- to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But also some of the Sunni opposition is also helping the other side, the rebel, the uprising.

This policy of disassociation that Lebanon has had, do you think it can continue or are you being sucked into this war now?

SINIORA: We are on record that we have asked so many times that the Lebanese army will deploy all along the Lebanon borders with Syria, and we are still committed to this principle.

And even much more, we really ask after all what has happened, because of all the, let's say, violations of the Lebanese border and the trespassing on it and the Syrian regime army, who has really been in Lebanon several times, kidnapping people, killing people and bombarding the Lebanese territory, is that we have asked for the unified forces under the Security Council resolution 1701 to be extended towards the border -- the border of Lebanon with Syria.

AMANPOUR: Some analysts have suggested that Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, has -- is basically sending a message to you in Lebanon, to Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey, stay out of this fight; leave it to me. Don't get involved.

In fact, President Assad last year said that this kind of intervention, whether it's on the ground or whether it's sending arms, et cetera, is something that is going to divide the whole region.

He said, "Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region."

In other words, my question to you is do you think Assad is sending a message to Lebanon and to Turkey now that this conflict has spilled across both of your borders?

SINIORA: You see, throughout the past several decades, all dictators in the Arab world, they have been sending a clear message to everybody, to the people as well as to the international community, that either you let me stay in office and do whatever I want, or the other alternative is chaos or destruction.

And this is what they have practiced. And as far as Lebanon is concerned, the same thing was done by the Syrian regime throughout the past decades.

And they are still continuing with their intimidation and threats to the international community so that they will try to be more lenient with the regime and to forego even their principles, which is the principles that calling for respect of human rights, respect of democracy, of freedom and so on. This is what they have been trying to do.

What we are really asking from our -- the international community is that we want them to continue to be faithful to their principles and to the values which they have been trying to raise throughout the past, let's say, centuries.

So this is what we -- what we really believe, that the regime, the regime in Syria would try its best in order to create a sedition within Syria and outside Syria, and try to create a situation of instabilities everywhere. So this is -- this intimidation and threat to the international community will continue and will subject the international community to its threats irrespective.

AMANPOUR: So what do you see in this scenario for the immediate future, for Lebanon and for Syria?

SINIORA: As far as Lebanon is concerned, what we believe is that we want to achieve real stability, not a fictitious one. We want a change in the government because all the indicators -- I am really talking, Christiane, on all indicators, whether they are economic, social, whether security, whether in terms of national unity and so on.

This government has failed. It is practically dead in the instance of the word. And in order to guarantee its stability, the best thing is to have a neutral government. We have been asking and suggesting to everybody that this is the best solution in order to save Lebanon from instabilities and from any attempt of the Syrian regime to create a sedition.

On the other hand, as far as Syria is concerned, we believe that the Syrian people are the ones who can really know what is best for them. And we don't want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Syria, irrespective. This is our position. This does not mean that we cannot express our opinion freely.

This is a free country and this is a democracy, and we have to respect these truths. But we do not want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Syria, irrespective. They know what is best for them and we don't want to really put ourselves in such a situation.

AMANPOUR: Finally, you speak quite vociferously against them. You've seen what's happened in your country and you blame them for it. Are you not afraid for your own life?

SINIORA: Well, definitely, I mean, the risks are high. But let me put it this way. I am a believer. And I know that irrespective of all the precautions that one can take, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

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

SINIORA: Thank you very much. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And the widening conflict in Syria will, no doubt, be discussed in tonight's third and final presidential debate. Over the years, though, one group has been nearly perfect in predicting the winner of the U.S. elections. But their votes don't actually count, and we'll explain why when we come back.

Before we go to a break, another look at Lebanon. As the Lebanese army tries to maintain order in the wake of General Hassan's assassination, the citizens of the capital, Beirut, return to normal life, or what passes for normal life these days, in the city that was once known as the Paris of the Middle East. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

For more than 20 years, Nickelodeon, the global children's media company, has asked U.S. kids to weigh in on who they would like their next leader to be, even though they're too young to actually cast a ballot.

The project is called "Kids Pick the President." We hear a lot about swing states and bellwethers and presidential elections, but Kids Pick the President does seem to be a bona fide bellwether. In five of the last six elections, kids have correctly picked the winner. Today you'll be the first to hear whom these young people have chosen.

Linda Ellerbee, host of Nickelodeon's program, "Nick News," joins me with an exclusive announcement of the 2012 winner. And Ellerbee has always been a ground-breaking journalist, and her "Nick News" broadcast is one of the most intelligent news programs for any audience.


LINDA ELLERBEE, "NICK NEWS" HOST: Thank you, my dear.

AMANPOUR: Welcome. And it is a pleasure to have you, because I'm absolutely, absolutely honest and everybody who sees you knows you.

So I want to ask you this: kids and people around the world who are watching this program are really interested. They know a lot about the politics and societies of their own countries, and they know just about everything about the United States.

How do you find American kids? Are they really knowledgeable? Do they know about the world?


ELLERBEE: I don't think they know as much as kids around the world know about the U.S., but it's one of our aims to change this. For example, we're heading to the refugee camps in Jordan --



ELLERBEE: -- which --

AMANPOUR: Because of the Syrian (inaudible)?

ELLERBEE: -- (inaudible) because of the Syrian refugees. We have gone to South Africa, the country with the most AIDS in the world, and said, how does this relate to you? Because the world is smaller than you thought, you need to know about your world.

So we go all over the world for these shows, because we want to educate the American kid audience.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. Well, look, before we ask you who won, I want to play a little clip from your program and these are children weighing in on their choices.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm voting for Mitt Romney because he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, as do I.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that all people should be entitled to love who they want to love and marry who they want to marry. And that's why this year I'm voting for Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have not decided who I'm going to vote for, but I'm definitely going to vote.


AMANPOUR: OK. So you've spent a while compiling all of these. You've had several programs. Who won? Who is the next President of the United States?

ELLERBEE: Drum roll here -- according to the children of America, President Barack Obama will be around for another four years. He got 65 percent of the vote; Governor Romney got 35 percent of the vote.

AMANPOUR: So Obama clobbers Romney.

ELLERBEE: Yes, pretty much.

AMANPOUR: Now Obama, the president, actually took part in your programs, right? The children were able --


ELLERBEE: He did. He answered kids' questions.

AMANPOUR: But Governor Romney didn't.

ELLERBEE: He did not. He could not, in the six-month timeframe that we worked with him, find 30 minutes to sit down to answer the kids' questions.

AMANPOUR: I hear you doing a little bit of a knife in his ribs.

ELLERBEE: I've got to say I don't believe that accounts for this vote, because we had -- we had it happen once before, John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, refused to answer the kids' questions ,yet the kids elected him. Now they were wrong, but they, nevertheless --

AMANPOUR: They got him. They voted for him, even though he didn't take part.


AMANPOUR: OK. So what did you have to do, then, in order to have Romney represented?

ELLERBEE: Well, we were determined that he'd be equally and fairly represented, so we bought a lot of clips -- a lot from CNN -- news clips on the issues that kids had asked about.

But what we lose there is that we also include among the kids' questions that we take to the candidates a few very kidlike questions, like have you ever had your heart broken, or how do you always know the difference between right or wrong? Because these candidates, they're so Teflon, you say jobs, the jobs speech comes out.

AMANPOUR: Exactly, the talking points (inaudible).

So you try to ask --

ELLERBEE: We try to --

AMANPOUR: -- different ones.

ELLERBEE: -- we tried -- well, the -- we just take them from the kids. And we, you know, sometimes they'll ask a question that gets you -- you sort of get a little glimpse of the human being beneath the Teflon facade of the candidate.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say, obviously, that Governor Romney doesn't have any of those moments, because he didn't take part; however, President Obama does, and we're going to play one that I think you said was -- the question was what's your most embarrassing moment.

ELLERBEE: Well, a child asked him what was your most embarrassing moment.

AMANPOUR: Here we go.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was your most embarrassing moment and what did you learn from it?

OBAMA: Probably the most recent embarrassing moment that I had was there was a big awards ceremony here and after I gave my speech, which I thought was really good, I walked off the stage and took Michelle's hand and started leading her out of this ballroom.

And it turns out that I was supposed to stay there and wait for all the awardees to speak also.


OBAMA: So I had to actually walk back into the room and stand there.

And Michelle thought I was an idiot.


AMANPOUR: So you might not say that to a grownup reporter.

ELLERBEE: No, he might not. And he also said, as part of that answer, "I walk into walls all the time. I trip over desks. I'm a klutz."

AMANPOUR: So what age specifically are these kids?

ELLERBEE: Well, it's hard to know, because we don't ask them, you know, to register to vote. But our core audience really is 10-11-12 for "Nick News."

AMANPOUR: So they're young.

ELLERBEE: Yes, they're young. They're preteens. But they're -- they can't escape the technology. They can't escape the noise that we all make.

AMANPOUR: So you mentioned the technology and the noise. You've been doing this for about 21 years, since Ronald Reagan was president.

ELLERBEE: Yes, for 21 years, we have been producing "Nick News" for kids, trying to explain the larger world. Actually, it was CNN started it when the Gulf War -- when Gulf War I happened. It was the first time we'd been to war since there was 24-hour news.

And kids couldn't ignore the noise of it. President of Nickelodeon called me and said because we have CNN, we have got to try to explain this to kids.

AMANPOUR: That's amazing.

ELLERBEE: And that was the beginning of "Nick News."

AMANPOUR: That's amazing. And how have the kids or their questions, their knowledge, their connectedness changed over that period of time?

ELLERBEE: Well, I think they're far more connected now. They do know more. Again, I -- the technology has driven that. I'd like to think also that good teachers have driven it and tried to get kids to see what a small world we live in and that we are all connected to every -- everyone of us is connected.

AMANPOUR: Now you mention issues as well as the cute sort of kid personal pictures. I want to put up what some of your kids talked about Iran. Well, we do have it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama's policy on Iran, because I don't want to go into another war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of our great interest in oil, it's important that we remain diplomatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I completely agree with Mitt Romney's approach to the problem with Iran. That's an extremely dangerous country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't just trust those people. We should physically be there and we should put pressure on their government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need a stronger leader and I'm skeptical that President Obama will actually intervene.


AMANPOUR: It is amazing when you see kids that young talking about something like Iran.

What do you think is going to happen? I'm asking you now, Linda Ellerbee, grownup journalist, about tonight's foreign policy debate? It's the final debate and you've obviously seen how close the two candidates are right now.

ELLERBEE: Well, as a prophet, I make a pretty good journalist, which is to say I'm a lousy prophet. But my guess of what's going to happen is they will start on policy, foreign policy, and switch immediately to taxes and jobs, because they know that's where they have to get the votes.

AMANPOUR: You think they'll try to do that?


AMANPOUR: Even though Bob Schieffer's meant to corral them into just talking about the world?

ELLERBEE: Yes, well, you know, we have -- I mean, Candy did a pretty good job in corralling them as best you can. But you know, they are two men who are not easily corralled. They will talk about what they want to talk about, no matter what we ask them.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's put one more block of what the kids said, and this one is about guns, actually, a very important topic that came up in the last presidential debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very shocked about this shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. So I'd like to ask you what is your opinion on gun control and the easy accessibility to the public for owning semi-automatic weapons?

OBAMA: It's a great question, Ben (ph), and obviously, I was really upset, too, as a parent. Malia and Sasha, they go to the movies all the time. You know, we don't need automatic weapons on our streets that are designed for soldiers.


AMANPOUR: It's something that's really bothering a lot of Americans right now.

ELLERBEE: It is, but it's not an issue that either candidate wants to talk about.

AMANPOUR: Right. Not either candidate. They brought it up somewhat in the last debate, but they really don't want to go there. But the question also is do you feel young people think that government, no matter who's elected, actually will address their concerns right now, because there's so many that concern young people.

ELLERBEE: What politicians do affects kids' lives. They understand that.

I hope that they also understand in that taking part in this vote, for instance, that democracy and liberty, that's hard work and it takes practice, and that's all we are. We're a practice field.

AMANPOUR: Linda Ellerbee, thank you very much. It's always a pleasure.

ELLERBEE: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Thanks for joining me.

And when it comes to foreign policy, as we discussed, the next U.S. president could take a history lesson from 50 years ago, when John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the Cuban missile crisis. A profile in courage and common sense when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as President Obama and Mitt Romney debate American foreign policy, it's wise to recall one of the most important presidential decisions that never happened.

Imagine the world on the blink of nuclear war. With rumors flying about the health of Cuba's Fidel Castro, 50 years ago, he and his island were at the center of a crisis that threatened nuclear war. On October 22nd, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced a blockade of Castro's Cuba, warning the Soviet Union to turn back the ships that were steaming towards the island with nuclear warheads.

The story goes that the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, blinked and recalled the ships. Only it didn't quite happen that way, as journalist Michael Dobbs points out in his book, "One Minute to Midnight," JFK and Khrushchev actually struck a secret deal. The Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the U.S. removing missiles from Turkey.

Still, the myth of blinkmanship persists. Most recently, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, invoked it when he urged President Obama to follow JFK's example and draw a red line in the sand with Iran. But in Cuba, there was no fixed red line, nobody blinked. Instead, cool heads prevailed and war was averted.

As for that blockade, it still hasn't worked. Food for thought for the candidates in the heat of their debate.

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