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CNN'S AMANPOUR

President Obama Re-elected; Russian and British Reaction

Aired November 7, 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.

Now that Barack Obama has won a second term as President of the United States, he faces an overflowing inbox, full of international crises.

One of the biggest is what to do about the terrible carnage in Syria. More than 30,000 have been killed in almost 20 months of bloody fighting between rebels and the regime of Bashar al-Assad. So far, the infamous deadlock at the United Nations means that literally nothing effective has been done to end the crisis. The only thing happening seems to be an ongoing diplomatic blame game.

America says the biggest stumbling block to action is Russia and its partner, China. Russia calls the U.S. position naive.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): So why does Russia continue to insist on a role for Assad, who most of the world sees now as brutal and discredited?

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AMANPOUR: Tonight, a rare opportunity to hear what motivates Russia from a powerful insider, a political ally of Vladimir Putin.

But first, a look at other stories we're covering tonight.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): A special relationship, Churchill and Roosevelt brought peace to war-torn Europe. Can Cameron and Obama do the same for Syria?

And "Live free or die." In the U.S. state of New Hampshire, those are fighting words. After the election, New Hampshire's women will do the fighting.

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AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first the conventional wisdom all along has been that the U.S. didn't want to take any risky action in Syria before the presidential election and that it might be more willing to act afterwards. But as I learned earlier today, not if Russia has anything to do with it.

I spoke exclusively with Alexei Pushkov a short time ago. He is the chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian parliament. Take a listen.

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AMANPOUR: Alexei Pushkov, thank you so much for joining me from Moscow.

ALEXEI PUSHKOV, CHAIRMAN, RUSSIAN STATE DUMA FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: You are most welcome.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Pushkov, what do you make of the election of President Obama? I know President Putin has sent his congratulations. Is this better for Russia and for the U.S.-Russian relations?

PUSHKOV: I think it is definitely better for Russia and the U.S.- Russian relations, especially after Mr. Romney uttered his famous notion that Russia is the geopolitical foe number one of the United States. After this, any doubts in Moscow about the preferability (sic) of Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney to Russia have disappeared completely.

AMANPOUR: So let me then read you Prime Minister Medvedev's comment on precisely the issue that you're talking about.

He has said now that Obama's been reelected, "I am glad that the person who considers Russia as the number one enemy won't be the president of the large influential state." He said, "It is paranoia. Whether we like America or not, each Russian family depends on how the dollar behaves."

Is that you how you see the basis of Russian-U.S. relations, just a transactional, financial relationship?

PUSHKOV: Well, no. I don't think that Mr. Medvedev had this in mind. He just wanted to show that American elections were much closer to the everyday living of Russian households than it may seem.

But in fact, I think he had in mind that the whole relationship depends very much on the personality of the American and the Russian presidents. And if the presidents are reasonable, if they want to strike compromise, if they are looking for areas of common interest, that's one thing.

And if one of the presidents, not having even become a president, actually, says -- depicts the other country as a geopolitical foe, it does not really help. So that's what I think Mr. Medvedev had in mind, that the election of Mr. Obama creates much better political conditions for the whole relationship than it would have been in the case of the election of Mr. Romney.

AMANPOUR: You want certain things from President Obama, from the U.S. administration. Obviously, the United States wants certain things from you. And right now, forefront issue is Syria.

Let me play you something that Hillary Clinton, secretary of state of the United States, said about Russia and China on this very issue months ago.

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HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered -- women, children, brave young men; houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable. And I ask, whose side are they on?

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AMANPOUR: This is a very deep division between you and the United States. And really now, almost a year later, whose side is Russia on, with now 30,000-plus people in Syria having been killed?

How much longer, sir, can Russia tolerate this carnage, which even Kofi Annan has laid the bulk of the blame at the seat of the Assad regime?

PUSHKOV: Russia is for a Syrian-based solution of this tragedy. And I have to tell you that, unfortunately, Ms. Hillary approach to the Syrian crisis is highly emotional but rather irresponsible. The approach is Assad should go and then it will be peace, democracy and the freedom in Syria. But it will not be peace and democracy and freedom in Syria.

The ranks of the Free Syrian Army are full of Salafis and radical Islamists. And we have seen some of these people acting in other countries. Actually, these same people are blowing up American soldiers in Afghanistan. And they have killed American diplomats in Libya.

And so when I hear the secretary of state of the United States just accusing Russia, without paying attention to what kind of people are going to take power in Damascus, I wonder what kind of policy the United States have towards now Syria.

AMANPOUR: Well, that --

PUSHKOV: Our approach is that we have --

AMANPOUR: Mr. Pushkin, let me just ask you --

PUSHKOV: -- our approach is that -- yes.

AMANPOUR: -- let me just ask you, you know, obviously since this has been going on for 20 months, you have seen these very bad actors, quote- unquote, "getting involved." You're absolutely right. Many would say it's because of the inaction.

So my question is, after months of U.S. trying, Russia trying -- as you yourself have laid out, trying to present compromises to President Assad and all sorts of things, nothing has worked. I'm sure you would agree with me on that.

So I would like to ask you to react to what British Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested as a possible solution. This is what he's just said.

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DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PM: All of us coming together, wanting to see this transition in Syria, wanting to see Assad go. I'm certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if he wants to leave, he could leave. That could be arranged.

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AMANPOUR: So there you have Prime Minister Cameron, talking to Al Arabiya television station, saying that within unity, whatever he could get out, Assad. Is that something that Russia buys into? And is it something that you would now help to facilitate as sort of a last-ditch measure?

PUSHKOV: I don't think that Russia now is preoccupied with the fate of Mr. Assad. What Russia is preoccupied with is to try to bring representatives of the government, the government which is supported by a large part of the Syrian population, by the way, and representatives of the opposition to a negotiation table.

And this is exactly the essence of the Geneva communique, which was signed in June, not only by Russia but also by the United States. And I think we have to act on the basis of this communique.

AMANPOUR: Right.

PUSHKOV: Just accusing each other, just pointing fingers will lead to nothing.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's probably true; accusations and finger pointing perhaps won't do the job. But give me an area where you believe this compromise that you're talking about, this Syrian solution around a table, has any chance of working. You've tried. It's been months. It's been nearly two years.

PUSHKOV: Well, I don't think that the other option will work, neither. You see it's -- we have to choose one of the bad scenarios, because there are no good scenarios in Syria. But if the United States choose to support the Free Syrian Army, so we'll have more of the civil war. It will also lead to nowhere. It's not -- it's not a solution which the United States are proposing.

They are proposing to back with the side with the rebels. And Moscow said that we have to bring two sides to some kind of negotiations to stop this carnage. I think that a negotiation, although extremely difficult, is a way out, at least.

But if we just tend to support different sides in this conflict, then it will be a civilian (ph) war all over, because neither side is strong enough to crush the other one. You can see this, too. And I don't think that the United States are ready for a military intervention. So nobody has an answer.

AMANPOUR: Well, right. I mean, you lay that out quite clearly and, as we've seen, there is no action towards a military intervention. And, frankly, the U.S. says it's not even supplying the rebels with any lethal aid, any weapons or any such thing.

So what do you make of the U.S. now trying to organize a Syrian opposition?

PUSHKOV: Well, if this Syrian opposition is composed of responsible people, who represent not just the Syrian immigration, like the Syrian National Council in Istanbul, which is not recognized, even by the domestic Syrian opposition, but which represent the people of Syria, then it may help to go forward and to try to find some kind of negotiating table for this reasonable opposition and for the representatives of the present Syrian government.

I think there may be some positive outcome out of this, but it depends what kind of opposition will be formed by the so-called Friends of Syria.

AMANPOUR: So, essentially, the way you're speaking, it looks like this impasse, this military impasse could continue for months and months and months.

PUSHKOV: It's a complete deadlock.

And we don't see that there is a way out of this civil war. It will be going on until some kind of negotiation starts, because I don't think that there is any other way. And nobody suggested any other way. Kofi Annan didn't suggest any other way. Mr. Brahimi doesn't suggest any other way.

And in the Geneva communique, there is no other way, unfortunately. Yes, I know it does not look very realistic. But everything else is just this prolongation of this carnage.

AMANPOUR: Could I just, one more time, ask you about the Assad exit, Mr. Pushkov, just one more follow-up on that?

In general, would Russia accept as a solution the exit of President Assad from Syria?

PUSHKOV: I don't think that this is something which is debated today in the Russian political class. What is debated today is to -- how to find a way out, is whether Russia can use its influence over Damascus and to what extent it can use its influence over Damascus to bring it to the negotiation table.

But as far as I remember, the last statement on this was made by the minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Lavrov, who said that the issue of the future of Mr. Assad is not being considered in Moscow.

AMANPOUR: Alexei Pushkov, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

PUSHKOV: You're welcome, Christiane.

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AMANPOUR: And tomorrow I'll have the rest of that interview.

I asked Mr. Pushkov about this now-famous moment, President Obama eight months ago, promising Russia more flexibility in a second term.

So just what flexibility is Russia looking for? That's tomorrow night.

But coming up next, how are America's strongest allies reacting to the reelection of Barack Obama? I will talk to Britain's ambassador to the United States in just a moment, after a break.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We have just talked about British Prime Minister David Cameron's possible solution for Syria: a safe exit for Bashar al-Assad. Cameron was also the first world leader to congratulate Barack Obama on his reelection, and he did it on Twitter.

He said, "Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama. Looking forward to continuing to work together."

It's not a major surprise that Cameron was the first to congratulate him, considering the two countries' special relationship. That, of course, was a term coined by Winston Churchill half a century ago. But Cameron also sees big challenges ahead. He pointed to the global economy and Syria as two issues that need to be tackled immediately.

So with me tonight is the linchpin of this special relationship, Britain's man in Washington, Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott. He joins me now from the nation's capital.

Welcome, Sir Peter. Let me ask you about the special relationship. Can it get any stronger? Are there any changes to be envisioned in a second Obama term?

PETER WESTMACOTT, U.K. AMBASSADOR TO The U.S.: Well, good evening, Christiane; thanks very much for having me on the program. I think that this is a relationship which is already in very good shape.

You've seen not only what the prime minister tweeted -- he's -- of course, he's written to the president as well. He's also spoken to the media of the relationship that he has with President Obama and how he looks forward to continue to work very, very closely with him in the future. So I think we're in very good shape.

We're incredibly strong commercial, economic, political partners. We're working together on pretty well every major international issue that there is together, whether it's at the Security Council of the United Nations or NATO and so on, or bilaterally.

So I think there's lots to do and it is clear to me, having witnessed it a number of times, so the relationship between the president and my prime minister are actually very strong.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you how that will translate on a very key issue that your prime minister has been highlighting very starkly over the last couple of days, and that is Syria. He's recently been in Jordan, and this is what he said about what is happening inside Syria. Take a listen.

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DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PM: Right here in Jordan I'm hearing appalling stories of what has happened inside Syria. And one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.

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AMANPOUR: So if I might, Ambassador, how do Barack and David solve this Syrian crisis?

WESTMACOTT: Well, the prime minister, as you saw, was in Jordan and very close to the Syrian border, just earlier today, in fact, before he returned to the U.K. He has shared for a long time, I think, the president's frustration that the international community hasn't been able to have more of an impact on bringing to an end the terrible slaughter of civilians, in particular, in Syria, which has cost now 40,000 lives.

Prime Minister has talked about one or two things that he might do. My foreign secretary has mentioned that we are beginning talking a bit more intensively to some of the opposition elements. The initiative the United States has taken, which is to try to bring together some of the opposition elements inside and outside Syria is to be welcomed.

And we are working with a number of regional governments and others to try to come up with some initiatives and put some more pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime so that all this can come to an end and we can move towards a more inclusive political arrangement.

AMANPOUR: Well, you --

WESTMACOTT: But the longer it goes on, clearly, the more dangerous it'll be and the greater the risk of a sectarian bloodbath.

AMANPOUR: Well, with respect, that has been what you all have been saying for months and months and months now. You just heard my interview with Mr. Pushkov, a key foreign policy adviser and shaper, an ally of President Putin, who basically did not think that there would be any intervention. And he also was lukewarm on what you've just mentioned, the idea of a new Syrian opposition.

And I've heard that it's actually not going that well. There's a lot of intransigence by the existing Syrian opposition. Can you be sure that it's going to work out, that there will be some new body that you can work with?

WESTMACOTT: Christiane, I don't think we can be sure of anything. If there were easy answers in Syria, we would have come up with them and we would have been implementing them long ago. We don't have anything that a policy of pretty much unconditional support for the slaughtering of a civilian population of Syria by the regime is the right policy to pursue.

So we are doing our very best with the United States and other regional allies, with the Turks, with the Qataris, with Saudis, with lots of people, to see whether we can help nudge things in a more productive direction. That does not mean to say that we're going to get directly involved with the supply of lethal equipment and boots on the ground and so on. That's not our policy.

But we would like to have had a more unified Security Council at the United Nations, putting pressure on the regime. We haven't had that, alas, because some members of the Security Council have not been with us. But it does not mean to say that we should stand idly by and watch the slaughter continue.

AMANPOUR: Well, you're obviously referring to Russia and China, who have -- who have vetoed or threatened to veto any kind of action.

But can I ask you about the specific issue that Prime Minister Cameron talked about, an exit for Bashar al-Assad? My guess from Russia said that's not something that Russia is involved with, and they're not preoccupied, as he said, with that.

How do you envision that happening? Do you envision that as a possibility?

WESTMACOTT: I think Prime Minister's words speak for themselves. Part of the problem that we have in Syria is the continuing presence of Bashar al-Assad at the head of the regime there. If he were to move aside, hand power, perhaps, to one of his deputies or to leave the country, then a number of other possibilities become real ones.

But as long as he is still there in power, then we have got a real difficulty. And I think the prime minister was simply stating what a number of us have felt for a long time, that he needs to leave power and, therefore, he was looking at a number of options for him to do that.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister also talked about tackling the global economy. And, of course, everyone in Europe is worried about the fiscal cliff facing the U.S., but also what we're seeing happening in Europe right now as Greece and the parliament deliberates on more austerity. There are huge demonstrations. It's violent. There are tens of thousands of people in the streets.

And yet the Eurozone was not even mentioned during this presidential election. How important is that to the U.S. and, frankly, to Britain, the whole Eurozone crisis?

WESTMACOTT: The global economy is obviously, as the prime minister said, one of those issues which at the top of his agenda for talking to President Obama now that the election is over. It matters, I think, enormously.

It matters hugely to us, of course, because we're in the European Union, even though we're not members of the Eurozone, because half of Britain's foreign trade is with the rest of Europe and because the whole business of the Eurozone being in a state of crisis is destabilizing for the European economy.

But it matters also, I believe, to the United States partly because it means that the United States' exports are diminished because there's less demand in those other markets, but also because of the uncertainty that it creates in financial markets between the banking systems that we have got and because it is a general drag on trade and on jobs and on growth.

And that's one of the reasons why my prime minister is very keen to talk to President Obama about the idea of a new European Union-United States free trade agreement, which could add a number of two or three points, we believe, to the GDP of both Europe and the United States without increasing the deficit, which we're all working hard to reduce in all of our countries.

AMANPOUR: And lastly, Ambassador, on Iran, Britain is involved in these negotiations. Do you think it would be productive and it will happen that the U.S. and Iran will have direct negotiations over the nuclear issue?

WESTMACOTT: I think the most important thing is that we find a way of stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability. We've got a policy out there, a mixture of sanctions and outreach, which is what the international community has been pursuing for a number of years. We haven't yet, alas, got the result that we would like.

What we need to do is to see whether there is a deal that can be struck with the Irani authorities. If that is done bilaterally, through the United States and Iran, which I seem to remember three or four years ago was one of the last occasions when there was movement on this nuclear issue, well, fine. I think the rest of us will be delighted.

But the most important thing to remember is what's the objective. The objective is to ensure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, which will be destabilizing for the region and very worrying for the security of many countries around there.

We would like to achieve that aim through a combination of negotiations and pressure, but ideally we want to see the Iranian government realize as it has indeed said itself a number of times, that he does not wish to pursue the nuclear weapons option. And if that's -- can be achieved best through the opening of a bilateral dialogue, well, just fine.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott, thank you very much for joining me.

And just pointing out that you are wearing the poppy, the symbol of remembrance of Britain's war dead. Thank you very much indeed.

This U.S. election marks a new beginning. And for American women, a whole new leading role in government. That story when we return. But before we take a break, the focus today has been on the reelection of President Obama.

But for the loser, Mitt Romney, what's next? He may take comfort in the fact that in some areas, some of America's presidential also-runs have gone on to accomplish big things. And of course, some haven't. Let's take a look.

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AMANPOUR: So take heart, Mr. Romney. There could be big things in your future. We will be right back.

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AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where more women call the shots. After all the votes were counted, the U.S. state of New Hampshire will be sending an all-female delegation to Congress. And New Hampshire also has elected a female governor.

There's clearly a sea change in American politics. Two men who made outlandish statements about rape were defeated in their Senate bid. There's still work to be done, of course, while women make up some 17 percent of last year's U.S. Congress.

In places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the number of women in parliament ranges from 20 percent to 27 percent. Still, this U.S. election finally offers American women what they were promised four years ago: some hope and some change.

That's it for tonight's program. Thank you and goodbye from New York.

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