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Was Yasser Arafat Murdered?; China-US Relations Examined

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


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

Was the last Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat murdered? For years, many of his people, along with conspiracy theorists everywhere suspected that he was.

But today, eight years after his death, a first step has been taken towards possibly resolving the mystery.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Arafat's body was exhumed and samples were taken and he was then quickly reburied in his former presidential compound in Ramallah on the West Bank today.

The question of what happened to the long-time guerilla leader of the PLO turned first elected president of the Palestinian Authority, comes on an important day for the Palestinian cause, as they seek to upgrade their status at the United Nations.

France has agreed to support recognition of Palestine as a non-member state of the U.N., and Britain says that it may follow suit. That pits them against the United States and, of course, Israel, which don't support this move.

All of this, though, is a far cry from Arafat's ignominious final years, which he spent pinned down in that Ramallah compound after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered an invasion of the West Bank following a spate of suicide bombings.

That was in 2002, and I spoke to Arafat at the time from Jerusalem, just as the tanks were bursting through his headquarters.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe, Mr. Arafat, that they are trying to kill you, trying to harm you?

ARAFAT: What do they expect by shelling us continuously in the last 24 hours?

AMANPOUR: Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken to you, I understand. He has also spoken publicly and called on you to rein in the violence.

What do you make of that statement, and can you and will you rein in that violence?

ARAFAT: Are you asking me why I am under complete siege? You have to be accurately when you are speaking with General Yasser Arafat. Be quiet!


AMANPOUR: An angry Yasser Arafat, an incredible snapshot from the past. He was, at the time, quite literally under the gun. And nearly three years later I covered his final illness and his final journey out. He was flown to Paris, where he died in a military hospital.

The cause of this death at the time was said to be complications from a bleeding disorder of unknown origin. This summer, Arafat's widow, Suha, allowed Swiss medical investigators to check his personal effects for radiation poisoning and the story turned into a documentary by Al Jazeera.

Tests of his effects revealed trace amounts of polonium 210, which ultimately led to the exhumation. I'll speak with Ms. Arafat in just a moment.

And then later in the program, we'll get a glimpse behind the Great Wall of China when I'll be speaking with the U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

But first, the widow of Yasser Arafat.


AMANPOUR: Suha Arafat joins me now from Malta.

Ms. Arafat, welcome to the program.

SUHA ARAFAT, WIDOW OF YASSER ARAFAT: Thank you very much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you from a personal perspective, what is your reaction as you watch all the way over in the West Bank, your husband's grave being dug up, his body being exhumed?

ARAFAT: You know, it brought all the memory. It was a very, very hard day for my daughter and myself, the heart (ph), crying all the time. But this is the painful truth. It's very, very painful, but we had to go for the truth. So it was very, very difficult. It brought all our murmurs (ph).

AMANPOUR: What do you believe is the truth? Who do you think killed your husband, if somebody did?

ARAFAT: I will tell you, I don't know, because of this, I put the French justice to search. I rest the case against -- it means against nobody. I can't accuse. I leave all the case in the hands in the French justice that I put to continue this process. I can't accuse anybody. I will tell you everybody is accusing Israel. I can't just conclude without having all the proof in our hands.

AMANPOUR: What do you think you will find, based on the investigation that has already been done in cooperation with Al Jazeera? What do you think you will find?

ARAFAT: You know, the Swiss advised me if I want to go further, to search in the body of my deceased husband. So we had to raise this case so they would know the truth. I don't know what we will find. But polonium, maybe we find polonium; maybe we'll find other kind of poison in his body.

But, Christiane, I will tell you, if you see the medical file, Yasser Arafat, like -- was like a baby. There was no sickness, no illness. His body was clean. This is what made me do all this procedure.

AMANPOUR: Suha, let me push you on that, because they do say, the doctors, that he did have an illness called DIC, a sort of blood illness.

ARAFAT: Yes, but it was not -- you know, blood -- he was losing now white and red blood, but without any illness, without any cancer, without any kind -- if you see the medical report, there's not a certain illness who did this.

He was losing all this blood since without -- it was not leukemia, it was not cancer, it was not kidney failure, it was not a stroke. It was not all these illness that led to what you are saying, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So, Suha, do you regret , then, that you turned down the opportunity to have an autopsy then when Yasser Arafat died? You refused an autopsy.

ARAFAT: No, Christiane, I have to do to -- you know, this has to be cleared to all the whole world. It has never occurred to me to do an autopsy. Nobody asked me to do an autopsy. If you remember, I had a lot of problems with the Palestinian Authority already in the hospital.

The body has been taken to Ramallah and nobody asked for autopsy, not even the doctors in the French hospital, not any Palestinian Authority.

So I have to go alone for this. And I will tell you something very emotional, today while I was seeing his, you know, reburial and his remains, I thought I would promise all my Palestinian people that his remains will go -- I will take care that him -- his remains will go to Jerusalem as he always wanted to be buried in the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

AMANPOUR: Do you think you're going to be able to do that? Is that your next step? Obviously, there are a lot of political issues around that.

ARAFAT: You know, you know, with the Arab revolutions now, everything is possible. Christiane, you witnessed -- you were -- you were all over the Arab revolutions, covering all what happened. Could you imagine what happened now in Gaza? Yasser Arafat was left alone. He was dying alone. Not a single leader in the Arab world came to rescue him.

If you remember, he was left alone, being sick in the Mukataa alone. And if you compare while -- what like -- what happened now in Gaza, everybody in the Arab world, all the foreign ministers, Turkey, everybody came to rescue Gaza.

Everything is changed and it's not far that Yasser will be reburied, his remains will be reburied in Jerusalem and I will do all my best, with my daughter, with all the Palestinian people to do this step.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned you had very strained relationships with the Palestinian Authority. Do you support what your husband's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is doing, going to the United Nations this week to seek an upgrade in Palestinian status?

ARAFAT: Yes, yes, of course.

We are so proud of him. I'm so proud person of him. He is continuing now the path of Yasser Arafat in asking for a state, of course, non- observer state, in the United Nations. I agree this is what the beginning, when Yasser did his speech in 1974 in the United Nations, Abu Mazen now is continuing all his path with all the solidarity of all the Palestinian people.

And I will tell you something very, very sad. It's not by chance that the remains of Yasser today has been removed in the same day that Abbas is going to the United Nations. It's very sobering. You know, that judge has decided six months ago to come on the 26th. We knew that it before. But it's -- all Palestine, as you know, Christiane, is all symbolic to the Holy Land.

AMANPOUR: Suha, cast your mind all the way back to 2000, when Yasser Arafat, who's no longer with us; when Ehud Barak, who was the prime minister of Israel and who has now said no more politics for me; when President Clinton was there and is no longer president, Yasser Arafat was offered a state and to share Jerusalem and to give -- and to have something that no one else had offered to the Palestinian people.

And he refused it.

Did he ever say to you that he regretted that?

ARAFAT: He never said to me this. He was so much proud that he refused it.

He said, Suha, I don't want my daughter or the colleagues of my daughter to say that I betrayed Jerusalem, that I betrayed Palestine. What they were offering me, it was not enough to make concessions. I might die, I might disappear, but my legacy for the whole generation of the Palestinian people will continue.

He never regretted it. It was -- he was not going to take enough lands if we go into the agreement of Camp David.

AMANPOUR: Suha Arafat, thank you very much for joining me.

ARAFAT: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And of course after Camp David there were further negotiations and several months later, Yasser Arafat did indeed say publicly that he would have accepted what was called the Clinton parameters.

Before we take a break, a final look at Yasser Arafat on the world stage. There he is, three years before his death, meeting with Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, and Israel's foreign minister at the time, now president, Shimon Peres.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And here he is, up close and personal with Mubarak. Arafat often kissed his friends and sometimes his enemies.

But up next, the U.S. pivot to China and a glimpse behind the Great Wall --


AMANPOUR: -- through the eyes of America's man in Beijing. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And we turn now to the challenge of China. For American President Barack Obama, managing the relationship with the world's other major economic power --


AMANPOUR (voice-over): -- has always been a balancing act. How does the United States push for change in a country to whom it is indebted? That question faces Mr. Obama --


AMANPOUR: -- as he begins his second term.

At the same time, China is undergoing its own once-in-a-decade leadership change.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Early next year, Xi Jinping will take the reins of power and, as so often with China, future policies are shrouded in mystery.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: China's both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules.


AMANPOUR: So which will it be, partner or adversary? The trade imbalance remains a key concern of the United States and of Europe. And what about China's rising military might as the United States famously pivots to Asia?

Tonight I ask the man at the center of the U.S.-Chinese relationship, the American ambassador, Gary Locke. And he joined me earlier from Beijing.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Gary Locke, thank you so much for joining me from Beijing.

GARY LOCKE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Well, it's my pleasure, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador, so much is happening in China and, of course, every time anybody looks in, they want to know what about the rise of China, how will it hurt or harm me? And they want to know about human rights as well.

So let's dive right into it.

We want to know, from your perspective, whether the new leader, Xi Jinping, will be any different on Tibet, for instance, because there have been many burnings by ethnic Tibetans -- another four reported just today in China. I know you've met with some ethnic Tibetans.

What do you think is the prospect for any different kind of relationship, Ambassador?

LOCKE: Well, we're just going to have to wait and see, but obviously the United States is very concerned about the situation, the heightened tensions in the Tibetan areas, the deplorable self-immolations and, of course, just the policies of the Chinese government at all levels.

And we're publicly and privately constantly urging the Chinese to reexamine some of their policies that threaten the linguistic identity, cultural identity and religion identity of the Tibetan people.

AMANPOUR: And if I might, the new leader, Xi Jinping, his father was known to have worn a watch given to him by the Dalai Lama. So, again, do you have any hope or anticipation that there might be some kind of different relationship between China and not only the ethnic Tibetans in China but Tibet itself?

LOCKE: Well, I think that's certainly a hope. But whether or not those hopes will be realized remains to be seen. China's really ruled by a committee of seven, the Standing Committee of the Politburo. And so it's going to have to be leadership by consensus. And of course, Xi Jinping will be the first among that seven.

So we're very, very hopeful. I think there are high expectations even by the Chinese people. But we'll just have to wait and see.

But in the meantime, preserving the ethnic, religious, linguistic identity of the Tibetan people is a top priority for the U.S. government, just as we are very concerned about all human rights issues.

And we believe that human rights has to be a fundamental part of the U.S. foreign policy, and we very much urge the Chinese government publicly and privately to adhere to the universal principles, universal declaration of human rights, which are also a part of the Chinese constitution.

AMANPOUR: Let me move onto more details about the new leader. He himself spoke about some of the shortcomings in China that need to be rectified, whether it's about the legitimacy of the party, whether it's the growing with inequality, whether it's corruption.

Let me just play you some of what he said around his appointment.


XI JINPING, CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER (through translator): The problems among our party members of corruption, bribe-taking, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formality and bureaucracy must be addressed with great effort. The whole party must be vigilant against them.


AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, he clearly knows what's on the minds of the people. I don't know whether the Chinese admit that the outgoing prime minister's family, according to "The New York Times," amassed something like a $3 billion fortune.

But corruption seems to be something that plagues China. Do you think that Xi Jinping will be serious about tackling it? And how difficult will that be, given the vested interests that are so cemented?

LOCKE: Well, these are tremendous internal challenges for the Chinese people and for the Chinese government and it's very much an internal affair.

But what's been remarkable is that the new leader, Xi Jinping, has spoken rather frequently on this topic of corruption and the need to reform and has now designated the current vice-premier, Wang Qishan, who's a highly respected individual, that the United States government and business people are very familiar with and have had a very good working relationship with.

Xi Jinping has tasked him to basically head up the anti-corruption efforts. So I think there's a lot of hope among the Chinese people. But, again, we're going to have to see.

AMANPOUR: And, Ambassador, he also is quite remarkable in that he has had a long-time connection with the United States. He's traveled regularly and frequently, much more than previous Chinese leaders, but particularly he spent time in the United States.

And I've spoken to the governor of Iowa, for instance, who has, you know, a fairly, you know, close sort of business relationship with Xi and with China.

Do you think that will affect and how will that affect China's relations with the United States?

LOCKE: Trade is such a big part of the U.S.-China relationship and, in fact, almost $1 billion of trade flows between our two countries every single day. And almost a million U.S. jobs right now depend on exports and trade with China.

When you look at the entire Asia Pacific region, it really accounts for 60 percent of the world's GDP, the world's economic output. And so fostering closer economic ties with China is in both countries' economic self-interest.

AMANPOUR: You sound hopeful for the future. Are you?

LOCKE: Well, I really believe that, as the two largest economies in the world, China and the United States have a great opportunity to solve the problems not just facing the United States and China, but actually to provide leadership to the entire world, our scientists are collaborating on some of the drug-resistant types of TB; they're working on type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, a whole host of drug discoveries as well as new energy.

And I believe the world is looking for that leadership from both China and the United States, working together. But the United States and China are actually collaborating a lot on trying to, for instance, halt proliferation of nuclear weapons from North Korea to Iran. So we do actually have a lot of partnerships together.

At the same time, we do have disagreements. We have disagreements in trade. China has celebrated almost 10 years of membership in the WTO.

But with that entry into the WTO come rules and obligations and the United States has not at all been hesitant to ensure that China lives by the rules and to ensure that there's fair access, a level playing field for American firms that China focuses on, protecting intellectual property rights and opening up its markets to American and foreign firms the way that America has opened up its markets to Chinese firms, all as agreed to when China entered the WTO.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you another bit of an interview that Xi Jinping gave when he was in Mexico a few years ago. This was directed at a foreign audience.


XI (through translator): There are some bored foreigners with full bellies who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us. First, China does not export revolution. Second, it does not export famine and poverty. And third, it does not mess around with you.

So what else is there to say?


AMANPOUR: He obviously was directing that at the United States. Do you -- how did you take that when you first heard that? He's basically saying don't interfere and don't lecture us.

LOCKE: Well, I think that we have a very difficult (ph) relationship and a very interdependent relationship economically.

And certainly in terms of issues, global issues, whether it's trying to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, China has worked very closely with the United States at the U.N. on Security Council resolutions and China has actually dramatically reduced its consumption of Iranian oil along with other countries around the world to comply with U.S. law. And so we have a good working relationship.

AMANPOUR: And finally, Ambassador, when you look at the Chinese people and you see the explosion, really, of, let's say, protests all over, the explosion of activity inside civil society, the explosion of the microblogs, how do you see the Chinese people's pressure on the government going forward, and their demands?

LOCKE: Well, I think the Chinese government is reacting and trying to respond to the pent-up demands, issues and concerns of the Chinese people. And the Chinese people are able to make their concerns known, using the social media, the microblogs and what we call Weibo here.

And many influential people here in China have millions of followers. And so the Chinese government officials are monitoring what the people are saying and what their views over the Internet, which has had an impact on Chinese policy.

AMANPOUR: Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China, thank you for joining me from Beijing today.

LOCKE: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And you heard Ambassador Locke say that the United States must maintain its policy of human rights in broadcasting that.

We're hearing more and more voices saying that in a second Obama term, not just in China but around the world, human rights should be a much more distinctive platform of U.S. foreign policy.

And a final note on Yasser Arafat, when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, scientists may or may not solve the mystery of Yasser Arafat's death. But while his mortal remains have grabbed the headlines, his tomb tells a fascinating story of its own. It stands in the Mukataa, which was Arafat's presidential compound in Ramallah.

The tomb was built of Jerusalem stone, a deliberate reminder of the place where Arafat had asked to be buried, not on the West Bank, but in the heart of Jerusalem at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a final request that was denied.

As a consequence, the current mausoleum was only meant to be temporary, with a section of railroad track buried beneath it, as if to symbolize that Arafat's final journey and that of his people is far from over. And you did hear his widow, Suha Arafat, tell me just earlier on the program that she would respect his final wish and somehow take his tomb, his grave, his remains to Jerusalem.

And on a day when some European governments have taken one more step towards granting the Palestinians a seat at the international table, the next chapter in this story is yet to be written.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open -- Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.