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Dealing with the Syrian Situation; Examining the Situation in Jordan

Aired December 4, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

Egypt's bitter divisions have erupted again into the streets, and for the first time since the fall of President Mubarak, protesters have marched on the presidential palace and President Morsi appears not to be in the compound.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): We're looking at live pictures of what the demonstrators are calling a day of warning. They say they will not support the draft constitution even though the important Egyptian Supreme Judicial Council now says that it will oversee a national referendum on the document in 11 days' time.


AMANPOUR: Just last night, though, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told me that the referendum would pass, the president would then lift the emergency powers he had awarded himself and the prime minister hoped calm would return to the streets.


HESHAM KANDIL, PRIME MINISTER OF EGYPT: Of course, I'm worried. I'm worried about people rallying in the street; I'm worried about their safety. I'm worried that they all go home to their families. This is something that we worry about.

This is new Egypt. This is new Egypt with the police, is really protecting these people while they're doing peaceful demonstrations. This is a new Egypt that we all look forward to be like the model, a model for the Arab Spring.


AMANPOUR: But it's the nature of this new model that has prompted the past two weeks of turmoil as we've seen on the street. And CNN's Reza Sayah is at the presidential palace right now. He joins me by phone.

Reza, what do you hear about what President Morsi is up to? And is he in the palace?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, he's not in the palace. An official from the president's office telling us that he's at his home in the New Cairo neighborhood, which is about a 25-minute drive from the palace.

It's not clear if he left before these crowds outside the palace started to grow or after this one particular clash (ph). But you have to be careful not to blow this out of proportion.

There's no evidence that he was in any kind of danger or any evidence that suggests that these protesters were about to breach the palace. This has been, for the most part, a peaceful but impassioned demonstration, tens of thousands of people are out here. But at some point, the decision was made to get the president away from the palace, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Tell me now about these protesters. Obviously, there are a few scuffles that we saw a little bit earlier on. What are they saying? And is there any chance, as the prime minister told me, that this is going to sort of disperse?

SAYAH: Well, if you talk to these opposition (inaudible) here, they are defiant and they are determined. Some of them are calling for his ouster. And it's going to be interesting what the coming days bring, because they don't seem to have a political mechanism by which they can take on the president.

Even so, they keep coming out here, protesting like much of Egypt (inaudible) but they're the moderates, the liberals, the women's rights groups, who don't like the way that this draft constitution was written. They are very concerned that, down the road, a government dominated by the Islamists could use this constitution the way it was written and deny them their rights, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, Reza, it begs the question, how is this going to be resolved? What is the -- what are the next steps, do you think?

SAYAH: Well, that's why you have so much intrigue in what's unfolding. Right now the deck seems to be stacked against the opposition faction. They seem to be losing momentum, and the president seems to be gaining momentum.

Over the past four or five days, there have been a number of events that have fueled (ph) his position (inaudible) the Supreme Judicial Council now (inaudible) oversee the national referendum on the 15th on Saturday. (Inaudible) the president.

Don't forget, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful political organization in Egypt. It will be misleading to suggest that this is a nationwide uprising against the president. (Inaudible) has a lot of support. The opposition faction, they have a lot of support. Why? There's a lot of drama and uncertainty these days in Egypt.

AMANPOUR: A divided country. Reza Sayah, thank you very much indeed.

And now we turn to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has fought to stop the Arab Spring from coming to his country.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): But rebels there do appear to be advancing on his capital, according to analysts and observers; major battles are raging in and around Damascus. NATO is ramping up its military action as we first reported here last night. NATO has today officially given the go-ahead for placing Patriot anti-missile systems along the Turkish border.

I spoke to the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, a short while ago. I asked him whether the West now had a plan B to end the devastating civil war.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, thank you very much. Welcome to the program.

NATO has agreed to Turkey's request for Patriot missiles. What effect do you think that will have on the war in Syria?

FABIUS: Well, I think it's a good decision. Turkey has to have protection and we are deciding to grant this protection through Patriot missiles. And therefore it means that Netherlands, Germany and United States will deploy Patriot missiles at the border of Turkey.

But it will be only in a defensive aim.

AMANPOUR: Do you want to see a more robust way to try to end the war, to try to support the opposition that you have now recognized?

FABIUS: We have recognized. We have been the first one to recognize the opposition, the coalition of the opposition, because we think that if we want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, we have to show that the alternative is reasonable and efficient.

And we have met this coalition. The leaders of the coalition are nice people. They are not corrupt. They are dedicated to the country. And they are more and more united, which was and is an absolute necessity.

I understand that maybe, in the coming days, they will be able to have a sort of alternative prime minister, and maybe, hopefully, to have a joint force in their army. And it's the way that is the best way to get rid, step by step, of Bashar al-Assad.

You must not forget that, till now, there have been more than 40,000 dead people, 40,000 dead people, more than 2 million displaced people. And we are at the beginning of the winter. The humanitarian situation is a real catastrophe and we have to be rather quick.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about what you think the opposition has to do. You said they're nice people. Clearly, one of the big fears within Syria and outside of Syria is that it could be just another vengeful mob that comes in, extremist jihadis.

What do they have to do to convince, for instance, the Alawites to defect, to convince the circle around Bashar al-Assad to break?

FABIUS: Yes, you're right; it's what -- it was one of the greatest fears, because we have to avoid two things. The first one is after Bashar al-Assad to have a sort of void, which would be a mess, such as in Iraq.

The other one would be to have a revenge. And these -- this coalition has said in a very official way that they want to respect the different communities, which means Alawite, which mean Christian, all of them.

All of us who have been lucky enough to have discussion with them are impressed by the way they are beginning to act. They are acting united so far as military is concerned. And the next step will be, hopefully, to design some sort of alternative government with a new prime minister.

AMANPOUR: So who would be the new prime minister?

FABIUS: (Inaudible) the way, step by step -- sorry?

AMANPOUR: Who would be the new prime minister?

FABIUS: Well, there are different names, which have been quoted. We must wait a few days before the choice would be announced.

AMANPOUR: So you can't tell me right now who's -- who you think it will be?

FABIUS: It's their decision. It's not my decision.


FABIUS: But there are some names which have been quoted and I think they are reasonable and wise.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about the decision right now about the Patriots, as we've seen the Russians, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, didn't really like this very much. He's been in Turkey talking to the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan.

But we also hear that there is a possibility that Russia may be looking for ways to slightly modify its stance, to agree to seeing Bashar al-Assad somehow moved out rather than for him to stay in and lead a transition.

What can you tell us about a potential shift in the Russian position?

FABIUS: Mr. Lavrov, who is the minister of foreign affairs, has told me several times, we are not married with Bashar al-Assad.

But they have interests in this region. They don't want that -- it will be the chaos. And I hope that it will be possible, the coming days, to find maybe not an agreement, but at least a common way.

AMANPOUR: One of the issues, according to people who have met with President Assad, is that he is convinced that he is going to be killed no matter what. So he fears leaving, fears staying, according to Russians who've been to visit him.

Is there any idea that you all might have some kind of new plan, some kind of creative exit strategy for Bashar al-Assad to ensure that he will leave without being killed? I remember not so many weeks ago Prime Minister Cameron said we must give him an exit.

FABIUS: I think the most important point is that he quits his function. The question of either being judged or going to another country is not a secondary issue, but the most important point is that there could be an alternative government and that Syrian people can be free. If we are able to do that, the other elements will be solved.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for joining me.

FABIUS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And before we take a break, a different view of the Free Syrian Army.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Take a look at this YouTube video. It seems these days just about every rebel unit has a woman in its rank. It's unclear just how much fighting these women are doing, but numbers appear to be growing and their voices are strong.

And when we come back, we'll cross Syria's southern border into Jordan, where this winter the Arab Spring seems to be trying to blow through.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. As Turkey gets NATO protection on its Syrian border, another one of Syria's neighbors, Jordan, is making preparations of its own. It fears extremist elements slipping into the country among some of the 200,000 Syrian refugees, who fled across the border to safety.

A U.S. military task force is already there, helping with that, and also in case Syria starts to cross the so-called red line by preparing to use its chemical weapons. At the same time, Jordan faces mounting domestic pressures as the Arab Spring comes knocking at the kingdom's door again.

Earlier, I asked Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, about the dangers that Jordan faces from all sides.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, thank you for joining me from Washington.


AMANPOUR: So much attention right now on what are the Syrians' next moves; NATO is deciding to deploy Patriot missiles on Turkey's soil.

What is Jordan doing to protect its borders and its land from any Syrian aggression? And do you expect any Syrian aggression?

JUDEH: Well, I mean, I'm not the spokesman for the military, but we certainly are watching the situation very, very closely and we're not anticipating an aggression of the type that you're referring to, but we are certainly at the receiving end of the humanitarian spillover of this ongoing crisis, 245,000 Syrians on Jordanian soil since March 2011.

Of course, I mean, the news and the -- and the media these days is all about chemical and biological weapons. We've been saying for weeks and months that this is an area of serious concern for the international community, in particular for those countries neighboring Syria.

So far, on the political front, the international position has been somewhat divided and, well, not even -- not being able to have a cohesive approach.

But I think if chemical and biological weapons were to be used, this would certainly be a game-changer. I think the world would come together instantly to react to this.

AMANPOUR: And to what, to intervene? To bomb the sites? What would one do?

JUDEH: Well, there are different scenarios, and I think it'll be hypothetical to get into that. But the end result is the same. If these weapons fall into the wrong hands or if they are used by the regime, it is an instant game-changer. Nobody will sit there and accept for these weapons to be used or for the region or regional players to be threatened by these weapons.

AMANPOUR: Well, Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited your country and Turkey and went to see the Syrian refugees, basically said that clearly the world hasn't done enough over the last 18 months. It simply hasn't been enough.

And I guess my question is, the longer it goes on, doesn't that become more and more dangerous for who might take over in Syria, who are these people for the spillover into countries such as yours? I mean, you know, you -- Jordan just says that it's foiled an attack last month, part of Al Qaeda in Iraq was planning something. And many of those people have been thought to have fought in Syria.

JUDEH: Yes, we did unfoil (sic) a major attempt in Jordan last month. And these were people who were in Syria.

And we've got many cells of extremists and terrorists armed with sophisticated weapons and communication technology, trying to cross into Jordan. We're keeping a very vigilant control of our borders. We don't want to have anything slip through the net.

Don't forget that in 2005, we had a major terrorist attack on three Jordanian hotels and lots of innocent lives lost. So of course, there's not enough effort that can be exerted to maintain our security.

AMANPOUR: Let's move to another one of your neighboring countries, and that's Israel.

Following the Palestinian bid at the United Nations, Israel has announced more settlements in a very sensitive part of East Jerusalem.

What does that say to you as one of the only Arab countries which has a peace treaty with Israel?

JUDEH: The announcement of the settlement plan in area E1, you're absolutely right. It's not just a very sensitive area, but it threatens the very concept of the contiguity of the would-be Palestinian state, because it divides the West Bank into two halves.

And this is, of course, rejected. I mean, the whole world knows that settlement building in the occupied territories is illegitimate and illegal. It is this kind of action-reaction that we want to avoid between now and the aftermath of the Israeli election. That would poison the atmosphere and prevent us from trying to bring negotiations back to full steam.

AMANPOUR: And yet the Israelis say they're not going to back down. We've seen, despite what the world thinks about settlements, settlements continue, certainly on the West Bank. Do you think this E1 settlement order will be carried out?

JUDEH: I hope to God that it isn't. The only way to resolve this issue is through negotiation and through delineating and agreeing on a border between the would-be state of Palestine and then Israel, something will -- that will obviously make it clear where Israel can build and where it cannot.

AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of people have lost a lot of hope for that process.

Do you think that what President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority did was an overreach? Was it a feel-good, symbolic measure? Was it the right thing to do if you really want to achieve Palestinian statehood?

JUDEH: I'm not in a position to second-guess what President Abbas or the Palestinian Authority does for the good of his people. But at the end of the day, there was 132 states within the U.N. organization that recognize Palestine as a state already.

So that number was beefed up to 138 now. There's obviously a majority of the world community, the international community that believes that Palestine should be a state. And we're all in agreement that it's negotiations that will actually build that state on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Closer to home, in fact, at home, Jordan has largely been spared the full wrath of the Arab Spring, and yet there are increasing protests on the streets. Many of the Islamists are on the street. But many ordinary people, too, are protesting what they view as corruption, what they view as not promised -- or, rather, the not-delivered promises of reform.

And people are starting to shout, you know, the king must go.

JUDEH: Two things: first of all, it's not the people are shouting and it's a few people who did that in an atmosphere of an angry reaction over lifting subsidies on fuel products. So it's unfair to say the people are asking.

The consensual figure in Jordan is His Majesty the King. He's the guarantor of the reform process; he's the facilitator of dialogue. And at the end of the day, he's the one who's leading this reform process.

But I just want to say, when you say Jordan has been spared the wrath of Arab Spring, we spared ourselves the wrath of Arab Spring because we preempted that with a reform process that was led by the king a few years ahead of the Arab Spring.

No doubt the Arab Spring has affected Jordan --a gentle breeze, as I keep saying, as opposed to the turbulent winds we saw in other countries.

But look at what we have done to expedite reforms in the last two years: revised one-third of our constitution -- that's quite a confident step for Jordan -- enacted laws; created an independent elections commission; created a constitutional court and now we're going to parliamentary elections in January.

So we're benchmarking ourselves and we're meeting these benchmarks. I think we're heading in a very confident way towards the future. And, again, it is the king who is guaranteeing all this. It's the king who's leading the reform process.

AMANPOUR: And yet there are many critics who call these perpetually cosmetic reforms, never fully getting enacted. The king has now axed his fifth prime minister. And there are people who are saying that there's a worry for the elections because they may be boycotted by a significant group of people.

JUDEH: They are boycotted primarily by the Islamic Action Front, which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is saying -- the IAF -- that the election law has to be changed in order to give them almost a guaranteed majority.

You can't do that. You have to conduct elections. And, by the way, it's an independent commission that's conducting the election now. You have to have elections that guarantee a level field for everybody, not just favoritizing (sic) one party at the expense of everybody else.

AMANPOUR: As we look around and we see all sorts of leaders, let's say -- in Egypt you saw what President Morsi did, gave himself extraordinary powers. He said they're limited.

In Jordan, apparently if you shout, "The king must go," that is punishable by prison.

JUDEH: Well --

AMANPOUR: Is that modern-day Arab world?

JUDEH: Sometimes things are exaggerated. I mean, you saw a few angry people who did -- who did shout such slogans. You know, they're still out on the street.

All I want to -- all I want to say here, Christiane, is that this is a monarchy. Jordan is a monarchy, a constitutional monarchy that is enacting a program of reform that will bring about a parliamentary government that is truly representative of the people.

I think you can't get more modern than that.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Nasser Judeh, thank you very much indeed.

JUDEH: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And as we've been reporting, those angry voices on the streets of Jordan echo protests we've heard and been reporting on, Egypt and Syria and throughout the region. We also heard them, though, in South Africa during the struggle against apartheid. But Nelson Mandela almost died a martyr before he lived to be a hero.

The story of his lawyer, who was a hero, too, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally, imagine a world without Nelson Mandela's lawyer. Thirty years before he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for ending apartheid, Nelson Mandela was on trial for his life. But thanks to Arthur Chaskalson and his defense team, Mandela was not given the death penalty, though he did serve 27 years, as we know, behind bars before his release in 1990.

We do know Mandela's heroic legend. But what about his lawyer? Arthur Chaskalson died last Saturday at the age of 81. And the Rainbow Nation that seems so fragile these days was out in full force to pay its last respects.

And it did speak volumes about the lawyer's remarkable life. He was Jewish and born into the white ruling class. Chaskalson left a lucrative private practice to oppose apartheid in the arena that he knew best: the courtroom.

When apartheid ended, he helped write the new constitution, making capital punishment unconstitutional. And he was made a senior judge by his former client and then president, Mandela. He went on to become chief justice of South Africa's supreme court. As new constitutions are being written in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, Arthur Chaskalson's life and his life's work are a model to follow.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.