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Russia Imposes U.S. Adoption Ban; U.S. Deeply Regrets Adoption Ban; N.J. Couple's Adoption in Limbo; Russia Gets Active On Syria War; U.S. Exports to China on the Rise; A Pakistani Political Legacy

Aired December 28, 2012 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Welcome to our 500th edition of our show. We've got a lot to cover, so let's get right to it.

Russia dominating our newscast this hour for two very different reasons. First, the man, that man you see there, Russia's top diplomat, he is now taking an active role in trying to end the civil war in Syria. Now, remember, both Russia and China have blocked U.N. attempts to force out the Assad regime. So now the Russians say they are willing to meet with the Syrian opposition. It could open the door for real U.N. action on the ground. Action that could mean American involvement. We've got more details in a live report in just a minute.

But also, Russia's president formally saying no to Americans who want to adopt Russian children. It is a heartbreaking development for hundreds of Americans who are trying to adopt children from Russian orphanages. That is happening right now. President Vladimir Putin signed the adoption ban today. Sadly, more than 50 Americans who were in the final stages of adopting Russian children, they are not going to be able to. And while those families certainly hoping that they're going to allow these adoptions to go through, the country's child rights commissioner says that those kids are going to stay in Russia.

So, why are the Russians doing this? The ban is considered a payback of sorts for an American law that was passed two weeks ago. That law puts financial restrictions on Russians accused of human rights violations, bans them from also traveling to the United States.

I want to bring in our Matthew Chance from London.

And, Matthew, of course, you were a correspondent in Moscow for a very long time here. It seems at least there's a split. You've got Russia's foreign minister, who actually criticized Putin before he signed this ban. So what is going on here? Is this a power play? And is this something that is actually going to take effect?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, you're right, there has been a very rare split in the Russian political elite about this issue. There's been some criticism that was leaked to the press in Russia about how some officials, including the foreign minister, concerned about what the impact this may have. Also, an opposition newspaper in Russia, Novaya Gazeta, has issued a petition, saying that the law should not been enacted. And that's had more than 100,000 signatures. And so, obviously, it's something that divides Russian society.

But, you know, make no mistake, it is a power play. It's a response to that U.S. Magnitsky Act, as you mentioned there, a law signed by Obama a couple of weeks ago intended to penalize, sanction Russian officials connected with this particular custody case -- death in custody case and this tax evasion case in Russia.

MALVEAUX: So, Matthew, this law would go into effect January 1st. Is there any chance that those cases that are pending, where the paperwork is finalized and where people are expecting their children, essentially, in a month or two, would be allowed to go through?

CHANCE: Well, there is a question mark hanging over those. There are 52 children, according to the Kremlin, that are in the middle of this adoption process with U.S. parents. The law, as you say, starts on January the 1st, but it's only a couple of days until then. So unless that can be finalized.

My expectation is that that will be put on hold. And indeed that's what Russian officials are saying, that they don't think now that this law has been enacted from January the 1st. These people, these children should be allowed to go to the United States. Instead, there's been a call for Russian families to step forward and to take on those adoptions instead.

MALVEAUX: All right, Matthew, thank you very much.

Russia is one of the most popular countries for American adoptions. The State Department says there were 970 adoptions there last year. Only China and Ethiopia had more, about 2,500 from China, a little more than 1,700 from Ethiopia.

Now, a big reason Americans adopt from other countries is the sheer number of available children in Russia. There are more than 650,000 orphans. Compare that to the United States, where there are a little more than 58,000 children who are living in state institutions or group homes. And adopting babies from American agencies can also be more expensive, and the adoptive parents may be required to have a future relationship with the birth mother.

Well, the U.S., of course, not happy with the Russian president signing this adoption ban. And the United States is essentially letting Russia know. I want to bring in Elise Labott at the State Department.

How are officials responding to this, and what can they possibly do?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, as you know, the State Department kind of handles these adoptions for U.S. parents to help them through the process, also with visa issues, citizenship issues, and issued a pretty tough statement this morning saying, "the Russian government's politically motivated decision will reduce adoption possibilities for children who are now under institutional care. We are further concerned about statements that adoptions already underway may be stopped and hope that the Russian government will allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families."

And as Matthew said, there are just about 50 children that are in the pipeline right now. What senior State Department officials are telling me is that they're hoping to get at least those through the pipeline, those children who have already met these parents, to be able to be united with them, and then they'll work on trying to lift the whole ban, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Elise, is there any kind of advice that they're giving those families, those Americans, who have already met with their potential children? What should they be doing now?

LABOTT: Well, right now, all they can do, Suzanne, is sit tight. They really -- the State Department is working on these children that are in the pipeline. There is an agreement that was signed between the U.S. and Russia in November governing U.S. adoptions to Russia, putting out responsibilities for both sides. So what they're saying is, let's please stick to that agreement.

They're in close touch with those families and they're hoping that at least these 50 or some odd cases should be resolved. They're asking parents that are in the pipeline, stay in touch with your adoption agency and also look at We'll put that on our Web site. That's where parents can get the very latest information about this crisis.

MALVEAUX: All right, Elise, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Americans whose adoptions are in limbo, of course, you can imagine, are very worried. They're even desperate for information. I want to talk to a family via Skype. This is in Dover, New Jersey. This is Jenni and Josh Johnston. They are in the process of adopting a child from Russia.

Thank you very much for joining us here. I can only imagine -- even -- I can't really imagine what you are going through here. The two of you already have three children, one of them adopted from Ethiopia. And I understand that you are in the process of adopting a little Russian girl who is HIV positive. Can you tell us about your experience and where you are in the process?

JOSH JOHNSTON, TRYING TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILD (via Skype): You're correct with that. Thank you for having us on. We're probably smack dab in the middle of the process right now. We made a trip last month to visit little Anastasia. We met her. She was informed that we were her parents. We told her we were going to come back for her. And she said she'd wait for us. And now we're in limbo.

MALVEAUX: What was that like to meet her? How did you know that she was the one that you wanted to welcome into your family?

JOSH JOHNSTON: Well, we went there guided by the Lord. And she was the one the Lord put in front of us. So, we don't say no to the Lord.

MALVEAUX: Jenni, can you tell me what you are going through now, if you are hearing anything at all about little Anastasia? JENNI JOHNSTON, TRYING TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILD: We haven't heard anything. I think there's just the rumors flying around. And I get online to try to see what I can find out, but, you know, that's not helping. And I'm just a wreck.

MALVEAUX: How have you managed -- I mean, you have, obviously, have a beautiful family. You've reached out. How have you managed this time of uncertainty?

JENNI JOHNSTON: We pray. We cry. We get cranky. I mean, my child's a half a world away and I feel like any mom wouldn't be able to get through that very easily.

MALVEAUX: Does she know at all -- do you have any idea if she knows what's happening, what's going on? If she realizes herself that you might not be reunited?

JOSH JOHNSTON: We don't have any idea about that. We have to think that it's a bit of a stretch for a four-year-old to understand that. Just even if you explained it fully to her, I don't think she'd understand. It's hard enough for adults to understand this situation.

MALVEAUX: What are you willing to do to get your child? I mean, I know you feel that you belong together. And this must be a very emotionally difficult time. Are you going to try to get over there, or are there any kinds of things that you think you might be able to do to still make this happen?

JOSH JOHNSTON: Well, we're going to do anything we can, obviously, within the bounds of the law and the international treaties. We're just hopeful that Russia abides by the treaty they signed with the United States in November. And we hope the State Department can get everything sorted out. We hope that the end state is that everything works out in favor of the children.


MALVEAUX: We are looking at beautiful pictures of your family. Can you tell us a little bit about why it is that you decided that you wanted to adopt? I know you have an Ethiopian child you adopted and a little girl from Russia.

JOSH JOHNSTON: Well, the reason we wanted to adopt, we wanted to have more children, but we realized that there was a need out there. Millions of children without homes. And we had the means and the love to give. So we figured that would be the best way to serve the Lord and the world.

MALVEAUX: And what about you, Jenni?

JENNI JOHNSTON: I mean, I would fill the house up with kids. I -- I don't know, I just love having them here. And if the kid doesn't have a family and we're a family, I mean, why not?

MALVEAUX: What will you do if you do not bring her, little Anastasia, home? JENNI JOHNSTON: We'll be devastated. And then we'll probably move on because if we can do good for somebody, we will, you know, find another child hopefully that God will bring us to and adopt them and we'll keep our ears open. And if Russia changes their mind, we'll go back and get her. I mean whether this takes, you know, weeks or years, as long as she's available, I will go get her.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jenni and Josh, thank you so much for your time. You have a beautiful, beautiful family. We certainly wish you success in trying to move forward with little Anastasia and to make your family even more complete. But, thank you, again. We really appreciate it. And we're going to be keeping up with you. We'll see if this actually does work out. Thanks again.




An invitation with an underlying message. Russia moves to meet with a Syrian opposition leader as Syrian rebels and government troops now battle it out.

Plus, two of Nelson Mandela's grandchildren talk to CNN to stop the rumors about their grandfather's health.

And later, CNN's Nic Robertson with this.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A World War II homing pigeon carrying a secret message that didn't make it home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We made our own codes, and clearly they're still very good today.

ROBERTSON: A mystery wrapped in an enigma, shrouded by time.



MALVEAUX: In Syria today, opposition activists say at least 66 people were killed in bombings, air strikes and street fighting. Well, violence in Syria's civil war has now intensified in just the past few weeks. And there is now something new. Actual movement by Russian officials to get involved at least diplomatically. The U.N. believes that the civil war has killed 40,000 people in Syria. Now, Russia's foreign minister has now invited rebel leaders to talk.

I want to bring in our Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Lebanon today.

And, Nick, we know that a lot of reporters can't officially be in Syria at the moment to sort it all out, but this does seem like a very significant development. What do we expect out of these meetings between Russian officials and some of the Syrian rebels?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's clear about this the first time Russia has said it will talk to an opposition which it didn't really recognize as legitimate for a while back. It's a similar kind of plan that they've been pushing since June. The issue really here is the reaction we've already heard. The Syrian opposition, their leader Mouaz al-Khatib, saying he'll talk, but not in Moscow, as the Russians suggest. The Syrian Free Army saying they're not willing to at all. And, of course, the real issue now is exactly what do the Russians expect? Let's hear what they had to say with their Egyptian counterparts earlier.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We expressed our readiness to the meeting with the Syrian coalition president, Mouaz al-Khatib. We are ready for that. And as we understand, they don't reject it either.

MOHAMED KAMEL ARM, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Our position is obvious. It is very clear. We believe that the current Syrian leadership will find it very difficult to find its place in the future power structure.


WALSH: What is different, though, is how things have changed on the ground, the rebels controlling much of the north and besieging parts of the capital, and also Russia's position, very negative in the past few weeks about how it sees the future for Assad regime, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, how does this work out here? Because we know that Russia doesn't recognize the rebels as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The United States and other countries actually have given them that recognition, so how strong are these talks and the position of these rebels in light of the Russians' eyes?

WALSH: To be honest, the opposition is far too fractured, really, for this to have any cohesive change on the ground, really, in the unlikely event that it all leads to some negotiated settlement.

I think many observers are seeing this as the Russians, again, trying to suggest some sort of discussion which might lead to Assad stepping side.

Now, they're not saying that's their plan here, but that's, I think, the inferred idea many people are seeing here. And that could weaken the already loose loyalty some may have around Assad in Damascus, particularly given how Russia have always been a staunch military backer since this began.


MALVEAUX: All right. This could be a game-changer. We'll see how it goes. Thank you very much. And, of course, another story we're following, the clock ticking, little time left to reach an agreement that's going to put the brakes on those huge tax hikes and big spending cuts. It's going to affect all of us.

President Obama meeting with congressional leaders, that's going to happen this afternoon.


MALVEAUX: We are just four days away from the tax increases and the automatic spending cuts that are going to affect everybody's finances.

The president has now called for congressional leaders to come to the White House in search of a last-minute deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, right? Well, the president and the vice president, they're going to meet with House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That is happening this afternoon.

Jessica Yellin is there and, Jess, what do we know about the president's plan to get everybody in the same room? Do we think there is going to be something that comes out of this?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one of those cases where we really are going to have to wait and see and all the parties involved are also going in with a big question mark.

The idea is the expectation by many of the participants in the meeting is that they hope that they will be able to discuss more details about a scaled-down fiscal cliff plan. And maybe that could lead to some sort of agreement, ideally, for all parties in which all the senators say that they will not filibuster it and it can go to a vote.

And then Speaker Boehner could, in theory, agree to bring it to a vote on the house floor after the house comes back on Sunday. And then we would get all of this behind us before New Year's Eve.

How likely does that sound? Not so likely, but that's the idea ...

MALVEAUX: You and I are both kind of laughing about that one.

So, the stumbling block, of course, over raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, do we think that the president essentially is going to stick with that position, that that is not a bargaining chip, that that position is not going to move on the president's part?

YELLIN: Absolutely. That's non-negotiable from the White House's perspective. And, you know, I should point out, Suzanne, I'm laughing about the situation and you do, too, because we've seen it repeated because this gridlock in Washington, you know, sort of elicits a national eye roll.

But we should point out that the issues they're fighting over are the fundamental dividing lines between the two parties and the reason it has been so hard for them to reach any kind of agreement is because they're arguing about the role of government, bigger or smaller. Tax cuts, yes, or more of a social safety net for people?

Those are the basic foundational issues that define Democrats versus Republicans. And, so, while both sides have tried to make noises toward reaching a deal, they fundamentally break down over these -- divide over ideas.

And so these are big issues they're arguing about right now, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jess, give us an update, if there's any progress from that afternoon meeting. We know they'll all at least be sitting in the same place. Maybe they'll come up with something.

Jess, thanks again. Appreciate it.

And, of course, speaking of raising revenues, some U.S. companies are now seeing a big jump in exports to China, of all places. This is part of a growing demand of products made in America.

Our Maggie Lake explains.


MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The factory floor at Brooklyn's Watermark Designs is humming as workers crank out kitchen and bathroom fixtures for customers the world over, including one growing market, China.

So, you've been able to add people?

AVI ABEL, WATERMARK DESIGNS: We've added a few people, absolutely.

LAKE: This wasn't always the case. In the 1990s, father-and-son team, Jack and Avi Abel, watched their family business getting squeezed out of the market by cheap imports. They had to adapt to survive.

JACK ABEL, WATERMARK DESIGNS: Actually, we made a major decision which almost put us out of business, but it was the right decision.

We said we're not going to compete with Asia. This is not for us. We're going to be unique. We're going to be high-quality, high-end.

LAKE: The kind of products affluent Chinese customers are increasingly shopping for.

Did you imagine that you'd be selling it back to China?

J. ABEL: Never. Never.

LAKE: Over the last few decades, China has conquered the U.S. market by making products cheaper than anyone else, but now American companies are turning the tables and making inroads there by doing just the opposite, by making high-end handcrafted items just like this.

To be sure, there is still a large gap. The U.S. trade deficit with China hit another record in 2011 with the value of Chinese imports rising to almost $400 billion.

But U.S. exports to China are also hitting record highs.

JOHN FRISBIE, U.S. CHINA BUSINESS COUNCIL: China is now our third- largest export market and I don't think a lot of Americans realize that.

LAKE: In fact, since the year 2000, 47 states have reported at least triple-digit export growth to China, including Minnesota, the home of Red Wing Shoes.

PETER ENGEL, RED WING SHOE COMPANY: China exports of Red Wing Shoe Company have really taken off in the last five years.

LAKE: For Red Wing, the key is quality control. It says Chinese-made products just don't measure up.

ENGEL: The boots don't last as long. We are known for our leather. It's just a higher quality leather that's appreciated by that Chinese customer.

LAKE: Back in New York, fashion designer Patrik Ervell says his growing Chinese fan-base looks not only for quality, but designs they can't find at home.

PATRIK ERVELL, DESIGNER: Now, there is a bit of a cache of being not just an American designer, but if you're manufacturing here, especially in menswear.

LAKE: Why?

ERVELL: Just this idea of "made in America," I think, has become interesting for customers, especially in Asia.

LAKE: There are down sides. Counterfeit Red Wings are now being sold in China.

Not only that ...

FRISBIE: There are still market access barriers, investment barriers that keep out American companies.

LAKE: But as our three manufacturers have found, a rising China can translate into rising sales.

Maggie Lake, CNN, New York.


MALVEAUX: A political dynasty, his father is the president of Pakistan and his late mother was the country's first female prime minister. Well, now, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is stepping up the political arena.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: Another story we have been following, it is heartbreaking. The young woman in India who was gang-raped on a public bus, well, she has been flown now to Singapore for treatment, but doctors there say her treatment is extremely critical. Besides cardiac arrest, the 23- year-old medical student suffered significant brain injury and an infection in her lungs and stomach.

Meanwhile, another young Indian whom who claimed she was gang-raped last month has killed herself. Police have arrested three suspects who were identified by the 17-year-old in a suicide note.

Two police officers have been fired and a third has been suspended over allegations that they pressured the teenager to recant her story.

To many in Pakistan, the name Bhutto is synonymous with service as well as political power. Well, five years ago, Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Now, her son, beginning his own political career, This is Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, speaking at a rally marking the anniversary of his mother's death.

The young Bhutto told the crowd his family is here to stay and, as he put it, quote, "kill one Bhutto, another Bhutto will emerge."

Isha Sesay has the story.


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari launched his public political career in Pakistan on Thursday, five years to the day after his mother was assassinated.

BILAWAL BHUTTO-ZARDARI, CHAIRMAN, PAKISTAN PEOPLE'S PARTY (via translator): My friends, I have seen a very difficult path. This path is the path to democracy. This is a path of tears of stones, of thorns and this is the path my martyred Benazir taught me how to walk.

SESAY: Benazir Bhutto had served two terms as prime minister of Pakistan and was herself the daughter of Pakistan's leader in the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

In 2007, she'd returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to run in the general elections. She was killed at a campaign rally.

Her son, Bilawal, was picked to lead her party.

BHUTTO-ZARDARI: I am thankful to the C.C. for imposing their trust in me as chairman of the Pakistan People's Party.

SESAY: But he was just 19 and studying at Oxford. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was co-chairman of the party. He ran for president and won.

Now, Bilawal, at age 24, has given his first major speech in Odu (ph) at the family shrine in Sindh Province and his father seemed proud to launch him into political life.

PRESIDENT ASIF ALI ZARDARI (voice-over) (via translator): His education is finished and his training has begun. He has to stay with you, with the workers. He has to learn with you.

He has to learn about Pakistan, learn how to work with you, learn your thinking.

SESAY: Bilawal is still too young to run for office, but will likely be a figurehead in the general elections, expected within a few months.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Atlanta.