Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Laurent Fabius

Aired March 11, 2013 - 16:00:00   ET


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

We start this week with all eyes on the tiny enclave in the heart of Rome called the Vatican state, where we know that soon enough the world will have a new pope. We have no such certainty about when Italy will have a new government two weeks after a deadlocked election.

And there are no sure answers in other much more perilous corners of the globe at this moment, and I'll be touring those trouble spots tonight with one of the world's most prominent foreign ministers.

North Korea sounds more menacing by the day, last week threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against America and today saying it'll abandon the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean War and Seoul is worried, uttering the unutterable now, saying that it, too, might develop its own nuclear arsenal.

Meantime in Syria, it is not enough that the West is looking away as the country collapses and burns or that the refugee crisis has reached the 1 million mark. Now word that the U.N. cannot even get enough humanitarian aid distributing properly in opposition strongholds. And then there's Mali and the ongoing French fight against a resurgent Al Qaeda franchise.

So what is the world to do about all of this? We turn for answers to my exclusive guest, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, a key member of the U.N. Security Council, which often seems caught like a deer in the headlights of disaster and often unable to forge solutions.

So with that, Mr. Minister, welcome to the program.

LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much. I'm pleased to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Let me go straight to North Korea, which you and your Security Council partners are having to deal with.

Do you believe that this is rhetoric now, these increasing belligerent threats coming out of the North? Or are you worried that it might happen?

FABIUS: We are worried because with North Korea nobody never knows. And we have to be very serious about it and to take sanctions and to say to North Korea that we cannot accept its behavior. No, we have to take it very seriously.

AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Fabius, how do you actually resolve this, because there are sanctions and then more sanctions and more sanctions. And that triggers North Korean outbursts, but it also doesn't affect their ability to keep building their nuclear program.

What is the solution when it comes to North Korea?

FABIUS: Well, I think we must have a very accurate talks with China in particular, because you know the influence that China can have on the North Korea.

It's earlier the question of China, but they are -- they can be active in the solution and we have to consult with them very closely, that only then Russia as well and the different members of the Security Council. But we have to explain very directly to North Korea that it is serious this time. And that we don't accept them to go on on the foolish behavior.

AMANPOUR: So which brings me to Syria, because we do seem to see so many differences within the Security Council that it's hard to have a straight policy. We've talked many times about what the solution is in Syria.

But now the shocking news that the United Nations can't even get enough food and medicine, basic humanitarian aid, forget about ending the fight, to the opposition because of playing by the rules, which means you have to go through the Bashar al-Assad government.

Is this not, Mr. Foreign Minister, a clear-cut case for a safe area? Surely Syria needs a safe area now in order simply to have basic humanitarian aid for the opposition.

FABIUS: It is clear that it is a real humanitarian catastrophe. I mean it, the bloodshed, not only in Syria, but also in the surrounding countries, Jordan, Lebanon and so on. And therefore we have to act on many, many issues at the same time.

Humanitarian aspect, political aspect and embargo on weapons as well, because the question is now very, very serious. We cannot accept to have an imbalance between the Bashar al-Assad side, which is supported by Iran and Russia. And the other side with the national coalition, which has no real weapons or (inaudible) weapons.

But coming back to your question, we must -- and we can have means in order to be sure that the humanitarian aid is brought to the provinces themselves, because for the time being, some time it is brought to the Bashar al-Assad regime, which really doesn't make sense.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to Mali, where your forces are in full combat with the Al Qaeda franchise there.

Are you making progress? Will French forces be out on your deadline of April?

FABIUS: Yes. We are making progress. We must remember -- you must remember that we decided to intervene because otherwise Malian state would have become a terrorist state. Now we have intervened with our troops and other African troops and now the towns are recovered, OK. We are in the northern part of Mali and we have destroyed a lot of terrorist groups. And that's a good job.

And we have still some progress to do. But I mean, on the military side, I think we are really performing very well.

But, but -- because there is a but -- we must at the same time make progress on the democratic side and it belongs to the Malian state, who has to determine a dialogue between the north and the south. And at the same time, it is a third aspect, we must insist on the development side. But what has been done up to now in Mali is a very good job.

AMANPOUR: And when can you confirm or not that one of the leading guys, Belmokhtar and his cohorts, were actually among the dead? Do you believe that they are dead?

FABIUS: We are right now having tests, DNA, in order to know who is who. Obviously, it's very difficult, because the bodies are spilled over (ph) and you know, it's very hot in this season in Mali. And therefore the bodies are nearly destroyed. But so far as Abu Ziad, Abu Ziad is one of the leader is concerned, it's very likely that he has been killed.

For the other guys, it's not very clear.

AMANPOUR: And finally, the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said just this last week that the main rule is you don't go into a country which doesn't have a government.

How do you react to his criticism of what your government has done in Mali?

FABIUS: The best reaction is a reaction of all the African countries, when France had decided to intervene, thanks to a decision of President Hollande, all of them -- I mean, all of them have applaused (ph). And now we have international support throughout the Security Council. I think it's the best answer that very calmly (ph) one can bring.

AMANPOUR: And what do you make of his saying that he might be force to come back into public life, sort of to save France?

FABIUS: How you say when you are a diplomat? No comment?

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

FABIUS: Thank you. It's quite a pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we'll examine America's not-so- secret drone campaign against Americans, the ones deliberately targeted and the ones who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But before we take a break, top secret is definitely not what it used to be.

Take a look at this satellite image. That's an airstrip deep in the Saudi Arabian desert, and it is purported to be the secret U.S. drone base. Despite efforts to keep it hush-hush, it was spotted by a reporter on an easily accessible Internet map site. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. The Obama administration won't be able to keep its secretive, targeted assassination program, drone killings, as closely under wraps any more. It's erupted into a full public airing over Obama's new CIA chief, John Brennan.

When he was the counterterrorism chief, Brennan oversaw a massive ramp-up in drone killing. But another reason the program's been getting much more public handwringing here in the United States is because the American government has actually killed three Americans in Yemen, one because it deemed him an Al Qaeda operative.

U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki accused of plotting the so-called underwear bombing of a plane in 2009.

There was another American killed in the same attack, Samir Khan, who ran Al Qaeda's online magazine. But he wasn't on any kill list. And several weeks later, a drone mistakenly killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman al- Awlaki, Anwar's son, who no one accused of being a terrorist and who was just looking for his father.

I spoke with Nasser al-Awlaki a few months ago. He's the father of Anwar and the grandfather of Abdulrahman. I asked him about this situation.


NASSER AL-AWLAKI, FATHER OF ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: You know, he's not a militant. He's a nice boy. He has a Facebook page. And he had a lot of friends.

He's decent boy, smart boy. You know, he wear glasses since he was 7 years old. He's very gentle and soft boy. How can people would say that he's a militant?


AMANPOUR: So Nasser says he's not looking for money or any compensation, but he wants justice for the death of his 16-year-old grandson. And so where does the Obama administration's decision to add Americans to its kill list end? On American soil? And who has oversight over all of this? It's a heated debate that pitches the president against some of his fiercest critics in Congress.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration has worked tirelessly to force a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KY: It worries me that they refuse to answer the question because by refusing to answer it, I believe that they believe they have expansive power, unlimited power.


AMANPOUR: So joining me to discuss all of this is Pulitzer prizewinning "The New York Times" reporter Charles Savage, who uncovered many of the new details. And he's also the author of the book, "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy."

Charles Savage, thank you; welcome to the program.

CHARLES SAVAGE, REPORTER AND WRITER: Thank you for having me on.

AMANPOUR: Now your book, of course, was about the Bush administration. But it looks like in this regard the Obama administration is going way further in terms of the drone program.

SAVAGE: Well, it's certainly true that the Obama administration, as it's come into office and evolved now through an entire term and into the second one, has adopted many of the same rough outlines of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies as they existed at the tail end of the Bush administration.

That's a degree of continuity has surprised some, while others have pointed to the ways in which the Bush administration's policies sort of became more constrained by law or authorized by congressional statutes by the end of that administration so that what made them controversial had drained away a bit by the time Mr. Obama became president.

AMANPOUR: Except that --

SAVAGE: But in terms of drone killings, he's certainly ramped up in places that Bush did not go.

AMANPOUR: Well, precisely. And let's get to that right now, because your front-page expose along with your fellow reporters in "The New York Times" about the killing of Americans, let's first talk about the legal quandary that you describe. How do you think the administration got this legal go-ahead to do all of this? And is it airtight?

SAVAGE: So after the administration started thinking about whether it could target al-Awlaki should they find him from the air with a drone, around the end of 2009, early 2010, the underwear bombing strike time, the asked the Justice Department to develop a legal analysis about whether this would be lawful and whether the fact that al-Awlaki is a citizen -- was born in New Mexico rather than an overseas militant who has no tie to the Constitution or federal statutes that affect only the rights of Americans would make a difference.

And what we know is that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel agonized over this question and presented a complex tangle of both international and domestic legal questions. They produced a sort of quick- and-dirty short memo, thinking that he might be found immediately. And then he wasn't found.

And months passed and they began to grow uneasy about the sort of crashed job they had done on the first one.

And they went back and they wrote a much longer and more comprehensive, more refined analysis addressing some issues they had overlooked in the first memo and eventually grew to something like 63 pages, was still completed about a year -- more than a year before the strike that actually killed Mr. al-Awlaki.

AMANPOUR: Charles, obviously this is hugely controversial in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. But that now we're talking about is Americans being targeted.

What is the slippery slope? And I ask obviously because of Rand Paul's massive 13-hour filibuster. We played a little bit about that.

After that, Eric Holder, the attorney general, sent out a terse sort of one-sentence letter in answer to his question and said, you know, your question, does the president have authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil, the answer to that question is no.

What -- where -- so where do we stand?

SAVAGE: Well, so Senator Paul's filibuster last week was an incredibly interesting moment. And it sort of catalyzed a much wider discussion of some of these very interesting issues that others of us have been focused on for a few years now.

And his ostensible question was can the United States government use a drone to kill an American citizen sitting in a cafe who doesn't present any kind of immediate threat rather than, you know, going in and arresting him and eventually after dragging his feet, the attorney general concedes, no, they can't do that, not just that it would be inappropriate but they would actually be unlawful to.

And this seems to be centered around the notion of if arrest is enough to take care of a problem, then the excessiveness of force, of lethal force, is not authorized. The problem, they say, with al-Awlaki was he was running around sort of rural Yemen; the U.S. had permission for airstrikes but no boots on the ground.

It was not feasible to capture him and bring him back to the United States for a trial. Then what do you do when a problem is ongoing?

AMANPOUR: Well, to that -- to that very question, are you satisfied with all your reporting that there is, you know, sufficient oversight that this doesn't go into a slippery slope? And by the same token, you know, Anwar al-Awlaki is one thing, if they deem him a terrorist. His son was totally a mistaken big, huge blunder to kill him.

SAVAGE: I would put it differently. I'm a journalist. Am I satisfied that there's enough information in the public domain about this? Absolutely not.

We've found no evidence that anyone inside the administration or -- formally or currently is saying, no, that wasn't anything but a mistake, despite the additional gaps we were able fill in yesterday, and the new information we were able to add to the public pile of what is known quite a bit remains to be dragged into the light here and we continue to work on it.

AMANPOUR: Well, we will continue to follow it. Really fascinating, well done. Thanks very much for being with me.

SAVAGE: Thank you so much for having me

AMANPOUR: And after a break, in this increasingly complex and diverse world that we live in, is good governance possible? How about with compassion and wisdom? A piece of clay that 2,600 years old has the answer. And we'll have it when we come back.



AMANPOUR: A final thought tonight, on ancient Persia, today we're served an almost daily diet of tensions and threats among Iran and Israel and the United States over Iran's nuclear program. But not many may know that 2,600 years ago Jews and Iranians -- then called Persians -- lived in harmony, and that the Jews owed their very freedom to the Persian king, Cyrus the Great.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This little clay object, the Cyrus Cylinder, tells us why. You can read the story in the Old Testament, how the first temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, who forced the Jewish people into exile and captivity until the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed the Jews to go home and rebuild their temple.

His account is written on this ancient clay. And if you look closely, you can see the cuneiform figures, the oldest form of writing, carved into the surface. In 1879, the cylinder was discovered in what is now modern Iraq.


AMANPOUR: And it's not just a touchstone for Jews and a source of Iranian identity, it also helps form the basis of democracy and human rights in Europe and at the founding of the United States of America. The cylinder usually resides in the British Museum in London. But it has just started a tour of five major cities here in the United States.

I spoke with museum director, Neil MacGregor, before an audience at the cylinder's first stop, the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. And I asked him about the meaning of this ancient artifact and how its legacy of religious tolerance and enlightened leadership is especially relevant today.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Why is this cylinder so important today, 2,600 years old? What does it mean today?

MACGREGOR: What it means is the first serious attempt that we know about running a society estate in which there were people of different nationalities and different types, because the ancient Persian empire was the first empire to address that.

So we're at the beginning of a new kind of state, a new kind of statecraft.

AMANPOUR: I hadn't been so aware of the incredible role that the ancient Persian King Cyrus plays in the life of Jews, in the life of Jerusalem.

MACGREGOR: He's absolutely central, The Jews, remember, had been attacked by the Syrians by Nebuchadnezzar, by Belshazzar and the people of Jerusalem had been taken captive and deported to Babylon.

And there by the waters of Babylon, they sat down and wept. And then, Cyrus arrives and allows all the deported people, not only the Jews, but especially the Jews to go home, to take with them the vessels from the temple that had been stolen and to rebuild the temple.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, when you have this 2,600-year cylinder in your possession, I mean, does it strike that you that we're in a state of really bad relations right now between Israel and Iran, between the United States and Iran? Do you think it has some kind of worth, particularly today?

MACGREGOR: I think it reminds us how strange that situation is, because through all Jewish history from the prophet Isaiah, from Ezra onwards, Cyrus and the Iranians are the good rulers. They're the rulers who allowed the return.

And when the British government in 1917 issues the Balfour declaration to create the homeland for the Jews in Israel, the Jews of Eastern Europe compare George V King (inaudible) to Cyrus.

Cyrus has always been a hero in Jewish tradition. And the same in the United States, because when the Founding Fathers in the 18th century are trying to decide how you will run the United States, what role will religion play, this is the model. We know that Jefferson had two copies of the biography of Cyrus in his library. He tells his grandson that he should start by studying the life of Cyrus.

The United States Constitution is, in many ways, a reflection of these ideas, is if you want people to live peacefully together, you need to allow different kinds of religion in the same state.

AMANPOUR: So in sum, Cyrus and his heir, Darius, and on and on for about 200 years, they represented a multicultural, multifaith tolerance. Is that -- what -- sum up what they represented?

MACGREGOR: What they represent is the first recognition, I think, that if you're going to run a society with different languages, different beliefs, you cannot impose by force one system. You need to find a way of getting the consent of your different peoples by recognizing their diversity.

AMANPOUR: And what do you hope to achieve by taking on its five-city U.S. tour?

MACGREGOR: Firstly, it's more important like now than ever to understand Iran. And you only understand any country by understanding its history and how it views its own history. And most of us are not taught very much about Iranian history in school.

So I hope it'll allow a large public to think, again, about what it means to be an Iranian if you are an Iranian, how you look at the world, how you think about yourself.

AMANPOUR: Neil Macgregor, thank you very much indeed.

MACGREGOR: Thank you.



AMANPOUR: Religious tolerance, enlightened leadership and great governance, things to live by today. And that is it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always reach us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.