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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Cardinals' Conclave Begins; Iran-US Relations

Aired March 12, 2013 - 16:00:00   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. So far it is black smoke from the small chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

So no new pope yet. It is the first day and according to one papaphile, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who managed one final letter to his diocese before going into full conclave lockdown, "My guess is," he said, "that we'd have a new successor of St. Peter by Thursday evening."

Now it's said that no one does pomp and circumstance quite like the British monarchy. But the Vatican must be a close second.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): There's the singing, the processionals, the red robes, the pure pageantry as 115 voting cardinals gathered for mass and the election of the next pope.

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AMANPOUR: Not to mention the glory of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's Biblical masterpieces. Outside, even the weather was epic: torrential rain poured down on St. Peter's Basilica, reminding us of this incredible site, the very day Pope Benedict announced that he would resign.

The Holy Spirit at work? Well, it's certainly needed right now as the church prepares for a new papacy to lead it out of crises ranging from financial to sexual abuse and a crisis of confidence as many Catholics who love their faith want to see the Vatican clean up the house of God and get more in touch with the needs of the people.

My guest tonight is Cardinal Edward Egan, who's witnessed the changing of the guard at the Vatican five times. He's taken part in one conclave, the one that elected Pope Benedict eight years ago. Now at 80, he's over the voting age, but he did join the cardinals' meetings ahead of this conclave. Cardinal Egan is just back from Rome and I asked him about the next pope's most important mission.

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AMANPOUR: Cardinal Egan, welcome to the program.

CARDINAL EDWARD EGAN: Well, thank you for inviting me, Christiane. I'm delighted to be here with you.

AMANPOUR: Cardinal, as all eyes are on Rome, let's see where the next papacy is going to lead us. Look, by a vast majority, Roman Catholics believe their church and their faith is relevant but also by a majority they believe the church is sort of out of touch and it needs a new direction.

Do you think a new pope will bring a new direction?

EGAN: Well, I think we have to be careful, Christiane, on saying what Catholics largely believe or desire, you know? Those generalities sometimes are not really accurate.

AMANPOUR: But sir, they're polling; they're polls.

EGAN: Yes, I know. But I think, for instance here in New York, there's a great happiness and satisfaction with the church and the direction that it is taking. Certainly we've had our problems, but I truly believe that there is much confidence and trust that things are going in the right direction and will continue to do that.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because certainly I assume you'd agree with me, despite what those polls said -- I know you don't take them to heart.

But would you agree, then, that this papal conclave is taking place at a time of unprecedented turmoil, at least in our modern era, turmoil in the Catholic Church? Obviously, the financial scandals that have come to light, the clergy sexual abuse scandals.

EGAN: Certainly no one is going to deny that we've had our difficulties, especially the last several years. But I would also insist that there's much about which to be very confident and very hopeful. And I am just exactly that.

AMANPOUR: Cardinal, there is somewhat of a crisis of faith, though. You talk about faith but confidence is very important amongst the adherents. And let's just look at priests, for instance. Priestly ordinations here in the United States which were 994 back in 1965 were only 480 in 2012. In other words, practically plummeting by half.

How do you get these people into the church to spread the faith?

EGAN: I know that you have spent some time at the Pontifical North America College in Rome over these last several weeks. And I think you've seen the size of that college; it's grown in the last several years. I think it's almost doubled in the last three or four years in the number of students.

And the same thing here in the Archdiocese of New York. We are now over 100 in our major seminary. And it includes the other two nearby dioceses. But nonetheless, we're growing.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about this moment, because Pope Benedict resigned and sort of upset the apple cart, so to speak, in terms of tradition for the last 600 years, do you agree that it's a transformative moment?

And do you agree with what some people are saying that, look, now that the pope has resigned and made a clear statement about what he did and why he did it, could resignation be on the cards for future popes? Could a pope be fired, for instance?

EGAN: Well, the last question is, no, a pope could not be fired. But regarding future popes resigning, this is the way I feel about this, Christiane.

The years go on and we all feel very well and healthy and we say that everything is going great. But the years do have effect on all of us. And it can be that, at a certain point, our health is such that we aren't able to handle the job that has been assigned us.

I believe that, for instance, in the person who's in charge of CNN, if he was getting up in years or she was getting up in years, and feeling that the health wasn't what it should be and so forth, it would be nothing strange about resigning. Now it's true that there hasn't been much resigning in the history of the Catholic Church.

But the fact that there has not been resigning does not suggest that this is something that is unheard of or unacceptable or in some ways challenging. It is not at all.

This wonderful man felt that he needed to step aside. I suspect it was reasons of health. I have no inside information. He made the decision and I would say that I'm at peace with the decision. And I think the Catholic world is at peace with the decision.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the head of CNN, perhaps, deciding to resign for all sorts of age and health reasons. Well, the head of CNN is obviously not infallible. The pope is. Do you think that by resigning that mystique about the pope has taken a bit of a knock?

EGAN: Not in my estimate and the people with whom I've spoken do not feel that way at all. The terrorism of infallibity is the terrorism of the bishop of Rome.

And when the bishop of Rome speaks infallibly, that is on faith and morals, using the -- all of his authority from the Lord, he is infallible. And this is done very, very seldomly. And I don't think that a resignation calls that into question on any way at all, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: OK, Cardinal. What about what are the qualities that the next pope needs? For instance, Pope Benedict was called a brilliant scholar and intellectual, but lacking in management skills. Does the next pope need to be a great communicator and a great administrator?

EGAN: Yes, it has to be someone who knows how to govern, as they say here. He has to be someone who knows how to guvernade (ph), how to run things, administrate (sic) things, manage things. It has to be someone who can handle criticism with calm and with trust in God.

AMANPOUR: But let me take this opportunity to offer you -- to clear up a situation about what you said about the sex abuse scandals in your own parish.

In 2002, you offered a conditional apology for handling of the sex abuse in the Bridgeport parish, saying that, "If in hindsight we discovered that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry. But then last year you retracted that and you said, "I never should have said that. I don't think we did anything wrong."

EGAN: See, I think we did very, very well and in the various statements that one makes, one has to be very, very careful. But I'm happy with the way things have happened here in New York. I'm happy in the way things happened in Bridgeport and I think that we will continue to see great progress in both. In fact, I intend to see and to look forward to a very happy and good situation in both places.

AMANPOUR: But do you think an apology for those kinds of abuses --

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EGAN: I don't want to go back, Christiane, to statements that I've made years ago. I'm happy with what we've done. I'm happy with the positions I've taken. And I hope and pray that the future holds nothing but good in all of this area.

AMANPOUR: You were in the conclave to choose Pope Benedict. What is it like when all the cardinals are there the first day; they're making their votes? What is the atmosphere like?

EGAN: Well, I can tell you what my own feeling was. How's that?

I was very deeply touched, very deeply honored to think that I would be among those who'd elect a bishop of Rome, a successor of St. Peter. And so I was buoyed up with a feeling of being greatly honored, a feeling that what I needed to do above all else during that time was to converse with my God and to make sure that the Lord knew that I'm going to make the choice that I believe he wants.

AMANPOUR: Did you vote for Pope Benedict?

EGAN: Oh, come on.

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EGAN: So I think we have done it well, Christiane, and you know that I cannot say anything about what happened --

AMANPOUR: I know; I'm just trying to get something out of you there.

EGAN: Well, no. You and I are friends now and I always have maintained the kind of secrecy that was requested and I always will.

AMANPOUR: When you all vote and it becomes clear, how does the lucky candidate know? Do you go and tell him? How does that work?

EGAN: Well, it's announced when the number of votes are achieved. It'll be 77 votes this time. And then everyone knows that 77 have been achieved and everyone is delighted with the new choice and then he is approached and asked, does he accept the choice. And if he says yes, they ask what name do you choose? And then we watch on CNN to see what follows after that.

AMANPOUR: I hope everybody's watching on CNN.

Cardinal Egan, thank you very much for joining me.

EGAN: Thank you, Christiane.

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AMANPOUR: And so as we watch over the next several days for the white smoke to signal the new pope, there was pink smoke in Rome today. Now a papal conclave is a kind of sacred political convention. And a magnet, therefore, for activists. A woman's group seeking female ordination in the catch priesthood sent out this pink smoke signal.

And when we come back, another changing of the guard, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were fast friends and allies. But now that Chavez has died and Ahmadinejad is stepping down in June, I'll ask a top Iranian insider: is there a chance for a new beginning with the West?

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We go from Rome now to Iran, and incidentally, one of the papal frontrunners' strong points is his outreach to Islam. But that, of course, has nothing to do with our next story, which is actually about Iran's relationship with the United States and Iran's nuclear program.

There were new nuclear talks last month in Almaty, Kazakhstan. And Iran, the U.S. and key U.N. member nations are due to meet again next month to see if they can resolve the crisis diplomatically and not militarily. Both sides are publicly portraying the latest talks positively, although onlookers as diverse as Israel and Saudi Arabia say they remain skeptical that Iran intends to be fully transparent about its nuclear ambitions.

Meantime, can Iran actually make any key policy changes before its presidential election in June? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's final term is up then. At the same time, an extraordinary political fight between the president and one of Iran's most powerful families, has gone viral.

In February, Ahmadinejad stunned the Iranian parliament by playing a DVD that he said showed corruption in the Larijani family. Ali Larijani, the parliament speaker, angrily denied it and accused the president of trying to blackmail him over the impeachment of a key minister.

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ALI LARIJANI, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER (through translator): Ahmadinejad's deputy came to me this morning and said, "I have an urgent message from the president."

He said if this impeachment is not solved, he has a tape about one of my relatives and will play it. And he threatened me. I have a lot of information about the president's friends. But I believe I shouldn't say anything and create tension in the country.

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AMANPOUR: Threats and counterthreats.

Now Larijani's brother, Dr. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, is my guest tonight. He's a key foreign policy adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader. He joined me earlier from Geneva to discuss all of these issues.

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AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, welcome to the program.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ARDASHIR LARIJANI, IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: The West seems to want Iran to stop producing and enriching uranium to 20 percent. Is that something that Iran is going to agree to?

LARIJANI: Well, I think this is very simple. They should sell it to us. If we can buy it like 15 years ago, we bought it some Argentina, then there is no need to produce it. Technologically and scientifically we are capable to produce it, as we -- as we did. But the minute they sell it to us, they are more than we need for the Tehran reactor, there is definitely no need to produce it. It is a simple test. Yes?

AMANPOUR: And what about the concerns by the IAEA and others of the new, more sophisticated centrifuges that, even as you talk, there is more uranium being enriched every day?

LARIJANI: Well, the sophistication of the centrifuges is not only tested by more enrichment. It is tested by creating the same level of enrichment with less steps. So that we can upgrade our generators and upgrade our centrifuge devices and other techniques, this is an honest-to- God right. It could be done; it is done under NPT provisions.

That how -- what level of enrichment that we are entitled to do, this is another issue that also covered by NPT. So if the Western community wants Iran to stop development of this capability, this is -- this is very bad request.

We are a moving nation. We are going to capture higher levels of scientific achievements. But if they are concerned about moving in the direction of producing nuclear armament, this is a fantastic concern we are questioning with them. We are ready to accept all mechanisms under NPT to supervise this direction of our development.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you in that regard about talks between the United States and Iran. You know that it's been, again, raised by the American side; and your own ambassador to the United Nations has said that actually Iran is not against talks with the United States.

Where does all of that stand? And is there any chance of bilateral talks?

LARIJANI: Dialogue is one of the part and parcels of this modality of interaction. Perhaps in my view, United States wants Iran to accept this leadership in the -- in the mondial (ph) affair or regional affair. But I think this is a very bad request.

But any initiative, leading any initiative is fantastic. So the basic is not that we are refraining or shying away from talking with the United States. The issue is that how we can restructure this relation after 35 years of hostility and, right now, unfortunately, it's at the peak of that.

AMANPOUR: So do you see any opening? I ask you because the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, gave quite a strong speech a few weeks ago, saying that, you know, we won't talk with your gun pointed at our head.

Do you see any opening for bilateral talks on these outstanding issues?

LARIJANI: Well, my recommendation -- let me put it this way -- first will be toward the United States government that let us design in the new models of relation with Iran, acknowledging Iran what it is. We do not want to be more than what we are. And the line of hostility was a grand failure, not only for United States' interests in Iran, also in the region.

For the Iranian side, my recommendation to the diplomatic machinery is that -- I mean, the -- also we should think about new models approach, even if United States considered an active hostile state, hostility needs also management.

AMANPOUR: So if I read you right, you're saying that there is a possibility of moving in that direction.

Let me ask you, though, a lot of people are looking inside Iran at domestic politics and wondering whether anything can be achieved.

We have got the most unbelievable video that obviously you've all seen in Iran of these -- this fight between your own family and President Ahmadinejad, when the president came to parliament and accused a member of your family of corruption and using his family -- his family connections, your brother as speaker of the Iranian parliament, very angry about it and said that Mr. Ahmadinejad was trying to blackmail him.

What exactly is going on?

LARIJANI: Well, this is -- well, I'm surprised that you consider that something is (inaudible). I mean, this is part of our democratic structure. Yes, we have political rivalry. And the use of this kind of technique, while I don't think it is ethical, but unfortunately it's common in the democratic world.

Yes, there is competition; as you mentioned, we are a famous family in Iran and you can -- you can have similar to this kind of phenomenon in the United States and France and other places. I do not stipulate and do not accept this way of conduct anywhere with any adversary. But I think this is not alarming.

This not -- this should not disturb us. Yes, there is plenty of criticism against us as a strong family as well.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about the president again.

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, died, as you know, after a long battle with cancer.

And, again, extraordinary pictures of President Ahmadinejad in Caracas, Venezuela, kissing the coffin, having said that Hugo Chavez will rise like Jesus or the Hidden Imam, the 12th Imam, and then a picture of President Ahmadinejad embracing and crying with a woman, the mother of Hugo Chavez. Again, rather unusual; how is that being received inside Tehran?

LARIJANI: Well, I think for me, as a politician, the most important achievement of Ahmadinejad is that he developed a relation with Latin America countries drastically. I think he should get the credit of that.

Whether the issue of -- other issue that whether he is coming with the expected imam, no, well, these things, we leave it to the olimars (ph) and the (inaudible) to respond to (inaudible). He's a very sensitive person, perhaps his father, mother of Chavez or the wife of Chavez. He was totally -- was changed. I mean, his -- he was sensitive on that.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, thank you very much for joining me.

LARIJANI: Thank you.

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AMANPOUR: And while popes and presidents enter and exit the stage, one ageless rock star changes his skin again and is still on top, when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, popes come and go; they even retire. And some, like the late John Paul II, remain rock stars even after death.

But musical rock stars flash across the sky like, well, shooting stars, and vanish just as quickly.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): And then there's David Bowie, still the king of out-there music and videos, like this brand-new release featuring the actress Tilda Swinton. "The Next Day" is Bowie's first album in 10 years, and the 30th in his decades-long career. And it's already topping the iTunes charts around the world. He's being hailed as the greatest comeback album in history.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): But resurrection and reinvention are nothing new for David Bowie. Ever since he was a young man, searching for a musical identity back in the 1960s, he's been constantly redefining himself as Ziggy Stardust, one of his many alter egos, he was glam long before Lady Gaga, pushing the gender envelope while blending the smoothness of Frank Sinatra with the sensuality of Mick Jagger.

And now at the age of 66, having survived a heart attack, the reclusive David Bowie is still pushing the envelope and putting the sex back into sexagenarian.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always reach out via Twitter @camanpour. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

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