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A Glimmer of Hope for Iran Nuclear Talks; U.S. Crisis Puts World Economy at Risk; Imagine a World

Aired October 15, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


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

Today is the day and Geneva is the setting for the most important nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West in many years, the first test of the hopes raised by President Hassan Rouhani's election and the first demonstration of whether his frenzy of public diplomacy will lead to compromise and solutions or just more words and more stalling.

President Rouhani told me just three weeks ago that negotiations are the only way to resolve the crisis over his country's nuclear program.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): On the nuclear issue, the first point is that the entire world must recognize that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon nor shall it seek a nuclear weapon. But at the same time, it would insist that it will seek its rights like any other nation within the framework of international law.

The only path ahead is negotiations. We must sit down and talk and settle this for once and finally.


AMANPOUR: And so sit down they did. Iran's team, headed up by Foreign minister Javad Zarif, met today in Geneva with the P5+1, that is the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany.

The talks are also due to continue tomorrow. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman is the chief United States negotiator.

Now while no breakthrough is expected just yet, there is a small sign of progress; E.U. officials at the talks describe this round as, quote, "very useful." That is up from just "useful" during negotiations with Ahmadinejad's team last year.

And the Iranian team also called the environment positive and they, for the first time, have conducted the negotiations in English.

The former British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has intimate knowledge of nuclear negotiations, and Hassan Rouhani, because he sat across the table from him when the Iranian president was the country's chief nuclear negotiator a decade ago.


AMANPOUR: Jack Straw, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Let me first ask you then, you know Mr. Rouhani. You've been at this kind of table before. Tell a skeptical world if you believe, is this a real and new chance for proper negotiations?

STRAW: I very profoundly believe that it is a new chance for proper negotiations. President Rouhani is an Iranian and he represents Iran's national interests. So people have got to factor that in. And it's entirely right that he should do that. He is as patriotic for his country as I hope I am for mine.

But my experience of dealing with Dr. Rouhani, as you say, he was the chief negotiator because, at that time under President Khatami, the negotiations were conducted by the National Security Council, which reported direct to the Supreme Leader rather than these negotiations, which are being conducted by the foreign minister Mr. Zarif.

Now at that time, he was accountable and you could do business with him. And we were able to do business with him. It's a matter of quite frustration for everybody concerned that as the United States, the neocons in the United States were becoming more and more difficult. The power changed in Iran and President Khatami was succeeded by President Ahmadinejad with early on a very different agenda.

But for sure I believe that Dr. Rouhani can be someone with whom I can do business.

Moreover it seems to me, from everything I've read and observed, that Dr. Rouhani does enjoy the confidence of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei at the moment, perhaps to a degree that the Khatami government did not or was caught in a kind of crossfire of forces which may now have most been more settled within Iran, not least because the economic situation is much more serious as a consequence, partly of the economic sanctions.

AMANPOUR: Right. Mr. Straw, obviously in your time, they did actually suspend uranium enrichment for a while.

STRAW: They did.

AMANPOUR: But that is apparently a total nonstarter for now, I think, from what I read. And they won't give up their right to enrichment and they're even saying that they will not send out of Iran stockpiles of enriched uranium.

So given the fact that the parameters have changed, the time has changed, what is an acceptable framework of a proposal that you could see right now?

What does Geneva have to produce as a minimum requirement?

STRAW: Well, I'm not in the room and I think one indication that these negotiations are hopefully going well is that very little detail has emerged from that.

There's been unconfirmed report, unofficial report which I have seen, suggesting that the Iranians may have offered some kind of greater and more intrusive inspections of their nuclear facilities over the next six months, as a confidence-building measure, and that would certainly be helpful.

Let me just come to this issue of uranium enrichment, which, in a way, is at the heart of the difficulties of these (inaudible) negotiations. There are people in the international community, particularly Israel and some in the United States, who say that Iran should not be allowed to engage in any enrichment of uranium.

But that would be to -- in the Iranians' eyes, to drive a coach and horses through their clear rights, which they do indeed have under the non- proliferation treaty, to establish and run their own nuclear facilities for civilian, peaceful purposes.

And so if these negotiations get stuck on whether the Iranians are willing to suspend enrichment, then I think they're going to run into difficulties and it seems to me that the much more fruitful avenue to pursue is how you build up confidence by more extensive and intrusive inspections of what the Iranians are actually doing.

You played a clip a moment ago from your interview with Dr. Rouhani, which took place three weeks ago, in which Dr. Rouhani repeated that the Iranians have no ambition and no practice of seeking a nuclear weapon.

And I think these negotiations should take Dr. Rouhani at his word, but also say because they're -- and I say this very much as a friend of Iran; there has been consistent record, I'm afraid, of underdisclosure or late disclosure of what Iran had been doing in terms of its nuclear activities. There's got to be more extensive inspection.

Now we always got -- almost got to that in 2003, when the Iranians in principle agreed to sign what's call an additional protocol to the non- proliferation treaty, which allowed for much more intrusive inspections. But that then ran into the sands of the negotiations became much more difficult.

AMANPOUR: And about the U.S. as well -- obviously Iran has to do a lot to convince everybody of what it says, that it is not making a nuclear weapon, but also the Iranians want something. They want sanctions to be relieved.

How quickly do you think that is possible?

I mean, there is a sanctions expert who's going to be joining these talks, we understand, from the U.S. side. But how quickly and what is appropriate as reciprocal means and confidence building measures?

STRAW: There's got to be reciprocity. I mean, yes, there are people, particularly in the United States, who don't trust the Iranians. But there are also plenty in Iran who, regardless of their politics, for very, very good reasons don't trust the Americans and to a degree don't trust the Brits, either.

So there's got to be a two-way street here. Moreover, Dr. Rouhani may be in a more powerful position than President Khatami was, but he's got his own quite difficult back yard politically to handle. And one of the things I hope we don't get caught by is the American administration. I mean to keep turning over it, look over its shoulder at the pressure from Israel.

Now you ask about what kind of sanctions could be lifted: I think it would be possible for an easier, for the European Union to start lifting some of its sanctions which for sure are hurting the Iranians in advance of any change by the United States or by the United Nations, for the most obvious reason that the politics of this are very much easier to handle within the European Union than they are in the United States, where Congress not least excited by very strong Israeli pressure remains quite difficult to handle.

AMANPOUR: And briefly, are you optimistic that this can be resolved? Does there really involve very bold and courageous steps from both sides, the Iranians and principally the Americans?

STRAW: I think if I was -- yes, really, bold steps by both sides. But the prize is huge.

Iran objectively is a natural ally of the international community and the West, if we would resolve this, not to turn Iran to a kind of cat's paw of the West, but recognize and respecting its strategic and regional importance. It would make relations with Afghanistan, relations with Iraq and a potential solution to the Syria conflict that much easier to secure.

AMANPOUR: Jack Straw, former foreign secretary, thank you so much for joining me.

STRAW: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And tomorrow on this program, key players from Iran and the United States will give us an inside look at the talks so far.

U.S. delegation includes a Treasury Department expert, as I said, who may help negotiate easing sanctions, or at least explain what that will take. Many believe the enforcement of those sanctions is what brought Iran to the negotiating table.

And yet, that enforcement is now compromised by the U.S. government shutdown, or so said Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who, as I said, is the lead U.S. negotiator at the table. She said so just last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I must note here, if I may, Mr. Chairman, to take an extra moment and note, however, our ability to do that, to enforce sanctions, to stop sanctions invaders is being hampered significantly by the shutdown.


AMANPOUR: And that brings us to our next segment. After a break, the world is holding its collective breath to see if the U.S. goes over yet another fiscal cliff. OECD Chief Angel Gurria speaks for the wealthiest nations on Earth. And he says if the U.S. goes down, it could take the haves along with the have-nots.




AMANPOUR: And welcome back to the program.

There isn't life beyond default. That sobering reality check comes from one major international CEO at Deutsche Bank. He said the consequence of a U.S. default, quote, "would be a very rapidly spreading fatal disease."

Now as the U.S. government shutdown continues in Washington, with still no agreement to raise the debt ceiling, does Congress even know what it's doing anymore? Listen to what Speaker John Boehner said just hours ago.


JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Listen, I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn't be anywhere close to it.


AMANPOUR: Well, we are very close to it right now. The United States loses its ability to borrow money as soon as Thursday. The worst-case scenario has gone from, quote, "unthinkable to possible."

As secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, Angel Gurria speaks for 34 of the world's wealthiest countries. He's also Mexico's former finance minister and he's watching with bated breath hoping that the United States does not needlessly put the whole global economy at risk.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Gurria, thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, for your prediction, then, I mean, really, we're down to the final hours. Do you think, knowing the way Congress works, that any kind of compromise can be pushed through both houses in such short time?

GURRIA: Well, you say we're waiting for bated breath. We're getting a little purple here.


GURRIA: Because we thought we would have more breathing space a lot sooner. We still do not have any breakthrough and it's very difficult to understand why the U.S. are doing this to themselves.

We just had a council meeting of the 34 members that form the OECD today, and of course that was practically the only thing we were discussing, the consequences, the possibilities, the ways out, et cetera. And for a message to say please do it, get it done, address the issues, solve the issues, understand it's not just about the U.S. It's the whole of the world.

You said we would bring down the house for the haves and the have- nots. That's absolutely true. The consequences of the United States, even, you know, having a slowdown in the economy, they were the only bright spot so far. It was a good place; things were happening. Jobs were being put back and growth (inaudible) in the United States.

And then this happens. And of course, the rest of the world is suffering the consequences (inaudible) suffer further the consequences.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Gurria, let me just ask you, let's say at the last moment they pull back from the brink.

Well, it may only be pushed down the corridor for another several months, and then this will happen all over again. Again, if there's a deal before Thursday and then we have to go through this all over again in the new year, what kind of cumulative impact does that have on the global economy?

GURRIA: Well, that means we'd pass a very sour Christmas, first of all. And the tension doesn't go away. The danger doesn't go away.

The imminence of the problem doesn't go away and the greatest problem here is regardless of the short term, the United States had to develop a medium- and a long-term context, a medium- and a long-term scenario to deal with their debt, to deal with their growth, to deal with their jobs, to deal with the deficits.

And if they're not able to deal with the short-term, and there's so much acrimony, so much polarization, really one of the concerns, even if we grow forth for the next few weeks, is what's going to happen next. And if it's only going to be kicking the can a few weeks from now, really the problem doesn't go away.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about potentially a whole reshuffle of the - - of the global house of cards. I want to show you something that the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, has just said.

"It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world."

Is that -- is that something that you sometimes think? Do your frustrations lead you to believe that America can't lead anymore?

GURRIA: No, it doesn't. America is leading; America will continue to lead. But that is why we need these procedures, these processes not to go to the brink every time, not to go to the brink of the cliff, you know. We avoided the fiscal cliff then we got into this mini-cliff which is sequestration. That took about 1.5 percent of the growth. We could be growing 1.5 percent more today.

And then, of course, this threatens to stop the growth altogether, even without considering the consequences of some financial markets, on the stock markets, on interest rates throughout the world, on demand, on confidence. These are a lot of unintended consequences, a lot of collateral damage that is done by this happening.

But the U.S. will continue to be the largest economy and of course the U.S. will continue to be the place where the vibrancy of the initiatives where the question of open trade regimes and open investment regimes is going to continue to happen. But that is precisely why we need so badly. We, the whole of the world need the U.S. to get their act together and to lead.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, very, very briefly, because we're running out of time, you recently said, "We trust in the wisdom of U.S. political leaders to raise the debt ceiling and ensure the normal operation of the U.S. government."

So if you could -- if you could get them in a room right now, what would you say to them?

GURRIA: Well, I would just say this is not just for the United States; it's for the whole all over the world. But it is certainly for the present and for the future of the United States. So please be aware of this. Get your act together. Do it. Don't just postpone this for a few weeks, because that's not going to do the trick.

AMANPOUR: Angel Gurria, thank you so much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And while the odds of a happy ending to the U.S. government shutdown go up and down like a seesaw, raising and dashing hopes, the oddsmakers were confident about the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, so why didn't Malala, the young Pakistani girl who took a bullet in the head for peace, get the award? I'll ask the man who counted the votes when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as the United States and Iran go the extra mile to keep the peace, imagine a world where awarding the peacemakers isn't controversial. Since the first Nobel Peace Prize was given over a century ago, there have been some curious choices, just to name a few.

Could we continue reading?

This year's worthy recipient, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has made the planet a safer place by destroying much of the world's chemical stockpiles and it's currently hard at work in Syria and yet many are asking why wasn't it Malala?

While some say the Pakistani teenager was too young, there are also questions about awarding the prize to the OPCW. No one is better able to answer those questions than Thorbjorn Jagland, who is chairman of the Nobel Committee.


AMANPOUR: Thorbjorn Jagland, thank you so much for joining me from Strasbourg.

Let me start by asking you, is the Nobel Committee deliberately trying to cause controversy? Are you looking for the -- for the difficulties here when it comes to choosing the Peace Prize winner?

THORBJORN JAGLAND, CHAIRMAN, NOBEL COMMITTEE: This year is the 20th anniversary of opening of the signature of the chemical weapons convention. So the committee is very often using such occasions to issue awards and, of course, we have looked at the work that OPCW has done, which was establish under this convention.

And it was really impressive. And we wanted to give a signal to the world that now we have the possibility to (inaudible) a whole category of weapons of mass destruction.

AMANPOUR: Obviously the OPCW's work is amazingly important. We all know that. Weapons of mass destruction have no business on our planet and anything we can do to get rid of them is fantastic.

But as you know, your critics are saying that this award at this time was much more aspirational than actually about achievement and breakthrough. After all, the OPCW has only just hit the ground in Syria and it's not even sure whether it will be successful.

JAGLAND: This award was not given because of the operations in Syria. Actually, we decided this before what happened in Syria, this summer. And if you look at what this organization has done, it's very impressive. Eighty percent of chemical weapons have been eliminated and more than 90 percent of production capacity.

So we have awarded this organization because what the organization has done, but of course it's very important also now to give a kind of moral support to what it is going to do in Syria, which is a very, very difficult task, of course.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Jagland, Malala Yousafzai is exactly the same age as the OPCW. She's 16 years old. And one could say that she has already, at the age of 16, put her life on the line for peace through education.

A lot of people think that you did -- made a mistake, that the Nobel should have given the prize to Malala.

What do you say to them?

JAGLAND: Malala is an outstanding, courageous woman. She will certainly be a candidate for future years. We cannot award people or organizations based on polls. We have to look at the will (ph) of Arthur Nobel. And from time to time, or let me put it like this; we never explain why we didn't get a prize to a person or an organization. We only explain why we did it to the one that got the prize.

AMANPOUR: You said we don't give it according to polls. Well, of course, there weren't polls; she actually took a bullet to the head for peace. So I just want to know that was the poll. The poll was the Taliban shooting her in the head.

JAGLAND: No, I appreciate the big engagement in this. And but the committee has awarded such personalities so many times. And lately, to (inaudible) that got what committed to 11 years in prison in China.

But we cannot do it every year. We have to also look at the will (ph) of Arthur Nobel and the current situation in the world and then therefore we came to the conclusion that this year we should award OPCW.

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

JAGLAND: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And of course we do wish the OPCW great success in their incredibly risky endeavor in Syria.

And of course controversy is nothing new for the Nobel Peace Prize. Its benefactor, Alfred Nobel, made his fortune inventing dynamite and later he became an ardent pacifist.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.