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Egypt and U.S.: A "Turbulent" Relationship; Diplomatic Feud between Russia and Netherlands; Imagine a World

Aired October 17, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


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

"Let the American aid go to hell." That is one bold reaction to the U.S. decision to cut some of its military assistance to Egypt, splashed across a newspaper there.

President Barack Obama's decision to send a strong warning to the generals running that country today caught many there by surprise and led to the predictable rhetorical backlash. Egypt, after all, is a critical U.S. ally in the region and it's the second biggest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.

The decision to suspend delivery of tanks, fighter jets, helicopters and missiles as well as $260 million in cash came three months after the Egyptian people demanded the army depose Mohammed Morsy, the country's first democratically elected president.

At the time last July, the U.S. refrained from calling that a coup. But after a violent crackdown on Morsy supporters, which has left hundreds dead, thousands in prison, including the Muslim Brotherhood's top leaders, and even an ongoing campaign against activists and journalists, the United States and President Obama could no longer turn a blind eye.

The ex-president, Morsy, is still locked up in an undisclosed location, a trial date of November 4th has just been set.

Now Egypt's interim leaders insist that they are protecting democracy, not trying to crush it. And tonight we have a rare opportunity to talk to one of those leaders, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, who strongly criticized the U.S. for suspending some of its decades-long support. He hints that Egypt will turn elsewhere for its weapons if it has to.

But where does all of this leave two allies joined in a marriage of vital necessity? I asked the foreign minister when he joined me from Cairo earlier.


AMANPOUR: Nabil Fahmy, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.


AMANPOUR: You said that relations with the U.S. are in turmoil and your office has said that this decision is wrong.

Tell me what you mean.

FAHMY: Well, actually, I gave the statement in Arabic, and it's closer to that we're going through turbulence rather than turmoil.

What I meant -- and I'm serious about it and I will say it again if asked again -- is that this has been a relationship that has a continuity to it, especially on strategic issues like military cooperation. And any disruption in that continuity raises concerns. That's really what I meant.

I also said in the same statement that this is a very important relationship to both countries and that we need to work to enhance it because it serves both sides.

AMANPOUR: You yourself have said that it will have negative repercussions for U.S. interests in the region.

What are those?

And what negative repercussions for Egypt?

FAHMY: First of all, it's not a cutoff. It's a freeze or a delay in delivering equipment. That's the first point.

Secondly, even that which is much less than a cutoff indicates that there is -- you cannot depend on the continuity of the programs and these are programs that relate to national security. That's why they become a serious question.

Now if your friends in the region, when they're facing terrorism in particular, cannot depend on a continuous supply of equipment that deals with terrorism, then you obviously, when they raise questions in the minds of your friends about your dependability, and that will affect your interest as well as that of your friends like Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you a portion of what President Obama said just before this partial cutoff of military aid. Let's listen to President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals.

There's no doubt that we can't return to business as usual, given what's happened.


AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Foreign Minister, what's happened, of course, was the shooting of anti-government protesters, not just in July but also this past month, in October, the imprisonment, all of those things the president's saying go against U.S. and in fact democratic values.

What is your answer to that? Because it looks like the U.S. has been pushed into this partial cutoff. It didn't do it right after the events of July 3rd when the president was deposed.

FAHMY: What you need to take into account is that Egypt is going through a societal transformation and trying to build democratic society. What I mean here specifically is while we in last year elected a president through democratic process, he did not then govern democratically and wanted to pursue non-inclusive politics.

What we're trying to do now is rewrite a constitution that includes all of us, then hold two elections, Parliament and president, so this is a historic transformation in Egypt. It's not going to be easy. There will be ups and downs.

And I would simply mention that what we're trying to do almost is a miracle in comparison to how long and how many stumbles other countries went through before they developed their democracy, including the United States, by the way.

AMANPOUR: Let me just push you, though, on what President Obama has said and the stumbles, as you call them, that you're experiencing right now.

So many in Egypt who actually supported what happened in July are now saying hang on a second, it's going too far. The military is becoming all- powerful. This is even more draconian than under the Mubarak era.

Do you admit at least that there have been mistakes made by the military, by your current interim government?

FAHMY: Look, as I said, this is a major, very substantive societal transformation. The reason why I don't compare it to Tunisia was that had the previous government compromised with the non-Islamists, it wouldn't be where we are today and there wouldn't have been a reason to dispose (sic) the president.

What the people wanted at the time was new elections to have an inclusive government. What we're facing now is a result of having to depose two presidents in 2.5 years. So it is a major challenge.

But the challenge, frankly, is not about pleasing the United States or pleasing the West. It's about finding a democratic system that includes all Egyptians. That's the task. That's what we're trying to do.

Will there be mistakes? There obviously will be points of tension, points of controversy. But you have to look at the overall context of what's happening and how significant it is.

Again, if I refer you back to the U.S. system, it took you a very long number of years before you gave African-Americans equal rights in America. So let's just respect how difficult it has been . This is -- this is -- the challenge is we're facing here.

But we will move forward and we will pursue an inclusive government for all Egyptians that are peaceful and looking to build a modern state in Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Regarding American military aid, the cutoff in some of that aid, there is also from the army speculation or suggestion that you might turn to Russia to make up the shortfall.

Is that correct?

FAHMY: Our national security needs will be met. A very strong portion of that is now being done with the U.S., and we would be quite happy and look forward to continuing to do that.

If they are not met, then we will find other sources. AMANPOUR: Do you think the trial, the upcoming trial of former President Morsy will create a backlash and more tension?

FAHMY: Well, in that case in particular, for lack of a better term, we're between a rock and a hard place. If there's no trial, then people will argue that you cannot hold somebody under arrest without putting him before the courts. And I agree with that.

Once you put him to trial, it obviously will raise tensions. But we have to respect the law. We have to allow for due diligence. We have to provide people due process and the right to defend themselves. And that's what's going to happen. It's going to be a difficult phase. But following the law, as difficult as it may be, is better than ignoring the law, which we cannot accept in a democratic state.

AMANPOUR: And now what about the all-powerful leader of Egypt today, which is the defense minister, General Al-Sisi? There is a cult of personality developing around him; I'm interested to read about even confectionery shops making his likeness out of chocolate and other such things.

But slightly more seriously, a tape has been leaked, showing that he is trying to get positive coverage by the media in Egypt, even to the extent of allowing him to present himself for president or if he doesn't make it to go back to his current job and having that guaranteed under the constitution.

What is your reaction to that?

Will he run for president?

Is that a good idea?

FAHMY: Well, first of all, let me -- let me answer the first part of your question.

There's no doubt that the Egyptian army, led by General al-Sisi, gained tremendous support publicly because of what happened last July when the former president was disposed (sic). And that's a reflection of the anger the public had about having their rights taken away from them again after they had regained them to a year and a half earlier, in 2011.

So I think it's a reflection of the challenge that was before the Egyptian people.

Now does the general have support of the people in that respect? Yes, yes, he does.

But the most powerful person and the most powerful lobby, if you want, in Egypt today is the Egyptian people. It's not a person per se. We will have democratic elections for parliament and for president. And the people will choose who the next leader will be.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's appropriate that General al-Sisi presents himself as a presidential candidate?

FAHMY: When we get to that phase ,we'll see what the constitution says. We haven't even finished that yet. What the election law says, we haven't done that, either. So let's just get to that point and then we'll see what the population will say after looking at the constitution and the law will be what guides us.

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

FAHMY: Thank you for having me.


AMANPOUR: And the foreign minister says that there will probably be presidential elections by next summer. You can see the full interview with him on our website,, where he also talks about the struggling Egyptian economy and the rise of terrorism in the Sinai.

Now Egypt's relationship with the United States, as we said, may be under strain. But this week put Iran and the United States and other Western powers back on a more solid footing. New nuclear talks in Geneva are being heralded as the most significant in years, as chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman told me on this program yesterday.


WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. LEAD NEGOTIATOR FOR IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS: Foreign Minister Zarif and his delegation came prepared for detailed, substantive discussion with a candor that I certainly have not heard in the two years I've been meeting with Iranians and my P5+1 colleagues some of whom have been doing this for quite some time, found quite new and different.


AMANPOUR: Now the negotiators are not talking publicly about actual concrete details. So I asked Robert Einhorn, who spent more than four years in nuclear negotiations with the Iranians before leaving the State Department recently whether indeed a breakthrough is possible at this time.


ROBERT EINHORN, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISOR FOR NONPROLIFERATION AND ARMS CONTROL AT THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: Well, clearly there were no major breakthroughs, major agreements. But I think there may have been some convergence on the overall framework for the negotiations, hinted at by both the Iranian and the American sides.

And that framework could involve two elements, a near-term interim deal linked to an understanding about the main elements of a comprehensive long-term deal.

Now this -- the near-term deal may be six months or so, would be designed to address the principle worries of both sides. The Iranian concerns about even additional sanctions and the U.S. concerns about Iran making further advances in its nuclear program while negotiations were taking place on a comprehensive agreement.

So I can imagine that an early element of the process will be to try to reach agreement on a package of confidence-building measures. And once that is achieved and implemented, then they could begin looking at long- term agreement, including the difficult issue of what kind of civil nuclear program Iran would be able to retain.

AMANPOUR: What would those interim confidence-building measures that you mentioned look like?

EINHORN: Well, I think for the U.S. side, it would be very important to try to halt advances in the Iranian program.

And so a production of the near 20 percent enriched uranium, addressing current stockpiles of near 20 percent, dealing with concerns about construction of this reactor at Iraq, to address concerns about the installation of advanced centrifuges, all of these things would be needed to be addressed in an interim deal.

And for Iran, of course, they want to show near-term sanctions relief. And they will insist on some kind of sanctions relief measures. But the U.S. and its partners will be very reluctant to go too far in that area. It will want to keep the most consequential sanctions in place involving finance and oil so that it will retain leverage to achieve an acceptable comprehensive deal.


AMANPOUR: More of that interview online as well.

And another arena of international prestige is the world of sport. Now Iran is doing well on that score, having qualified for the World Cup.

But Egyptians are reeling from one more blow to their national pride, a lopsided loss to Ghana may have crushed Egypt's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsy say the loss was karmic payback for removing him from office, thus showing that politics and sports are never far apart.

And so to Russia, which hosts the Winter Olympics in February, politics and sports have collided there over gay rights. Have government policy become a license to hate? We'll explore when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

In Russia, fallout from the decidedly undiplomatic treatment of a senior Dutch diplomat named Onno Elderenbosch, who was attacked and beaten in his Moscow apartment yesterday by two intruders. They left behind a heart drawn on his mirror in lipstick with the initials "LGBT," or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

And just last week, Dutch police arrested a Russian diplomat in The Hague. They released him several hours later and apologized to Moscow.

So these are just the latest in a series of incidents between the two countries and the latest in Russia's anti-gay law controversy. Last spring on a visit to Amsterdam, President Vladimir Putin was none too pleased to be met by a parade of pro-gay protesters. International pressure on Russia to overturn the law will surely increase as February's Winter Olympics in Sochi approach.

And what about the case of 30 Greenpeace environmental activists who've been jailed and charged with piracy, which carries a sentence of 15 years behind bars in Russia? Their Dutch flagship was boarded off the Russian Arctic Coast last month.

My guest tonight from Moscow is journalist Masha Gessen. She's writing about all these crackdowns and she's also personally impacted by the anti-gay propaganda law, because as a gay parent, she is raising her children in Russia.

Masha Gessen, thank you for joining me. Let me first ask you -- and I have to say that we have a bit of a satellite delay -- let me first ask you about what seems to be going on between Russia and the Netherlands.

Is this just a tit-for-tat diplomatic spat?

Or is there a gay element thrown in?

MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: It's everything. But the thing is that Putin has been running the country like a thug for 14 years. And he is really just showing that face to the world. What happened between the Netherlands and Moscow in this incident with the diplomat could have happened with any other country. It's not specific to the Dutch-Russian relationship.

But it is specific to the way Russia is treating the rest of the world. The Russian diplomat in Amsterdam was detained on suspicion of domestic violence. He was apparently seen by neighbors beating his children.

And then two days later, a Dutch diplomat is beaten up. The Dutch are saying that there's no way that a random assailant would have known where this diplomat lived or would have known enough to leave the initials "LGBT" on the mirror. This was a high-level diplomatic message of sorts.

AMANPOUR: But why is Russia doing that? Why is the government doing that against this diplomat?

GESSEN: Russia is showing the rest of the world what it thinks of it.

It thinks nothing of detaining 30 people, most of whom are not Russian citizens, one of whom is actually a working journalist, on this incredible charge of piracy, even though the ship they were on was in international waters and essentially they've been -- they're facing jail sentences of up to 15 years for peaceful protests. They were protesting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

And it's -- the message to the world is basically we're going to do whatever we want, and there's nothing you can do to us. It's a bully's message.

AMANPOUR: I said in my introduction that this actual anti-gay propaganda law affects you. You are a gay parent, raising your children there. Are you going to stay? Or are you going to leave before it comes into effect?

GESSEN: We're going to leave, not before the propaganda law comes into effect; the propaganda law has been in effect since the beginning of July. But in February another law is coming up for a vote in parliament.

This will allow social services to remove children from people who are known or believed to be homosexual. That affects our three kids, one of whom is already in the States because he's adopted and most vulnerable. And the other two are still in Moscow. And we're all going to leave at the end of the year before they pass this law. And they will pass the law.

AMANPOUR: So what -- I mean, I guess the question is what is going on? Obviously there's been a huge amount of international pressure, particularly around the Olympics, people trying to have an impact on Russia regarding this law.

Is it having any impact whatsoever, pressure from outside?

GESSEN: Well, it is in a way and unfortunately it is causing Russia to take an even more aggressive stand. It doesn't make the pressure wrong to my mind, but I think, again, if you think of it as dealing with a bully in the street or in a schoolyard, this is the kind of reaction you're going to get.

And Putin is acting like a cornered animal or again, like a bully who's being confronted. He's lashing out. His government is doing more and more extraordinary (ph) things. Again, and that the -- on the one hand, they arrested the 30 people who are on Arctic Sunrise, which is the ship that was seized.

On the one hand, it's outrageous; it's not like anything we have seen in recent years. But on the other hand, it is part and parcel of the larger crackdown that's been going on in Russia for at least the last year and a half, which is affecting anybody who's perceived as an outsider and which is colored by this very, very strong and articulated anti-Western rhetoric.

AMANPOUR: How do you make or what do you make of the fact that a sizable number of Russians actually take pride in what Putin is doing, particularly in this regard, and they believe that he's saving the nation from some kind of corruption?

What does he think and how does he think the nation can be damaged without putting this anti-propaganda law in place?

GESSEN: Well, first of all, I -- those figures are not particularly reliable. They're not particularly reliable for a number of reasons, which most of them are a little too involved to go into. But basically opinion polling in authorization societies is notoriously unreliable. People mouth back what they are being told on television partly because they don't get any other messages, partly because they fear saying anything else. So I don't -- I don't think that that's a really important thing to discuss.

Does Putin have support in these policies? Of course he does. I mean, hate sells everywhere and hate sells particularly well in countries where nothing else is on television, which is the situation that we've had in Russia for years.

AMANPOUR: So where do you see this going as the Olympics come up, as the months and years progress, where do you see the trend in terms of democracy, civil liberties, going in Russia?

GESSEN: I'm not even sure those words are applicable at this point. Where do I see the trend in terms of the crackdown? The crackdown will continue . The crackdown will intensify. There is a possibility that just before the Olympics, they might accept some sort of grudging compromise just to make sure that the Olympics go off relatively smoothly.

So it's possible that the Arctic 30 will benefit from it. It's possible that there will be several people released under an amnesty that's supposed to go into effect in December. These will be temporary measures. Again, this is -- I will go back to the bully analogy, because I think it's extremely useful to understanding what's going on.

If a bully is cornered, he might sort of spiral (ph) the thing back at you and say, here, have it; I didn't want it in the first place. That doesn't stop his bullying. And that's what's happening in Russia. The crackdown will certainly continue. I think it will intensify after the Olympics. Whatever concessions they make before the Olympics, which may or may not occur, will be temporary.

AMANPOUR: Masha Gessen, thank you very much indeed for joining me from Moscow.


AMANPOUR: And while human rights as we hear remain an issue in Russia, the basic right to live is being denied some of nature's most precious and endangered creatures. The fight to save the African rhino when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we've talked about the rights and risks of citizenship from Cairo to Moscow. Now imagine a world where animals have rights, too.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

By that standard, much of Africa is failing its wildlife population and in particular the endangered rhino. We've reported before extensively on this tragedy, what's become an organized crime wave against Mother Nature.

Since 2007, rhino deaths have increased by a staggering 3,000 percent. In Asia, where rhino horn is believed to be a cure-all or just a status symbol for the new rich, demand has never been higher. And the poachers are becoming more sophisticated, using helicopters and machine guns to hunt their prey and prompting authorities to respond in kind.

In Kenya, there's even a plan to implant a microchip in the horn of each of the country's 1,000 rhinos. But will that turn the tide? South Africa, with the world's largest rhino population, tried microchipping, but poachers stayed one step ahead, killing the rhinos and then removing the chips. Some say the answer is to poison the rhino horn with a toxin that doesn't hurt the animal but makes the consumer ill. Still others insist it'll take a full-scale military commitment to save this glorious wildlife from extinction and also to save the soul of the continent.

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