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Iran to Attend Syria Summit for the First Time; Gun Laws in America; Imagine A World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 28, 2015 - 15:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: for the first time Iran gets a seat at the table for Syria talks. Joining me live in the

studio, the former U.S. envoy on a political transition for Syria, Frederic Hof.

Also ahead: California takes the lead, getting tough on guns in the United States. Why the lieutenant governor is leading the charge against the

powerful NRA gun lobby.


GAVIN NEWSOM, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, CALIFORNIA: I'm living in a country, Christiane, and folks need to know this, where 43 3-year olds have been

shot this year and 13 have been killed.



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

For the first time, Iran has been invited to take part in an international summit on Syria.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Foreign minister Javad Zarif will attend talks in Vienna or Friday which are aimed at trying to find a political solution now

that Iran and Russia ramped up their military support for President Assad.

Meanwhile, today here in Britain politicians saw for themselves the shocking violence that's been wrought by Syria's president against the

Syrian people. They were shown photos, which we first aired on this program, of torture inside Assad's prisons. They were taken by a man named


Speaking at the event was Frederic Hof. He's the former adviser on Syria to the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and he joins me now here

in the studio.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So you came face to face -- I know you have seen these images before -- but the politicians here have seen them for the first time and

this gruesome evidence of the violence of the Assad regime.

HOF: Yes.

AMANPOUR: At the same time as human rights organizations keep up their figures, showing that at least 75 percent of the killings in Syria this

year alone have been by the Assad regime. This imbalance still seems to float over people's heads.

HOF: Yes. I think it does. You know, many of the headlines go to ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. And it is a terrible phenomenon. But the

fact remains that the great majority of civilian killings taking place in Syria are due to the mass homicide program of the Assad regime.

AMANPOUR: Do you get any sense -- you were in Parliament today. There was meant to be some kind of lobbying to get authority to strike in Syria.

Do you get any sense that that will be forthcoming from the British?

HOF: I think there's going to be a debate sometime in November. I think what has probably concentrated the attention of the British more than

anything else on this issue is this phenomenon of tens of thousands of people now voting with their feet, heading to Western Europe and the United

Kingdom, if possible.

These are people who have finally come to the conclusion that Syria is hopeless, that it's a place where it's very difficult to raise a family,

hold a job, have any kind of respectable living. So I think this has piqued interest in this country, perhaps to an extent that it hasn't


AMANPOUR: Not just this country but around Europe. There are real crises points all over Europe, Slovenia just being the latest, trying to struggle

to cope.

But again, the majority of people asked say they are fleeing Assad violence and not ISIS violence.

So what do you think, at this point, are the chances, for instance, at this summit that's being convened?

You have been in this political storm for a long time; the Iranians coming to a summit being convened by Secretary of State Kerry and others.

Do you see any progress towards a political solution?

HOF: I think in order for there to be even talk of a political solution, one first has to address this crisis of civilian protection in Syria.

And, indeed, I suspect a lot of British political leaders are at least interested in the problem from that perspective because it's the failure to

protect civilians, a great failure on the part of the West, that is contributing to this enormous migration crisis.

AMANPOUR: But you're talking about, what, safe areas, some kind of protected buffer zone inside Syria.

HOF: There are any number of methodologies.

AMANPOUR: But that's pretty much what you mean, though.

HOF: That's one of the things -- it's -- what it comes down to in essence is making it somewhere between very difficult and impossible for Bashar al-

Assad to conduct --


HOF: -- mass casualty events.

AMANPOUR: Let me then play you a bit of an interview from President Obama on "60 Minutes" in the United States. There was no hint that there would

be more intervention by the United States in Syria. And for particular reasons -- listen to what he said to the questioner.

HOF: Sure.


STEVE KROFT, CBS NEWS HOST: Do you think the world is a safer place?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is a safer place. I think that there are places obviously like Syria that are not safer than

when I came into office.

But in terms of us protecting ourselves against terrorism, in terms of us making sure that we are strengthening our alliances, in terms of our

reputation around the world, absolutely we're stronger.


AMANPOUR: Well, what do you make of that?

And that certainly does put the onus on not doing anything in Syria because actually we're safe here in the United States?

HOF: Well, the president referred, however, to strengthening our alliances. He referred to the reputation of the United States.

The United States is at the head of an alliance in which many of our allies are now being touched directly by this problem.

So if the humanitarian imperative were not enough, certainly upholding and strengthening our alliances dictates that the United States take another

look at steps that could be taken to at least mitigate this problem.

AMANPOUR: Again, the president is frequently lambasting his critics, telling everybody they are in Fantasyland, that the idea of any further

action, including arming and equipping an indigenous force to take on Assad, is just pie in the sky. He says what is in the U.S. national


What would your answer be to that? You have been sitting in the administration facing this dilemma.

HOF: The President of the United States has committed the country to a military course aimed at degrading and ultimately defeating ISIS. Even if

he does not look at civilian protection in Syria through a humanitarian lens he should be looking at it through a warfighting lens because every

barrel bomb, every starvation siege is a gift to ISIS. It's a recruiting gift.

If you add, on top of that, the effect all of this is having on allies in the neighborhood and now in Western Europe, the case is clear. He needs to

look at some real options.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me put to you this, what Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told Congress late last night regarding ramped-up, potentially even

ground force pressure against ISIS.

HOF: Sure.


ASH CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such

missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.


AMANPOUR: So he's talking about Iraq, not Syria. Nonetheless, obviously ISIS is dominant in Iraq as well.

What do you make of that?

Do you detect a change in U.S. policy or is it just in Iraq, where already they have troops on the ground anyway in various different roles?

HOF: Yes, I think we have to keep in mind that, at least on two occasions I know of, the United States has put boots on the ground inside Syria to

engage ISIS targets. One in particular over a year ago was an attempt to rescue two journalists.

AMANPOUR: That's correct. They did fail, yes.

HOF: It failed; but in the process of that failure, I'm told that the casualties on the ISIS side were quite significant. I think it's

inevitable that, at least in the realm of special operations, the United States will look for opportunities on the ground in both Iraq and in Syria.

AMANPOUR: You've been very critical of President Obama -- or rather the Obama administration's policy towards Syria. You have said and you've

identified that, for the White House, it's more of a communications problem than anything.

You said yourself -- you have written recently, "I was wrong on Syria."

Tell me -- explain to me, what's been going wrong within this administration on Syria?

HOF: I think there's been reluctance from the beginning, starting from the time President Obama made his August 18th, 2011, statement to the effect

that Assad should step aside. I think there's been a real reluctance to put together a strategy to implement the president's desire.

For many of us, when the president made that statement, those words were directive in nature. The President of the United States doesn't issue

advisory opinions to people. He is the commander in chief. When he said Assad should step down, many of us in government thought --


HOF: -- all right, now it's our duty to come up with a strategy to make it happen. After a period of time elapsed, it became clear there was no real

interest in the White House for doing that.

AMANPOUR: And now, several years later, fast forward to Iran and Russia, as I said, bolstering Assad's survival and an agreement that Assad might

say, listen to what President Rouhani told me about that earlier this fall.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In Syria when our first objective is to drive out terrorists and combating terrorists to

defeat them, we have no solution other than to strengthen the central authority and the central government of that country as a central seat of


Then other plans must be put into action so as to hear the voices of the opposition as well.


AMANPOUR: Do you think that your former administration, well, the current administration, has ceded the game, has ceded the ground, has ceded the

advantage to Iran and Russia?

HOF: I think Iran and Russia have seized the advantage here. I think it's perfectly understandable that President Obama's instincts would be to try

to hold all of this at arm's length. The president, I believe, is strongly influenced by what went wrong in Iraq 2003.

AMANPOUR: But you said that and you have said that inaction is just as bad, you've said it is as if the abomination we see before our eyes is an

acceptable if regrettable status quo.

HOF: Yes. It's one of the counterintuitive things about this Syrian crisis that actually trying to hold this thing at arm's length becomes the

operational equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.

And here we are, four, nearly five years later and what's happened in Syria, what happened to the neighborhood, what's happened to Europe, none

of this, none of this was intended by the Obama administration. So unintended consequences come from inaction as well.

AMANPOUR: Frederic Hof, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

HOF: It's been a great pleasure.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, the terrible gun violence in America that shocks the world. How one state, California, is now leading the charge to

take back the streets. And why my next guest, the lieutenant governor, tells me now is the time to set the people on the powerful gun lobby.

That's next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

In the United States, the Republican presidential hopefuls are in Denver tonight for their third debate. And on one of the major issues plaguing

America, there'll be no argument. Gun control, none of them supports it. Just yesterday President Obama put the dangers into tragic perspective.


OBAMA: Since 9/11, fewer than 100 Americans have been murdered by terrorists on American soil; 400,000 have been killed by gun violence.

That's like losing the entire population of Cleveland or Minneapolis over the past 14 years.


AMANPOUR: And the vast majority of Americans support sensible safety laws. But the NRA opposes --


AMANPOUR: -- them all.

But is America changing state by state, city by city?

Los Angeles and San Francisco have just voted to toughen up their gun laws to the point that San Francisco's last gun shop is deciding to close down

this weekend.

Gavin Newsom was the city's mayor and now he is the state's lieutenant governor. And I've been speaking to him about the risks and the rewards

for politicians taking on the NRA, as he's doing while also planning to run for governor.


AMANPOUR: Lieutenant Governor, welcome to the program.

NEWSOM: It's good to be here.

AMANPOUR: We are noticing quite a proactive movement in California regarding gun control. Los Angeles has just stepped up and approved

tougher gun control laws and San Francisco, where you used to be mayor, has also announced new moves, for instance, putting cameras, surveillance

cameras in all gun shops.

What's going on?

NEWSOM: Well, I mean, there's frustration. People are frustrated with the lack of resolve, the lack of resolution in terms of the rhetoric not being

followed through at the national level.

The NRA and United States has been very effective, particularly in Congress. They're also effective in legislative branches all across the

country. So what's happening is mayors are substituting for that lack of resolve, that lack of leadership. Local government is stepping up,

stepping in with the support of law enforcement and the support overwhelmingly of the public that recognizes it's time to do something to

curb the violence that exists not only in cities large but cities small all across the country.

AMANPOUR: Now you are about to announce a balance initiative. I think Thursday you're going to do that.

What is it you're going to say? Because of course you are planning to run for the governor of your state in 2018?

NEWSOM: Yes. I mean, one has nothing to do with the other. Well, fundamental for me is I'm a parent. I have a 6-year old, I have a 4-year

old, I have a 2-year old.

And I'm living in a country, Christiane, and folks need to know this, where 43 3-year olds have been shot this year and 13 have been killed.

We cannot imagine living, I can't living in a country where more preschoolers are being shot more than police officers in the line of duty,

297 people every single day in this country being shot, a 6-year old killing a 3-year old last week. A 4-year old shot in the head because of

road rage.

These are the things that sometimes get headlines; most of it, frankly, is brushed under the rug. And so I want California to lead again and we've

got an aggressive initiative where we're going to take it directly to the voters and not watch the NRA do its magic at the legislative branch of

government but give the opportunity to give voice to the public directly with aggressive background checks for ammunition, not just guns, and

address the issue of high-capacity magazines and a series of other initiatives that we think will be a model for the rest of the country.

AMANPOUR: And just so that we're clear, you've mentioned these horrible statistics, these terrible facts of children also being the victims of this

gun violence. And really, here in the United Kingdom and around the world, when this happens, people just simply cannot believe that the United States

is still stuck in this situation.

You have talked about the NRA and you have talked about sensible gun control.

At what point does the majority of the American people, are they able to stand up to the NRA?

Because apparently the majority supports sensible gun control.

NEWSOM: And let's put it in perspective: 90 percent support comprehensive background checks. Roughly 40 percent of all the gun purchases in this

country have no requirements for background checks. It's an extraordinary fact.

When 90 percent of the public doesn't agree with its elected representatives and the reason the representatives aren't able to move is

because of the intimidation of the National Rifle Association.

No one is trying to take away people's guns or take away their constitutional rights. We want some common sense. We want to keep these

guns out of the hands of dangerous people, people that are dangerously mentally ill, people that are previous felons, people that are involved in

domestic violence.

We want to protect our kids. We can't count on Democrats or Republicans, frankly, in this country in a lot of states to do the right thing. But the

voters, I think, are going to be the new strategy for engagement.

If we can go directly to the people, as we can in California, I think we're going to turn the corner and we're going to start making, I think, a real

inroad here.

AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you, because obviously you're supporting, I read, Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination. She has been

quite vocal about pursuing sensible gun control. Her opponent, Bernie Sanders has not.

She won the California primary back in 2008 against President Obama.

What do you make of this issue as a player in a presidential election, both on the Democrat side and on the Republican side, none of the candidates --


AMANPOUR: -- are for gun control on the Republican side.

NEWSOM: Yes, I think it takes an enormous amount of courage for her. And I say that with some objectivity. This has not gone well, the issue of gun

control and gun safety has not gone well for elected officials in the past. You can go back 16 years ago. It was probably the last time we had a

comprehensive national debate around gun safety. And that hurt folks in Tennessee, Democrats more in Tennessee, Florida and elsewhere. So she's

taking a risk.

And for her to stand up as she did in that last presidential debate and say it's time to take on the NRA, I was jumping out of my chair. And I applaud

her and the fact that she's following up with it and she's got a comprehensive strategy to address not just the gun show loopholes and

background checks but also to address some of the other loopholes that exist as it relates to our lack of engagement and common-sense gun reform I

think is laudable.

And I'm hopeful that efforts like ours in California and states like Nevada and Arizona will amplify her voice and I think give meaning to that courage

in this presidential cycle.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you saw this video that's gone viral of a young black student in the United States being ripped off her chair by a private

security official. We're playing that video right now. And it does seem to be there is just as rampant, I don't know, weird behavior going on in

the law enforcement and security purview right now.

NEWSOM: Yes. I don't know that the behavior's changed that much. The overwhelming majority of people in public safety and law enforcement are

extraordinary people and honorable people.

But like every institution, there's folks that sometimes don't act the way they should act. And it seems very clear -- though we haven't seen the

full investigation of what happened in this incident just yesterday -- it seems very clear that was a wild overreaction and does more harm,

obviously, to race relations. It makes you wonder what's going on in our public schools across this country and builds more mistrust and it's a

terrible thing to witness.

And that's why we're having a very robust debate about policing around race relations, what's happened after Ferguson, that is happening in every

jurisdiction across this country.

And at the end of the day it's an extraordinarily healthy thing, particularly for democracy, to look inward and to hold itself to a higher

level of accountability and I hope at the end of the day that's what this causes us to do.

AMANPOUR: Lieutenant governor, I just want to circle back to the issue of gun deaths in the United States.

President Obama has spoken over and over again about it, about the disproportionate number of people who are killed by guns in the United


You have called the NRA "bullies." They seem to be the only one standing in the way of sensible gun control.

What can you really count on to hit at this armor that the NRA has, whereby always comes out the winner on this case?

NEWSOM: Yes, well, I mean, I count on people of courage, people of conviction to step up and step in and to share their voice, share their

passion and their action and not play into this cynicism and the despair.

The President of the United States said something right after the latest mass shooting in Oregon three weeks ago that really resonated with me.

He said, we're all answerable. Basically he was saying society becomes how we collectively behave. So we've got to behave better.

Again, a presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, he said, well, stuff happens.

Well, if you subscribe to that point of view, stuff will continue to happen and we'll have kids shooting kids and we're going to have 3-year olds that

are victims of violence.

Stuff doesn't have to happen, however. We have agency. We can step in. We're not innocent bystanders. And so I think it's just the courage of

individuals in municipalities across this country and it's the collective effort and their collective cause and wisdom that's going to turn this


There's no question we can defeat the cynicism and we can defeat the status quo that's being perpetuated by the National Rifle Association. We're

going to turn this around in this country.

AMANPOUR: It's a brave fight and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, thank you so much for joining me tonight.

NEWSOM: Thanks for having me.


AMANPOUR: And another divisive topic in American politics: climate change. As the last ditch summit to get emissions under control looms in

Paris, more dire warnings.

Greenland is melting away, says "The New York Times" headline today, while in the Persian Gulf a new study finds that cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi

could be unfit for human habitation by the year 2100. It'll be just too hot.

And after a break, imagine a world choking on its own smoke: climate emergency in Indonesia. That's next.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world cloaked in smoke. That's the world in East Asia right now, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and

their neighbors are choking under a thick haze of smog so bad that it's being described as a crime against humanity.

Schools are closed. Transport is disrupted and over half a million cases of acute respiratory infection have been reported since July.

The cause is massive forest fires, worsened by dry weather conditions, most are started illegally and deliberately in Indonesia by farmers, who slash

and burn peat forests to make way for agricultural land.

NASA released this satellite image that shows the smoke blanketing countries across Southeast Asia, warning that it'll get worse before it

gets better. Six Indonesian provinces are now in a state of emergency, including Borneo, which is home to the largest remaining population of wild

orangutans, the largest in the world.

The endangered primates, large and small, are being evacuates from the wild and from the rescue centers where they had found safety.

Now that climate summit in Paris next month can't come soon enough, with everyone from the pope and all his bishops practically begging world

leaders to take serious action at last. The stakes in Paris couldn't be higher.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always see all our interviews online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.