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Egyptian Aviation Minister Reacts to Bomb Reports; ISIS Claims It Brought Down Metrojet; Myanmar Readies for Historic Elections; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired November 5, 2015 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: U.S. officials say so-called chatter surrounding the Russian airliner that crashed into
Egypt led suspicions of a bomb plot. A former counterterrorism chief of Britain's MI-5 and MI-6, Richard Barrett, joins the show live.
Also ahead, as Myanmar prepares to go to the polls this weekend, democracy rebel with a cause: Aung San Suu Kyi's defiant message to
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Uncertainty and anxiety in the Sinai as tens of thousands of tourists are stranded while in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort while the U.K. and the
United States now say it's more than likely a bomb caused the Russian airliner to crash in the desert this weekend.
There are 20,000 Britons alone waiting to be evacuated as the government here stops all flights in and out pending more security
assessments and arrangements at the airport.
Ireland has done the same, as well as Germany's Lufthansa airline, while in Russia, the tragedy is hitting home hard as the dead return to
their families in St. Petersburg for burial. The first funerals have started to take place.
With neither Egypt nor Russia accepting the terrorism theory, Egypt's President Sisi was starting an official visit to London. And I spoke to
the country's aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, from Cairo.
AMANPOUR: Minister Kamal, welcome to the program. Let me start by asking you your reaction to the strong suspicions that the U.S. and U.K.
have voiced, that this, in fact, was a terrorist bomb attack.
HOSSAM KAMAL, EGYPTIAN AVIATION MINISTER: There is a committee that's going on with the investigation. This committee is the only channel that
can bring any reports or any media release concerning this accident.
Until this moment, there is no indication or this committee does not announce any reports that there is something like a bomb or explosion
happened to this airplane.
What this tour fights have announced this is all something that we don't know from what they bring this information.
AMANPOUR: Who makes up this committee?
Who -- from what country?
KAMAL: Egypt, France, Russia, Ireland and Germany because the aircraft is Airbus (INAUDIBLE) French, this aircraft had been assembled in
Germany, (INAUDIBLE) Ireland and the passengers from Russia and the accident happened in Egypt.
AMANPOUR: Minister, obviously the U.S. and the U.K. have very sophisticated intelligence gathering methods. Presumably that's how they
have come to this preliminary conclusion.
Are they sharing any of that with you?
KAMAL: No. No. They did not share anything with us.
AMANPOUR: And how long will the committee you're talking about take to conclude its investigation?
KAMAL: As we all know that any results for an accident are announced the reason for this accident or the expected reason for the accident can
take a long time. But during this investigation, maybe there's some signs that could lead the committee to know which way exactly they go.
AMANPOUR: Is it something technical?
KAMAL: If it's not technical, I think this will be in a few days. I think if there is any indication, any indication coming through the
investigation, through this case, it will be announced. But the final report always announced after a long time. I don't think it will be before
two, three, four months from now.
AMANPOUR: Now surely you understand why the British government and various other airlines have halted, perhaps temporarily, flights in and out
of Sharm el-Sheikh?
AMANPOUR: So you accept that?
KAMAL: The only country that did so is the English or the British flights only. All the other flights are operating normally to Sharm el-
Sheikh from different countries. It's only the British side that have been suspended the flights.
AMANPOUR: We understand that Ireland and Germany have also done that. You must be aware of that.
KAMAL: I don't have any flights from Ireland. The German flights did not yet today. There is no flights today. But as I know, that there's
some communications happening between the Egyptian side and the German side concerning this decision. But until now there's --
KAMAL: -- no flights to be canceled to Sharm el-Sheikh because there was no flights today to Sharm el-Sheikh from Germany.
AMANPOUR: Minister Kamal, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
KAMAL: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: So with this mystery still to be cleared up, joining me now from New York is the former MI-5 and MI-6 intelligence officer, Richard
Barrett. He is now a global security adviser with The Soufan Group.
Welcome back to the program, Mr. Barrett.
What do you make --
RICHARD BARRETT, FORMER MI-5 AND MI-6 INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Thank you --
AMANPOUR: -- of this sort of spike in information from the United States and Britain that they clearly have been hearing something suspicious
enough for them to take this action and to suggest that it was likely a bomb?
BARRETT: Yes. The intelligence that they've got must be very credible, I think, very persuasive because it's quite something to stick
your head out in front of the pack like David Cameron has, saying that this is most likely to have been a bomb.
Even the United States hasn't done that. They're still a little more cautious, I think, in their interpretation of the intelligence that they've
And of course, one can understand the Egyptian frustration because this will have a huge knock-on effect on their tourist trade, no doubt.
But if the British feel that there are security lapses at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, I guess this is a very good way to draw attention to them and get
I do understand that they were having some discussions about security at the airport some time ago, even a couple of weeks ago.
But I think the problem, Christiane, with this is that, once you put it out that this is -- could very likely be a terrorist attack -- that
becomes the narrative. It's very hard to roll back even if the inquiry comes up with some more innocent explanation of what happened.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's an interesting point you make because actually, even now, you know, the U.S. having started this idea of
intelligence chatter, then by the end of today we were hearing that actually, you know, we still haven't actually said it for sure that it was
a bomb. It still could be mechanical failure, a catastrophe such as that.
But we did hear chatter. And I just want to ask you, the head of MI-5 here, which is domestic intelligence, Andrew Parker, said recently that the
threat we're facing today, talking about ISIS, is on a scale and at a tempo that I have not seen before in my career and, as we know, six terror
attacks have been thwarted by MI-5 and other partners here in the U.K. over the last year.
BARRETT: That's true. And I think he added, too, that the security services in Britain had been instrumental in thwarting another nine attacks
overseas. So clearly there's a lot of attack planning going. But you mentioned the chatter earlier. And generally speaking, in the chatter
among terrorists, members of a terrorist group, they're always claiming something that probably they didn't do and talking about something that's
going to happen, which never does.
So I think there's quite a lot of skepticism generally when this sort of intelligence is sifted. But clearly in this case, there's something
very much more specific, perhaps, because of the people who were overheard or because of the detail, the very specific detail, of what they were
AMANPOUR: Yes. Now, U.S. officials say they had no word of any specific plot in this regard but, again, they talk about the chatter. And
we're talking about the Sinai affiliate of ISIS, which has claimed responsibility.
If, indeed, it does prove to be the case, how much of a game-changer is that in terms of the global effort to combat ISIS, in terms of the ISIS
capability, reach and intent?
BARRETT: I think that's right. I think there are three points there. First of all, the reach, if you like, the capability, this is quite
significant, even if it's only some baggage handler they've managed to recruit and get a bomb on board. Nonetheless, that capability is very
But more so is the intent to do that. I mean, ISIS has not been known really as a global terrorist movement, for all its horrific acts. They're
much more into the business of attracting people to Iraq, Syria, to build their so-called state. This is a sort of departure for them. So
significant in terms of intent.
And then in organization as well because the Sinai province, as they call it, of the Islamic State doesn't have any particular interest in
attacking Russians nor, I imagine does it have many Russians in its ranks.
But of course, the Islamic State in Syria certainly does have a lot of Russians in its ranks and is very interested in attacking Russians. So it
suggests that there's much more organizational discussion and plot-timing possibly between the center and the branches.
AMANPOUR: And does it suggest that that fear may have come true and that is blowback to Russia for its intervention?
AMANPOUR: And even more than that, is it not true that Russia has aligned itself opposed to the vast majority of Muslims in the world, which
are -- which is the Sunni majority around the world?
BARRETT: Well, Russia has the same problems, of course, in North Caucasus. And we understand that, by Russian estimates, there's around
2,500 Russians fighting with the Islamic State at the moment in Iraq, Syria. So that's quite a serious threat right there. And now with Russian
troops, Russian aircraft in theater, clearly those are very enticing target, I think, for these terrorist groups. And they will do whatever
they can. They've said they're going to do whatever they can to attack Russian targets in Syria.
Attacking Russian targets outside Syria is something else again. And I'm not talking about attacks in Moscow and, indeed, the Russian
authorities appear to have thwarted some attack on the transport system in Moscow quite recently. But we're talking about worldwide attacks on
Russian. That is, I would have said, quite a new phenomenon and one that the Russians will have to think about carefully.
AMANPOUR: Just before we leave it, if you had to bet, what do you think it was?
BARRETT: You know, I really hate speculation because the problem is when you say it's a terrorist attack, even if it's not, you're boosting the
terrorists. You're doing their job for them. You're providing them with all the publicity that they want.
You know, their two claims of responsibility for this, so far, have gone completely unproven in terms of real evidence. But of course, because
they've said it, because they've said it twice and because they said, well, we don't have to tell you how we did it, we just have to tell you that we
did do it, already they're in the game.
That is -- that is the narrative that's been set now. So I don't think we want to boost their credibility. But on the other hand, we have
to take seriously what the British government has said.
AMANPOUR: Very troubling indeed. Richard Barrett, thank you so much for joining us from New York.
And after a break, we are going to look at the birth of democracy in the Far East and landmark elections in Burma, Myanmar, this weekend.
Aung San Suu Kyi said today that if her party wins, she will be in charge despite the law that shuts her out of the presidency. My
reflections on the lady, from dissident to democrat leader, next.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): I've been fascinated by Myanmar, Burma, for ages. It's got all the makings of a classic political and human drama.
You've got the frail looking, beautiful but steely heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent the better part of 20 years under house arrest because
she wanted to bring democracy to her people.
You have got the military, who have been arrayed against her, for all that time. They've been in power since the '60s. And they were brutal in
suppressing any kind of move towards freedom by their own people. But that all changed as of 2010, when they let her out of house arrest and the
political process started in earnest.
THEIN SEIN, PRESIDENT OF MYANMAR (through translator): We have different views on some issues but we were able to agree that we will leave
those issues for later and solve our differences through negotiations.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): There was a huge amount of interest and engagement by the West into Myanmar. And President Obama has --
AMANPOUR (voice-over): -- visited twice. That's extraordinary. It's a tiny country. And President Obama, the President of the United States,
has visited twice. What America believes and the West believes is that they have managed to sort of wrest Myanmar away from Chinese influence.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Something is happening in this country.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): In 1989, the junta put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. But the very next year, her party won the first democratic
election by a landslide.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI, MYANMAR OPPOSITION LEADER: I've never thought that what they did to me was personal anyway. It is politics. And if you
decide to go into politics, you have to be prepared to put up with these kinds of problems.
We must not forget my father was the founder of the Burmese army. And this is why I have a soft spot for them, even though I don't like what they
AMANPOUR (voice-over): I visited recently as a tourist, not as a reporter. And I took all sorts of pictures of campaign posters. Obviously
there were a lot of Aung San Suu Kyi and they all had the picture of her and her father, because he still is a national hero in Burma.
In many parts of the country, there are still ongoing wars, conflict going on. Now there's another issue that has caused her outside supporters
to be quite critical and that is the issue of the Rohingyas.
They're a Muslim minority and they're deeply unpopular by the extremist Buddhist nationalists in Burma to the extent that they're not
even citizens, they don't have the right to vote. And she's been criticized quite a lot for failing to stand up for their human rights.
The tragedy of Burma is that it has been so isolated for so long. And I do think a lot about the human toll and the human cost of people's brave
sacrifice for freedom, for human rights, for democracy.
And I did ask Aung San Suu Kyi about the toll it had taken on her and her family and her two children, who were very young when she was first put
under house arrest and who spent so many years without their mother.
SUU KYI: I think what I would simply wish to do is to learn to have a good relationship with them across the distance that separates us.
AMANPOUR: And I still get a little surprised when she doesn't want to dwell on that. But I sort of understand, because she knows that had she
showed any human, any humanity, any human weakness, that the generals at the time would have used that against her and ended her political career,
which was so much more than a personal political career. It was about a country's ability and a need for leadership out of dictatorship and towards
AMANPOUR: So now, Aung San Suu Kyi's party looks set to win Sunday's historic parliamentary elections, although she herself is barred, as we
said, from becoming president. But today she told the world that wouldn't stop her from being boss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUU KYI: I've not said we're going to win. I said if we win and there are early reforms in government, I will be the boss of the president.
It's a very simple message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Mark Canning knows Myanmar inside out. He also knows Aung San Suu Kyi. He served as the U.K.'s ambassador to that country,
Myanmar, and is now with a PR firm that have does interest in the country.
Welcome to the program, Ambassador Canning.
So tell us, what do you think is going to happen on Sunday?
And will she be able to make good on her promise to win and to be in charge?
MARK CANNING, FORMER U.K. AMBASSADOR TO MALAYSIA: Well, she's been bringing out huge numbers of supporters, around 100,000 on certain
occasions recently. And in the absence of polling, it's difficult to tell exactly what's going to happen.
But anecdotally, it looks as though the NLD will win this. The question is by how much. This is the first head-to-head major electoral
contest between Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy and the military-backed USDP since 1990.
And it's very difficult. It's a two-stage process, this. You have the election on Sunday to the upper and the lower house of parliament. And
then you have a second stage in March which is the election by the upper and the lower house and by the military, who have 25 percent in that
parliament, of a president.
AMANPOUR: Well, that actually was -- was hard -- you know, the key question here. The military does have a 25 percent locked up by their own
What does she have to do?
So the bar is really very high for her to have her party win enough seats to have the kind of majority that would allow her party to choose the
CANNING: The bar is very high. I mean, firstly she's got to overcome that disadvantage of the 25 percent block vote to the military. That means
effectively on Sunday --
CANNING: -- the NLD's got to win two-thirds of the free vote, if you like. And conversely, her opponents, what you could call an anti-NLD
coalition of the military, of some members of some of the ethnic political parties, have some people who perhaps think that President Thein Sein and
his government have done a pretty good job since 2011.
They only have to get one-third of this. So the bar is set very high for the NLD.
AMANPOUR: What do you make of what President Thein Sein has done? She herself has complained that the West is over-optimistic, that actually
some of the reforms have stalled just ahead of these elections.
When you looked at it today, compared to when you were there, how much of a change has happened?
CANNING: I think the change has been extraordinary. Since late 2010, when she was released, early 2011, you've had obviously the freeing of Aung
San Suu Kyi, the unbanding of the National League for Democracy. You've had the release of hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners.
You now have the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of NLD supporters coming out when, just a few years ago, you would have been arrested for
wearing one of their T-shirts.
So the progress has been extraordinary. There's been an opening up of the media; censorship was total before. It has not been perfect by any
means. You've had the persecution of the Rohingya, you've had other deficiencies. You've had the refusal of the military to amend the
constitution to allow her to run for the presidency.
But looked at on the round, the progress since 2011 has been remarkable.
And the question now is, will it be sustained or will there be a stalling in it?
AMANPOUR: We spoke in that introductory piece about how actually it was not just a victory for her democratic movement but also for the desire
of the country, including Thein Sein and the generals to look westwards and not eastwards toward China. That's pretty significant.
CANNING: It is. I mean, the question is why they decided to open up in the way they did. My own take on it is that it wasn't the final turning
of the screw of sanctions that did it.
But I think sanctions forced them to rely more than they wished to on China and they faced a very stark choice between becoming a sort of second-
rate province of China and being a proud, independent country and a country which has a more balanced foreign policy and outlook on the world.
And it was that ultimately that led the generals, who are proud patriots, whatever one might say about them, to open up in the way that
AMANPOUR: What has surprised you most?
You -- you've been there during the bad days. You've met Aung San Suu Kyi.
What has surprised you most about her?
And particularly the way she told me she had a bit of soft spot for the generals, given her own father founded the Burmese army?
CANNING: Well, she's been in a very difficult position. She's been forced from being a pro-democracy icon, if you like. She was released from
house arrest. She's now had to become a politician. And I think she's done that pretty well. I think there have been some areas where she's
found it difficult.
And I'm thinking particularly of the situation with respect to the Muslim Rohingya population, where many people have accused her and the NLD
of not being sufficiently forthright in condemning what's happened.
But given everything, given how long she was in captivity, I think she's made that adjustment pretty well.
The issue for her ahead and for her party is can they change from being a party of protest to a party that can rule a country?
And in that respect, I think there are question marks. I think the NLD does not have a great depth of talent. They have many courageous, good
people. But if you were looking for other people that might step forward as a potential NLD-nominated president, leaving her out, it's quite hard to
identify who they might be.
Ambassador Mark Canning, thank you so much for joining us from Dublin tonight.
And when we come back, we imagine this year's pretenders to the English dictionary. We'll spell it out next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, when it comes to the English language, imagine it is a moveable feast or at least an expanding one. And tonight
we imagine a modern-day war of words with the latest pop culture lifestyle- isms vying for a place in the "Collins English Dictionary."
And so it has selected this year's top 10 newbies.
Word of the year: none other than "binge watch." They define that as a verb meaning, quote, "to watch a large number of television programs in
succession." And don't we all know and love that gluttonous habit? The ability to devour whole series in one sitting which, in turn, is probably a
significant contributor to another new word this year and that is, "dad bod," defined as "an untoned and slightly plump male physique," as has been
attributed to Prime Minister David Cameron but not to new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
You decide whether it's attractive or not and whether it's in any way connected to this new definition -- "shaming," which means "attempting to
embarrass a person, especially on social media."
That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always see all our interviews online at amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and
Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.