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Relentless Bombing in Eastern Aleppo; French Defense Minister on Syria; Last Doctors in Eastern Aleppo Appeal for Help; 21-Gun Salutes Honor Former Cuban Leader; Memories of the Queen's Confidante

Aired November 28, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, thousands flee the intense bombardment of Aleppo as the Syrian regime makes rapid advances.

But the French defense minister tells me that President Assad is not part of the solution for peace in Syria.


JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN, FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): This cannot be done by maintaining Bashar al-Assad in full power. I can't

imagine people going back to Syria if Bashar al-Assad is responsible for that territory.


AMANPOUR: Also ahead, a 21 gun salute for Fidel Castro in Havana.

The former Mexican foreign minister who knew him personally joins me on Cuba's next step.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Aleppo is under the heaviest bombardment in four years

by Russian-backed Syrian forces pounding the rebel held eastern part of the city, making major advances and trying to win back Syria's second most

important city from the opposition.

Civilians are trapped and live in terror, with no more hospitals, barely any food and few places to hide. One family, the mother, Fatemah, and her

7-year-old daughter, Bana, have been tweeting from the war zone.

"Under heavy bombardments now in between death and life, please keep praying for us."

Next, "Last message, under heavy bombardments, Can't be alive anymore. When we die, keep talking for 200,000 still inside. Bye -- Fatemah."

And several hours ago, they tweeted, message, we are on the run, as many people killed right now in heavy bombardments. We are fighting for our

lives. Still with you -- Fatemah.

That is the drama for civilians trying to escape the heavy bombardment. And, meantime, U.S. policy to Syria might change 180 degrees under Donald

Trump, who says that the U.S. should join with Assad, Russia and Iran to fight ISIS.

Now, France has stood strongest against Assad, and today, in Washington, D.C., the French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told me that he would

take that message to his meetings with the Trump transition team.

Minister Le Drian, welcome to the program.


LE DRIAN (through translator): Hello.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Minister, what is your reaction? What is the reaction of France to the fact that Eastern Aleppo is falling right now to the Syrian

forces and their Russian backers?

LE DRIAN (through translator): What's happening in Aleppo at the moment is a great tragedy. A population is under siege. A prison under bombs

without food, without water, and it's really important that a cease-fire and that immediate humanitarian action can be done. And, of course, the

attacks and bombings must stop so that there can be provision of humanitarian assistance.

What do you assess? What is your military assessment of what is happening? They are not interested, clearly, in a cease-fire? The Syrian regime.

They want to take Eastern Aleppo.

LE DRIAN (through translator): Bashar and his allies go on with this massacre. It's unbearable and we must do something by persuasion of all

parties involved in the international community.

AMANPOUR: Minister, you've probably heard, though, from the Trump team and also what Trump has said publicly, that they are not interested in

supporting any rebels against Bashar Assad. And they are much more interested in working with Bashar Assad and with Russia and Iran in their

words to defeat ISIS.

Is the U.S. next administration working with Assad, something that France support? And will do as well?

LE DRIAN (through translator): What's happening in Syria is very simple for France. We have an enemy, Daesh, Islamic States. And we're fighting

against these enemies that's struck the dust. Bashar is an enemy of his own people, and we have to condemn him as such, since he has massacred his

own people and provoked all sorts of refugee movements outside what we call Syria, eastern Syria and we have to find a way to peace.

[14:05:02] If Russia puts forward in the dialogue with the U.S. a path to cooperation so that one can see the beginning of peace, cease-fire and

dialogue, we would be in favor, and we've already tried this. If the new Trump administration could achieve it, and if the path to dialogue does

open, all the better. But, nevertheless, we have to fight Islamic State, and so far, neither Bashar al-Assad nor Russia in our view has attack the

principle enemy.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about relations with Russia. Francois Fillon who has just won the primary on the center right to contest the presidential

elections has a very friendly first name basis relationship with President Putin.

And he, we understand, is interested in having European and other sanctions lifted against Russia and generally getting closer to Russia's view of

engagement with the west. Is that something you support, and what is your comment on that?

LE DRIAN (through translator): Well, we'll have to wait for the presidential election to see first of all who will be the president of the

French republic, so I would reserve my judgment until then.

But in terms of relations with Russia, France has relations with Russia. We are together in implementing the Minsk process so that Ukraine could get

its sovereignty back.

We have contributed to sanctions against Russia, insofar as the borders which had been respected and honored were put on questioning Crimea. So we

have to find a favorable solution if the autonomy of Crimea could be validated in a Democratic way. But, otherwise, we have relations with

Russia. And Russia has to accept in Europe international law and that the Minsk process should go to its logical end and there has to be a positive

initiative also in terms of Syria so that the Syrian people can get back to security and also so that refugees can go back to their own land.

And unlike what the Russians think, this cannot be done by maintaining Bashar al-Assad in power. One can't imagine people going back to Syria if

Bashar al-Assad is still responsible for their territory. So there have to be joint efforts -- Russia, the United States, the EU and the international

community, so that there can be a peaceful solution to this absolute tragedy.

AMANPOUR: And Marine Le Pen who is the leader of the National Front and many people believe she will do quite well in the presidential elections

has said Brexit and Trump victory have shown that there is a new world order, and we know that she is much more friendly towards Putin and Russia,

despite the Annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine and what's going on in Syria.

What is your concern about such a new world order?

LE DRIAN (through translator): Well, I'm not anticipating on the French results of the French elections. They will be in May, and then we'll see

who will be president of the French Republic.

However, in terms of our relations with the new President Trump, the relations between the U.S. and France should be able to continue in terms

of trust, and responsibility dealing with threats and common stakes, and the joint values that we have, and that's my intent. What I will say

today, to the representatives of the President-elect Donald Trump.

AMANPOUR: President Holland has been the most tough on what should happen in Syria. He was upset when President Obama did not act on his red line

and he was always willing to do, at least he said, what was necessary to save the people of Syria.

How do you think history will remember the West if Aleppo falls, if Bashar Assad is able to take full control back of Syria?

LE DRIAN (through translator): It's true that the meeting at the end of August 2013 was a failure. And if then, there had been strong intervention

against Bashar al-Assad and in particular against the use of chemical weapons, then the situation would be very different.

Today, the only solution is to find a way to a cease-fire, political negotiations to take the Syrian people out of this dead end, and its

current suffering. That's what we want. And we want the Trump administration to take initiatives along those lines.

AMANPOUR: Minister Le Drian, thank you very much for joining me today.

LE DRIAN (through translator): Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Now as we've been reporting, medical facilities and doctors have been specifically targeted, and there are very few of them left. But Dr.

Hamza al-Khatib, who is the director of the Al-Quds Hospital, joins me now from Eastern Aleppo.

Doctor Hamza, thank you very much for joining me.

Can you tell me, we've been hearing all of this terrible news about the bombardment, about the advance of the Syrian Forces, what are you actually


[14:10:20] DR. HAMZA AL-KHATIB, DIRECTOR, AL-QUDS HOSPITAL: Actually, the heaviest attack that I have ever witnessed in Aleppo, I've been here for --

since 2012, and it' the heaviest attack that I've ever witnessed.

The most number of injuries that I've ever seen. Each day is worst than the other. More than -- more than 300 injuries each day. A lot of health

facilities have been targeted. A lot of hospitals now are not functioning anymore. And the -- an Assad army are making huge progress in the eastern

side of the besiege city.

AMANPOUR: So they clearly want to take the city. How are civilians reacting, and how are you able to treat them? Because we know that medical

facilities have come under terrible attack, and you barely have, you know, any doctors or any medical equipment or supplies.

AL-KHATIB: About the civilians, most of them now are trapped in the other areas, which the regime managed to take control over. And now each

explosive barrel or each cluster bomb makes more injuries, because the civilians now are crowded in a small area.

A lot of families we have heard that they were captured by the regime, because of the southern progress that the regime was able to do. And about

treating the patient, it's -- it's very hard. We still have some equipment. Most of the health facilities that are not functioning anymore,

we gather the medical equipment, the medications from those facilities, and we have now some amount of medication in our stocks so that we can help

those civilians.

AMANPOUR: All right.

AL-KHATIB: We are walking more than 24/7. We woke up on 7:00 a.m. by an attack when a massacre happened. The number is more than 300 injuries each



AL-KHATIB: And it's -- a health disaster here.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Hamza, it sounds really awful. And we just really send you all our best in all the help that you're trying to give those poor people

there. And we'll keep checking in with you. Thank you for joining us tonight from Eastern Aleppo.

And when we come back, for better and for worst. Fidel Castro dominated the world stage for more than half a century. Now he is gone. So what

next for that tiny Caribbean island yearning to be free?

The former Mexican foreign minister reveals the man behind the myth -- next.


[14:15:30] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. A rebel and a revolutionary, a tyrant and an oppressor. Fidel Castro was all of those.

And even in death, he divides the world.




AMANPOUR: That's the sound that rang out across Cuba today, simultaneous 21 gun salutes in major cities. There were tears in Havana, as citizens

prepare for Sunday's state funeral. But over in Little Havana, in Miami, there were tears of joy.

So what next for Cuba, one of the last bastions of communism. I got some insight from someone who knew Castro as few others did, first as a young

man and then as Mexico's foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Jorge Castaneda.

JORGE CASTANEDA, MEXICO'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to be with you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: There are lots of pictures of you. You've met him through the years of your youth and your career. What is your personal reflection,

your personal memory of him?

CASTANEDA: Well, I met him as a very young man and then again when I was foreign secretary of Mexico, and he struck me as obviously charismatic,

obviously well-informed. But I was also struck by the fact that when he wanted to, he could have endless conversations with his interlocutors on

really nonsensical matters, such as Cuban production of cheese, or what kind of yogurt he should eat, which was better for his health, or really

matters that did not seem to be of any interest to the person he was speaking to, although he was very knowledgeable about it.

I don't know why he wanted to be knowledgeable about it, or not. But it was very impressive how he had this great knack for talking about anything


And when he didn't want to talk substance, he could come up with any item of conversation and just go on and on rambling about it. and I literally

mean for hours, not just for a few minutes.

AMANPOUR: Were you surprised -- I mean, Fidel Castro is as polarizing in death as he was in life. Are you surprised by the war over remembering


CASTANEDA: No, I think this is the way he would have wanted it. This is the way he governed Cuba for nearly 60 years. This is the way he came to

power. And I think this is the way he wanted to be remembered as a controversial polarizing figure.

There are too many people who think very highly of him and too many people who think very critically of him for it to be any other way. It's not

surprising and I'm sure he would have wanted it this way.

AMANPOUR: And I'm just wondering, obviously, on the plus side, you have 100 percent literacy in Cuba under Castro. You have an amazing medical

system and very low levels of infant and maternal mortality.

Is that sufficient on the one hand to make up in any part for the incredible ledger on the other hand?

CASTANEDA: Well, I don't think so, Christiane. First of all, because these achievements of the Cuban revolution may have faded with time. We

don't really have any external statistics gathering mechanism by international institutions, either on education or on health in Cuba today.

And so it's hard to say whether what they say is true really is, or was true, but no longer is.

But in any case, even if it were, there is no reason why that could only be done under a brutal dictatorship, which is what his government or his

regime has been even to this day.

Or secondly, if that was the only way to achieve it, which I don't think so, but if that was, what would the Cuban people have said if they have

been consulted in this regard. We don't know what they would have said, because we don't know what they think, because they have never been

consulted. So it really isn't a very attractive trade off, I don't think for anybody.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, then, because you raise obviously the incredibly important point, and that is what would the Cuban people do if

consulted. We have seen that Raul Castro in the few years that he's actually taken over in being president has instituted some modest reforms,

but even those have been losing some steam.

Fidel himself, just before President Obama came, you know, seemed to come and want to block even those reforms in the party Congress that he

attended. So of course, everybody wants to know, is Raul now liberated to go full steam ahead? Does he even want to? What is on the cards from your

perspective for Cuba?

[14:20:08] CASTANEDA: Well, I think, Christiane, the main issue here is what Donald Trump is going to do. Because Raul did bet on normalization

with the United States and with the economic positive consequences of that normalization in terms of investment, tourism, trade, credit, et cetera.

Now with Trump, it's very hard to say if that is going to continue. If it doesn't continue, then Raul's economic reforms will go nowhere, and his

political reforms haven't even started because there is really no political opening in Cuba. There has been no political opening under Raul Castro.

Yes, the regime is a bit more tolerant. Yes, there are fewer political prisoners. Probably those who remain are better treated than they used to

be in the past. But all of these reforms were a bit premised, I think, on their being some kind of economic improvement, and from what we see, the

number of Cubans leaving the island more than any time since 1994, it doesn't seem that economic conditions have improved a great deal.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you then, because you mentioned the next administration. And Trump has been on Twitter today even saying, "If Cuba

is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal."

So despite all you're saying and all the caveats you have about Raul and what might happen and et cetera, is it in Cuba's interest for this deal

with the United States, the normalization, the, you know, the planes going back and forth, is it in Cuba's interest and in America's interest for it

to be terminated?

CASTANEDA: I don't think it is in anybody's interest for it to be terminated, not for Cuba, not for the United States and not for Latin

America. The problem is that Donald Trump won the presidency because he won -- in part because he won the state of Florida. And he won the state

of Florida because he got a greater share of the Cuban-American vote than Obama obtained in 2008 and 2012.

And so today, he owes the Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County a great deal. And as we saw from the scenes Friday night on 8th Street or Kalye

Otso in Miami, they were celebrating Castro's death. They certainly were not regretting it.

So I think Trump is in a somewhat difficult position. He owes this group of people big time, and I'm not sure he can get away with doing nothing of

what he promised.

AMANPOUR: So what do you expect? What could he do to make a better deal?

CASTANEDA: Well, traditionally, when the United States demands reciprocity from the Cubans on political issues, on political prisoners, on human

rights, on democracy, on individual freedoms, the Cubans say no. The Cuban say we will have economic normalization at our own -- on our own terms. If

you want it, take it. If you don't, leave it.

Obama decided to take it. Trump may decide that he doesn't want to take it, in which case I don't think he will rollback everything he has -- that

Obama has done, but I think he will rollback some things. And since in fact, Christiane, there has not been that much beyond news items, real

American investment in Cuba over the past year is negligible.

AMANPOUR: Fascinating. Thank you for your perspective. Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda. Thank you so much for joining us


CASTANEDA: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now, CNN has a special history with Cuba and Castro. In 1990, CNN founder Ted Turner became our man in Havana, when he went there to meet

Fidel with the view to opening a news bureau there. And indeed, seven years later, CNN did become the first U.S. media to work from a permanent

Cuban bureau in 28 years.

Ted Turner's grand idea for CNN was to bring all the world to all the people. But as he told me at his Montana ranch last year, a simpler human

instinct motivated that first trip to Havana.


AMANPOUR: What made you go there? Was that about --

TED TURNER, CNN FOUNDER: Curiosity. That's what made us go everywhere. That's what people watching us for because they are curious about what's

going on. He had a lot of courage to tackle the United States.


AMANPOUR: Curiosity about the world, and that was Ted Turner's philosophy.

When we come back, we imagine one woman who had the courage to speak her mind even though it could have gotten her into trouble with the queen of

England no less. Her cousin and close confident, Margaret Rhodes, next.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, in a world captivated by British royalty, new stories and even in tied television series like "The Crown," dedicated

to peaking beneath the pomp and circumstance to catch the real Queen Elizabeth. Well, tonight, we bid farewell to one woman who knew her better

than most.

The outspoken, the frank, the hilarious Margaret Rhodes, who died this weekend age 91. She was the queen's cousin and confidant. From childhood,

to becoming a bride's maid at the royal wedding and later on in life, she lived nearby in the parklands of winter castle, a gift from the queen who

often shared a drink, a confidence, a good gossip.

I met Margaret Rhodes three years ago, when royal rapture was hitting fever pitch with the birth of William and Kate's first child. As ever, Margaret

Rhodes had her feet planted firmly on the ground.


AMANPOUR: As we sit here, the whole world is waiting for the birth of -- Kate and William's child.


AMANPOUR: Are you excited about the baby?

RHODES: Not terribly.

AMANPOUR: Why not?

RHODES: Everybody has babies and it is lovely, but I don't get wildly excited about it.

AMANPOUR: It's special like the heir for the thrown, history?

RHODES: Yes, all right, I'm prepared to be excited.


AMANPOUR: The irrepressible Margaret Rhodes. We are sure the queen will miss her frankness.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.