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Trump Spars with Australia over Deal He Calls "Dumb"; The Battle Against Fake News; Opting for Tolerance. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, upsetting friends and angering enemies, Donald Trump locks horns with the leaders of Australia

and Mexico and tells Iran that it's on notice as he continues his course of destructive diplomacy.

My interview with Jon Finer, the former chief-of-staff for Secretary of State John Kerry.

Plus, the truth behind fake news. How the Czech Republic is waging its own war against Russian disinformation. We bring you an inside report from

Prague as the government there warns of the scale of the problem.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the biggest threat Europe has been facing since 1930s.


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

Diplomatic disruption. Donald Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes office today after a whirlwind two weeks in which nearly every

principle of foreign policy has been thrown out of the window. And he tried to put staff at ease as he addressed them for the first time.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome. Each of us

is entitled to the expression of our political beliefs but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team.


AMANPOUR: Now the latest dust-ups concern Australia and Iran. Leaked reports about President Trump's recent call with the Australian Prime

Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggest that it turn sour when Trump questioned a refugee deal that had been struck between the two nations under President

Obama. Here's the president on Twitter.

Quote, "Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia, why? I will study this

dumb deal."

But later the Australian prime minister gave a radio station a slightly different version.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The president committed to honor the refugee resettlement deal that had been made by his predecessor

Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've seen Twitter this afternoon.

TURNBULL: I have indeed. Yes, yes, I have. Well, that is his tweet. I'm telling you what has been said to us and what's been said by his spokesman

and what has been said by his embassy.


AMANPOUR: And just now, President Obama -- President Trump seem to confirm that at the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Australia as a country, but we had a problem. You know, previous administration does

something, you have to respect that, but you can also say why are we doing this?


AMANPOUR: Now Donald Trump has also taken on Iran putting it on notice for a recent missile test and for activity in Yemen. That drew an immediate

response from the supreme leader's office. His foreign policy advisers pledged Iran would, quote, "Vigorously continue with its missile activity."

President Trump was just asked at the White House if military action was off the table and he said, quote, "Nothing is off the table."

So joining me now from Harvard University is Jon Finer. He served as chief-of-staff and director of policy planning under the former Secretary

of State John Kerry.

AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Jon Finer. Can I ask you first, this has been a whirlwind week as we've described it? Mexico and Australia and

Iran and the travel ban and all of this kind of stuff. What is the world meant to make of this kind of diplomatic disruption as the White House

likes to term it?

JON FINER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICY PLANNING FOR U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Thanks, Christiane, for having me on. Well, look, I think this is unlike

anything we've seen before, especially in the early days of an administration where you have, literally, two or three times a day and

sometimes more frequently a new announcement or a new controversy related to the way foreign policy has traditionally been done, that this

administration seems to be disrupting.

You mentioned in the top of your broadcast that Secretary Tillerson is now in place at the State Department. I think he did a great job of sounding

the right notes in his early message to the workforce. He was funny, he was humble, he was reassuring that he cares about their mission and work

that they do and he acknowledged that there are these controversies.

I think the big question now is can he go beyond the fact that he's just given this speech and actually go about trying to ease some of the tensions

that I think have already arisen, both at the State Department but also -- and maybe even more importantly with some of our key partners and allies.

AMANPOUR: So you heard -- you know, you heard Malcolm Turnbull be interviewed by his own country's radio station responding to the telephone

call and to the tweet.

I guess is that what we're going to, I suppose, see from foreign leaders. And it's like, OK, no matter what he says on twitter, he's telling us other

things and we're just going to, you know, proceed as normal, as we normally would?

What do you think allies and indeed adversaries are going to figure out how to react to this president?

FINER: I think different partners and different adversaries will react in different ways, but one of the things that I think is interesting is that

this is now the second time. The first time being in the immediate aftermath of the rollout of the new immigration executive order that the

president has explained by in some sense putting the blame back on the previous administration, on our administration.

I don't think that people will find that very compelling. I think we dispelled the myth that the executive order was based on work that we had

done and then the notion that he now needs to go back and study the agreement that was made between United States and Australia after he has

already come out and apparently blasted the Australians about it seems to be a bit out of order. Usually, you do this work in advance to understand

the policies that are in place and then come to a position.

AMANPOUR: Can I -- before I go into some of the specifics, I want to ask you about the dissent channel and about what's been going on in the State

Department and elsewhere.

Look, we've had the president fire his attorney general. The acting attorney general because of the Muslim ban that she wouldn't enforce or

defend. We've had members of the State Department either be forced into resigning or fired or whatever the actually terminology is. We've had Sean

Spicer, you know, react to nearly 1,000 career foreign service officials signing a letter up the dissent channel by saying either get on the program

or get out of the way.

You know, explain to me how this channel -- go ahead.


FINER: So the dissent channel was a process that was launched during the Vietnam War and it was -- came in at a time of obviously great disagreement

and great turbulence in our foreign policy. It has been used by successive generations of foreign and civil service officers, career professionals'

state department when they decide that they have a desire to express disagreement with the prevailing policy of an administration.

It's a way to go directly to the highest level to the secretary with their views. It's explicit in establishing the dissent channel that there is not

supposed to be reprisal or incrimination against the people who bring these issues to light and historically there's never been that sort of reprisal

or recrimination.

The comments by the press secretary, Mr. Spicer, I think were taken with a sort of chilling reaction by the workforce. It was taken an as implicit

threat. When I was with Secretary Kerry, the State Department received another very sensitive policy cable -- dissent cable on our Syria policy,

signed by 50 people, 50 plus, which at the time was one of the largest number of signatures.

Now that's been blown out of the water by this one thousand plus cable in a way that Secretary Kerry chose to respond to that was to bring the people

in, who had organized it, to meet with them, to hear from them, to explain areas where he might agree or disagree and to help them sharpen their

arguments for the policy debates that were to come.

You know, in my view, I think that Secretary Tillerson would be wise to follow that approach because if a thousand people have signed off on this,

that's a sign of some real dissatisfaction among the career workforce.

AMANPOUR: You know, you said that you described, you know, the way he made his first speech and I agree it was very much all the way you described it.

So you also reference people's dissent and talked about, you know, differing views, that we're all on the same team.

Do you expect him to be an interface with the White House, who can defend his department and actually you know, defend foreign policy even if the

White House says something different?

In other words, a robust exchange of views rather than --


FINER: I don't have a particular insight into that relationship or into whether he desires to play that role. What I will say is I know from

talking to my former colleagues back in the State Department that there are a lot of people who are hoping that he will be able to empower the

department again in the policy process.

There is a sense that some of these decisions that have been made early on have been made by a small number of people, close to the president, inside

the White House and without much consultation with people who are both expert on these topics and also the ones we're going to have to implement

these decisions once they are made.

And I think that there is a lot of hopes resting on Secretary Tillerson's shoulders that he'll be able to restore some of this balance that's

traditionally taking place.

AMANPOUR: Now on the very, very key issues, I mean, Iran is a big deal for the world, for the United States and, you know, the president has

criticized the nuclear deal and we've just seen the national security adviser and the president actually talk about putting Iran on notice.

I just asked a professor at Tehran University and a political analyst what the reaction would be there and why there hasn't been a huge reaction yet.

This is what he told me.


SADEGH ZIBAKALAM, PROFESSOR AT TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: There are fundamentally two reasons. The first reason was the one that you raise. They are

testing the water and they do not want to confront Trump. The second reason is more, I think, fundamental.

The second reason goes back to the alliance which is emerging between Trump and Mr. Putin, the Russian leader, the Iranian, because they have become so

close and so allied to Russia, they do not want to create problem with Trump and also, also as far as Syria is concerned, they are very happy with

Trump's position with having to go at the Daesh, the Islamic fundamentalist and extremist in Syria.


AMANPOUR: I mean, Jon, I don't know about you, but I was quite dumbfounded by that because he's implying that actually the Iranian hardliners quite

like Donald Trump. They feel that they are in alliance now with America and Russia, particularly over the Syria issue, over ISIS.

How do you think that's going to roll out with Donald Trump really putting Iran in its crosshairs?

FINER: Well, I think that may be part of the explanation. What I think is actually going on in addition to what's been described is I didn't expect a

big negative reaction from the Iranian government on a political level. I think they realized the stakes of such a reaction or policy changes related

to a statements made to the press and not based on any actions the U.S. has have taken would be, you know, premature at this point.

But what I do think is dangerous about the way this is being handled is the vagueness in the statement that was made by the national security adviser.

All he really said was, you know, that Iranians should be on notice, without giving any further information about what the U.S. might do and the

risk is not again of a political reaction. It's of people out where the rubber meets the road, where two ships may be passing each other in the

gulf. Where actions might be misinterpreted based on some of this information and lacking some of the channels that we had, some of the

relationships the Obama administration had built to be able to actually deescalate and contact directly the Iranians. It's -- there is a concern

that this stuff could spiral.

What I think the professor is right about is that there are plenty of people inside Iran, plenty of hardliners who are more than happy to have a

more difficult relationship with the United States.

Some of those same people were adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal, which by the way is working. And the notion that the national security adviser

sort of gratuitously at the end of his statement threw in a shot at the Iran nuclear deal is not surprising on one level. We know they don't like

it, but it's not reflective of the reality.

The reality is that nuclear deal is being complied with by both sides to a very large extent and the time that Iran would take to get a nuclear weapon

has gone or take enough material for a nuclear weapon has gone from just a few months when the deal started to now more than a year. And that's

important for people to bear in mind.

AMANPOUR: All right. Jon Finer, former director of policy planning at the State Department. Thank you so much for joining us with some insight in

these turbulent times.

And from the hard facts to the fake ones. After a break, we have a special report on the Czech Republic's war on Russian disinformation. That's next.


[14:15:08] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

NATO, the EU and former U.S. commanders including the former CIA Director David Petraeus among others are warning about Russia's assault on western

democracy itself, accusing President Putin of waging an unconventional war with fake news, trolls and bots as frontline forces. European countries

facing elections this year are worried enough not just to call out this phenomenon, but to take action against it.

The Netherlands says it will hand count every vote in next month's general election to prevent hackers from influencing the outcome. And in the Czech

Republic, where hackers suspected of working for a foreign power have recently breached dozens of government e-mail accounts.

Our Isa Soares in Prague gets a look into a new special unit that's been set up to tackle the tsunami of disinformation.


ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prague's heart may lie in Europe, but the ghost of a Soviet past still haunts the Czechs.

27 years on since the fall of communism, the Czech government says their fight is now online accusing Russia of waging an information war.

TOMAS PROUZA, CZECH STATE SECRETARY FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS: The ultimate Russian goal is to again bring us back into the Russia sphere of influence.

They want to weaken Europe. They want to make sure that Western Europe is not able to stand up to them.

SOARES: In the last few years Czechs have seen a rise in anti-U.S., anti- NATO and anti-EU rhetoric.

(on-camera): Direct links to Russia may be hard to prove but one government source tells me there are as many as 40 pro-Russian Web sites

operating within the country. So to counter this, the Czech government has set up a specialist unit to tackle what it calls hybrid threats and

disinformation. And it's happening in the building behind me.

(voice-over): Managed by the Ministry of Interior, they've been countering these apparent falsehoods since the beginning of this year, flagging on

Twitter story they say are hoaxes. The manager of the unit tells me it's a team of 14 young computer analysts and seasoned intelligence experts.

DAVID CHOVANEC, CZECH INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL (through translator): The objective of the disinformation is to somehow disrupt the social balance in

the country. We don't want to be just pessimistic, sitting down and waiting. We want to take a pro-active approach.

SOARES: He has reason to be wary. According to this report by Czech's domestic security agency, there is little doubt of Russia's involvement.

It accuses Russia of infiltrating Czech media to sway perceptions of creating tensions within the Czech Republic and spreading alarming rumors

about the U.S. and NATO.

PROUZA: We follow the money and how some of these alternative Websites are financed. This links to people that are connected to Russia.

SOARES (on-camera): How real is the threat to Europe?

PROUZA: It is the biggest threat Europe has been facing since 1930s.

SOARES (voice-over): The fear is very palpable here.

At this school in Prague, they now teach 17 and 18-year-olds how to spot Russian propaganda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Media, traditional media and social networks are influencing the results of elections.

SOARES: Crucial given that most of its class will be voting for the first time in Czech elections in October. Elections some here fear could be

manipulated by their former foes.

Isa Soares, CNN, Prague, Czech Republic.


AMANPOUR: And when we asked about the Czech Republic's allegations, the Kremlin declined to answer CNN's questions. And President Putin and other

Russian officials have consistently denied accusations about spreading fake news and attempting to influence elections in the U.S., Germany and other


My next guest, Pankaj Mishra, is the author of "Age of Anger", a history of the present and he joins me now.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: What do you make of that? Age of anger, I get it. But others malevolently trying to influence western democracy. Do people understand

what's going on despite their anger?

MISHRA: Well, I think, I mean, something like fake news, for instance, I think is very much seen and has been noticed by people in Russia. If the

Putin regime is indeed behind it, their very lies, this reflects the big crisis in legitimacy within Europe, within America.

Not just politicians and businessmen but also of media. And they are very shrewdly moved to capitalize on this and to flood public spaces with fake

news because the all media -- the conventional media, traditionally get like you and I have been working for, faces a crisis of legitimacy.

As we know public trust in the old media is at an all-time low and this vacuum of the fake news comes flooding in.

[14:20:11] AMANPOUR: So now let's talk about people who've got to figure out when they cast their vote, you know, what is fact and what is fake.

We have some sound bites from supporters of Donald Trump about the latest Muslim ban. We'll play those and then we'll talk about it.


MICHAEL FITZGERALD, TRUMP VOTER: I'm glad to see our president taking the actions he needs to take to provide the highest degree of security for the

American citizenry that he possibly can.

KRISTINA TWITTY, TRUMP VOTER: Because I walk that same street in Nice, where the truck ran over all those people. So I'm aware that we're just a

few steps from terrible things that could happen. And I'm OK with a temporary stop so that we can re-evaluate where we are.


AMANPOUR: When you hear that, what do you think?

I mean, America is the land of immigration, of tolerance, of all the values that we could endlessly quote under the constitution. What do you think

and what has driven ordinary men and women to have those views?

MISHRA: I think anger. And that's where I think we are wrong when we think that, you know, just providing people with the facts will allow them

to make rational decisions. I think so much of politics today is being driven by anger.

And that anger is a result of feeling powerless over a long period and feeling that a minority has monopolized not just, you know, opportunities,

highest levels of income but also social and country capital.

And now I think, you know, there's a big backlash under way and demagogues, bigots, scoundrels of various sorts are beneficiaries of that.

AMANPOUR: So where does this end? Because you've just mentioned demagogues, bigots, scoundrels and there are certainly many of them on the

horizon in Europe and further a field in the Far East and et cetera.

What do you think is the next step? Will it be a counter backlash when they see the policies that are implemented or where does this anger end?

MISHRA: Well, the history that I describe in this book doesn't offer too many reassuring lessons about, you know, de-escalation, for instance. It

doesn't offer too many consoling stories about effective resistance. But I think, at the same time, you know, what we've seen in the last ten days

since the Trump administration was sworn in is really an admirable degree of resistance, political participation by ordinary citizens especially in

the United States, which I think is hugely, hugely heartening.

AMANPOUR: So it is almost like a jump start to civic sort of activity?

MISHRA: I think people are awakening to the ethical responsibilities as citizens, which is the most important thing to have happen. I mean, I

think we should be grateful to Trump for inciting that.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, do you think on the other hand, people like Angela Merkel, I'm just taking she's one of those under assault, but the more

mainstream defenders of the liberal world order that America has led for the last 70 years, do you think she and her cohorts have perhaps failed to

tell the story of 70 years of mostly peace in Europe, of a massive, you know, raising out of poverty of millions, hundreds and millions of people

around the world and of all of the good news that's happened over the last 70 years?

MISHRA: Well, if you're a white working class man in America, I think the narrative of general progress, general improvement is no longer persuasive.

You know, you're looking at your own life and thinking I'm actually suffering a huge loss in my opportunities and my income.

My social mobility is being blocked so, you know, for some people in other parts of the world. And even there, you know, a lot of people in India

feel that their social mobility is blocked. They've been lifted out of poverty, but for them there is, you know, for a lot of them, there's

nowhere to go after that, you know.

So I think what we are sort of witnessing is a kind of universal rage at this point at people finding the horizons blocked and that is taking very

toxic forms. And it doesn't matter what narrative you present, you know.

You can present any kind of narrative and you can save about 70 years of peace, but you know, people have come back and say that 70 years of peace

is exceptional, was exceptional because we just emerged out of a destructive war, but everywhere had been level apart from America, Europe

and Asia were in ruins.

AMANPOUR: Well, we really are at the dawn of a new era. We'll see where it leads.

Pankaj Mishra, author of "Age of Anger", thank you very much indeed.

MISHRA: Thank you.


And when we come back, a speech from the past, a bridge of sorts over troubled waters still relevant amid today's turmoil. Imagine the weight of

President George W. Bush's words right after 9/11. We'll explain next.


[14:26:47] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, if America today is terrified of terrorism, battening down the hatches and issuing bans on entire Muslim

nations, imagine a world of high stakes fear right after 9/11.

It was the first time America had been attacked since Pearl Harbor in World War II and 3,000 were killed. Today, one Jenna Bush tweeting that even at

that time her father, President George W. Bush had opted for tolerance.

She tweeted today, "Just to reminder this A.M. to teach acceptance and love to our kids for all races, all religions."

And she pointed to her father's speech an at Islamic center less than a week after the September 11th attacks, where he stood with Muslims in

America and across the world.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam, we think of the faith that brings comfort to a billion

people around the world.


AMANPOUR: That speech of George W. Bush's has been remembered to this day for its incredible tolerance after America suffered one of its worst ever


That is it for our program tonight. And, remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online and follow me on Facebook and

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