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Syrian War Reaches 6-Year-Anniversary; Voters Decide on the Netherlands' Future; Frazzled Cafes Launched to Cope with Stress

Aired March 15, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, one hour left for Dutch voters to cast their ballots in the first of three crucial tests this year

for anti-immigrant, populist parties in Europe. Their support fuelled by the refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war, which today enters its 7th


America's top-ranking senators, Republican John McCain who's recently travelled to Syria will join us, live.

Also ahead, the Dutch MP whose centrist party could help form the next coalition government in the Netherlands. And stressed out by elections,

politics and all this news, the comedian and also Ruby Wax on her frazzled cafes.


RUBY WAX, FRAZZLED CAFES: It's AA for those of us who are frazzled.


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

The Dutch have been voting in crucial elections today, with a warning from their prime minister, ringing in their ears, that the Netherlands should

not be the next domino to fall as, quote, "The wrong kind of populism sweeps the western world."

The fuel for this populist uprising and for more extreme candidates such as Geert Wilders is immigration and identity. After hundreds of thousands

fled the Syrian war to Europe and today, that war hits the six-year mark, an anniversary marked in blood, as multiple bombings in Damascus today

killed at least 25 people.

President Donald Trump has vowed to step up the war against ISIS there, but how will this war really end?

Ranking U.S. Senator John McCain, chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee is introducing a resolution that calls on the Trump

administration to develop a strategy to end the Syria war, and he joins me now from Capitol Hill.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, senator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Christiane. Nice to be back with you.

AMANPOUR: So it is six years and you have been so concerned about this war, traveling there many, many times and you've introduce this resolution.

What realistically do you think the impact of that resolution will be? I mean, what do you know about the policy review if at all by the Trump

administration on Syria?

MCCAIN: Well, I know that, Christiane, that there has been some changes in the tempo and level of military activities, including those that will be

allowed to the decision to be made by the commander in the field. There obviously has been a step-up of their attacks both in Iraq and in Syria,

around Mosul and around Aleppo.

There's now been announced increases in U.S. troops on the ground, both in Iraq and Syria. And a step-up basically of U.S. involvement and more

latitude for the military commanders. I don't think the entire strategy has been agreed to and implemented, but we're seeing some significant

changes in the military activity.

But let me hasten to add, I still don't see a strategy, post Raqqah, post Mosul. And you know as well as I do that if we're going to succeed there

at great cost of blood and treasure, we better be prepared for the long haul afterwards, and that is maintaining the peace.

You know the competition that's going on right now between Erdogan and the Kurds, the Kurds and the Turks, and Syria. In fact, there's been some

conflict already between Kurds who are supposedly on our side and Turks that are on our side.


MCCAIN: So that's got to be sorted out and that has not -- they've not yet got a coherent strategy there yet. I'm sorry for the long answer.

AMANPOUR: No, it's very fulsome. And you've just returned from there so I was going to ask you, do you support, because obviously we've seen the

pictures of the marines there, the flags, U.S. stars and stripes. And we know that in some instances, American forces are sort of between all sides,

and including in some places with Russian forces.

Again, I know you sort of touched on it, but it does look like an incredible alphabet soup with no coherent direction to it.

MCCAIN: I think you're exactly right. One thing I'd state from the onset, our ambitions and that of the Russians are not the same. A good example of

that is when a lot of activity was taking place around Damascus, Palmyra was retaken by ISIS and there was literally no reaction on the part of the

Russians. They were using precision bombs to attack those moderate forces that we had trained and equipped and even worse than that, they were using

precision weapons against hospitals that they knew were there.

But the other problem is, of course, as I mentioned before, Erdogan is more worried about Kurds, frankly than he is about Bashar Assad, as you know.

And I see a looming decision-making that's got to be made.

[14:05:15] For example, if we are all in with the Kurds, and then Erdogan restricts or even eliminates our activities out of the Incirlik base, which

is in Turkey, which we're staging a great deal of our activities out of, that could lead to significant problems. We're going to have to sort this


AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, the next obvious question is how? And what would you advise the president to do? And it's sort of a combine question.

Do you get the feeling that the president will issue the go for taking Raqqah as Mosul seems to be pretty much coming, you know, being liberated

from ISIS?

MCCAIN: I think he will, and I think we made some progress around cutting Raqqah loose. I also am worried about that buffer area as you know between

Syria and Turkey. And who is going to control that area. And what possible conflicts could result there, be the result there between Kurds

and Turks.

Erdogan is extremely worried about a strip there, you know, which is completely under control of the PKK, which Erdogan has designated as a

terrorist organization, but back to Raqqah a second.

I'm confident that we will take Raqqah. I don't think it's going to be easy. I don't think it's going to be the timetable they're talking about,

but once we have taken it, then how are we going to occupy, how are we going to bring about the lives of the people? How are we going to prevent

suicide bombings to go on continuously?

And one thing we should have learned in all these years, is it's one thing to win a victory, but it's something else to win the battle afterwards,

which is more complex and even more expensive.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, indeed. You're absolutely right on that.

Can I quickly, because we talked a little bit about Russia and how their interests are not America's interests.

Well, what about what's going on in the Senate right now? The Senate Judiciary Committee is having a hearing with members of the FBI. There's

going to be a bigger hearing on Monday with the FBI director there. And the House Intelligence chairman says he has no evidence yet of any

wiretapping that President Trump alleges President Obama conducted on him.

Where do you stand on this and do you think you'll get any answers?

MCCAIN: There's two issues here, Christiane. One is whether there was actual wiretapping of Trump Towers as the president alleged in his tweets

at 6:30 in the morning.

The second question is about the Russian interference in our election, what they're doing in France, what they may be doing in Germany. And those are

two separate issues.

No one that I know of has seen any evidence whatsoever that the previous administration, that President Obama had anything to do with any

wiretapping at Trump Towers, and we've got to put that issue behind us.

And if the president has information that none of the rest of us have, that it did take place, then he should come forward with it.

The second issue, of course, is, what is the Russian involvement and what was the American involvement with the Russians. We all know about General

Flynn. We hear information now about other communications between the Trump team and the Russians. We know that there was a provision in the

Republican platform that called for the arming of lethal weapons for Ukraine. Somehow that disappeared from the platform. There's a lot of

questions that are need to be asked.

AMANPOUR: And just -- we have one minute left. Can I just play a sound bite from your colleague Senator Graham who spoke about these wiretapping

allegations on CNN earlier this morning and get your reaction to it?


LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The FBI would know if there was a warrant was ever issued. They would know if a warrant was

applied for. I want to answer that question. And if they do not provide the answer to that letter that we wrote in a bipartisan fashion, there will

be a bipartisan subpoena following the FBI.


AMANPOUR: So that's a pretty direct message to the FBI and to the president. Why do you think the president is making these allegations

with, so far, zero evidence?

MCCAIN: Christiane, I've tried to answer all of your questions for a number of years in the best way that I know how. Let me just say, I don't



AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, senator, thank you. Thank you for your frankness.

MCCAIN: Good to talk to you again.

AMANPOUR: You too.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: We'll watch the hearings.


AMANPOUR: And next, we go Dutch. That's after a break.

Polls are about to close in the Netherlands, a split electorate decides if the nation will defy the world's populist wave or be swept away by it.

We're live from The Hague -- next.


[14:11:47] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Beware the Ides of March. Yes, it is March 15th when Shakespeare's Julius Cesar was assassinated. And today in the Netherlands, this March 15th,

polls are about to close in a closely what, closely fought election that has all of Europe on edge.

Because it's the first test in a year of crucial votes in which anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-EU nationalist are trying to ride to power.

In France, Germany and right now, the Netherlands where CNN's Atika Shubert joins me from the election night headquarters of Prime Minister Rutte there

in The Hague.

What is the mood where you are?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of anticipation. The polls are still open, but as soon as they close in about an hour's

time, we will get some preliminary results. And that will be our first inkling of how the vote is turning out.

But, you know, when we spoke to voters at polling stations earlier today, it was very diverse. And even last night when I spoke to voters, many

people still hadn't decided. So what we decided to do was go to different polling stations, talk to different voters and ask them, who they voted for

and why.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): VVD, that's the best that there is. The most important theme, well, that the Netherlands is full.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm personally, I'm working hard for my money, so I spend it -- I prefer to spend it with a party that is coming up for people

who work in society. So that's why I vote for VVD.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): 50-plus and all the benefits are being reduced. And I'm turning 70 so I think, well, this is my target


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will vote for the biggest party right now, the party for freedom and democracy. It's the party of Mark Rutte, our prime

minister. Mr. Wilders screams a lot, says a lot, but does nothing.


SHUBERT: Now the reasons that people said they came out to vote were very diverse. Some people said the economy was most important. Others said

healthcare, especially in their older age that's why one woman voted for the 50-Plus Party for seniors.

But also a lot of people saying they had more confidence in incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte especially after this diplomatic crisis with Turkey.

So a lot of different things on voters' minds when they went into the polling booth today.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And as you said, it was extraordinary that still so many people were undecided, about I don't know, 4 in 10, apparently, just before

the polls opened.

Apparently, though, the turn-out was quite heavy. That was something that's apparently been signified in this election.

SHUBERT: Yes. Right now, it stands at 69 percent turn-out. And that's 9 percent more than the previous election. I do think this was one of the

most contentious elections we've seen. And having that Turkish diplomatic crisis happen right, you know, two days before the election, really

heightened the drama. For many people, it was a game-changer and that's why they came out.

Remember also, Geert Wilders, you know, despite being, you know, full of this rhetoric, this anti-immigration, anti-EU rhetoric, he actually wasn't

doing that much campaigning until the last minute when he said, you know, I've got to get out and campaign because I'm falling in the polls. So it's

been a very dramatic election and that might be one reason people came out.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is actually really interesting. We're all going to be watching for those exit polls in an hour.

Atika, thank you.

[14:15:13] And the Netherlands has been governed by coalitions for more than a century with 28 parties to choose from and a fractured political

scene, a coalition is all but inevitable.

The centrist, liberal D66 Party could become one of the main players in the next governing coalition.

I asked the party's leader, Alexander Pechtold, how he's trying to beat back populism.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Pechtold, welcome to the program from Utrecht. It looks like a beautiful day behind you. What is your snapshot of turn-out telling

you? Have there been a lot of voters?

ALEXANDER PECHTOLD, DUTCH PARTY LEADER: Yes, indeed. It's spring over here for the first time. So I think a lot of people will go and vote

today. They expect at this moment 6 percent higher than four years ago.

AMANPOUR: So is that good for your party, the open, pro-Europe centrist parties, or is that better for the more right-wing, anti-immigrant parties?

PECHTOLD: Well, it's best for democracy. But I think all parties will benefit from this. Yesterday polls were, well, close. Too close to say

anything at this moment. There are four parties who can become biggest. PVV of Mr. Wilders is losing at this moment, my party is winning, and there

are two other conservative parties in the race to become the biggest party of the Netherlands.

AMANPOUR: So Mr. Pechtold, tell me how is your party doing so well in what we see as a sort of a backlash against EU, against integration, against the

establishment? How does a centrist party, pro-EU actually do well in a climate like this?

PECHTOLD: Well, two years ago already, my party began the biggest, the European elections, also held in the Netherlands. And of course there is a

lot of attention for the party of Mr. Wilders, but I think that we can stop populism right here right now in the Netherlands, with other parties bigger

than Mr. Wilders.

AMANPOUR: But what message do you use, what message do you tell the people of the Netherlands in order to stop that kind of populism?

PECHTOLD: Well, my party is very much pro-European party. We're compared to the lib-dems in the United Kingdom. After the Brexit referendum in the

United Kingdom, a lot of people in the Netherlands realized that, especially the European Union and working together on this continent is

very important. And I think that also changed the minds of a lot of voters.

AMANPOUR: You say the international spotlight has focused on Mr. Wilders. Do you think we focus too much on that and the issues of immigration and

identity, or are there other issues that the Dutch people care about even more?

PECHTOLD: Well, I think of course there's a lot of issues about immigration, terrorism here in Europe and especially also in the

Netherlands. But on the other hand, we have a coalition system. So there's not one party that takes all. We have to work, I think maybe with

three, four or five even parties to form a coalition. And Mr. Wilders is not willing to work with others and all the rest of us are not willing to

work with him.

AMANPOUR: But let's say and you were right. You have something like 28 parties. I mean, we've got a big war with all the different parties there,

and it's very unusual, but let's say he does win a big set of votes and seats in parliament. What about his issues? Will they still dominate

what's happening in the Netherlands, even if he's not in government?

PECHTOLD: Of course. That's reality for over ten years now. Mr. Wilders and his policies, they, of course, are -- we talk a lot about them.

They're all other issues at this moment, and I think the voters, especially since the last two, three weeks, are focusing on other issues also, not

only immigration.

AMANPOUR: Which particular issues are they focusing on?

PECHTOLD: Well, at this moment, health care, housing, the finances of the Dutch government, our economy is doing well. But on the other hand,

unemployment is a big issue. Half a million people are still unemployed. So those issue are also very important. And of course there's a lot of

attention to Mr. Wilders and his issues, but -- well, we know the story now for over ten years. So maybe people are also a little bit fed up with it.

AMANPOUR: The Netherlands is the perfect portrait of an open country and highly integrated in the EU. You're a trading country.

What is it that broke the camel's back, so to speak? What was the issue that made this country, you know, even ready to consider, you know,

ditching the euro, or even having a referendum against the EU?

[14:20:00] PECHTOLD: Well, that's not a special something here also in the Netherlands. You see it in other European countries. Of course, Austria,

France, Germany.

But we're discussing those issues now for over 10 years. And I think that here in the Netherlands, people also today will make another choice, and

that the fight against populism can be started here.

We have also elections in Germany and France later on, but I think the Netherlands will be a good sign for the turn against populism.

AMANPOUR: This week, we have seen this big diplomatic row and riots on the streets between Turkey and the Netherlands. You know, the prime minister

said he thinks that the Turkish president, you know, throwing accusations of Nazism around. You know, accusing the Netherlands are being responsible

for Srebrenica, while of course the Turks don't even own up to an Armenian genocide.

What game is the president of Turkey playing in your elections, do you think?

PECHTOLD: Well, what we have seen this weekend in Rotterdam is of course, it's horrifying and the language Mr. Erdogan is taking is quite uncalled

for. But on the other hand, what happened this week and also united most of the parties. And maybe our current prime minister will win a little bit

out of it. On the other hand, I think democracy in the Netherlands wins when all parties are making one front against Turkey at this moment.

AMANPOUR: And finally, the latest out of Turkey is that the prime minister, the president, has said he's going to send back Dutch cows.

What do you make of that?

PECHTOLD: Well, I think it's funny, on one hand. On the other hand, it's very serious. And let's hope that after the referendum on April 16th in

Turkey that also over there, things will cool down a little bit. But I'm very happy that we've got the support of both Angela Merkel and also the

European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, Frans Timmermans, they're all very clear on the Dutch position.

AMANPOUR: Alexander Pechtold, thank you so much indeed for joining us tonight.

PECHTOLD: Of course, thank you.


AMANPOUR: And next, imagine taking a much needed break from this world. Ruby Wax and the Frazzled Cafe promise to take the edge off stress-inducing

events of the day, the week, the year. We join her for a time-out after a break.


[14:25:18] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine a world without stress, really? Whether in those game-changing elections in Europe, in

Trump's America, or right here in Brexit Britain, where comedian and mental health activist Ruby Wax has launched what she calls Frazzled Cafes,

partnering with the big British chain Marks & Spencer.

The after hour cafes aim to bring together everyone overwhelmed by modern life, to create a space where, quote, "It is OK to not be OK."


WAX: The phenomenal frazzled is stressed about stress. I shouldn't be stressed. What does he think of me? And it's not our fault. I can't stop

the ice cap from melting nor can I do anything about that. We keep pointing the finger, but I always say, fix yourself and then fix the world.

15 people meet. There's always a facilitator. It's AA, but for those of us who are frazzled.

You know, next time it will be, I think, survival of the wisest president, survival of the fittest. We've gotten this intellectually high enough so

be very careful that next generation shouldn't end up like us.


AMANPOUR: And there it is, your recipe for a de-stress moment. And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our

podcast, see us online and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.