Return to Transcripts main page


Peer to Peer: Trump, Merkel Meet; Syrian War Enters its Seventh Year; Getting Away from Stress

Aired March 17, 2017 - 15:00:00   ET



[15:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, their first face-to- face meeting for Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. Joining us live, the "New York Times" London bureau chief Steven Erlanger, and the editor-in-chief of

Europe's best-selling newspaper "Bild" Tanit Koch.

Also ahead, my interview with U.S. Senator John McCain.

Why is Trump making these wiretapping allegations?


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Christiane, I've tried to answer all of your questions over the number of years in the best way that I know how.

Let me just say, I don't know.


AMANPOUR: So stressed out by all of this politics, by all this fake news, real news? Author and comedian Ruby Wax on her frazzled cafes.


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


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

Two of the world's most powerful people meeting in the world's most powerful place. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is at the White House for

her first face-to-face with President Trump. Although relations between the two have been strained, they expressed the importance of cooperation

and shared values.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The close friendship between America and Germany is built on our shared values. We cherish individual

rights, we uphold the rule of law and we seek peace among nations.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I was gratified to know that the president underline how important he thinks NATO is. NATO is

of prime importance for us.


AMANPOUR: But this is a president who's ruffled many feathers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. He's previously called NATO obsolete. He's

predicted, indeed supported the break up of the European Union and he's accused Berlin of using the EU as, quote, "A vehicle for its own economic


And despite having a grandfather who came from Germany, Donald Trump has blasted Merkel's refugee policy as a catastrophic mistake. But the

chancellor has a newfound sense of self-confidence perhaps after voters in Austria and now the Netherlands have rejected far-right populist parties in

favor of those who are pro-EU.

So what will be the impact of today's meeting between the two most powerful people in the world? Joining me now is Steve Erlanger. He is London

bureau chief for the "New York Times" and Tanit Koch, editor-in-chief of "Bild" who joins me from Berlin.

Welcome to both of you.

Can I ask you first, because you're sitting right here, what did you think was the standout headline in the press conference today, Steven?

STEVEN ERLANGER, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think both leaders stood quite firm on trade. I mean, Trump is a nationalist, and

Merkel's a multi-lateralist. She believes in free trade and he really doesn't.

AMANPOUR: And you, Tanit, what stood out for you? Was it trade? Or was it the wiretapping? What was it?

TANIT KOCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BILD: It was mostly trade, but first of all, it was -- after all the tensions that were there before that meeting for

the last month I think it was overall a very, very positive meeting. So about trade, about NATO. (INAUDIBLE) actually going to be there the first

time and then we will write something about the power couple. So overall this meeting was much better than we expected.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say the power couple, but I don't know where the both of you -- I mean, I thought the body language was pretty awkward, certainly

from Donald Trump. Maybe not so much from her, but he didn't look at her much during the press conference. He was sort of, you know, it was kind of


What did you think?

ERLANGER: Well, I think he's still getting used to all of this, anyway. It was very interesting during this sort of photo opportunity. She wanted

to shake his hand and he pretended not to hear. Though he did shake her hand at the very end of the news conference. I think he knows she's a very

serious person. And I think he still finds this kind of public diplomacy very awkward.

AMANPOUR: And Tanit, you know, a former German ambassador, Wolfgang Ischinger told me that, you know, when the chancellor meets the president,

he will be getting some of his first real advice from a real peer, as opposed to from his own strategist, ideologues, you know, like-minded

people inside the White House.

Do you think and do the Germans believe that Angela Merkel could try to explain things to him? Could actually have an impact on his thinking?

KOCH: Oh, yes, definitely. First of all, I think what was made clear during the press conference, and I'm sure she said that to him in person as

well as how much Germany owes to the United States. And I think he can actually learn from her experience. She's mastered so many crises so far.

She's met Putin a lot of times and he still has to meet him. So I think he can learn. And I'm pretty sure that she shared the information she found

important with the U.S. president today.

[15:05:00] AMANPOUR: I was struck, Steven, by the initial sort of meeting they had. He, the president, you know, showed -- there was a picture, big

picture of the cabinet room, there is Angela Merkel, and many, many German CEOs as well as American CEOs and the president is talking about, you know,

their economic strength but also how they are going to help train American, you know, workers and apprentices.

And, you know, that whole trade thing was a huge big centerpiece. I just want to play a little bit of sound bite and get you both to react because,

again, when he said that it's -- we've been treated so unfairly, she pushed back.


MERKEL (through translator): A free trade agreement with the United States of America has not always been all that popular in Germany either. There

have been less demonstrations against this free trade agreement in the United States than in Europe, and also in Germany.


AMANPOUR: I found that really extraordinary that she actually said to the president who's constantly saying that all of these trade deals including

our deficits, et cetera, with Germany, has been, you know, bad for America, a disaster for America. She's saying, hang on, actually, no.

ERLANGER: And what she's also saying is we're investing in America. BMW is building cars in America. That's why she brought the CEO of BMW. And I

think she's trying to argue to him that Germany is a good trade partner and can be a good trade partner, and that if he raises tariffs, he will only

hurt workers in the United States. That seemed to be the point.

But Germany has a lot to be nervous about with Donald Trump. It's not just Russia. It's his criticism about its huge exports. It's his criticism of

her migration policies. And it's his shakiness about Ukraine and Crimea, particularly in the beginning and about NATO.

Germany lives inside these institutions. It can't tolerate them being undermined, particularly by the United States president.

AMANPOUR: I was interested, Tanit, to hear the president say, to Steven's point, we support the institutions. He used that word. And he also said

we strongly support NATO. And then went on to how everybody has to pay their fair share.

What message do you think Berlin got from that? She also talked about it, but I thought I heard him say they're all going to have to pay back what

they've owed us for years.

KOCH: Well, actually, that's not a new statement coming from him, so I think she was very prepared for that. And she's already as she said

pledged that Germany's going to increase its spending on military.

And I think it's also something that Hillary Clinton would have asked Germany to do as well. So I think Angela Merkel is very open on that. But

just to the former point of what you called she was sort of pushing back, I got a totally different impression of that remark she made about Germans

and Europeans protesting against that free trade agreement.

I think she was actually maybe defending is too much to say, but at that very point Donald Trump was criticized for isolationism. And she reminded

the journalists that a lot of Germans in particular were marching in protest against a free trade agreement and that a lot of people are now

criticizing Donald Trump for being against the free trade agreement.

So she was actually reminding people of the bigotry that sometimes exists in politics but also in sort of in the public appearance.

And, Tanit, while I still have you, what do you think came out of this regarding Putin and Ukraine? They both addressed the issue, but in very,

very, you know, just sort of skated over it. That seems to be a very important thing for Angela Merkel, not just, you know, the rule of law and

Putin's adventures, but also the Russian interference in German elections, French and the Netherlands and et cetera?

KOCH: It definitely is a very big issue for her and for Europe and for Germany. So Angela Merkel is one of the strictest endorsers of the

sanctions against Russia. And she's under criticism for that very strict position in Europe. So other countries such as France at the moment would

actually like to lift parts of those sanctions. So she feels, I think, she needs a real sort of stable and balanced relationship with the United

States to be a balance against a Vladimir Putin who does everything to disrupt not just elections but the whole countries.

AMANPOUR: Do you think Angela Merkel will have convinced, you know, Donald Trump has never criticized the invasion of Crimea and the annexation of it.

He's never, ever criticized it.

Do you predict that he will come out with a different view of Russia after this?

[15:10:00] ERLANGER: Well, I think he's helped to have a slightly different view by Mattis and Pence and Tillerson. I think that's

important. It does help for her to say it. I think he's learned quite a lot about the real nature of Russian ambitions. But it's still a great

mystery in everyone's head, what is this love he has for Vladimir Putin? What is this bromance? Is there money involved? What is the connection?

But certainly in terms of foreign policy, I think the problems with Michael Flynn and the slight scandals and all these issues about wiretapping have

made it much harder for him to ease up on a Russian relationship, as he might have wanted when he came into office.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about these wiretaps. You're obviously covering it from this end, GCHQ, British Intelligence, etcetera.

Headquarters has pushed back. It's very rare that they do that on a daily news story. Donald Trump was asked about it. He didn't deny it today in

his -- you know, he didn't retract these accusations.

ERLANGER: No, but what he did not do was repeat those, because one of the things that Downing Street said today is that the White House had promise

not to repeat these allegations.

So what he did was simply throw it on to an alternative network. He didn't deny them. He never apologizes for anything. To be honest, that's one of

his strategies, but nor did he repeat them.

AMANPOUR: Tanit, this issue of wiretapping, it was a German reporter who asked Donald Trump about did he regret certain tweets and what about the

wiretapping, and at one point Trump turned to Merkel with a little bit of a smile and said, when it comes to that at least we have something in common.

I actually think that she didn't hear it or didn't get it, but what did you make of that comment and this distraction about the Obama wiretapping


KOCH: Well, I definitely heard my colleague (INAUDIBLE), who was sitting in the White House press conference laugh very loudly at that joke. And I

think it was a very clever reaction to a critical question because Angela Merkel has been wiretapped. Her phone was tapped by Barack Obama. So we

shouldn't forget that while everybody's saying she was best friends with Barack Obama, that friendship didn't happen right from the start.

And as much as she's been friends with and had a very, very good stable profession, but also a warm-hearted relationship with Barack Obama, she

also had that with George W. Bush, not from the beginning but at the very end. So I think that jokes like that can actually help -- well, decrease

the tension.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we'll see. Tanit Koch, editor-in-chief of "Bild." Steven Erlanger, bureau chief for "The New York Times," thank you

both very much indeed for joining us.

So while President Trump makes nice with Chancellor Merkel, his staff have been sent to apologize as we've been discussing to the UK over these

wiretapping claims.

My interview with Senator John McCain this week. He's the U.S. Senate's most senior Republican and he talked about those surveillance accusations.


[15:00:20] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

The U.S. seems to be turning up the heat on Pyongyang saying that military action against North Korea is an option. Speaking in Seoul as part of his

first Asia tour, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did turn up that heat saying the policy of strategic patience is over and that all options

are on the table when confronting Pyongyang's nuclear threat.

While back in Washington, the White House had to smooth things over with the UK after accusing the country's communications intelligence agency of

helping President Obama spy on Donald Trump.

GCHQ, which rarely comments on reports about its activity dismissed the claims made by the Press Secretary Sean Spicer as nonsense.

This week I asked U.S. senator and chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee, John McCain, for his thoughts on President Trump's so far

baseless wiretapping allegations, but we started out our conversation about Syria, as the war there hits its sixth anniversary.


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.

AMANPOUR: 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.

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?

[15:20:12] 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 it does seem to be an ongoing reverberating mystery.

When we come back, imagine taking a much needed break from all of this at the end of a long week. Ruby Wax and the frazzle cafes promise to take the

edge off the stress of the day, the week and the year.

We join her for a time-out -- next.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we try to imagine a world without stress, really? Right here in Britain, comedian and mental health activist Ruby

Wax has launched what she's calling Frazzled Cafes, partnering with the big British chain Marks & Spencer.

The after hour cafes aim to bring together everyone, anyone overwhelmed by modern life and create a space where it's OK not to 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.

Your brain cannot multi-task like that. We do have a limited bandwidth. So at a certain it starts to nothing makes me happier than juggling a

thousand plates. But they did a thousand and first. It's the one that's going to blow my fuse.

Because we're told to keep up with the next tide, as humans we just keep going. No breaking system.

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

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


AMANPOUR: The takeaway, know when to slam on the brakes. And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast,

you can see us online and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.