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Surviving Syria's Chemical Attacks; The Challenges Facing Trump and Xi; Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 6, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: -- first mini summit with President Trump. And next we dig deep into the high-stakes negotiations on
trade, North Korea, and other issues.
Tonight, could Donald Trump take military action in Syria, as sources are telling CNN?
A survivor of the 2013 atrocity that crossed Obama's red line tells me the world has failed his people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASSEM EID, SURVIVOR, SYRIAN SARIN GAS ATTACK IN 2013: I feel that we've been left alone to suffer and get slaughtered and killed while we turn from
humans into numbers, into statistics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Also ahead, pressure from North Korea on Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at their first mini summit in Florida. Kurt Campbell
who served as the U.S. senior diplomat dealing with Asia joins us.
And the art of negotiation from Jonathan Powell, who spent decades dealing with the IRA, German unification, China, Colombian rebels and many more, as
Britain faces Brexit, what is the main take-away?
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The world has thrown two of the most serious foreign policy crises at President Trump at the same time. And sources now are telling CNN that he
is considering military action after Syria's chemical attack. And how he responds to Syria and North Korea will set the tone for this
administration's foreign policy.
The president left a rainy Washington to meet the Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. That meeting will happen
tonight. President Xi has just arrived in Palm Beach, even as Pyongyang's progress towards deliverable nuclear weapons puts huge pressure on their
As for Syria, the face of what he calls "an affront to humanity," President Trump says his attitude has changed, and his vice president, Mike Pence,
ramped up the pressure on Assad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think you saw Ambassador Haley at the United Nations today express the very strong
position of the United States of America. We're hopeful that there may well be action in the United Nations Security Council. But let me be
clear, all options are on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now while there are the usual claims and counter claims, Turkey now says that based on autopsies that it conducted with the World Health
Organization, this was a chemical weapons attack Turkey claims by the Assad regime. And now the United States has established that Syrian planes were
in the air and did drop bombs in the city center at the time and place of that chemical attack in Syria when it was reported to have happened.
A U.S. official tells CNN that radar intelligence followed the radar track of regime airplanes and the infrared heat signature of the bombs.
Now Kassem Eid, a former activist and former rebel fighter, barely survived what remains the largest Sarin gas attack of the Syrian war in August 2013.
I spoke to him moments ago from Germany where he now lives.
Kassem Eid, welcome to the program and thank you for joining me. You know, in the wake of this terrible attack, I want to get your experience, your
eyewitness experience of having survived the last really catastrophic Sarin gas attack.
EID: Absolutely. I will never forget in my mind. It is a day that I always describe as judgment day. I was up at 5:00 a.m. for the early
morning prayer. I started hearing the alarms coming from Damascus. Suddenly rockets started flying into the ground. Hitting the ground.
Seconds later I lost my ability to breathe. I felt like my chest was set on fire, my eyes were burning. I felt pain in each and every part of my
A few seconds later I couldn't breathe, I couldn't scream, I couldn't do anything. So I started beating my chest as hard as I can to get just one
AMANPOUR: Wow. How did you survive, Kassem?
EID: After I took my first breath I started screaming to alert my friends. Also the name I first started screaming. I tried to help a little boy who
was suffocating. Took him to the field hospital where I lost my conscious there. My heart stopped and the doctors gave up on me after they thought I
was dead. After several attempts with Atropan and CPR, I was placed between the dead bodies.
[14:05:04] My friends noticed I was still moving somehow. They called the doctors again. With a lot of Atropan and a lot of CPR, and a lot of mercy
from God, I had another chance and I woke up.
AMANPOUR: It just is horrendous listening to you describe this and then seeing what happened just this week, just a couple of days ago. I want to
play a little sound bite, a little fragment of an interview that our Ben Wedeman got from one of the survivors of this Tuesday's attack in Idlib.
Just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: "I saw the explosion in front of my grandfather's house," he recalls. "I ran to their house
barefoot. I saw my grandfather sitting like this, suffocated. Then I became dizzy." How many of his relatives were killed? "Nineteen," he
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: This poor desperate boy. I mean, he must remind you of yourself all those years ago. What do you feel when you hear that?
EID: What do you expect I'd feel? I feel betrayed. I feel disappointed from humanity. I feel that we've been left alone to suffer and get
slaughtered and killed while we turn from humans into numbers, into statistics. That boy's a real boy, just like the boy that I was trying to
save. I don't know, this is not 2017. This is the Stone Ages. This is -- this is a war where the powerful can kill and rape and gas and do whatever
the hell they want because there is no consequences.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you to describe what you have tried to do to make people listen. You have gone on television. You have gone to the United
States. Just describe who you've tried to be -- to talk to since it happened to you, since that famous red line by President Obama.
EID: I tried to talk to each and every person who wanted to listen. The U.S. government. In think tanks. In universities. On media. Everywhere.
I was just trying to convince President Obama to change his mind. But after two years in the States, I give up and I left the States. I left
with my own will out of disappointment.
And now if I may just say, I want again to send a direct message to President Trump if you may just give me few seconds. I want to tell
President Trump, please, for the love of god, don't make the same mistakes President Obama did. Please help Syrians. If you wanted to take out ISIS,
take out the man who helped creating ISIS. If you are a smart man, you should take out Assad.
AMANPOUR: You make a very, very strong appeal. I wonder, Kassem, what you thought when you presumably saw President Trump in the Rose Garden last
night. Very, very strong, very almost emotional about what he's seen happen in Idlib. And he said the following.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines. I will tell you, that attack
on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What did you think when you heard that? What did you expect?
EID: I felt hope. I felt hope again. And I hope I won't get my heart broken again. Just like so many Syrians did.
AMANPOUR: Kassem Eid, thank you so much for your testimony tonight.
EID: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And how President Trump deals with Syria's chemical attack could influence the actions of North Korea. And when Trump and President Xi
Jinping meet tonight behind closed doors, there will be some very tough talk and painstaking negotiations which my next guest knows all about.
Over the past 40 years, Britain's Jonathan Powell has negotiated with the IRA, the old Soviet Union and China, among others. So as Britain bargains
over Brexit and the U.S. confronts China over North Korea, Powell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, join me here to discuss the art
Jonathan Powell, welcome to the program. We're talking about all of these very, very difficult negotiations and these critical problems facing the
West. Xi and President Trump, how is that going to go and how would you advise a negotiation over, for instance, North Korea's nuclear capability?
JONATHAN POWELL, CHIEF OF BREXIT EXCHANGE: Well, I'm sure that President Trump will push President Xi very hard on North Korea and ask for his help.
The trouble is so did President Obama and presidents before him. There is a limit to how much the Chinese can and will help on North Korea. You
cannot rely on them to do it.
[14:10:01] Now the American administration has taken the position recently. They won't talk to North Korea. We have this policy of strategic patience.
It hasn't worked. In the intervening period the North Koreans have made great advances in nuclear weaponry. So someone is going to have to talk to
them. It was not the Chinese, it would need to be the Americans, right? I think if I was advising President Trump, I would ask -- I would advise him
put pressure on the Chinese but also be prepared to talk.
AMANPOUR: What about Syria? Because Syria now actually has deployed a weapon of mass destruction several times, but this is the worst in the last
four years. How does the West deal with Assad and I suppose that's about putting pressure on Russia?
POWELL: Well, it's also about being prepared to take action. You know, we have this hangover from Iraq that we now no longer want to take action, as
we did in Kosovo, as we did in Sierra Leone. But I think we need to revisit that. We need to say to ourselves, there are consequences from
inaction as well as consequences from acting in the wrong way. And we need to be prepared to intervene when necessary.
No, I'm not calling for an attack on Syria or anything as silly as that. But why not safe zones? You know, we talk about safe zones awhile back.
The Turks are talking about safe zones. Why not start establishing safe zones where people can go and not be attacked and not subject to these
terrible things like the chemical weapons attack.
AMANPOUR: So those are your views on negotiations that could possibly resolve some very, very dangerous military threats. What about when it
comes to the economic and other threats that Brexit potentially poses, according to some, or the great opportunity that it poses, according to
Donald Tusk is in town today meeting with Theresa May. How is that going in your view?
POWELL: Well, for the last nine months the British side has been negotiating with itself. We've all been talking about what our negotiating
position should be. And now we're going to have to face the hard reality that nearly all of the cards are actually in the hands of the other 27
members of the EU.
AMANPOUR: If you were, you know, in a position to advise the prime minister, what should she do? Because she's already -- we can see
softening some of the stances about free movement of people, about, you know, not doing trade before the -- you know, the settlement is sort of
POWELL: Well, the purpose for negotiations actually to build trust, not to try and win over someone. If you try and win over someone, you won't
succeed. So she has to stop the chest bumping and I think she is doing that. But what she's doing at the moment is retreating from a whole series
of positions. She is saying we must be prepared to accept continued migration and free movement from Europe. She's saying we're going to have
to carry on making contributions to the EU. She's saying we're going to carry on accepting the European Court of Justice. In those circumstances,
why on earth are we leaving?
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you that.
POWELL: Well, I've never been in favor of Brexit so I don't think it's very sensible. I do think the British people will change their mind when
they see the reality over a number of years of this negotiation, when they see the threat to the United Kingdom itself with Scotland and even Northern
Ireland threatening to leave in these circumstances when they see the threat to Gibraltar, when they see the threat to our economy.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me take Northern Ireland because obviously that was something that you were very, very involved in. You were the main
negotiator for Prime Minister Blair in the Good Friday Peace Agreement and you have recently written "The UK government has put themselves in the
position of achieving something that the IRA couldn't achieve by 30 years of armed campaign. They've actually put the issue of a united island back
on the agenda."
And this presumably is all about the hard border between EU republic of Ireland and Brexit Northern Ireland.
POWELL: That's exactly right. We have politicians who go around saying there won't be a hard border. Both Tony Blair and John Major, both of whom
contributed to the Northern Ireland peace process. Went to Northern Ireland during the campaign and said the danger is a hard border.
Theresa Villiers who is the North Ireland secretary of Northern Ireland. Now the government says no, there won't be a hard border but they don't
explain to us how they're going to avoid it and you have a different customs policy, and you have a different immigration policy. How on earth
can you avoid a hard border? And once you have a hard border you undermine the basis of the Good Friday agreement, which is by identity you are able
to be Irish and British and live in Northern Ireland. Now with a hard border that will be much harder.
AMANPOUR: You know, you've mentioned in your writings, you know, you have to go all the way back at least to Hong Kong where again Britain thought
that it had this great hand but actually China really had the hand because it didn't care about the things Britain did. And you mentioned the
Give us a sense of I guess what it takes to have a successful negotiation when you may not hold all the cards?
POWELL: It does take a great deal of subtlety. In the case of Hong Kong, Mrs. Thatcher thought that the Chinese would never try and kill the golden
goose. China needed Hong Kong for imports and exports, for currency and so on. So she thought they'll be sure to allow us to keep sovereignty, sure,
they'd allow us to keep administration. But actually they wouldn't. Because years of nationalism in China have made people feel the opium wars,
the loss of Hong Kong was a national slight. And they were determined to reverse it.
So as soon as you raised the issue, Deng Xiaoping said we will have Hong Kong back in China. We can have one country and two systems. But once he
said that in the Chinese system there was no going back from it. But in the end what we managed to do is by using the deadline that Deng Xiaoping
set for these negotiations, he said they had to be finished within two years and his official staff had to deliver it. And we said well, we're
not bound by this deadline. We can go on and negotiate further.
[14:15:02] And we used that right until the end of the negotiation to force them into some real details, and the details that may exist on all sorts of
issues from the economic to the political. And those really are what allowed Hong Kong to prosper in the intervening period.
AMANPOUR: So by that logic, can Britain do that with the EU?
POWELL: Well, actually, unfortunately the deadline works against us in this case because you have this two-year deadline. And for the EU, it's
fine because that -- all 27 agree the deadline can be extended. For us the problem is we can do nothing to change that deadline. It is there in law.
They will implement it against us unless we can persuade all 27. And they'll want something for changing that.
AMANPOUR: And throw up a coin. Do you think it will happen in two years?
POWELL: My personal belief is that there is no chance the negotiations will be complete in two years. Absolutely no chance. They're much too
complicated for that. My belief is that the British people will actually change their mind when they begin to see the realities of Brexit and it may
well not happen.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Jonathan Powell, thank you very much.
POWELL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now Churchill famously said that instead of war, war, let's jaw, jaw. And we'll have more of that after a break.
I'm joined by Kurt Campbell, who is the Obama administration's point man on Asia. And we drill down on whether Trump and Xi can strike a deal on
containing North Korea and all the other major issues.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Now how to diffuse Pyongyang's nuclear threat will be one of the main issues on the table when Chinese
President Xi Jinping meets President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Kurt Campbell is the former assistant the secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affair for the Obama administration and he joins me live from
Welcome to the program. And you have obviously dealt with this issue and you've met President Xi on several occasions. Just from your perspective,
tell me about him and how the chemistry, not to mention the negotiations, might work with President Trump.
KURT CAMPBELL, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, THE ASIA GROUP: Great. And thank you, Christiane. Let me just say, I don't know if chemistry has ever been more
important in the relationship between the United States and China. Perhaps back to the time of Nixon and Mao, largely because each leader depends on a
very small group of advisors and really takes advice most from themselves. Right? And so Xi is a singular leader. He has spent the last three or
four years essentially dismantling collective leadership in China. He makes almost every major decision.
There are some similarities between the men. They're both nationalistic. They're both head strong. They both are impatient and they distrust the
media. I think the chemistry is likely to be initially quite difficult. I think they're both domineering personalities. It is going to be
interesting to see how President Xi presents himself and China in the meetings with the president, particularly after all the tweeting and all
the sort of critical comments the president has made about China in the last couple of weeks.
Just one last thing. I was just in China, and just as there are big debates in the United States about China, the advisors around President Xi
are divided themselves about what to expect.
[14:20:07] One group believes that President Trump is essentially a negotiator, and this is highly transactional, and China just has to come up
with the right price, and then everything can proceed accordingly. Another group believes that this is really a sea change in American policy and
we're heading into a situation in which much greater tensions, even conflict, might be in store.
AMANPOUR: Well, you talk about conflict. And what is on the table is the perennial threat of conflict over North Korea. And it seems that that is
ramping up. I mean there's all sorts of declarations that are being made, not to mention, you know, President Trump, what he said to the FT, if China
doesn't deal with this, we will.
Just give me a sense of what is the best the U.S. and the world can expect to come out of their meeting on North Korea?
CAMPBELL: So I probably take a minority view here, Christiane. I think by putting so much pressure on the issue, and by acting a little bit, you
know, unpredictable, I think the Chinese are very anxious about North Korea and are likely to take steps to try to rein North Korea in.
Now despite protestations that they don't have as much influence or leverage, they do. And they're going to be very worried that an
unpredictable president might take steps that go beyond previous administrations. I know that seems contrary that, you know, the crazier
you are, the more impact you have on China. But I think behind the scenes, China's prepared to ramp up pressure on North Korea commercially and
AMANPOUR: So --
CAMPBELL: I'm not sure President Xi will admit that in the meeting with President Trump, but behind the scenes, I think the pressure's ramping up.
AMANPOUR: You may have heard Jonathan Powell who also does North Korea work, and has done in the past, but basically stating the obvious, that
your administration's policy is strategic, patience. And other previous administration's policies just didn't work. The -- the sticks didn't work
because North Korea has ramped up its nuclear program and is now very, very close to threatening the United States. Do you think it's -- the U.S.
should actually decide to talk to North Korea under the correct circumstances?
CAMPBELL: Yes, Christiane, that's the key here. I think there is this idea somehow that the West and the United States has not been prepared to
talk with North Korea. We have been prepared to talk to North Korea, but on the condition that North Korea will make a choice between international
engagement or, you know, isolation. And to enjoy the benefits of being part of the international community, they have to give up nuclear weapons.
They have not been prepared to do that. I think under any circumstances -- and I am afraid that the way forward is going to involve more pressure,
both on North Korea and on China. The key here, though, is consultations with the allies and preparations.
This administration is not fully manned. There's no one below Secretary Tillerson. It is largely chaos in policy making. We have deep uncertainty
in South Korea. No consultations with Japan, and no relationship really of trust between the United States and China.
AMANPOUR: Well, quickly --
CAMPBELL: So you cannot court -- yes. You can't court this kind of tension without creating the context for harder pressure.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, obviously up until now, President Trump's focus has been on trade and what he calls, you know, China basically raping -- he
used that word -- the American economy. What is that going to do for dynamic and is trade going to be more important? Or how are they going to
trade that off with security?
CAMPBELL: My guess is that the Chinese are going to come with a card, and they're going to say, look, we're prepared to invest this amount of money.
We're going to send this number of 747s to the United States. Chock or block full with Chinese investors and buyers and we're going to buy
airplanes and technology and property.
We're going to do everything we can to help you make America great again. And they're going to hope that that kind of highly transactional approach
which is about American jobs and investment will win over the president. I think they're also hoping that the president does not have very much
experience or knowledge in diplomacy or the history of Asia, and so there are attempts that China's made in the past to play a similar card. They're
hoping that he doesn't have that context to be able to make judgments.
AMANPOUR: All right.
CAMPBELL: Whether this is a good or bad deal.
AMANPOUR: We shall see after these few days at Mar-a-Lago.
Kurt Campbell, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
CAMPBELL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And after a break, imagining the enterprising student newspaper reporters who scoop their own principal.
[14:25:07] It is a story taking the world by storm. We'll have it next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine the high school investigative reporters scoring a major scoop and taking the world by storm. When
Pittsburgh High School in Kansas hired a new principal, a feature report by the school newspaper designed to introduce her to the students and the
community really wasn't supposed to cause much fuss. But that all changed when the school's budding journalists quickly discovered inconsistencies in
their new head teacher's story during their interview with her.
Now encouraged by their teachers, they dug deeper and they scored a major front page scoop revealing the Master's degree and doctorate that she
claimed actually belonged to a decidedly doggedly dodgy institution with no known address. They also found irregularities in her claimed bachelor's
degree from the University of Oklahoma. And just four days later the new principal resigned.
Pittsburgh High School told us today the students handled it professionally and with integrity. They knew it was a big responsibility, but committed
to the story anyway.
I guess it is never too early to speak truth to power.
And that's it for our program tonight. Good-bye from London.