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U.S. Drops "Mother of All Bombs" in Afghanistan; Assad Imposes Heavy Restrictions on AFP Interview; Shining a Spotlight on "Oslo"

Aired April 13, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, as Syria's president tries again to deny responsibility for last week's chemical attack, CNN

learns of damning new evidence showing that his regime did do it. A live report from the Pentagon and Turkey's finance minister gives me his



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly, the evidence that we had from those victims is clear that chemical weapons were used.


AMANPOUR: Plus, the secret negotiations that led to the Middle East Oslo Accords 25 years ago, now taking Broadway by storm. We talk to the

principals who turned this into a riveting drama.

Also ahead, imagine a world in North Korea where a very big event is making a very small impression.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.

Dramatic developments from the Pentagon today. In the last hours, it's emerged the United States has for the first time ever dropped its largest

non-nuclear bomb on to suspected ISIS tunnel networks in Afghanistan.

We are joined live now by Barbara Starr with the latest developments.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Christiane. This is the first time this 21,000-pound bomb has in fact been used in combat by

the United States, dropping the bomb just a couple of hours ago in Eastern Afghanistan against what the Pentagon says is a complex of tunnels and

caves being used by ISIS.

This is in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistan border, an area the U.S. had been fighting in over the last several weeks. It comes as the Pentagon

is considering trying to ask for more troops for Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces so they can take on more of the

fight themselves.

The Taliban resurgent, ISIS moving into this area, the government fragile in terms of security in key areas in the east and the south, the U.S. feels

the Afghans need more help. They dropped this bomb today to get rid of the ISIS fighters that had emerged in this very security fragile area.

AMANPOUR: Really dramatic developments. And, frankly, multi-pronged reporting from you from the Pentagon today. There is now evidence,

according to the United States, to rebut Assad's denials of this chemical weapons attack last week -- Barbara.

STARR: That's right, Christiane. A U.S. official tells me that the U.S. now has the intercepts showing Syrian officials discussing the chemical

attack as they planned and executed it.

That, of course, does not mean that the U.S. knew about the attack in advance. The U.S. scoops up vast amounts of communications intercepts

around the world. Once they had time, date and place of the attack, they were able to go back, sift through everything and isolate those intercepts.

It's just one piece of evidence that has made the U.S. absolutely convinced the Syrians did it and now they are turning their attention to see what

they can prove about how involved the Russians may have been.


AMANPOUR: Barbara, dramatic developments indeed. Thanks for joining us from the Pentagon.

And all of this, of course, while Assad continues a high-profile media campaign to deny and to obfuscate. Today, he told the AFB agency that he

has never used chemical weapons, but under such draconian restrictions that we've decided not to air what can only be termed as unchallenged


The AFP says the regime allowed only their top five questions and answers to be released and simply kept the rest of their interview under lock and

key until it decided to put the rest out on Syrian state television.

Meanwhile, the British government confirms reports from neighboring Turkey that the nerve agent Sarin or something very much like it was used. And I

put all of that to Turkey's finance minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek. I talked to him earlier.


AMANPOUR: Minister Simsek, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Well, you mentioned where you are which is obviously really close to the Syrian border, only 100 kilometers from the center of Aleppo.

You have a lot of Syrian refugees there.

[14:05:00] Can I ask you to comment on why your ally, Russia, is denying even your own evidence that what happened to those Syrians last week was a

chemical attack by the regime?

SIMSEK: We're surprised that even in the context of such a crime, the use of chemical weapons, that Russia is not managing to distance itself from

Assad regime. I mean, that's really unfortunate.

What can be said there, clearly, the evidence that we have from those victims, it's clear that chemical weapons were used and United States have

also provided evidence of that sort. So denying, again, is clearly a political position.

So I think the best way forward is to make sure that this never happens again. And the best way forward is to see how we can find, as I said

initially, a ceasefire, a workable one, because there's a lot of disruption. And then move forward with some sort of political settlement.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And, particularly, it was just mind-blowing to see Sergey Lavrov and President Putin calling for an independent investigation to that

chemical attack, and then in the same breath their ambassador to the U.N. vetoing a resolution calling for precisely an independent investigation. I

believe the investigators are waiting in Turkey ready to go and do their job.

SIMSEK: Well, you've just summarized actually. That was a perfect summary. On one hand, you call for an independent investigation, and then

a U.N. resolution for an independent, you know, investigation for Syrian regime to cooperate is vetoed.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, let's move on. Because obviously you are in a strange position allying with Russia on this issue, but you also have a

very controversial referendum coming up in your country this weekend.

I say controversial, because everybody is having their own ideas about what actually is about to happen. A referendum on constitutional changes is

being put to the people.

Let me start by playing what one of the opposition leaders has said about this referendum and get your response to it.


KEMAL KILICDAROGLU, TURKISH OPPOSITION LEADER, CHP PARTY (through translator): One man will decide how many ministers will be in the

cabinet. One man will decide on their duties. One man will decide on the number of president's deputies. One man will decide what their duties will

be. The parliament will be completely bypassed.


AMANPOUR: So, what he's saying is that one man is President Erdogan and what's at stake is turning Turkey into a presidential system rather than a

parliamentary one.

Do you think it's going to be passed, and what do you say to people who are concerned, as your German foreign minister said recently, that Turkey is

moving in the direction of a dictatorship?

SIMSEK: No. Turkey is actually going to strengthen its democracy and rule of law. What we're doing is simple. We have a 94-year-old republic that

has managed to generate 65 governments. The average life span of a government has been less than 18 months. What we want is stability in


People will go to the ballot box. They will elect a parliament. The parliament will be the monopoly for legislation and also scrutiny of the

government. And the president will be an executive presidency, and there will be also independent judiciary. So clearly, the opposition is against

it. We can understand that. But much of what is being said is purely disinformation.

AMANPOUR: It comes within a context of increasing powers being concentrated in the hands of Mr. Erdogan, and in the context of what you've

had since the attempted coup last summer, which is a wholesale crackdown on civil servants. I mean something like nearly 135,000, over the last

several months, including members of the military, members of all sorts of bureaucracy and civil administration, and teachers and journalists, of

course. So that does worry people. You can understand that, right?

SIMSEK: Well, Turkey has gone through a very rough patch; you know, a difficult period. Turkey has faced, you know, multiple terror attacks from

Daesh, from PKK, and also last year Turkey experienced a very bloody coup attempt.

[14:10:00] Turkey actually is saving its democracy and rule of law, because the coup was aimed at destroying rule of law and destroying a legitimately

elected government.

So even though it has been a difficult period, ultimately, I think people should give us the benefit of doubt that Turkey's judiciary system will

work, that Turkey will remain on course to enhance its standards of democracy, to continue to strengthen its rule of law.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, you've asked us to give you the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, we're all going to have to watch and wait and see what

happens after the referendum. But what I want to ask you also, very clearly as the president himself has said that he needs these extra, as you

call them, democratic powers, in order to keep Turkey safer.

How is that going to happen in a time when he hasn't been able to do that? You've got an unprecedented spate of suicide bombings and attacks on

Turkey, civilians, its democratic institutions.

SIMSEK: Well, first of all, Turkish judicial review -- I mean system will work. And people who are not involved, who are not complicit in the coup,

were not loyal to a religious cult, clearly will go back to their jobs.

Already, in fact, we have re-admitted thousands of people who made -- you know, who filed a complaint, and their cases were reviewed, and that has

worked out.

Now as far as, you know, our efforts to contain terrorists concern, I think Turkey has been successful over the past few months.

First of all, we went in to Syria and we pushed Daesh, ISIS, away from our border, and there hasn't been any ISIS attacks on Turkey.

Secondly, we build a wall along the Syrian border, and that clearly has helped us contain illegal crossings. This is very helpful.

Thirdly, I think when you have a coalition governments, when you have weak governments, when you have political instability, it's harder to deal with

terror threat. So what President Erdogan is saying is that, look, let's achieve stability in administration. Let's get governments that could last

for five years and so that they can have a strong sustainable response to these threats.

AMANPOUR: Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, thank you so much indeed for joining me.

SIMSEK: Pleasure. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Now a U.N. human rights panel has just scolded Turkey for all those purges and imprisonments we were talking about.

But when we come back, shining the spotlight on diplomacy that was hidden in the shadows. 25 years later, the Oslo Peace Accord takes center stage

again, this time on Broadway. That's next.


[14:15:00] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now if you think secret back-channel diplomatic negotiation doesn't sound like gripping theater, then you haven't seen "Oslo." A riveting account of

the tense, behind-the-scenes dialogue leading up to the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The play focused on a Norwegian couple Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul who brought the Palestinians and Israelis together in Oslo, and that's launched

the only peace deal that's ever been struck between the two sides. Here's a little scene.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who am I but you, my darling, you are Mona. You are jewel of the Norwegian Foreign Service. The position is the most

beautiful, powerful, rolodex. Let us try, my love. Together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell me you would have said no.


AMANPOUR: Now J.T. Rogers wrote this extraordinary new play and he joins me in New York together with the real-life diplomat, Mona Juul, jewel of

the Norwegian Foreign Services as you just heard. She's now Norway's ambassador to Britain.

Welcome to the program.

Can I first go to you, Mona? How did you and your husband just decide to do that? What on earth made you take that chance and did you think it

would succeed?

MONA JUUL, NORWAY'S AMBASSADOR TO BRITAIN: Oh, it's a very long story, Christiane. But it was sort of coincidence of so many thing. But most

importantly of all, I think was that also in Norway and in the Norwegian government and in the foreign ministry, there was a strong wish among us

all that we should really try to be helpful in a conflict that had been going on for so long. So we decided to give it a try and I am afraid at

least that -- or in many stages along the way, we certainly didn't believe we would succeed.

AMANPOUR: And let me just move to you, J.T. Rogers who wrote this. You've done political theater obviously before. What made you think this would be

riveting drama which other people might think, you know, is watching paint dry, back channels, secret negotiations?

How did you know that this would be something for the stage?

J.T. ROGERS, WRITER OF "OSLO": Well, I think partially from how you just described it, back-channeled, secret negotiations. And already my ears are

pricking as a writer.

This story in terms of the ruthless narrative of story telling has a ticking clock. It has people's lives in danger. It has people risking

their beliefs and their own lives for an idea bigger than their selves, which is exactly the sort of things that I'm interested in writing about.

AMANPOUR: And, Mona, these were two sides which were not even allowed to meet. The play makes it absolutely clear for those of us who may have

forgotten that officially the two sides were not allowed to meet.

How did you explain? We know from the play. But how did you get around that, getting them together?

JUUL: Yes, I know. I think that is sort of the crux of the whole thing is that you have to put what happened into perspective. Given that it was two

sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, that were at a time sort of forbidden to -- or they couldn't see each other.

And on the Israeli side were by law forbidden to meet PLO officials. And we have to -- also to remember at the time, the PLO was considered a

terrorist organization, that sort of not only, I think, many countries, among them the U.S., was sort of shying away from having any kind of

contacts with.

What we did then was that we promised them, and did our best, to tell them that they could come to Norway, we will provide the secrecy. We will

provide a kind of an atmosphere that will take them out of the heat in the Middle East and to have them relax and try to sit together in one room and

try not to talk about what has happened, but what they could possibly find out could happen for the future and for their children.

[14:20:15] And I think that is very much sort of the success story was that we managed to keep it secretly, and both sides had the kind of deniability,

because if it became known, that Israelis and Palestinians were going to Norway, we have the sort of the cover story that they have attended sort of

an academic seminar that had really nothing to do with sort of the real conflict.

AMANPOUR: And let's not forget that the United States was leading, playing the leading role in trying to forge a peace. And all of this was done

without the knowledge of the United States. That in itself was a high- stakes gamble.

I want to play just a little clip. Here we're going to see Yossi Beilin, the highest level Israeli who was involved in this. And then we'll talk to

you on the other side of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Europe, they are calling us Nazis. In Europe, where it has only been 50 years, every day more and more the world comes against

us, but all we do is sit at that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) negotiating table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you will achieve nothing because you are negotiating model is fundamentally flawed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) that is rigid, impersonal --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and I agree completely, but this is what the Americans want us to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so you must do it! But also establish a second channel. Built on the exact opposite model. Not grand pronouncements

between governments but intimate discussions between people.


AMANPOUR: So that is Terje Rod-Larsen, Mona's husband, trying to convince the Israeli side to do this.

J.T., you decided to focus on a process rather than the real celebrities of it, who were the Israeli prime minister and Yitzhak Rabin. It's not a big

man of history. It's the big moment of history. How did you come to that? And how did you decide to choreograph it so that it's accessible.

ROGERS: Well, I think that in story telling, the way it's gripping and entertaining and frankly fun for an audience, it's often the people right

beneath the highest level of powers that are risking their own lives more and will let more of their heart and emotion show on their sleeves. Those

are the people you are attracted to and who as an audience member want to watch.

In terms of the choreography or the structure of the play, when I discovered that this back channel existed, and I have to say I didn't --

knew nothing about it when I first learned about it a few years ago, much to my amazement and slight embarrassment, I realized that by focusing at

the entry point for our story was the Norwegians, it allowed me in a sense to slide into the subject of Israel-Palestine without making something

didactic in lecturing, but instead have a play in essence puts three sides on the table, the most important being the point of view of the

Palestinians and Israelis where I could create a story what everyone, everyone regardless of their politics got a chance to speak and speak with

eloquence and with humor and passion and the audience of course is then left to decide what they think, because as a writer for the theater my job

is to ask questions, not to tell you what to think.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And, of course, I need to ask Mona the last question about the promise that may or may not in your opinion, I don't know, have been

fulfilled, because this was a success but there is still no peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Just how do you feel about the promise of these kinds of negotiations and where it leads or doesn't lead in the end?

JUUL: Now I think the main message that this play brings is that there is hope. Because also at that time, and still, we are in a terrible conflict

situation also among the Israelis and the Palestinians, not to say in the Middle East overall.

But the message that this play brings is that it is possible to bring people together. And the minute you do that and you start to talk to each

other, I think you will realize that we have a lot more in common. And this sort of the picture of the enemy starts to sort of unravel because you

see there are human beings on both sides and a lot that one can fight for together rather than to always insist on a history full of conflict, full

of pain, full of death, full of violence.

So I think it is a very, very timely play, and it is -- it carries a very strong message.

AMANPOUR: I think you're absolutely right, and it's amazing to be reminded of it.

Mona Juul and writer J.T. Rogers, thank you so much.

And, of course, the play formally opens tonight after having been in previews for the last several weeks. Thank you both so much.

[14:25:00] One can only imagine now whether there is anything going on behind closed doors about North Korea. As tensions over its nuclear

weapons rise even higher. The former CIA Director, Leon Panetta, told me that China has the power and the impetus to talk to North Korea.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It is in their interest to try to continue to pursue some kind of diplomatic effort here, to try to

get North Korea to negotiate these issues as opposed to continuing to engage in provocation which I think could lead to a miscalculation and the

potential for war on the Korean peninsula.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we imagine a big North Korean event that roused journalists from their beds in the predawn hours. But it's not what

you or they even thought -- next.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, North Korea is the real-life drama everyone's watching. A new report says one of its nuclear sites is, quote,

"primed and ready" and satellite photos show activity around the country's primary nuclear test site. And there's real fear of a sixth nuclear test.

And how to enforce that red line, a U.S. carrier group is sailing toward the Korean Peninsula as a show of force. So imagine what journalists

thought when they were woken up at 4:00 a.m. for, quote, "A big and important event" today, told to be ready, dressed in suits by precisely

6:20 a.m., told to leave their laptops and cell phones and bring only their cameras and tripods for the big reveal.

What was it?

CNN's Will Ripley reports, not even his government minders knew where they were going, so amid this geopolitical crisis, imagine a world where the big

reveal turned out to be a street opening.

The key signal was marshal music that suddenly struck up signifying Kim Jong-un's mysterious presence for the unveiling of a new apartment complex

in the capital. Apparently, a project dear to the dear leader's heart.

That's it for our program tonight. Good-bye from New York. Watch us online and on social media.