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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Queen Elizabeth II Opens Parliament; Saudi Arabia in a Royal Shake- Up; War in Yemen Causing Devastating Humanitarian Crisis; Belgians Campaigned for Frites to get UNESCO Recognition

Aired June 21, 2017 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, from Westminster, where behind me the queen has opened parliament and announced the prime

minister's scaled down legislative agenda. There is still no government in place here, but crucial Brexit talks have begun. So what now for a country

reeling in uncertainty?

Also, ahead, a key ally of the U.K., Saudi Arabia in a royal shake-up. What a reshuffle means for the world?

And for the devastating conflict in Yemen, an exclusive report on the hardest hit victims.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Clarissa Ward in for Christiane Amanpour. I am reporting from Westminster where Britain

marks the formal opening of parliament today with a stripped down version of the historic queen's speech.

The speech comes almost two weeks after an election which left Theresa May's conservative party short of a majority in parliament forcing a new

debate on the critical question of how Britain will exit the European Union.

Here's how the queen expressed the prime minister's goals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union. My ministers are

committed to working with parliament. It involved administration's business and others to build the widest possible consensus on the country's

future outside the European Union.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WARD: This year, the queen dispensed with the traditional horse-drawn procession and traded her crown for a less majestic blue and yellow hat,

suggestive, perhaps, of the European flag.

In related news, a speech that should mark Theresa May's political coronation is a reminder of the instability of her government.

CNN's Nic Robertson is at number 10 Downing Street.

Nic, tell us, the prime minister facing a challenging start, it would seem, to her new administration?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Absolutely. The challenge really came in the debate right after the queen's speech. The

leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, saying perhaps she will listen more to members of the House there. Now she's in a minority government.

At least that minority government is the crux of it here. She's still waiting to make a deal with ten Democratic unionist politicians from

Northern Ireland. And I know at the moment those talks seem to have sort of petered out. They are coming to the public domain. Dissatisfaction on

both sides.

Theresa May's top government minister here saying that perhaps they actually won't get a deal which therefore raises the question of how will

she be able to get her agenda through parliament with extreme difficulty is the answer.

So she is not in a happy place right now, but perhaps for her the best place she can hope to be at the moment, but it should have been so much

better today.

Clarissa?

WARD: And, Nic, I guess the question becomes then, is this -- does the ceremony marks the beginning or potentially the end for Theresa May's new

government?

ROBERTSON: You know, she was asked as she left here at 10 Downing Street this morning as she drove off to hear the queen's speech. Obviously, the

one that she had written, she knew what was in it.

She was asked, is this going to be your first and last queen speech. She didn't answer and perhaps that's understandable because she was -- you

know, never had to answer such a pointed question at a difficult time. She smiled and continued and kept on going.

But, you know, there is, you know, a consensus among conservatives that perhaps she is living on borrowed time at the moment and perhaps her

next political stumble they will deem to be her last one. And, of course, politicians you speak to who have been in the leadership race with her

before -- there is Boris Johnson or Andrea Leadsom are saying, no, they are supporting the prime minister right now, but there is a very real concern

that, you know, if she makes political gaffes, if she can't do the deal with the DUP, if there are mistakes going forward then those could be the

things that bring her down.

I think she strove today to strike a very conciliatory tone to the British people to try to make up for some of the things she's been

criticized for in recent weeks.

She was very sort of humble in her approach accepting responsibility that not enough had been done for the victims and the families in the

Grenfell Tower.

That, you know, it does that go far enough maybe to placate people at this moment, but she is really under the microscope, being heavily, heavily

scrutinized.

[14:05:00] WARD: OK. Tenuous times at Downing Street.

Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Well, I am joined now by Hilary Benn. He is a labor MP.

And until this election, he was the chair of parliament's exiting the EU committee. A position he hopes to take up again now that Brexit

negotiations are underway.

I wanted to start out with asking you, because it doesn't seem to be a clear consensus after the speech, whether it's looking like a hard Brexit,

is it looking like a soft Brexit? Different analysts seem to extrapolate different meaning from the speech.

What was your take?

HILARY BENN, LABOUR MP: Well, I think what we've seen today is that the prime minister didn't just lose her majority, she lost her authority in the

elections that she called.

Now I think the parliamentary mathematics have now changed. There's clearly an argument going on within the government. I mean, Theresa May

has spent the last year saying I'm prepared to walk away with no deal because no deal would be better than a bad deal. The truth is that no deal

would be the worst possible deal for the United Kingdom.

And we saw on Sunday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I think is nearly threatened by the weakness of the prime minister saying that leaving

with no deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain.

And in the end what this election chose is that the idea that we leave with no deal is dead and buried, because it will be parliament in the end

that is going to decide the terms on which we leave.

We are leaving the European Union and that decision was taken a year ago. The terms on which we leave and the new relationship that we have

with our 27 friends and neighbors who will still be our friends and neighbors after we've gone.

WARD: And yet the negotiations have already begun. Is there a sense that we're just going through the motions here, that nothing that they're

discussing now actually necessarily has any relevance to the finished product potentially?

BENN: Well, this is all happening against a ticking clock. And one of the problems that we face is the prime minister having started the process by

triggering Article 50, then decided to have an election which has taken six or seven weeks of the whole process. And that clock goes on ticking,

firstly.

Secondly, having argued that Britain would turn up at the negotiations to say, right, we need to discuss the divorce settlement and we need to

talk about the new trading and market access relationship. The very first thing David Davis did was to say, all right, we're just going to talk about

the divorce to start with, which is what the Europeans wanted.

The crucial question for the British economy is this. The government says it wants to maintain tariff and carry a free trade. When I shared the

committee, the overwhelming consensus from business was we wanted to trade free tariffs and other various integration supply change.

Over 40 years, our economies have come together. The best way to do that would be to say, actually, we would like to remain in the customs unit

because then you don't have to worry about that. It also deals with the problem in Northern Ireland, where nobody wants to see a return to any form

of customs posts.

Now the government decided not to do that. It's saying to Europe we'd like to leave the customs union to negotiate new trade deals, but in effect

we'd like to stay in the customs union by being able to continue with tariff and free trade.

And I think Europe will say, hang on a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: Hang on.

(CROSSTALK)

BENN: And therefore, either you leave with no deal, which would be a disaster or you change your mind on the customs union membership or you

negotiate and you trade a market access agreement which nobody thinks that is going to be done by October next year, which is when we hopes to

conclude the negotiations.

WARD: And I guess, listen, the priority, the Europeans have made it quite clear that the priority for them is ensuring the rights of their citizens

and "The Guardian" has a report today saying that Theresa May's government is going to suggest that EU citizens now living here will register with the

government for it to be determined future solution which they are intending to present to the EU as a generous offer.

What's your reaction to that? Is that going to be likely to appease the EU about the security of its citizens?

BENN: It's the first issue that needs to be sorted out. I regret the fact that the recommendation of our select committee unanimous, which was the

government should unilaterally say to the 3 million or so Europeans here, living, working, paying tax, raising families. You can stay because we

think that would help to secure the position of the 1.2 million Brits who are exercising their freedom and rights and the other 27 member state.

At the moment, some people have been applying for these residents permits. It's an 85-page form and about 30 percent of the applications are

being refused, which is added to the sense of uncertainty on the part of European citizens.

And I think the announcement today it shows the government realizes you cannot use that system to document 3 million people because employers

in the future will need to be able to distinguish between EU citizens, both part of the 3 million to whom this ability to stay is given, quite rightly,

and anyone who arrives subsequently because at the moment if you want to give a job to a European citizen, all you have to do is show you their

passport. But that's not going to be able to work after we've left.

WARD: I have to ask you quickly about the omission of any mention of President Trump making a state visit to the UK.

Does that mean it can't happen now? Do you think it should happen?

[14:10:00] BENN: I don't know what's going on, to be perfectly honest. I suspect that on both sides people are having second thoughts about it.

WARD: And I guess the final question that I should ask you is, the queen's hat. Should we read anything into it? I mean, it really was quite

strikingly blue with the yellow embroidery, a nod to the European flag, could it be?

BENN: I know some people have put that interpretation upon it. But, you know, the queen in all of the years she's been on the throne, she has been

scrupulously politically neutral and she carried out her duties including again today with great dignity and grace and I don't think she would do

anything of that sort.

WARD: As she always does. Hilary Benn, thank you so much for joining us.

Well, when we come back, as Saudi Arabia gets a new crown prince, we have an exclusive look at what the gulf powerhouse is doing to keep eyes away

from its brutal war in Yemen. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WARD: Welcome back to the program.

Saudi Arabia has a new heir to the throne. In a surprising reshuffle, King Salman removed his nephew as crowned prince in favor of his 31-year-

old son Mohammad Bin Salman. He has been appointed deputy prime minister and will continue in his role as defense minister, where he has been

overseeing the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The move also formalizes Mohammad Bin Salman's wide-ranging reform plan, which seeks to scale back the country's dependence on oil and

diversifying the economy.

Well, joining me now to discuss this news is Ali Shihabi. He is the executive director of the Arabia Foundation, which is a Washington-based

think tank.

Thank you so much for joining us on the program. I guess I would like to start out by explain to us the significance of this reshuffle.

What does this mean?

ALI SHIHABI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARABIA FOUNDATION: Well, it was very important because it removed any ambiguity about the future succession of

the monarchy. There had been a lot of talk in the media and in social media over the last 12, 18 months of supposed competition or rivalry which

was overblown.

But at the end of the day, the country needed that certainty and particularly since you're moving from an older generation to the next

generation, that was always a very big move that people have anticipated, you know, could be bumpy for over a decade now.

So I think it's a huge move that has been carried out seamlessly and as you saw the former crown prince, you know, within minutes pledged his

allegiance to the new crown prince and did it on television.

So I think it has gone very smoothly and very elegantly, and it puts to rest any uncertainty about future programs, particularly the

implementation of the reform program that began over 12 months ago and is a long-term program.

So, you know, there were questions raised that this is a program that was headed by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. And, you know, if there was a

change in monarchy in the future, would that reform program be derailed.

So I think all of that uncertainty has been eliminated. And you could see today at the Saudi stock market, which shot up, really, as the market

reacted very positively to the news.

WARD: And so just this now enable the young crown prince, because as you said, he has a very ambitious, progressive agenda where -- relating to

social issues, relating to economic issues.

Does this empower him to push those through more quickly? I mean, are we potentially looking at seeing women driving on the streets of Saudi

Arabia any time sooner?

[14:15:13] SHIHABI: Look, it does empower him because certainly, you know, when you have a certain amount of uncertainty about succession, a bit

of cautiousness steps in.

So, you know, while one hasn't heard anything specific about women's driving, I wouldn't be surprised if, you know, this was to lead to some

major social and cultural developments in the kingdom over the next 12 months.

WARD: I want to, if you'll bear with us, of course, you know, one of the main foreign policy challenges that we'll be facing the young prince in his

role, his continuing role as minister of defense is the war in Yemen.

For our viewers who are not following this closely, Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Arab states fighting against Iran aligned Houthi

rebels and the conflict of course has triggered a famine.

We have spent months at CNN trying to get into the hardest hit areas. And in the course of doing so we discovered that it appears the Saudi-led

coalition is actively blocking international media and human rights workers from traveling to these hard hit areas.

We've commissioned local journalists to see what they are trying to hide.

Take a look and then we can talk about it afterwards.

SHIHABI: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WARD (voice-over): These are the images that Saudi Arabia does not want you to see. The youngest victims of a near famine that threatens the lives

of almost seven million people.

Baby Ahmad (ph) is just ten months old.

The nurse says he would be dead in two days if he hadn't come for treatment. But many Yemenis can't afford to get to a hospital. In a dusty

camp for those displaced by more than two years of grinding civil war, our team met husband, Hamza (ph). His 10-month-old son, Akram (ph) has been

malnourished for months.

"I cannot take him to the city because there's no money," he says. "We're hoping any aid group will come see us and help us but no one has

come. We await God's fate."

Access to the victims of this manmade famine has been drastically restricted. In recent months, CNN has found that the Saudi Arabia-led

coalition is deliberately blocking journalists and human rights workers from visiting the hardest hit areas.

The air, land and sea blockade imposed by Riyadh and its partners has brought basic services to a grinding halt. And deteriorating conditions

are being blamed for a vicious cholera outbreak with more than 1100 deaths in a matter of months, according to the World Health Organization.

For 25-year-old medic Rannah Sayid Farrah (ph), the days have become a blur. Like so many hospitals, hers is short-staffed and under equipped.

"How old is she," she asks? "Is she throwing up?"

The little girl, Ezra (ph), has been brought in by her parents. She is the third of their children to fall ill.

"I'm scared, of course," her father Ali (ph) says. "Your children are your world."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wish we could finish this epidemic. We want to finish this disaster. Patients are dying one by one. They will die at

anytime. You couldn't do anything for them.

WARD: Pleas for help appear to have fallen on deaf ears. President Trump's recent trip to Riyadh and the announcement of a massive weapons

deal was seen by many to embolden the kingdom, leaving Yemen's conflict for now a silent war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WARD: Now, I should say we reached out to the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations. And he told CNN in a statement the following, "We assure

you that Saudi Arabia does not exercise any kind of censorship. Many news reporters and U.N. personnel had been granted access to Yemen. The Yemeni

government and not the Saudi-led coalition usually process visa approvals. We have raised the issue to our capital."

Well, we're still joined now by Ali Shihabi.

Ali, I just wanted to ask, you saw the report there. What's your reaction to the idea that this Saudi-led coalition and the Hadi government

of Yemen has been blocking access to international media and human rights workers?

[14:20:00] SHIHABI: You see the problem with your report, Clarissa, is that you did not specify the specific locations of the pictures. Now

there's multiple civil wars of multiple conflicts taking place across Yemen. And the major port where food and medical supplies come in is

controlled by the Iranian-supported Houthi militia. And the Saudi government has been calling for months for the United Nations to take

control of that port to supervise it for the specific reason that food and medical supplies have been taken -- is sort of taken over by the Houthi

militias and, you know, used as a weapon of war to starve, for example, the city of Taiz in Yemen, which is one of the worst hit, is one that is

suffering the blockade by the Houthis.

So that -- the Saudi government has been saying we wanted the United Nations to come in. We want the United Nations to control that port. We

want to have transparency in the supply of medical equipment and food, and that has not been happening.

At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia is the only country that will be left worrying about Yemen, when you know the Yemen war goes out of fashion

and NGOs and the media go on to the next new conflict.

Yemen is stuck to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has, you know, over 1 million Yemeni immigrants and refugees living in the country. It has

300,000 Yemenis in school in Saudi Arabia at government expense.

So the issue that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia would want to inflict human punishment on Yemen just beggars belief. It does not make sense.

The Saudi government has been making huge efforts. Of course war causes a lot of disruption and civil war causes more disruption because you have an

element of criminality coming into it. So various Yemeni organizations take over food supplies and take over medical supplies and sell them in the

black market. So it's a very complex problem that your little clip there showed simply as being a result of big, bad Saudi Arabia. And frankly,

that's very unfair and it's not correct.

WARD: Well, my little clip was the result of an extensive investigation, and you still haven't answered the question as to why or whether the Saudi-

led coalition is blocking international media from getting to Sana'a, and I should say to our viewers that most of the video footage that you saw in

that report is from in and around Sana'a, which is the capital in the north of the country.

A U.N. official, a U.N. humanitarian worker has told CNN in no uncertain terms that the people preventing journalists and human rights

workers from getting into Sana'a and these hard-hit areas are the Saudi-led coalition and the Hadi government of Yemen.

SHIHABI: Well, there are two things that issue with Sana'a. First of all, Sana'a is controlled by the Houthis. Having said that, a number of foreign

reporters and representatives of NGOs and think tanks have been to Sana'a recently.

So the Saudi -- there have been flights going into Sana'a. There had been U.N. flights going in to Sana'a and a lot of the members of the media

have been able to piggyback on those flights. So, you know, I take a bit of exception the fact that the Saudi coalition does not control Sana'a and

that there are direct -- that there U.N. flights --

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: No, but they control the air space over Sana'a.

SHIHABI: Yes. But there are United Nation flights going in where members of the media have been over the past few months using to access Sana'a.

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: And those flights have been told they are not allowed to take any international journalists.

SHIHABI: Well, that hasn't happened because, for example, there was a member of international crisis group that just drew up a report on her

visit to Sana'a and she went in with the United Nations -- on a United Nations flight.

So now having said that, also Sana'a is not a neutral location, because when you go to Sana'a, you are received by the Houthi public

relations machine. They take you where they want to take you. They give you their narrative. They give you their story. So you don't get exposed

to an independent -- you have no way to independently verify events, and that's what happens.

And, obviously, you know, pictures of human suffering are very moving and emotional and people get affected by it, but you really need to do a

lot of due diligence to see exactly where, how, why. And, for example, Sana'a is not one of the city that are suffering from famine. So I'm

surprised that you say these pictures are on Sana'a because Sana'a is not one of the city suffering from famine.

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: So --

SHIHABI: But, in fact, the main city suffering from famine is being surrounded by the Houthis, who are not letting food --

WARD: Taiz.

SHIHABI: Taiz is not applied -- is not allowing food and medical supplies to come in. So --

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: Just very quickly, how do you think the new crown prince will endeavor to resolve ordeal with the crisis in Yemen?

SHIHABI: The crisis in Yemen began because a civil war and internal dynamics were taken advantage of by the Iranians, you know. And members of

the press and think tank community have been saying for years that Iran has not been involved in Yemen until the Iranians themselves admitted that they

were involved in Yemen.

So that caused Saudi Arabia and the coalition to react, to try to interdict the flow of weapons and to try to send the message to the Houthis

that they will not allow them to become allies of Iran.

[14:25:00] I always give the analogy that, you know, if Mexico in the cold war had -- elements of Mexico had reached out to the Soviet Union and

the Soviet Union had started to help the local militia in Mexico work against the United States, reaction in America would have been very similar

to Saudi Arabia today.

So it's a complex issue. And it really can't be reduced to a sound bite or to a selective, you know, display of pictures, which are really

very -- you know, very disturbing to everybody concerned and it's an unfortunate by-product of war.

WARD: OK. Thank you.

Listen, thank you very much for your perspective.

SHIHABI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: That's why we wanted to have you on the show. We're grateful for it.

Ali Shihabi, thank you so much.

SHIHABI: Thank you.

WARD: After a break, we come right back here to Europe where the European Commission is having a spat with Belgian politicians, but it's not as

serious as you might imagine. Find out what it is, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WARD: And finally tonight, we imagine a spat at the heart of the European Union that's gone out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Belgium's frites are a deliciously decadent local favorite cooked twice in fat for added flavor and texture. Belgians have campaigned for

the chips to get UNESCO recognition, but it seems they may not be the flavor of the month in the European Union, where a commissioner has

proposed a change to the cooking process to remove a potentially hazardous element of the frite. Adding salt to the wound, they even refer to the

dish as French Fries, a grave insult to the proud Belgians.

But for now at least, things have cooled off with the commission responding that it has no intention to ban frites of any kind. A great

relief for chips fans all over Europe.

Well, that's it for our program tonight. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END