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Confusion grows over Lebanon Prime Minister's Future. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 13, 2017 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Lebanon in it's worst political crisis in years after Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, tells Saudi TV, he's

resignation should send a positive chock to his country. Gebran Bassil, Hariri's foreign minister joins me live from Beirut.

And we asked the former White House Advisor, Bruce Riedel, what's really behind these besiege moves. Plus President Trump getting cozy with another

authoritarian leader. Warm smiles and handshakes with Duterte and Putin. But where's Trump on human rights and Russian meddling? The score card for

America as he winds up his major Asian Trump.



AMANPOUR: Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Chistiane Amanpour in New York. Free to go. That was the message from Lebanon's

Prime Minister Saad Hariri when he finally emerged in a TV interview in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Rejecting rumors that the kingdom is holding him

against his will.

He promised to return to Beirut, quote very soon. His shock resignation after he was summoned to Riyadh just a week - over a week plunge Lebanon

into crisis and sent ripples of anxiety across the whole region. It's assumed that Saudi Arabia has made this power play to reign him in because

he failed to reign in the Iranian back Hezbollah.

In what were at times uncomfortable an awkward viewing with a visibly tired Hariri. The ingenue fueled report of the Prime Minister is indeed under

duress. So joining me now for an exclusive interview from Beirut is the counties Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil.

Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome. This is a really major crisis for your country. What do you really believe is the situation? Is Saad Hariri

under duress or is he speaking of his own free will?

GEBRAN BASSIL, FOREIGN MINISTER, LEBANON: We believe that the confused situation unprecedented in politics and we heard our Prime Minister saying

yesterday that he will be back to Lebanon in two, three days so we are waiting for him. Supposedly on Wednesday maximum to hear from him the

truth and to do what he said that he will resign appropriately upon our constitution. He will submit it to our President, to the president of the

republic and he is free to do what ever he wants.

We are a free democratic country and our Prime Minister will decide on his own what to do about -

AMANPOUR: All right -

BASSIL: --His resignation and about the future.

AMANPOUR: Well you keep saying Prime Minister. He obviously did resign when he was in Saudi Arabia, clearly you do not accept that. So the

question is, is he free? Is he free to come and go as he pleases? Is he free to say what he wants on Saudi television? What is your analysis?

BASSIL: He said that to prove to us that he is free, he will come back to Lebanon in two, three days and this eventually will prove that he is free

when he comes back and he announces here from Lebanon on Lebanese territory what is his decision to do.

That will be the only proof for the Lebanese who are confused - truly confused and have not conversed with what happened because they saw a Prime

Minister achieving was his national unity government, achieving what was not achieved in Lebanon for the last 15 years, we have a national unity

government, we're doing a presentation, we have adopted a new electoral law. We have adopted a budget first time since the last 12 years, we were

about to award the contract of off shore gas in Lebanon.

We were achieving a lot and all of a sudden, the Lebanese were not only surprised but shock to hear their Prime Minister resigning. So they have

the right, he promised them that he would come back and do what is necessary to preserve the stability of the country and to lead for a better

future of Lebanon with the government and with the President of the Republic.

AMANPOUR: What do you believe is Saudi Arabia's main aim? It's main policy for your country? It clearly doesn't like Iran and it doesn't like

Hezbollah. It is called the rocket that landed close to Riyadh. An Iranian bag revocation is talking about war. Does your country believe

that it's about to be plunged again into some kind of retool of proxy war?

GEBRAN BASSIL, LEBANESE FOREIGN MINISTER: No we are definitely detriment through our national unity to preserve the stability of Lebanon. We are a

love - peace loving country. We are aiming as a people to have the best relations with our neighbors with other countries, including Saudi Arabia

and it's brotherly country was whom we don't want to have any harm coming from Lebanon or from any other country.

As much as we don't want interventions and Saudi Arabia coming from Lebanese, we don't want interventions in Lebanon coming from any foreign

country or any aggression against Lebanon. So to have this behind us we will come back to a normal situation. We want our Prime Minister to be

back freely in his country where he can declare what ever he wants.

This is a free country as everybody knows, that the love of democracy and freedom here. And everybody can exercise it. And Lebanon has a clear

policy adopted by its national unity government which is distancing Lebanon from the problems and the conflicts of the region.

AMANPOUR: Yes, so Mr. Foreign Minister the Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister said last week that the Lebanese government, your government, would quote

"Be dealt as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia". Because of what he described is aggression by Hezbollah. And he said the Lebanese must all

know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of return.

And look that's a lot of pressure coming to you because of Hezbollah because of Iran. I want to ask you do you think it was Prime Minster

Hariri having Hezbollah in a coalition government, his policies that has brought this country, your country, to this brink. And this is what Saad

Hariri said in this so called interview from (Ria). Let's listen a moment.


SAAD HARIRI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We had ideal to the fact that the interest of Lebanon is first and foremost. I am not against one party

against another party. I am not against Hezbollah in the sense that it is a political party which is what it should be. But that doesn't mean that

Hezbollah should ruin Lebanon.


AMANPOUR: So it looks clearly like Hezbollah is the center of this. So what is your reaction to that, and very crucially I want to know whether

you have any real reason to believe or any indication that the Prime Minister Saad Hariri is going to come back to Lebanon as you said maximum

latest Wednesday?

BASSIL: He declared that (inaudible) yesterday and Lebanon never declared a war against any other country, never aggressed any other country.

Lebanon now is regaining it's strength as a government, as a state, as an army, as an institution. We are on the path of regaining our stability and

this way we can - the state can prevail over all parties in Lebanon. So I really believe that with this determination that we have and that was

declared also by Prime Minister yesterday through our national unity.

This is the only way that we can preserve the stability. And by the way the stability of Lebanon is digressing the stability. It's not a matter

only related to Lebanon it is - it will be affecting all of the neighboring countries. It will be affecting our neighbors in Europe. Today I received

a phone call from the Commissioner of Neighborhood in Europe. They are worried for the stability there because with us having one and a half

million Syrians displaced in our country, and half a million of Palestinian refugees. What happens here in Lebanon will be surely reflected on other

because the people here, they will act and endanger the slammer.

Whether it's (inaudible), Lebanon, and illegal migration or whether joining terrorist groups as we have seen in Syria, so this is a matter that should

concern everybody as the President having to deal with something that is really unusual.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for that. I know you are traveling to Europe and I'm sure you will take that message with you.

Prime Minister - Foreign Minister thank you very much indeed for joining us, and just to - I misspoke, the interview with Saad Hariri, it was

Lebanese television, his apparently forced resignation that was the one that was on Saudi television.

Now his dash to Riyadh has implications as you just heard for the whole region and perhaps the whole world. As Saudi Arabia pursues an

interventionist policy, many believe the main target is in fact Iran. So joining me now is Bruce Riedel, Senior Advisor on the Middle East of four

U.S. presidents and he's author of Kings and Presidents Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR. Bruce Riedel, welcome to the program. Let me

start by asking, you heard the foreign minister, he is casting obviously doubts in this resignation on whether Mr. Hariri is in fact inside Saudi

Arabia to do what he wants. What is your analysis and your knowledge of what's going on?

RIEDEL: Thank you, Christiane. We're seeing a dramatic change in Saudi foreign policy. Traditionally Saudi Arabia pursued a cautious, risk-averse

foreign policy. Since the accession of King Salman and particularly since the rise of his son, Mohammed bin Salman, we've seen a Saudi foreign policy

that is much more interventionist, indeed reckless, impulsive and sometimes very dangerous. We saw that in Yemen with the civil war there, which is

now created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

We've seen it in Quarter (ph) with the blockade which has turned out to be a failure and I fear we're beginning to see it in Lebanon as well.

AMANPOUR: Well what do you think? Before I get to the U.S. position on this, what is Saudi Arabia doing with this particular move? Summoning the

Lebanese Prime Minister apparently coercing, forcing whatever word you want to say, encouraging a resignation on Saudi television and then this excuse

for an interview on Lebanese television in Saudi Arabia. What is this particular power play?

RIEDEL: I think you had it right in the interview, it's all about Hezbollah and it's really all about Iran. This Saudi leadership, much more

than it's predecessors is obsessed with the Iranians and there's a reason for that. In the regional rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia

Iran, Iran is prevailing. Look across the region, the Iranians with their Syrian Assad allies have prevailed in the battle in the civil war in Syria.

They're prevailing in Iraq thanks to some foolish moves by the Kurds, but also thanks to the American intervention in 2003.

They've bogged the Saudis down in a quagmire in the Yemen, where the Saudis are spending a fortune and the Iranians are spending pittance in order to

support the Houthis. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah has emerged as the most powerful political and military organization. That's not news, that's been

true for a long time. The Saudis are trying desperately now to challenge that domination.

AMANPOUR: I guess the question is can they, how can they and what is role of the United States if indeed the United States perceives this to be

destabilizing for theirs and every interest in the region? I just want to read you a Tweet from President Trump, basically he recently just said if I

could just find it, which I can't but anyway, he said he had faith in King Salman and there you go, confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of

Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they're doing. This was after the roundup of the internal opposition so to speak apparently against

corruption. What do you make of President Trump's cart blanche to Prince - - to the crown prince and to the king in these issues and policies?

RIEDEL: Well the one big success the Saudis can point to in their foreign policy is knowing how to play Donald Trump; they demonstrated that

magnificently when they hosted him back in May and they've played him like a fiddle ever since then. They know how to flatter him, they know how to

promise him things, but I think when you look below the president's tweets you see that the administration is deeply worried about what's going on in

Lebanon and also worried about what's going on in Saudi Arabia itself. Secretary Tillerson has already hinted at that, some of the other prominent

members of the administration are also nervous. The message they should be sending to the king and to his young son is be careful, be more cautious;

don't fall into traps perpetrated by the Iranians; look ahead, think ahead and have an end game strategy in mind.

AMANPOUR: Incredibly important insight, Bruce Riedel, former White House Advisor, thank you very much for joining us from Washington. Now as this

political earthquake rumbles through the region, a powerful trembler along the Iran-Iraq border has killed hundreds and injured many thousands more.

It registered a magnitude 7.3 last night and a massive rescue operation is under way. Next we continue examination of President Trump's foreign

policy in Asia, he amps up the rhetoric with North Korea, while here at home his own party grandees still can't make head or tails of his warm

words for Vladimir Putin. All of that next.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, President Trump is on the final leg of his (Maris) and Asia tour, visiting five countries in 12

days and unsurprisingly he's already giving himself an A plus. Tweeting; we'll be leaving the citizens tomorrow after many days of constant meetings

and work in order to make America great again. My promises are rapidly being fulfilled.

But observers at home and in Asia are giving the trip more mixed reviews. So joining me now; Daniel Russell; senior fellow of the Asia society and

former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs during the Obama administration. Welcome to the program.

So Trump gives himself an A plus, others are trying to figure out how to grade this exam paper, where do you come down on this in terms of what he

did in China? What is done with North Korea? Do tell?

DANIEL RUSSEL: Well, Christiane, there's an ancient Chinese saying; the secret of success is low expectations; and you could say that the

administration's been some what masterful in setting expectations low so that the President simply going to the region, the fact that he stuck the

trip out to the very end, that he stuck to the teleprompter and went easy on the tweets.

Those are all very positive as is the fact that in fairness he started with America's allies on the trip, so that, you know that's all to the good.

But in terms of the goals that the administration set for itself, in terms of North Korea, in terms of trade arrangements; their two top priorities,

it's pretty hard to see; A- what the President really accomplished that's durable, B- whether he utilized the tremendous leverage that comes with

these trips to the fullest extent and 3- what the region really took away as the lesson from his travels through East Asia.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think, did he get some kind of consensus, some kind of commitment, some kind more clarity on how the region and the

allies and China are going to help deal with a threat from North Korea?

RUSSELL: Well, when you look at what the Chinese have actually said now withstanding all of the positive words and the warm (pump) and

circumstance, their position remains pretty solid, I think Siegen Ping has a couple of priorities for the Trump visit visa being North Korea.

First and foremost was deterring the Trump administration from targeting Chinese companies and banks with sanctions for doing business with North

Korea. And second and even more important was to discourage the Trump administration from taking any steps that would precipitate a crisis on the

Korean Peninsula. After all for Siegen Ping, no war, no chaos and no nuclear weapons, in that order, constitute his North Korea policy.


RUSSELL: So broadly I think the unity with the allies is really a continuity of the policy that was pursued in the Obama administration and

is the right policy.

AMANPOUR: So as we were just talking a moment ago, there were pictures on screen of Trump and the leaders there, including Vladimir Putin walking in

Vietnam to one of their engagements. People still cannot make head or tails of how and why President Trump has had virtually no tough word ever

for Vladimir Putin and why he can say -- how he can say that he believes that Vladimir Putin, believe that he didn't interfere in the American

election? At home he's getting rumbled for that from his own party, from intelligence leaders, what do you think about that?

RUSSEL: Well I think the countries in East Asia at least are confused by President Trump and his embrace; not only of Vladimir Putin, not only of Xi

Jinping, but just in the last 24 hours the Tweet about wanting to be friends with Kim Jong-un. Is the United States now pursuing a go along to

get along strategy? Have we parked the values and the principles that have driven U.S. soft power? I think also the engagement with Putin reminds

countries in the Asia-Pacific region of very confusing developments going on at home in the United States. Asian countries care hugely about the

U.S. having its act together and do not want to see disarray in Washington, D.C.

AMANPOUR: I want to get to the Philippines in a second, but first I want you to listen to what President Trump is saying about his own trip so far

and then we'll talk about that in relation to Duterte.


TRUMP: It was red carpet like nobody I think has probably ever received and that really is a sign of respect, perhaps for me a little bit, but

really for our country.


AMANPOUR: So there is he claiming a huge amount of respect for himself and from America, what most people saw on that particular leg of the trip was

that strange handshake that was choreographed and also a complete lack of any words and any questions or answers on human rights and of course,

President Duterte has a very controversial anti-drug policy with thousands of people dead. Has America, under Trump, abandoned those kinds of human

rights ideals?

RUSSEL: Well look, there is a tremendous amount of respect for the United States and I think that much of that respect is rooted in the perception

that the United States stands for something more than just smash and grab, getting ahead, beating the other guy.

So to the extent that America first means that the U.S. would part from the values and the principles that citizens throughout the world care about and

seek in their own government. That would badly undermine our creditability and our influence. The countries in the Asia-Pacific want the United

States to be present in support of the rule of law, in support of the post- war liberal system. And for Xi Jinping, whether it's in Davos or whether it's at the APEC trade summit in Vietnam, to be the one who's defending

global order is unnerving and paradoxical for all the countries in the region.

AMANPOUR: And as we can see that they're all trying to make their own alliances, particularly President Duterte with China itself. Daniel

Russel, former Assistant Secretary of State, thank you so much.

RUSSEL: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we imagine a world of gossip mongers and rumor mills. If ever there was a classy gossip queen, it was the legendary

New York columnist, Liz Smith. Remembering a life well lived, juicy tidbits and all.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine paying tribute to a gossip girl, well more like a gossip queen. When the queen is New York icon Liz Smith

the grand dam of salacious tidbits and tasty morsels behind many of celebrity close door, well we have to say, chapeau.

She died Sunday at the age of 94. She rose from humble beginnings in Texas to become New York's doyenne of dish. Smith broke stories like the divorce

of Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana, Madonna's first unmarried pregnancy. She made an enemy of Frank Sinatra and she protected the

positive gay actor Rock Hudson from blackmail.

She was old school, befriending the celebs and becoming one herself and her work was never mean, never brutal like so much of what's followed,

especially online. People liked Liz Smith even if they didn't always enjoy being poked by her skewer. At the peak of powers she gave CNN her

definition of gossip.


LIZ SMITH, AMERICAN GOSSIP COLUMNIST: A lot of gossip is simply, tell me a story. Or I see you and I say, Pat sit down, I'm going to tell you

something that's going to knock your socks off.

And we learn a lot from gossiping. We learn what we think, we learn how to -- we learn the parameters of our own morals, what we -- oh, well I would

never do that or well, why did they do that. You learn a lot about what you think, what you believe.


AMANPOUR: Liz learned a lot and she shared a lot. She worked for seven New York papers, was syndicated in dozens more around the country and she

churned out a column a week for a stretch of 33 years right up until her 80s.

That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcast. See us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.