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Trump's nuclear weapons strategy; Aung San Suu Kyi under fire for Rohingya crisis; Documentary puts a spotlight on Rohingya crisis

Aired February 5, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, growing concerns of a nuclear arms race as the United States unveils plans to expand its weapons

arsenal to counter the Russian threat. My conversation with "The New York Times" national security correspondent David Sanger.

Also ahead, suffering with no end in sight. Senior US diplomat Bill Richardson on his very public rift with Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi over the

Rohingya crisis. And those refugees, the family that fled Myanmar, only for their hopes to turn into horror.

Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. It seems like the Cold War is well and truly back,

complete with a brand-new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia.

The White House this weekend released its new nuclear policy, aiming, it says, to put America's nuclear arsenal back at the center of its national

defense strategy. But its call for a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons has raised questions and alarms, especially overseas, and

especially from nations like Russia and China because of the fear that they might actually be used.

David Sanger takes a close look at the new nuclear strategy in "The New York Times" today. His headline? "To Counter Russia, US Signals Nuclear

Arms are Back in a Big Way," and he's the paper's national security correspondent.

Now, David, welcome from Washington.


AMANPOUR: And this is extraordinary. I mean, it really did grab all the top headlines here overseas over the weekend, with people wondering whether

this is an excuse to maybe one day even use a so-called low-yield nuclear weapon.

SANGER: Well, there's a serious debate about this question, Christiane, because what's happened over time is that conventional weapons have gotten

all the more powerful. Weapons that could fly for an hour from one part of the world to another and hit, say, an underground nuclear location or

missile location with a non-nuclear weapon.

And meanwhile, it's been easier to dial up and dial down the power of nuclear weapons. And so, you end up with these sort of half caffeinated

weapons, right, that are a lot like standard weapons, but also have nuclear characteristics and, of course, the radiation that goes with them.

And the question is, if you have a lot of those, is a president tempted to go use them? Now, of course, you have to remember, the Russians have these

as well. The Chinese have some as well. And we've long had some kind of low-yield weapons.

But there's a big theological debate about whether having them makes it more likely you'd use them.

AMANPOUR: Well, so let's first ask, is there really a Russian threat to the US arsenal and the US deterrent capability?

I mean, all we hear is that Russia could never make it in a face-to-face confrontation with NATO's conventional warfare. But are they way ahead in

their nuclear posture?

SANGER: Well, they're certainly invested a lot in their nuclear posture. And what people have missed is that, while the numbers of nuclear weapons

are now down to the great low, and one today marks the full implementation of the New Start Treaty, which was negotiated early in the Obama

administration eight years ago.

And so, as of today, Russia and the United States can only have 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons. Now, that treaty expires in three years.

And what was interesting about the doctrine that President Trump published on last Friday is that it shows absolutely no interest in renewing it at a

time that the Russians are cheating elsewhere. They've complied with this treaty. The other treaties, they haven't.

So, the question is, if you reduce the numbers, what are we worried about? And what we're worried about is that these systems have been modernized.

The Russians now have, as this document indicates, an undersea torpedo. You'd never be able to get it with missile defenses that could be launched

across the Pacific and hit California and basically set up a huge radioactive wave.

There are other higher tech weapons. So, it's no longer a numbers game. It's about maneuverability, stealth and new technology.

[14:05:07] AMANPOUR: But, David, just still to drill down on this idea of using one. You've reported it. We've all been listening, especially

during the North Korea crisis, a loose nuclear war talk, right?

And, of course, when people see a new policy like this saying that because we have such an overwhelming nuclear arsenal, it's not a credible deterrent

because we would never use it, nobody would use their nuclear arsenals. But this low-yield stuff, maybe one day, we can actually use it. It helps

our deterrence.

I mean, are people really thinking like that?

SANGER: Well, what's been different in all of this, Christiane, is the president's own choice of words. So, this debate about low-yield weapons

was underway during the Obama administration. And certainly, there'd been some research work done, although no decisions to actually manufacturing

new weapons during Obama's time.

But if you combine that with President Trump's statements about "fire and fury", his threats that he's got a bigger button on his desk than Kim Jong-

un has on his desk, then you begin to say, if you combine the availability of a low-yield weapon with a president who is sounding more willing to use

them - whether he is or he isn't, we don't know - then you've got a particularly potent combination.

And when you really press your European friends or people in Asia who are worried about this, it's actually President Trump's words they are more

worried about than the existence of these new weapons.

AMANPOUR: And what scenario could you imagine - what is it? Like, a cyberattack against the US? What kind of scenario could you imagine these

weapons potentially being used or threatening to use them?

SANGER: Well, that's one of the really interesting parts of this new nuclear posture review is, is this once-in-an-administration document is

called, because, for the first time, it lays out specifically that the president might choose to use a nuclear weapon in response to a massive

non-nuclear attack on American infrastructure.

So, what does that mean? Basically a cyberattack or something like it that took out, say, all of America's nuclear power plants or all of the East

Coast electric capability or all of our cell phone and emergency responder networks.

And then, the question is, would you really escalate from a cyber war to a nuclear war. And those who would argue that you really need greater

deterrent against cyberattack would say, if you don't make the threat that you might do that, then your adversary, whether it's China, Russia, Iran,

North Korea, you name it, might think they could get away with a cyberattack instead.

AMANPOUR: And we understand that even these low-yields would be more powerful than what fell on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Can I just move in the national security realm to what you've also tweeted about today, and that is the famous Nunes memo? On this side of the

Atlantic, people thought it was a little bit of a damp squib.

But in terms of national security, what implications does releasing this classified information have?

SANGER: Well, for the Nunes memo that was released the other day, as I read it, I didn't see anything of a particular national security import to

it. It didn't go to the sources and methods, at least in the version that got released publicly and we're told nothing was redacted. So, I couldn't

figure out what this whole argument about the damage could be.

Now, people tell me that the Democratic response to this memo, the rebuttal memo, has got more detail and that that might have to be redacted.

But, for journalists who are accustomed as you and I are, to having a jousting match with the US government on the question of release of this

kind of data, I just didn't see, in this one, that it really rated.

AMANPOUR: David Sanger of "The New York Times", thanks for giving us some clarity there.

Talking of arm races and arms sales, a new UN report accuses North Korea of supplying weapons to Myanmar where the woman who was once lorded as the

icon of democracy and human rights is taking fire from her allies since nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims began fleeing persecution there.

Aung San Suu Kyi was the subject of a hagiographic film called "The Lady". She was backed by the United States and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize during

her 15 years under house arrest, struggling against military rule.

Then under pressure from the US, she was freed. And she even won the nation's first democratic elections.

[14:10:03] But since then, it has all turned very sour amid a mounting military crackdown that the UN secretary of state - sorry, the UN and

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both described as ethnic cleansing.

And now, now veteran US diplomat and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson has resigned from an international advisory board on the

Rohingya crisis, calling it a cheerleading operation for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Richardson has held multiple top-level positions as cabinet secretary, UN ambassador, governor of New Mexico and tireless human rights campaigner.

And he told me why he's in despair about the crisis in Myanmar.

Governor Richardson, welcome from New Mexico.


AMANPOUR: Can I ask you first to put this into context? I mean, America was the sort of shining bastion of light, calling for democracy and

supporting Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. Why is this important, this crisis, for Americans to understand and to grapple with?

RICHARDSON: Well, because, first of all, we're talking about potentially 1 million refugees being raped, being killed, being mistreated. America has

always had a humanitarian streak.

Secondly, you mentioned it. Aung San Suu Kyi was supported by Democratic, Republican presidents, the Congress, as they moved in a transition from a

dictatorship to a democracy.

And then, lastly, this is a geopolitical issue too, not as much as North Korea, but there is concern about Chinese influence in the region that,

because of the crisis, that Myanmar, Bangladesh, that region not go too much into the hands of the Chinese that are investing militarily and

economically there extensively.

AMANPOUR: And just to follow-up quickly, before I get deeper into Aung San Suu Kyi and your last meeting with her. There has been a report over the

weekend that North Korea was selling weapons to the military in Myanmar.

RICHARDSON: One of the features of US policy has been to try to stop that, especially military technology going to North Korea. And unfortunately,

Myanmar has fewer and fewer allies, and so they're starting to rely on oppressive regimes to get financial and other military support.

So, I believe that is the case. I think that there is that penetration of the North Koreans in countries like Myanmar.

AMANPOUR: So, this really is an extraordinary turn of affairs. I mean, it's almost Shakespearean in its drama because, as you say, Aung San Suu

Kyi was not only championed by the United States, she was a global human rights and democracy icon.

And yet, she has been tarnished by critics who say she has simply failed to stand up for human rights in her own country. And you, as we said, have

just resigned from a special board on the Rohingya crisis. Tell me what your last meeting with her was like and what led to your resignation?

RICHARDSON: Well, what led to my resignation was a perception I had that Aung San Suu Kyi did not want to listen to frank advice, that she needed

moral leadership to show to the military and her government that these human rights abuses, these refugee abuses were wrong.

She is unwilling to speak out. She wants to be reelected. I've known her for 30 years. I participated as a cabinet member, a Congressman, UN

ambassador, boosting her, fighting for sanctions on the military when she was in house arrest, visiting her in house arrest.

And she's changed. She exploded when I said you have to release these two "Reuters" reporters. They should be able to find out about the mass graves

that are a big issue.

And most importantly, Christiane, I sense that this board that she had put together, distinguished people, that it was just a whitewash, that it was

just that a - do the bidding of her government's policy on the repatriation issue, on the human rights issue, and it seems that Aung San Suu Kyi has


She is in a power bubble where she doesn't want to hear frank advice and doesn't realize how bad the international community is viewing the

treatment of these refugees, almost 1 million that are suffering in Bangladesh, needing to go back to Myanmar.

AMANPOUR: So, you talk about the reporter. Of course, these reporters from "Reuters" had uncovered the latest mass graves in that area. Did she

give any reason why she thought they were in jail?

Does she answer you as to why you thought they should be released? And more importantly, did she ever use the word Rohingya because they've

dehumanized these people?

[14:15:01] RICHARDSON: Well, no. She's never used the word Rohingya. And it is clear who they are. She exploded at me saying that this wasn't the

purview of the commission, which it is, because a bedrock of democracy is a free press and these reporters were looking at some potential mass graves -

not potential, they existed.

There have even been more reports, the "Associated Press" of more mass graves, of more mass killings. And she didn't want to hear about that kind

of advice.

Plus, I felt the tour that they had organized around the Rakhine area did not talk to Muslims, did not go into to the displaced people camps. It was

just kind of a whitewash of the visit of the Rakhine state that the government wanted to see.

So, as a matter of conscience, despite my friendship, I still admire her, that I felt I should resign because my presence would not be a good part of

my conscience. So, that's why I left.

AMANPOUR: Why do you think she is so resistant to - many people who are still in her camp and still back her and cannot believe this development

say, well, her hands must be tied, she can't do anything. Yes, she's the leader, but she's not the official president. What do you think is the


RICHARDSON: Well, I believe she's become a politician. She used to be a human rights icon, a champion of democracy. She's now the head of state,

but the military handles national security. There's a clear division.

I think she wants to be reelected again. She wants the support of the military. The Buddhists, the majority in the country does support her.

So, internally, her politics probably are, I want to keep these policies that I'm doing, but, internationally, when she goes against human rights

groups, the United Nations, doesn't allow access by any kind of credible investigation into some of these atrocities, she's losing international

support very rapidly.

So, what you're seeing is an erosion of this moral leadership. The worst part is she has refused to say to the military, even though they have

coequal power, look, we can't continue doing this.

In fact, she seems to be justifying their actions, covering up, in a way, some of these atrocities by not allowing investigations into these mass

graves, these reports of atrocities, this mistreatment of the refugees in Bangladesh.

The repatriation process is not ready to move from Bangladesh to Myanmar because of the safety issues. These refugees don't want to go back because

they're afraid of their lives.

AMANPOUR: So, governor, the UN human rights commissioner has said that this crisis has potentially fueled a national security problem and a threat

ahead because who knows what kind of ISIS types or what kind of militants may be able to feed on the despair of these particular persecuted Muslims

in that part of Asia? Do you share that concern?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's bad for the region, for the international community. There are some factions of the Rohingya. They're called the

ARSA that are militant.

But what this situation is breeding, Christiane, is more radicalization of the young people, the younger refugees, that see no hope. They want to go

home to Myanmar, but they fear for their lives. They're being radicalized.

This is why I believe that that is a legitimate concern, but what we want is a repatriation process where these individuals can go home safely, where

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks up against human rights abuses and allows an investigation.

AMANPOUR: It really is an extraordinary state of affairs that this icon has turned into the person that you're describing.

Governor Richardson, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

RICHARDSON: Thank You. Thank You.

And we have a long-standing invitation for Aung San Suu Kyi to have an interview and that invitation still stands.

The tragic plight of the Rohingyas has been documented by many journalists, including, as we just said, the two imprisoned "Reuters" reporters who

uncovered the mass graves.

And a new short documentary by "The New York Times'" Ben Solomon. It tells one family's devastating story as their hope turns to tragedy after they

flee to neighboring Bangladesh, hoping to escape persecution at home.

And earlier, I caught up with Ben as he was passing through London on his way back to Asia.

Ben Solomon, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: This is just a 13-minute film, but it's really affecting. What made you decide to do this?

[14:20:04] SOLOMON: When I decided to make this film, I had already been in Bangladesh for about two weeks, filming just around the camp and doing

short stories. After doing smaller reports, I decided I wanted to do something, a bit more substantial and a bit more personal towards the

people there.

So, I decided, as soon as a family was going to land on the boats where they were coming in every night, that I was going to find the one that was

the most captivating and follow them through.

When I saw was very, very pregnant getting off the boat -

AMANPOUR: You've got a wife and a husband and their two children. And at one point, and we're going to play a part of your video now, they all pile

into a tuk-tuk, a rickshaw, to try to get from point A to point B. Let's just play it and we'll talk about it.



SOLOMON: Hey, hey. Come here, come here. Come here, come here. Come here. Sit, sit, sit. It's OK?


SOLOMON: Put pressure on that cup. I want you to put the towel into the cup right there and hold it against her.

Are you OK? Where are you bleeding? Where are you bleeding?


AMANPOUR: What was going through your head? I mean, here you were, following these people and suddenly you were being Mr. First Aid, Mr.

Doctor and Mr. Journalist.

SOLOMON: When I look at the footage, I'm always surprised by how much I filmed because I don't remember even starting to record, but it all

happened very quickly.

I mean, we had just met them the day before. It was such a surprise that it happened. When it happened, I was looking down at my translator, just

immediately started screaming and I just shot out of the car. And with one hand on my camera, just kind of - as wide as I could get the lens and

another hand trying to help her.

I could - it was a crazy scene. I have never experienced anything that dramatic and intense.

AMANPOUR: So, as you were sort of picking them up, patching them up and the team was putting them into various vehicles, try to get them to

hospital, very, very sadly, we find out that the wife's brother, the one who you were saying, where are you bleeding from, he dies.

And I found - sometimes when we cover these really dire, dire moments, sometimes the protagonist, they don't show their emotion. I mean, they're

so desperate to carry on living, to carry on striving, to carry on doing what they're trying to do.

In this case, get from terrifying Myanmar to some sort of safety in a camp that when I saw the husband crying over the grave, I found it really

amazing. Have you seen the kind of emotion before?

SOLOMON: No. I think that one of the most surprising things about working with Rohingya is how unemotive people are.

I mean, this is a community that has spent not only just a lifetime, but generations really being systematically oppressed, they're stateless, they

have no representation. You would expect people to really get shaken and really get upset.

For a lot of these people, it's the opposite. It's so normalized.

AMANPOUR: So, we're going to play another clip because as sad as it was to see the wife's brother die, now she's having her baby.


AMANPOUR: So, really, this sad couple with their family, I mean, just double whammy.

SOLOMON: This was the hardest thing I've ever had to film in my career.

AMANPOUR: And how did they take it?

SOLOMON: They were completely broken. This is a family that has seen a lifetime of horror. And I think that, when they arrived in Bangladesh,

they really expected life to get better.

For the worse things in their life to happen to them so soon after that joy, soon after that hope of a better life, I can't imagine having to

process that.

AMANPOUR: So, I wonder what they said and what you feel as a young reporter about the democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who the world is now

condemning for not being able to stop and not speaking out louder on behalf of the Rohingyas?

SOLOMON: I think that these past few months has become a total stain on her record. It has destroyed much of her credibility. And it is also

affected a lot of the hope for Myanmar to progress from this once problematic military state to a true democracy.

[14:25:17] The reality for Aung San Suu Kyi is that, after this, there's no real way to kind of hold herself on the pedestal as the human rights

advocate, as somebody who can really stand up for this.

At the same time, I think what gets lost in the conversation about her is the population of Myanmar. The reality is, for most of the people there

really do think that the Rohingya are terrorists across the board.

Most the people who live in Rakhine are causing problems. They're not from Myanmar. They're all just terrorists who are there. And the reality is,

it comes from decades of systematically thinking of this and putting this in the heads of the people.

SOLOMON: The UNHCR doesn't think it's safe for them to go back, does it? The UN refugee agency.

SOLOMON: The deal that's being made and brokered between Bangladesh and Myanmar is something that, on the ground, when you're talking to the

Rohingya refugees is inconceivable.

When you talk to the Rohingya who have fled persecution of violent attacks, the women were raped, the houses were all burned, there's nothing really

left to go back to.

The idea of going back so soon after with really no plans in this deal for any safety is crazy. You talk to any of the Rohingya there and they will

tell you I will die before I go back.

AMANPOUR: Ben Solomon, thanks for keeping the spotlight on them.

SOLOMON: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and follow me on

Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.