Return to Transcripts main page

CNN'S AMANPOUR

Putin Re-Elected For Another Six Years; "The Monk Of Mokha": A Gripping Quest For Coffee. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, no surprise from Russia as Vladimir Putin wins another six-year term, but will he ever be able to

mend ties with the West amid election tampering and spy poisoning scandals. I ask the former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and the Director

General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov.

Plus, the author Dave Eggers and the incredible story of the American immigrant who risked his life to bring Yemeni coffee to the United States.

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

President Vladimir Putin is embarking on his fourth term as president. Along with a stint as prime minister, his years in power stretch from 2000

to 2024.

The Kremlin barred his most viable opponent Alexei Navalny from running in Sunday's election. And independent observers say there was a lack of

"genuine competition."

All of this comes as tensions rise dramatically with both America and Europe. The British government is in a standoff with the Kremlin over the

poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter.

The Kremlin denies it, but the British prime minister says there is no alternative conclusion, but that the Russian state is responsible for the

attack with a military grade nerve agent. And this is what the NATO secretary general said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: The attacks in Salisbury was the first to use of a nerve agent on alliance territory.

Russia's response so far has demonstrated a clear disregard for international peace and security. We continue to call on Russia to provide

complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And joining me from Moscow is Andrey Kortunov, who is chair of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank, and from

Westminster, Malcolm Rifkind, the former British foreign secretary.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Let me start with you, Mr. Kortunov, from Moscow. Here we have a very tense situation. President Putin is embarking

on his fourth term. And it couldn't be worse relations with the West. Do you expect this level of tension to continue? How do you see this ending?

ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Well, I hope that the tension will gradually go down. Putin made

his case. He had a decisive victory. And I don't think that he should be interested in any further escalation of tensions with the West.

I think the opposite is probably more right. The question is how he can do that without making too many unilateral concessions.

AMANPOUR: You said he made his case. He had a decisive victory. But let me just put to you that his own campaign manager at a victory party said he

thanked the UK for helping to reelect Mr. Putin. "Whenever Russia is accused of something indiscriminately and without any evidence, the Russian

people unite around the center of power, and today that is Putin."

So, do you agree that this crisis with the UK played to Mr. Putin's strength or favor?

KORTUNOV: Well, I don't think it was a decisive factor in the victory of Mr. Putin. But I can imagine that it added some votes to the victory of

Mr. Putin because, indeed, the general perception here in Moscow that the British accusations are not fair, that they are at least premature. And

when it gets down to a situation like that, the country usually gathers around its leader.

Moreover, I should say that, whether you like it or not, but the foreign policy of Mr. Putin is perceived by the majority of Russians as a

successful foreign policy, not as something that Russians should be ashamed of or should regret.

AMANPOUR: So, that's an interesting point, Sir Malcolm, as Mr. Kortunov just says. The Russians like what he's doing abroad. Do you agree that

the assessment is unfair by the British and by the West to what happened in the UK with the Novichok?

MALCOLM RIFKIND, FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Look, frankly, if the Russians are claiming as they appear to be that the British response to the

attempt to murder two people in the streets of one of our cities is to be welcomed because it boosted Mr. Putin's vote in this bogus election, that

makes me sadder than I've been for a long time.

[15:05:09] It's pretty pathetic. Putin was bound to win this election by a vast majority because no serious candidate was allowed to stand against

him.

And how can a country, a great country like Russia, tolerate a leader who appears to be authorizing the murder of his political perceived opponents

in other countries simply as a normal act of foreign policy.

Remember, we had Litvinenko murdered with polonium almost certainly on the instructions of the Kremlin 12 years ago.

The only other leader behaving in this way is Kim Jong-un in North Korea, who had his own brother assassinated. If Mr. Putin seems to use Kim Jong-

un as some sort of role model, then that's a matter for sadness, and not jubilation.

AMANPOUR: I'd like to play for both of you, gentlemen, the following soundbite from an interview that President Putin did a while ago. And it

is about the concept of political enemies and betrayal. So, let me just play this and then I'll ask you both what you make of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you forgive?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Mr. Kortunov, that does play into what most people believe about Mr. Putin. Exactly what he says. He does not forgive betrayal.

Explain to me how that plays. I mean, do you think that the Skripals, for instance - or Mr. Skripal betrayed Mr. Putin and Russia?

KORTUNOV: Well, as far as I recall, Mr. Putin pardoned Skripal before Skripal was exchanged for Russian spies. It's a standard practice of

intelligence services that when a spy is exchanged, his or her profile is closed. And that's the end of story.

Frankly, I consider it to be very counterintuitive to imagine that the Russian leadership would go after a spy who didn't have any valuable

information and who was detained more than 12 years ago, especially using this kind of very explicit nerve gas. It's like killing someone in London

with balalaika.

And speaking of the statements by the British prime minister, let me remind you that sometime ago another British prime minister argued that he had

evidence that chemical weapons were at the disposal of Saddam Hussein and that was the reason for the British engagement in the Middle East. And we

know that, in the end of the day, it turned out to be wrong.

So, I don't want to claim anything, but my point is that probably indeed this statement of Theresa May was a little bit premature.

AMANPOUR: OK. I want to ask Sir Malcolm Rifkind this very point. I hadn't planned to ask you this now, but I do want to ask you because again

President Putin has been giving interviews.

It is generally assumed by experts in the West that two things turned Putin off the West. One, the Iraq war based on the faulty evidence that Mr.

Kortunov talks about. And the previous one was a year earlier, President Bush pulling out of the ABM treaty.

Are you prepared, Sir Rifkind, to say that President Putin could have been really angered at the West by these two things?

RIFKIND: I don't doubt for a moment that he was angry by these two things. In fact, I think it goes back further than that. I think part of it was

the events in Kosovo in the late 1990s when NATO military power was used.

But, remember, the way that Putin is responding is not to punish the West. He is using these controversies as a way of trying to deny true

independence to the post-Soviet states, countries like the Ukraine, like Georgia, the Baltic states if he can get away with it, to deny them the

full independence and to determine their own destiny.

And we all remember Putin saying how the greatest disaster of his life had been the collapse of what he called the Soviet Union, but what he meant was

the Russian empire. And that wasn't caused by the United Kingdom or the United States or NATO.

President Bush, the first President Bush, actually went to Kiev and spoke to the Ukrainian parliament before they declared independence and suggested

that that would be a mistake. It was known as the chicken Kiev speech towards.

AMANPOUR: All right.

RIFKIND: The one thing the West did not do was cause the implosion, the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's because the people in the Soviet

Union wanted their freedom, which they've been denied for 100 years.

AMANPOUR: And I do see Mr. Kortunov nodding. I assume in agreement with that point. But could I ask you, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, what then is the way

forward? Can the UK, can the USA be at constant loggerheads in an increasingly dangerous and dramatic way with Russia? How do you go forward

on this? What is expelling 23 Russian diplomats going to do, for instance?

[15:10:21] RIFKIND: I think it is desperately sad that the relationship between the West, including the United Kingdom, and Russia is so poor and

so bad.

And there may be elements blame on our side. I don't myself say every single thing that has happened, Russia is to be blamed for.

However, and it's a very important however, you cannot expect the international community to have real respect for Russia when two things are

continuing.

First of all, our own citizens are being either assassinated or fighting for their lives because of the use of Russian nerve agents. Now, the

second time in the United Kingdom. And there have also been incidents elsewhere.

And secondly, as long as the Russian government's prime foreign policy is to deny countries like Ukraine and Georgia and others the right to

determine their own destiny.

These are the two causes which makes Russia so difficult to have a relationship with. And when Mr. Putin says what he's seeking is respect

for Russia, of course, we have respect for Russia as a country, but we have lost respect for Putin as the president of that country because he acts in

ways that are normally associated with criminals and lawbreakers - killing people, assassinating people, trying to destroy their lives through his

intelligence agencies or the links his intelligence agencies have with Russian criminal underworld. These are the serious problems.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Kortunov, you've heard it all before, but it's nonetheless incredibly serious indictment of your president on global television.

What can we expect going forward? And I just say that somehow this has got to be rectified or do you think the next six years of President Putin's

rule is going to be like these in terms of foreign policy intentions?

KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, let me be very clear, an atrocious crime has been committed in Salisbury. And whoever committed this crime should not

get away with that.

Having said that, I do hope that there will be a degree of collaboration between Russia and the United Kingdom in investigating this crime. I think

that we need to know the truth no matter what these truths might be.

Second, on a broader issue that was raised by Sir Malcolm, I think that the question is how to get Russia integrated into a larger European security

system. The problem for Russia is not the enlargement of NATO as such, not the enlargement of the European Union, but the process of the continuous

marginalization of Russian Europe.

If NATO is the only game in town and you're not in NATO, you're not in Europe. And this is not a position that any power which claim to be a

great power can be happy about.

AMANPOUR: Just to go back in history, if I'm not mistaken, under the Clinton administration, they invited I think Russia into NATO. I mean, Sir

Malcolm - no, didn't. OK. You're shaking your head.

KORTUNOV: No, that's not the case.

AMANPOUR: All right. OK. But they - all right, let me ask you this Mr. Kortunov. Russian state television basically has a whole news sort of

environment where, for instance, last week it said, Putin, we own Trump.

And the reason they said that was because after Secretary Tillerson agreed that Russia was responsible for the attack in Britain, he was fired. And

they link those two together. There is that going around in Russian official media circles, this whole we own Trump. What is your analysis?

KORTUNOV: Well, of course, we don't own Trump. And moreover, I would say that Trump is arguably not a part of the solution, but rather a part of the

problem because, indeed, he is caged.

Russia is a toxic asset for him and it's not likely to get away too soon. For example, we didn't have a single summit meeting between President Putin

and President Trump, unlike we had earlier. So, I think that whatever Russian television might say should be taken with a grain of salt.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Andrey Kortunov, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, thank you both so much for joining me this evening.

Now, Russia is also reasserting itself in the Middle East, as we know, backing Syria's President Assad. And today, the world was treated to this

extraordinary video of Assad driving into the very Damascus suburb that he had put under withering shellfire.

[15:15:12] Also, in the region, the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen entered its fourth bloody year. And this as the Saudi crown prince makes his first

official visit to the United States.

We focus on the true story of a Yemeni American. His name is Mokhtar Alkhanshali and he has made it his mission to revive Yemen's ailing coffee

industry and get the precious beans to America, dodging bullets and kidnap attempts in the process.

And one of America's leading authors, Dave Eggers profiled his incredible journey in his new book "The Monk of Mokha", which is the Yemeni port city

where coffee was first brewed and exported centuries ago.

They both joined me earlier from what they call home in San Francisco.

Gentlemen, welcome from San Francisco. Can I just go straight to you, Dave Eggers, novelist extraordinaire, you didn't even have a cup of coffee, I

read, until you were 35 years old. Why this book, why this character?

DAVE EGGERS, AUTHOR, "THE MONK OF MOKHA": Well, my introduction to coffee was when my daughter was born and I needed some mental acuity in the

morning. And I still was sort of a coffee ignoramus until I met Mokhtar.

And even in our very first coffee talk, he educated me vastly about the origins of coffee, the history of coffee and the conditions for farmers

now. And so, that became an integral part of my attraction to Mokhtar's story.

AMANPOUR: So, Mokhtar, the way we read your story, basically your life story, you are very young for me to say your life story, but nonetheless

you were described as fairly reckless and little bit aimless, sort of an immigrant second generation to the United States and suddenly discovered

that coffee could be a great entrepreneurial thing. What brought you to the coffee cause?

MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI, FOUNDER AND CEO, PORT OF MOKHA COFFEE: As an immigrating kid living here in the West, it's sometimes hard to find your

place. My family is from Yemen, but I grew up here. And sometimes you don't fit in either place.

And so, for me, coffee was really a wonderful way for me to bridge both of my cultures together. And I'm someone who believes in social impact. So,

I knew that I wanted to do something around that in my life and I felt that coffee could be a really great way to do that.

AMANPOUR: But how did you know - where was the light bulb moment when you realized that actually Yemen, your ancestral home, was the first place to

actually brew coffee about 500 years ago?

ALKHANSHALI: Sometimes in life, there can be something as small as a text message can take you on an epic journey. And for me, that happened.

A friend of mine texted me about a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee and it was the Hills Bros. It's an old coffee company from SF and it's

like six blocks from where we're sitting.

AMANPOUR: SF being San Francisco to the cognoscenti. David, at this point, I want to ask you to weigh in about something that you say, but also

to pick up on what Mokhtar was just saying about being proud of his heritage, the fact that he is an immigrant to the United States.

You write that Mokhtar story is about how US citizens who maintain strong ties to the countries of their ancestors and who, through entrepreneurial

zeal and dogged labor, create indispensable bridges between the developed and developing world. And you carry on.

Again, this comes at an incredibly heightened time regarding immigrants in Trump's America. What are you trying to say about immigrants, Dave?

EGGERS: Well, I believe that our openness to the world and our status as a country of welcome is our greatest strength. And it's so imbedded in our

history and such a bone-deep part of who we are that I am offended when we try to reinvent ourselves or reverse course or close our borders, close our

minds and become a xenophobic and borderline unwelcoming country.

And I think that stories like Mokhtar's remind us of who we are at our best where the immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants are profoundly

entrepreneurial. They dream the American Dream best. And highlighting these stories, I think, can remind us of who we are when we remain open

minded and celebrate our diversity and our openness to cultures from around the world, expressed through second generation immigrants like Mokhtar.

AMANPOUR: Your country right now, one of the poorest in the world, is under a withering war. There is an American-backed Saudi initiative. They

are fighting what they say is Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

[15:20:09] You found yourself right in the middle of it when you were trying to bring your coffee out. Tell us about that instance. How did you

get out?

ALKHANSHALI: Everything that we consume comes from somewhere and there is a political reality of that place. And Yemen is going through a very

difficult time.

So, when I started my project, I didn't know how bad of a place it was at the time. Things went from bad to really bad really quickly. And I found

myself overnight stuck in Yemen in what is now this horrible war going on.

To wake up one morning and to just feel and hear it, see airstrikes around you, to feel death and not know if you would live to see the morning, to

have to send messages to my parents, my mom and my father, not knowing if that will be the last thing they would read from me and it was it was quite

difficult.

At the same time, I had this mission I believed in, have these farmers who relied on me. And I thought that I could do something. And even with all

the difficulties and these big players, I had something that I could accomplish and achieve. And I think it's important in life that no matter

how difficult things are that we should never lose hope.

EGGERS: We spent - Mokhtar and I spent almost three years together with doing interviews and retracing his steps.

And one of the things that I could not get my head around was why Mokhtar risked his life not once, but twice trying to get out of Yemen in the

middle of some of the most contested parts of Yemen during the civil war and just to get to a coffee conference in Seattle.

And I couldn't figure out what was so important about that because he would have been safer staying in Sana'a during some of these darkest moments.

But for him, all of his work and all of his dreams rested on bringing Yemeni coffee to a world audience in this conference in Seattle and he was

willing to risk all for that.

And so, he left the country on a tiny boat across the Red Sea carrying only a suitcase full of coffee samples, which was, to me, one of the more

remarkable things about Mokhtar's story, but it's just this unbelievable courage and this sort of bravery driven by this somewhat quixotic dream

that he had.

But the fact that he is here, that he's achieved it, that the business is thriving, that his farmers in Yemen are among the most prosperous in their

field and all because he has introduced - reintroduced the best Yemeni coffee to the world.

AMANPOUR: When this wonderful novelist, Dave Eggers, asked to tell your story in a book, did you even know who he was in terms of where he stood in

the pantheon of literature?

ALKHANSHALI: I'll be honest with you, I did not know how great of an author he was. I had read "What Is the What" and "Zeitoun".

Because I met Dave before as a friend, and still a friend - he's very humble. He has a flip phone, no Wi-Fi in his house and I just assumed he

was - he was a good author from what I read, but because of my accessibility to him and how humble he was, I didn't see much.

And it wasn't until a few weeks after we started the project and we began interviewing one of my mentors, Willem Boot, and he - I mean, he was a huge

Eggers fan. He had two of his books up. And then, I started to understand how great of an author he was and really how lucky I was to have someone

like him be able to tell my story and the way he did and it's been wonderful.

AMANPOUR: Mokhtar, thank you. And finally, Dave, Mokhtar mentioned that you don't have Wi-Fi and all this. Of course, famously, you wrote the book

"The Circle" about the intrusion of technology into every aspect of our lives.

That was a good few years before we realized how intrusive it's been in every aspect including elections. Tell me what you're feeling right now

about that?

EGGERS: I intended with that book to scare the pants off of me and everyone I knew, but it got much more sinister and much more terrifying in

the years after.

I had no idea. I wrote speculatively about how the Internet might affect democracies, but I had no idea what actually happened to such a degree.

So, I'm far more scared and almost paralyzed with fear now. But I find it all so dispiriting that the only way sometimes to deal with it is to try to

greatly limit our participation in the Internet, limit our exposure to it as much as possible, which is one of the reasons why I don't have Wi-Fi at

home.

[15:25:15] I think that we have ways as consumers to exert power, I think, and make choices and not necessarily acquiesce to every technological

advance, most of which are done without any ethical considerations.

So, I think that we as consumers have to slow it down, have to make choices that are privacy oriented and ethically oriented.

AMANPOUR: Dave Eggers and Mokhtar Alkhanshali, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

EGGERS: Thank you so much.

ALKHANSHALI: An honor. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when it comes to the war in Yemen, both Mokhtar and Dave wanted to do, as you just heard, raise awareness and get the American

consumers, Americans to make ethical choices.

In this case, about a bipartisan effort in the US Senate to force a vote this week to stop US military involvement in the civil war.

Now, that's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online at Amanpour.com and follow me

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

END