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An Insider's View of North Korea Nuclear Talks; A Voice for Reform in Malaysia. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, what is the real story behind Kim Jong-un's threat to pull out of a high-stakes summit with President Trump.

An insider's view on the nuclear negotiations from Jonathan Powell, the former British diplomat and chief peace negotiator in Northern Ireland, who

has been taking his conflict resolution skills to Pyongyang. He joins me here.

Plus, tracing the arc of revenge, rivalry and wrath to redemption and rehabilitation. The Malaysian democracy hero Anwar Ibrahim gives us his

first and exclusive international television interview since his sensational release from a decade in jail.

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

Talk of Nobel Prizes and a nuke-free Korean Peninsula are on hold at the moment as Pyongyang threatens to call of next month's historic talks

between Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

North Korea says it won't be surrendering to U.S. demands and their top nuclear negotiator is taking a personal swipe at Trump's hawkish National

Security Advisor John Bolton, saying "we do not hide out repugnance towards him."

So, is this posturing or is it a real signal about what can and cannot be achieved? Who better to ask than my first guest tonight Jonathan Powell.

He was Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff and the chief negotiator on the Northern Ireland peace process. And Powell has worked closely with

the Clinton and Bush administrations and knows a thing or two about trying to make peace with your enemy.

For the last six years, he's taken those dialogue skills to North Korea and he joins me here now.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, you have recently returned in the last couple of months. First and foremost, what mood did you find there?

POWELL: Well, I think they were very pleased with the success of the step they took in January in reaching out to the South Koreans. And then, the

strategy they've unveiled since then has been enormously successful, at the Olympics with the charm offensive, reaching to the South, the success of

the Southern summit.

So, I think they are really feeling quite pleased with themselves and the progress so far.

AMANPOUR: And Donald Trump, how did that come in?

POWELL: Well, they were very keen to study Donald Trump. When I was there in December, they were reading "Art of the Deal" and wanted to discuss the

book and what it showed about the president.

When I went back at the beginning of this year, they were reading "Fire and Fury", all on the PDFs, not buying the book itself and trying to discuss

what that told them about Trump too.

So, they've planned this very carefully. Since last November/December, they've had a clear strategy. And so far, it's all about reaction on the

side of the West to their initiatives.

AMANPOUR: So, they really are leading this then?

POWELL: They appear to me to be leading. They appear to me to have a clear strategy and they've had a series of surprises, things we didn't

expect. And I think there will be more surprises along the way.

AMANPOUR: So, what is their end game?

POWELL: I think what they want to try and do is to negotiate from a position of strength. They've developed their nuclear weapons, so that

they feel they have a nuclear deterrent. They're not begging the United States. They're not begging the South.

What they do want to do I think is get to a place where their people can be more prosperous, where they can open up economically because sanctions and

their economic primitiveness is a real problem for them.

If the regime wants to stay safe, it needs to develop that economy.

AMANPOUR: But not at any cost then, right, because they have just started to say, clearly - and you would know better than I - they've been keeping a

good eye on what happens in the United States.

They watch TV. They have access to satellite channels. And they've just come out with this sort of - as people are calling it - a cold shower over

all of this hype. What do you think it is that's made them sort of that's made them sort of get back into the hermit shell?

POWELL: Well, as you say, they're very well informed. They monitor everyday what's happening in the news in the West. They know exactly

what's going on.

I think they objected to what they saw as an attempt to put them in a position of surrendering, making them look like they were going into the

negotiations weak. And, in particular, preferring to Libya is a real (INAUDIBLE 4:22) to them.

AMANPOUR: What do you mean referring to Libya?

POWELL: Well, when John Bolton rose the example of Libya is what should happen to North Korea - every time I've been to North Korea in the last six

years, they've raised the case of Libya themselves, they've talked about Gaddafi and said, we're not going to end up like Gaddafi dead, give up his

weapons of mass destruction, ending up good. They're not proposing to do that. So, if you refer to that, they feel you're doing it in order to

force them on to back foot.

Then using strategic assets. Using B-52s and other bombers in the exercise with the South. I think they saw also was outside of the rules because

they accepted the exercises, but actually using nuclear assets seems to them a provocation.

[14:05:00] AMANPOUR: So, you think it's that part of the exercise because I was confused because they did seem to accept the idea of annual exercises

around these talks anyway. So, you think that's bit, the nuclear bit.

POWELL: Clearly, they've got this program of trying to have a rhetorical ceasefire. President Trump has not been tweeting in an offensive fashion.

They themselves have toned down their rhetoric on the United States, including domestically.

If you look at the billboards in Pyongyang at the moment, they don't have the usual anti-American aggression. So, they had thought they were in this

rhetorical ceasefire and then they see this Libya thing and they see these strategic assets, and they think the other side is trying to push them into

a position of surrender.

AMANPOUR: And according to reports, it's clear that the Trump administration privately is saying to people, according to reports, I don't

have this firsthand, that they feel that Pyongyang has actually surrendered to American might.

POWELL: Well, I don't think Secretary Pompeo thinks that. If you look at his interviews and what he's saying, he's been very careful in what he

says. He is choosing his words very carefully. He's not putting them on the back foot. He's not saying they're surrendering. He's showing respect

to Chairman Kim as he calls him.

So, I think he's trying very hard -

AMANPOUR: Chairman Un as he called him.

POWELL: He called him once. But he's got it right now. And he's been trying really hard. And I think that's the problem.

The Libya example is not anyway a good example. I've worked on Libya. And Libya did not have nuclear weapons. Libya had some drums in the desert

which had cascades in them. They hadn't even put them together. And even then, it took us a very long time to get rid of them.

Nuclear weapons are not something where you just pull the plug and take it away again. How do you take away the knowledge of how to make nuclear


AMANPOUR: Exactly. And actually, former Ambassador Christopher Hill, who was the US negotiator during the six party talks with North Korea, he said,

in Libya, we could put all that they had into a two-car garage. I mean, it was very little compared to the enormous amount of acreage all over the

country that North Korea has.

So, let's say they do go into a deal, how are you even going to verify it? They aren't even enough inspectors apparently according to the experts.

POWELL: Well, also think of the countries. It's a huge country with very mountainous terrain. No real roads. So, how on earth do you get around

and explore this stuff. It's going to be enormously difficult to do.

But I think the crunch will come on this issue with the staging because nuclear weapons are not something you can get rid of overnight. The

suggestion that they could all be shipped to United States is nonsense.

So, we have to think about how do you stage it because I'm sure this summit will happen. I'm sure his summit will be a success. But the problem will

come afterwards, when they get into the detail, when they're negotiating on the nitty-gritty. That's when it's going to run into difficulty. And you

have to have a staged approach if you're getting rid of the nuclear weapons. You can't do it immediately.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, on what each side believes to be denuclearization, President Trump has said it means they get rid of their weapons, end of

story. The North Koreans have said, well, it's denuclearization. They're generally believed to mean comprehensive global denuclearization.

And some have said it will be a disaster if President Trump goes there and expects the all, maximalist position to win.

Can I just play for you a couple of soundbites from real experts as to the potential differing opinions over denuclearization? Let's just listen.

First, Wendy Sherman, the former negotiator.


WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT CLINTON ON NORTH KOREA: It means quite a different thing than I think the president of the United

States believes it means. And I don't think for one moment, at least at this point, that Kim Jong-un expects to destroy his nuclear weapons. I

think he's looking for a very different kind of denuclearization.

AMANPOUR: So, do you think that when he talks about denuclearization that he is prepared under the right circumstances to dismantle, to give up his

nuclear weapons?

THAE YONG-HO, FORMER DEPUTY NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UK: I'm very skeptical. I don't believe it at all. The most important thing for Kim

Jong-un right now is to be accepted as the leader of nuclear state. So, that is his priority. That's why Kim Jong-un actually never said about

denuclearization of North Korea.

CHUNG-IN MOON, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO THE SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT: We really induced North Korea to declare that they wanted to go for compete

denuclearization. That is what comprehensive denuclearization. Now, devil is in detail. But the devil and details should be worked out between

President Trump and Mr. Kim Jong-un.


AMANPOUR: Pretty perspicacious?

POWELL: Absolutely. And they're experts. Now, I'm not an expert in that sense on nuclear issues. But I have to say that Secretary Pompeo has been

twice and he seems to be saying that there will be denuclearization.

He is someone who is putting his credibility on the line here about this deal. He says that's what's on offer. So, we, I think, should take him at

his word.

AMANPOUR: The US version of the --

POWELL: Yes. I mean, he knows what the US version. He knows what the alternative might be. I mean, let's wait and see. As I said, there have

been whole series of surprises. Maybe we'll be surprised again.

And if you think about it, the nuclear weapons are not actually very good long-term guarantor of the security of North Korea. They know United

States could destroy them in one blow. They do not have a second strike capacity.

[14:10:01] So, it's a good way to get into a good negotiating position. It's not a long-term strategy for the regime. So, the regime, they must

have economic growth. They must have security guarantees that keep them safe. They want the American so-called hostile policy to be removed.

They get sort of things, then maybe the real denuclearization - sort of denuclearization we mean may be possible. All the experts have been wrong

every step since November. Maybe they're wrong again on this.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let's hope this summit does, in fact, take place because talk is better than war, right?

But what happens to the North Koreans? Are they looking at what Donald Trump has done about the Iran deal? Does it even matter to them? Does it

affect their faith or whatever, trust in any kind of deal that the United States might come up with with them?

POWELL: No. Every time, I go and talk to the North Koreans, I raise Iran and talk about the example, they say please don't talk to us about Iran.

We are not Iran. Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. Iran does not have an ICBM. We are completely different. We don't care what happens in Iran.

We care about our example.

Funnily enough, when I talk to the Iranians, they say the same thing about North Korea.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, now I want to just switch tacks a little bit. You have been a career foreign service. You've been in the US Embassy, the

British Embassy in the US. You've made relationships with all sorts of administration going back to President Clinton.

And it has been reported that you instructed then Ambassador Christopher Meyer on his appointment as British ambassador back in '97 to "get up the

arse of the White House and stay there." Do you stand by that comment?

POWELL: Well, I didn't make the comment.

AMANPOUR: So, you didn't?

POWELL: Christopher's memory is somewhat - that very much sounds like Christopher's language.

What I would have told him is to hug the Americans close, to stay close to the Americans. And that is one of the tragedies of our foreign policy of

Britain at the moment.

We've abandoned one pillar, the United States. We abandon another pillar, the European Union. We have neither pillar now. That is why we are

condemning ourselves to irrelevance by Brexit and by having a weak relationship with the United States.

AMANPOUR: It's going to be very difficult, as you say, to figure out how to punch about your weight as you've always done, by having these two


But I want to ask you about hugging close then. You've seen that President Macron has taken that advice. He hugged very close.

POWELL: Literally.

AMANPOUR: Was too literally? I mean, is that a safe political place for a European ally to be, hugging Donald Trump very close?

POWELL: Well, clearly, what President Macron tried to do was to trade on the personal relationship to do the hugging and then to make a speech in

Congress where he berated the president on environmental issues, on nuclear issues and so on. Didn't seem to work on Iran because the president still

left the Iranian deal. He tried.

I think it's a sensible policy of him to try and reach out to Trump. He understands that personal relationship works with the president. That is a

sensible thing to try and do. It didn't work in this case, but maybe it will work later on. Maybe he's got investment that would help persuade the

United States to change its mind on crucial issues.

AMANPOUR: Really fascinating stuff. Jonathan Powell, thank you for your insights.

POWELL: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for being here.

Now, switching to another really important part of the world, all the way still in Asia. Shakespeare meets Southeast Asia. My next guest is

Malaysia's longtime opposition hero Anwar Ibrahim.

He has an incredible story. It is an intrigue-filled story of political rivalry and redemption that might even make the bard blush.

Anwar, a crusader for reform and democracy in this vital corner of the world, has spent more than a decade in prison since his mentor-turned-

tormentor threw him to the wolves on charges of corruption and homosexuality, which is still illegal there.

But, last week, that very same man, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad won another election by promising to spring Anwar from jail. Anwar is now

free, proclaiming a new era for Malaysia, insisting that he has forgiven Mahathir for those trumped up charges and warning that his zeal for

cleaning up after, what America calls, the largest kleptocracy case in history remains undimmed.

And as you'll see, we found him to be about as happy as a schoolboy when he joined me earlier from Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar Ibrahim, welcome to the program. A free man at last.


AMANPOUR: How do you feel? I mean, this is the second time that you've been in and out after long spells in what you call trumped up charges. How

does it feel to be out this time?

IBRAHIM: Exhilarating. From the prison to the palace, invited by the king to tell me that these trumped-up charges, travesty of justice, I'm giving

you the full pardon because I believe you're innocent and this conspiracy must end.

AMANPOUR: That's really remarkable, because, obviously, it was the king who had to grant you this pardon. Nobody else could.

But what's really remarkable, Mr. Anwar -


AMANPOUR: - is this turnaround from your mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, who has been elected again, who ran on a platform of getting you freed, but let's

not forget who's the first one who put you in jail. What's going on?

[14:15:03] IBRAHIM: Right. Well, he came, met me at the court and said, look, let's move on. We have a problem in this country, blatantly corrupt

Najib and the system is crumbling. Can we work together?

I was very apprehensive, but I was exceedingly polite, thanking him for the visit and said that I will think it over. Then I send my friends to talk

to him.

I will only work on the reform agenda if he is committed in writing to work together, to reform the institutions in this country, so that the

transformation towards democracy is done.

AMANPOUR: You say that you want to reform the system and keep politics out of the justice system. You yourself say that you've been a victim of a

politicized justice system and the politics of political revenge.

So, let me read to you what Mahathir Mohamad said in the late 90s when you were fired. He said, I cannot accept a man who is a sodomist as leader of

the country. And you have said that you forgive him. Do you actually forgive him? How can you forgive him and trust him after all that he has

done to you?

IBRAHIM: No, Mahathir said repeatedly that he was misled. He did not take action. It was a ploy of some others. Well, it may not sound convincing,

but he said he made a mistake. He should not have sacked or dismissed Anwar from office and it was a blunder on his part.

I think I have to then to decide whether to stick to the old enmity or move on. And I think for the sake of Malaysia, once he's committed to the

reform agenda and that the entire team selected from those reformists within the coalition, I am quite confident that he remains committed and we

will continue to monitor.

I said I do not intend to serve in the cabinet. I will continue to function effectively as a voice of conscience for democracy, for reform

including an independent judiciary.

AMANPOUR: You say that you need to move on and he needs to move on, but I wonder if you can move on from what you said about him 20 years ago.

When he fired you, you basically unleashed a massive political - I see you laughing. You unleashed a massive political movement against him. You

called him insane, senile and unfit to lead. OK, senile. That was 20 years ago. He is now 92 years old. Do you take back those words? Do you

think it's still true?

IBRAHIM: Well, I meant that. Of course, it was a response to the trumped- up charges, the continued, incessant propaganda in the media, calling me an Israeli agent, an American agent and CIA agent, a sodomist, et cetera, et

cetera. I then have to mount an effective challenge towards him.

But in the last year or so, he has been totally committed to fighting the excesses of the government and he realized now, being out of the

government, being in the opposition, how the media, the judiciary, the entire enforcement agencies were used against him.

AMANPOUR: People remember him when he first came to power. It's under his rule that the Asian Tiger sprang to life, that Malaysia became a real

player in your region. It's crumbling a little bit with all the corruption allegations and all of that.

But I wonder if Mr. Mahathir can get over some of the very controversial sayings and thoughts that he has had in his political life. For instance,

let us play this soundbite of what he said about some of his rather zany worldviews. Let me play this view. It's from 2003.


MAHATHIR MOHAMED, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Today, the Jews rule this world by a proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.


AMANPOUR: Well, that's his version of what he thinks about Jews around the world. The typical Nazi-era conspiracy theories. I mean, he's said some

very, very insulting things to a wide range of people. Does he still hold those views?

IBRAHIM: Well, he has alienated a lot of friends in the process because he was angry, the fact that many of them did then lend their support for me.

I don't share that view or his condemnation of - racist or anti-Semitic expressions.

[14:20:08] But I could only say that in the - from the reports from Azizah, my wife who was leading our party and colleagues now in the coalition,

clearly, he has avoided completely these sort of comments and he has stuck to the reform agenda.

He has said, for example, the anti-corruption agency must be independent, the judiciary must be free, the media must be free. I mean, this is


You can see the media these days, although it's - a recent period of euphoria. So, I don't believe, Christiane, to be fair, you could speak on

his past statements, although I do not frankly share those outbursts.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned Azizah, your wife. And, of course, she is the party leader. And your daughter is also a leading politician. There

are some in the West, some human rights organizations who wonder whether, if you become - either in the cabinet or if Mahathir hands over to you, as

he said he wants to, in two years, whether they can continue their top political roles or would it be a conflict of interest?

IBRAHIM: Christiane, firstly, I have declined any position in the government. I want to be free, working with the party and with the

leadership, but not to hold office.

My daughter, who happens to be the most senior - second most senior leader in the party has also declined, has opted not to serve - function - or be a

member of the cabinet partly because Azizah is already a deputy prime minister.

Now, in the event I assume the office of prime minister, naturally, Azizah would step down. So, I don't think that is frankly any issue.

Azizah had to fight all these years, particularly in the ten-and-a-half years of my incarceration, and she deserves to be where she is.

And Nurul Izzah, my daughter, was not given a special treatment. She had to struggle. She lost her time as a teenager. She had to struggle - to

fight, of course, for the freedom of her father, but for democracy. And I think we have achieved that.

AMANPOUR: Anwar Ibrahim, I'm going to hold you to what you just said about Azizah, your wife. Really? She has to step down? Are we in a new pro-

women civilizational moment? Why can't she hold on to leadership?

IBRAHIM: Well, she can. But that happens to be the consensus of the party leaders and she knows that. And the king said one thing which was

remarkable. The king repeated five times, he says, Anwar, you have such as wonderful wife. You must never forget that fact.

AMANPOUR: Well, I hope she won't let you forget it.

IBRAHIM: She struggled in your defense. And when I offered her - the king actually offered her the premiership because she is the leader of the party

and the entire candidates contested using our party symbol. So, she was given the first option and she declined saying that this was our

understanding, to put Mahathir first.

And then, she said, when asked by the king, what do you want? My only request is the freedom of my husband. Isn't that amazing, Christiane?

AMANPOUR: It is amazing. Yes, it is amazing. What was it like all those years in prison?

IBRAHIM: Oh, a dreadful experience. No media, no TV, no radio, no newspapers. I was allowed to read books. So, I was an avid reader of

virtually everything I can find. Chinese philosophy or American history or Islam or Hinduism, whatever. The novels, the classics, reading the

Shakespeare. So, I was kept busy. Very busy. Preoccupied with reading.

AMANPOUR: And you have emerged into the full glaring sunlight of the Trump presidency and the new world order. How do you assimilate? How do you

assess the Trump effect on the world and what it might mean for your country?

IBRAHIM: Well, the foreign policy position of the United States is something not attractive to me, which is unfortunately showing very little

regard for the need for reform and democracy or transformation.

But I think now it takes these countries - I mean, what has happened in the Malaysian experience is very pertinent, significant, in the sense that we

can now show after years of despair, after the Arab Spring that there can be an effective experiment towards democracy through the ballot box.

[14:25:11] And then, with this mandate, to fight excesses or extremism or fanaticism and grow into a multiracial, multicultural, vibrant democracy in

Malaysia. I think that is our focus in terms of our relationship with foreign countries, particularly the Muslim countries.

AMANPOUR: Anwar Ibrahim, thank you so much for joining us.

IBRAHIM: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: A free man after all these years and committed to really reforming Malaysia.

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

Facebook and Twitter.

And you can join us again tomorrow night when we are live from Windsor. Even we succumb to that most British of things, royal wedding fever. Thanks

for watching and goodbye from London.