Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with former US ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson; Interview with former US ambassador to South Korea, Christopher Hill. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, he is an anti- establishment outsider who swept to victory in Mexico's presidential elections. So, what does Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's win mean for Mexico

and the United States? I ask the former US ambassador to the country, Roberta Jacobson, about that. And why after 30 years at the State

Department, she has decided to quit?

Plus, is North Korea serious about abandoning its nuclear program? New satellite images raise fears it is expanding key weapons facilities. The

ambassador, Christopher Hill, former US point man on Pyongyang joins me from Denver.

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

Mexico is in for a dramatic change after a landslide victory by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in yesterday's presidential election.

The charismatic former mayor of Mexico City, known to his country as AMLO, won in a landslide on a wave of voter anger at staggering levels of

corruption and crime.

And imagine this, at least 136 politicians and political operatives around this massive nationwide election were assassinated since last fall.

He pledges to work with the United States based on mutual respect and he exchanged polite messages with President Trump. But in the campaign, AMLO

had said, Mexico will not be the pinata of any foreign government.

My guest, Roberta Jackson, knows - Jacobson, sorry, knows Mexico better than just about any American. She served as the ambassador there after

working for more than three decades on US-Latin American relations at the State Department.

Jacobson left her post in May saying the strains and relations under President Trump made her position untenable and the ambassador is joining

me now from Washington.

Welcome to the program.

ROBERTA JACOBSON, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO: Thank you, Christiane. Nice to be with you.

AMANPOUR: So, I know the polls had AMLO raring and racing ahead. Were you surprised at the extent of his landslide victory?

JACOBSON: I guess I was surprised that it was as large as it was, over 50 percent, but not that he won. He had been ahead in all the polls. And

Mexicans, a huge number of them, were fed up with traditional politicians. And remember that, one in five voters in this election in Mexico, were

first-time voters.

AMANPOUR: So, you have met with him. I mean, you've discussed with him, you've talked to him. What should the people of the United States, the

people of Mexico and Latin America, in fact, know about him and what he plans to do?

JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things to know about him is that he ran as the consummate outsider, although he's a career politician. As you

noted, he was mayor of Mexico City.

The other thing is that the top issues on Mexicans' minds in this election were corruption, the violence which has taken so many lives and is on track

again to be a record year with over 30,000 killed in probably drug-related violence, and that he promised a lot of things to a lot of people.

He said things that are sort of all over the map on the economy and on other relationships. And so, we're not quite sure which AMLO will govern.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's what I was going to ask you next because some people who are concerned say that he may end up being like Hugo Chavez,

very populist, then military leader of Venezuela.

Others say he's sort of Mexico's answer to Trump, but then others say he's anti-Trump. I mean, who is he?

JACOBSON: Well, I think Mexicans know him pretty well from the 12 years he's been running for president, but they're not necessarily sure of his


I think the first thing to understand is I don't believe he's either Hugo Chavez or Donald Trump. He is a career politician. He is not the military

man. His relationships with the military have been somewhat strained.

But he also is someone who was responding to a disgust with politicians from the two major parties that have governed Mexico over the last 100

years. And so, the expectations for him are huge.

I don't see the economic policy, despite his focus on social programs and programs for the poor, being truly radical. Yes, this is somebody who

believes in the role of the state, but I don't think this is someone who is going to overturn what's became almost a religion in Mexico, which is

macroeconomic stability, keeping inflation low and keeping their fiscal policy responsible.

[14:05:20] So, I think there is not - people fear him because they look at the extremes that they compare him to. I think the biggest fear is, will

he govern as a democrat committed to the institutions of government. There were some comments he made that were a little bit like, "I alone can do

these things."

AMANPOUR: Well, that is sort of a promise that a lot of the populist leaders are saying now. We're hearing it from the US, to Europe, to all

over and now Mexico.

And we've just had a very populist, a nationalist leader elected in Colombia and it's raised all sorts of questions about the commitment to the

peace process with FARC.

So, when - you've just raised a question about commitment to democracy, and so have some of the very prominent intellectuals in Latin America.

I mean, do you think he could do things like move against the media or courts or other sort of institutions that are checks and balances in a

democratic system?

JACOBSON: I think there are certain signals to watch for. And I do think that civil society and independent groups in Mexico will need to be very

vigilant, although he's occasionally dismissed those groups they play an important role.

Some of the things to look for is, does he move forward with Mexico's plan, which was passed by Congress and is over a year overdue, to appoint an

independent attorney general that will outlive his tenure because it's only one six-year term?

Will he continue - and he spoke very little about this in the campaign - with a rather extensive judicial reform to move towards an oral adversarial

system such as we have in the United States, which is critical to implementing the rule of law in Mexico that will undergird everything they

do on security and economics.

There are early signs that I think people can look for to see whether he's consolidating power, does he make changes on the supreme court that look

like consolidation of power?

But one of the things people are concerned about, which is legitimate, I think, is that his party, MORENA, got comfortable majorities in Congress.

And so, the question is where will the checks on power come from and will he abide by the checks and balances as he moves forward?

AMANPOUR: And, of course, the people, as we've said over and again, were motivated by this anger - and they've had enough of his endless and endemic

corruption, the violence that we've just described. And, I guess, the jury is out on how he's going to resolve that.

But also, I guess, people are incredibly concerned about their jobs. So, what is your analysis of how President Trump's desire and - distaste for

NAFTA, desire to renegotiate it, his constant sort of talking about how Mexico, like many other countries, he said, is taking advantage of the

United States?

How will that and what Obrador says impact just basic jobs both sides of the border?

JACOBSON: Well, I mean, it's interesting because, I think, on the issue of NAFTA, which is so crucial to the question of jobs on both sides of the

border, he has said he thinks that the current government has actually done a pretty good job at trying to renegotiate NAFTA, the current Mexican


His own potential negotiator for NAFTA says that he thought they could wrap it up in the next few months. But, of course, that depends a good deal on

the United States since there are some sticking points that this administration has not been willing to compromise on, things that were not


But I also think that in the question of the vilification of Mexicans that we've seen from the president, that Mexicans are united on, that that can't

be accepted.

And one of the reasons his predecessor, President Pena Nieto's approval ratings are so low is because he didn't push back early enough in a way

that they felt defended their honor.

So, I do think we'll see some rhetorical pushback, but it's also very possible that, as a nationalist, as a populist, playing to his own

political base, he may have some things in common with President Trump.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me just play this soundbite from President Trump about this very issue last month. This is what he said about Mexico, NAFTA, et



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're our allies, but they take advantage of us economically. And so, I agree. I love Canada. I

love Mexico. I love them. But Mexico's making over $100 billion a year and they're not helping us with our border because they have strong laws

and we have horrible laws.


[14:10:17] AMANPOUR: It's a little bit hard to draw all the strings of that together, but let's just take on taking advantage of us. Can you just

lay out the problem that the United States thinks it has with Mexico and, again, how will this affect jobs on both sides of the border?

JACOBSON: Well, I'm afraid I'm not sure I can lay out exactly the ways in which the president believes Mexico has taken advantage of us because it's

not a position I agree with.

Both Mexico and the United States, as well as Canada, have done fairly well under NAFTA, with displacement of certain jobs. There's no doubt. But

we're talking about trade that's gone up 430 percent in those years and we trade a $1.6 billion across our border every day.

There are 33 states in the United States which have Mexico as their first, second or third trading partner. So, obviously, critically important to

many of our states.

I think where he's coming from maybe, the size of our deficit in goods, our trade deficit, but the fact is we have a surplus on services. So, if you

add them together, that deficit is lower. Mexico is not one of the highest deficit countries on trade with the United States.

And on the question of immigration and their laws and the border, Mexico has actually been an extraordinary partner for the United States, working

very closely with us on the issue of Central American migration, which is the majority of migrants that we see nowadays, indeed returning very large

numbers of Central Americans to their country and one assumes that means those people are less likely to make it to the US border.

I think it's a real distortion of what Mexico has done. In 2017, Mexico expelled 280 fugitives to the United States. That's not even through

extradition. They just expelled them back to us, people who were wanted for murder or rape or child abduction. So, there's a good deal of

cooperation going on that I don't think is valued.

AMANPOUR: So, I mean, you lay it out in facts and figures there. And, clearly, a lot of diplomats have been pushing back against some of the

rhetoric from the White House and from the president that they just don't agree with on the factual level and on the policy level.

And you have decided to quit the State Department. You're no longer ambassador to Mexico after a 30-year career because of the untenable, in

your view, relations between the two countries.

Just tell us what triggered that and why you think it's more productive for you to leave rather than stay and try to heal relations?

JACOBSON: Well, I think there comes a point in every diplomat's career, especially mine which was 31.5 years, where in a position like this which

really was my dream job - I loved being assistant secretary for the hemisphere, but I really loved Mexico and being the ambassador there.

What you do is you try and have as much influence as possible. You try and speak the truth and weigh in and convey your views. And there were a lot

of cabinet secretaries that came to Mexico during President Trump's first here.

And so, for me, it was a combination of things, but among them was this analysis that I wasn't having influence on the president, even if I felt

like conversations perhaps with then Secretary Tillerson or other cabinet secretaries might have been productive, if in the end the vilification of

Mexico continues, the demeaning of its cooperation continues, and the kind of language that we've seen from the president continues, then I felt I

could no longer defend the kinds of policies that were being implemented.

But along with that was my very real concern that - the United States had an approval rating of 60-plus percent in Mexico, something that took a long

time to achieve. And that's dropped by over 30 percent -


JACOBSON: - in the last year, and that's something you can't earn back quickly. And so, people talk about Mexico as being anti-American. It

isn't any longer. That has really changed.

[14:15:00] But we are treading - we're putting the relationship under so much stress that I felt it was time to be able to speak freely from the

outside and hope to have more influence that way.

AMANPOUR: Well, you're not the only one. I mean, lots of ambassadors and State Department officials have left for broadly the same reasons that you

outline, not having any policy effect and not agreeing with the new policies coming from the White House.

The latest is the US ambassador to Estonia, Ambassador James Melville, who basically said comments from President Trump such as criticizing EU and

NATO allies, saying NATO is as bad as NAFTA, pushed him sort of over the edge.

His letter of resignation says foreign service officers are schooled right from the start that if there ever comes a point where one can no longer

support policy, particularly if one is in a position of leadership, the honorable course is to resign.

Now, clearly, you support that because you did the same thing. But my question is what does this means for diplomacy and alliances and economic,

cultural, political bonding with America's key allies and those that have underpinned the last 70 years?

JACOBSON: Well, I think, first of all, it doesn't speak well for how our future will go in trying to forge those alliances.

One of the things that's so disturbing about the current administration is the lack of recognition that we need allies, that our allies are critical

to us in achieving our own national interests, not just for the sake of it or because it's kind of nice to be friends with people.

You forge alliances for the benefit of both sides and that seems not to be the case. This now seems to be a zero-sum game. And for diplomats, that's

almost impossible to reconcile with what we're trained to do.

Jim Melville was in my ambassadorial training class. He is a superb diplomat with a huge amount of experience. And as you see these people -

look, some of us were probably towards the end of our careers anyway after 30 years.

But the notion that the views that we espouse and the relationships that we've worked so hard to create, not just with other governments, but with

the publics of these countries, with their youth, with the next generation, that that's not necessarily valued or appreciated nor listened to is a huge

loss for American diplomacy and for America's national interest.

AMANPOUR: Well, former Ambassador Jacobson, thank you so much indeed. And I'm going to take this issue up with our next guest because he also is a

former ambassador to South Korea.

And this was on the issues which are also incredibly difficult for the United States, like trying to denuclearize North Korea.

After a friendly summit with the leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore last month, President Trump triumphantly tweeted that the country was no longer

a nuclear threat.

Is it though? Analysts say these new satellite images here show the buildup of nuclear infrastructure rather than the opposite.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to North Korea for the third time, trying to nudge this ball down the field.

So, to help us unpick real progress from empty promises is the former US ambassador to South Korea and the North Korean negotiator for President

George W. Bush, Christopher Hill.

So, Ambassador Hill, firstly, welcome to the program. And I want to directly pick up from what former Ambassador Roberta Jacobson just said and

the slew of resignations.

From your perspective, diplomacy, whether it's in North Korea, South Korea or in Latin America, Europe, wherever it might be, is it being undermined

currently? Is there strategy afoot for the current US administration?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: I think there's a real problem, obviously, and I don't see really the end of it. I certainly

see a new secretary of state who seems to be dedicated to the task of trying to rebuild the State Department, but I think the problem is,

Ambassador Jacobson kind of laid out is, doesn't really help if you're being - if the State Department is being rebuilt if the message from the

president is so completely contrary to any conceivable definition of US interest with a particular country.

I mean, this demonization of Mexico, I mean, they're our neighbor, they're going to be our neighbor for the next thousand years, there's no getting

around that, and the kind of treatment of the Mexicans was simply not enough to - for the president to say I love Mexico. It's kind of a

meaningless gesture when he's also calling them by the names he's called them.

So, I think if you're an ambassador there, it's kind of hard to have any credibility whatsoever. People only talk to you if they have the sense

that you represent the country, the president, the secretary, and I think a lot of ambassadors are having problems with that.

[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: Now, fast forward to the Far East where your former area of operations, looks like there is some progress towards diplomacy.

So, start out by telling me your analysis of the diplomacy so far, including the historic handshake between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Where do you think that's leading?

HILL: Well, it is very hard to say at this point. I think getting someone to do something when you're shaking their hand as opposed to shaking your

fist is probably the right approach.

Now, there's a lot of criticism of the president for - how to put it - perhaps going a little too far in embracing Kim Jong-un.

But I think the overall notion that you should have some type of cordiality as you deal with these life-and-death issues is the right approach.

For me, it was a little rich seeing, for example, the president's National Security Advisor John Bolton smiling and shaking hands with the North

Koreans, when specifically I used to get instructions telling me not to shake hands, telling me not to smile, telling me not to toast my glass.

AMANPOUR: From him?

HILL: But I think it's important that that is the approach.

From him. He was part of that. Absolutely.

And so, I think it's important now to see what can come of this process. Obviously, that statement from Singapore didn't go very far. I think the

key question will be the diplomacy now to follow. We'll have to see what Secretary Pompeo can get.

And I would humbly suggest that he really needs to come back with something, perhaps along the lines of a nuclear declaration that would

include all of their programs, which, frankly, is something we were not able to get, we were not able to get a verification declaration worthy of

the name, and that's why we pulled back from it at the end of the Bush administration.

AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you what you make. And, in fact, the last time we spoke before this summit, you said sort of failure would be - if there's

no indication of where we're going, and you said just a freeze of what they're currently doing is not enough, the ball has to be moved down the


Now, President Trump, when he left Singapore in that press conference, actually with Kim Jong-un, as he was signing, said, "oh, and by the way,

they've agreed to destroy the missile engine test site."

And apparently, American intelligence shows that there's been no movement at that test site at all to destroy it. And other reports suggest that

they're actually building up facility and even material.

What do you - how do you analyze that?

HILL: Well, I don't overreact to those issues right now. There is also a report that they're rebuilding or building a new cooling tower, to replace

the cooling tower that they blew up in agreement with us in 2008.

So, yes, I've seen all those reports. I think, though, it's important for Secretary Pompeo to sit down with his counterpart - first of all, he needs

a North Korean counterpart who is being named. Secondly, he's going to need a team himself, which is a whole other subject.

And let's see what kind of agreement he can get on the sort of build-down of their programs. Look, these programs kind of continue and continue even

after they're turned off. So, sort of like a merry-go-round. It's not going to stop immediately. So, I think the real question is what Secretary

Pompeo will come back from Pyongyang with.

And I think one of the key questions as well is what's the architecture of this going to be? Is it really going to be the US stocks to North Korea

and then we go belatedly tell the Chinese what we agreed on or tell the South Koreans or the Japanese?

So, clearly, there has to be some multilateral architectures, so that the countries in the region, A, know what's going on and, B, have their

interests at heart. And I'm a little concerned with this kind of singular focus only on North Korea and not enough on bringing those other countries

into the actual negotiations.

AMANPOUR: And before I just throw a little bit of an interview from John Bolton, the aforementioned, what did you make of the president agreeing to

stop/suspend, basically halt, joint military exercises with South Korea?

HILL: Well, first of all, he was talking to the wrong Korea. He was talking to the North Koreans. So, that's a subject that should be

addressed within our alliance with South Korea.

Stopping an exercise, look, the world won't end because of that nor will there be another war because of that, but some of his other comments, I

think, really aided and abetted the North Korean cause because the North Koreans have for decades asked for the removal of US troops in South Korea.

And to see the president get up and say, hey, I'm all in favor of it must've come as a shock to the North Koreans, not to speak of the South


Look, there's a lot of talk about how the South Korean government wants to see these negotiations with North Korea succeed. It's a so-called

progressive government that has a lot of interest in trying to calm things down with North Korea. All true.

[14:25:06] But I think this government of Moon Jae-in also is very concerned about managing the US relationship. And if we have a situation

where the US is talking to the North Koreans about our deployments in South Korea, we have a problem on how people are managing that relationship.

AMANPOUR: And just before we end, I just want to play to you a soundbite, part of an interview that John Bolton gave about how long he thought it

would take to denuclearize, and it's a much more aggressive timeline than you gave. As you said, at the very least, two year, if at all.

And we're also being told that CIA people are telling Secretary Pompeo that they may never give up their 20 to 60 nuclear weapons until the end of the

process, if at all. But this is what John Bolton said on Sunday.


JOHN BOLTON, US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We have developed a program. I'm sure that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this

with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.

If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they're cooperative, we can move very quickly.


AMANPOUR: Very quickly. Is that possible even with the best will in the world?

HILL: I think if the US controlled North Korea, we could certainly do that inside of a year. But, frankly, this is going to be a more protracted

difficult process. There are a lot of North Koreans who don't want to do this at all. And I'm not sure if Kim Jong-un.

So, I think the first step is, let's stop making nuclear material. Get that place shut down and lists these places, so we know precisely what it

is they're doing.

And then, I think, after that, there should be an effort to go after the fissile material, which depending on their bomb design could be 20 bombs or

60 bombs.

So, I think there's a lot to be done. And John Bolton knows that very well. I have the sense he's trying to burden the thing with missiles and

other issues, which, obviously, we need to get at, but I am not sure this is an achievable objective as he describes it.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we'll see what Secretary Pompeo comes back with. Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you so much for joining us.

And just before we go, just in from the White House, President Trump tells reporters that he has had a half hour phone call with Mexico's President-

elect AMLO. He said they had "a great talk" about border security, trade and NAFTA. And we'll see where that relationship goes from here.

And that's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.