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U.K. Scheduled to Leave European Union; E.U. And Theresa May Agreed on a Backstop Agreement; Mary Lou McDonald, Leader, Sinn Fein, is Interviewed About Brexit; Tony Gardner, Former U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. is Interviewed About Brexit. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 12, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
In just over two weeks, the U.K. scheduled to leave the European Union and there is still no deal. Parliament weighs in again as tension over Ireland
remains the stumbling block. I speak with Sinn Feins leader, Mary Lou McDonald, and to the former U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Tony Gardner.
Plus, this week marks eight years since the war in Syria began, and Assad is still standing, claiming victory. What's next for the destroyed country
and the millions of refugees determined to go home?
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour outside parliament in London.
Another crucial day in another crucial week for the U.K.'s long and tortured exit from the European Union. For the second time, members of
parliament vote on the prime minister's Brexit. Back in January, M.P.'s rejected a deal by 230 votes, it was the biggest defeat of a government in
At the center of the difficulty, is Ireland. And to understand this story, you really must understand that.
Conflict between Ireland and England is hundreds of years old. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, the war was called The Troubles between the
British government and Northern Irish nationalists. Ireland is divided between the independent republic in the south and Northern Ireland which
remains part of the U.K.
For 38 years, almost 30,000 British soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland fighting a war which resulted in years of conflict and thousands of
deaths. But in the late 1990s, it was an American senator, George Mitchell, who brokered talks to end the conflict. He was President
Clinton's special envoy. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also shepherded at the Good Friday Agreement and signed them alongside the Irish
Part of the reason it worked is because the peace deal eliminated the physical border between North and South. And because both countries were
in the European Union, goods and people could flow freely. But now that the U.K. is leaving, there could be a border again and many fears that
would bring tensions and violence again.
So, the E.U. and Prime Minister Theresa May have agreed to a backstop agreement. It's a baseball term that means of fallback position. It means
that until the two sides reach a new trade agreement, the current E.U. trade pact remains enforce.
But hardline Brexiteers in Northern Ireland and at Britain say that's not acceptable because it would treat Northern Ireland differently from the
rest of the U.K., which is particularly tricky because Prime Minister May's government relies on support from those hardline unionists to stay in
And it may very well be an intractable problem in a sign of just how worried the Irish are. Here's what the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEO VARADKAR, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: In many ways, Brexit has been a dark cloud over us for many months and in particular, the threat of no-deal.
A positive vote tonight can remove that cloud and restore confidence and optimism in Britain, Arlington, across the European Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
The. British Prime Minister Theresa May's tag is particularly unpopular in Ireland, both North and South. A poll conducted by the Irish Times shows
that 67 percent of the voters in Northern Ireland think the U.K. should stay in the E.U. Customs Union in order to prevent that hard border in
Ireland and 59 percent say they would be OK with Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the U.K. if it means keeping the
border open with the South.
Now, Mary Lou McDonald is leader of Sinn Fein, the party which is active in both the North and the South. She believes the two now should be unified
and she's joining me from New York where she's attending a St. Patrick's Day celebrations or she will be and she's there conveying her political
point of view to leaders in the United States.
Welcome to the program, Mary Lou McDonald.
MARY LOU MCDONALD, LEADER, SINN FEIN: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Look, we've talked before about this situation as it's been unfolding and here we are in another week which is getting to crunch time,
if we can define crunch time these days, and your nation, Ireland, is at the heart of all this.
I sort of asked, is this an intractable problem or do you see any way that this Theresa May deal can actually work?
MCDONALD: Well, you're right to say that we are now in very much the end game or crunch time or whatever you may wish to call it. We're at the
point where Britain has to make its mind up, they have to decide if they, in fact, want to deal, they have to understand that the case of Ireland is
Ireland -- the north of Ireland is not like other parts across Britain. We have a very unique set of circumstances. It was always the case.
Therefore, that a set of unique bespoke solutions, which have to be offered for our Ireland to protect our economy, our trade, our citizens, our rights
and crucially, our peace process.
So, this has been a very long drawn out process, it's been marked by recklessness on the part of the Tory government, in my view, it has been
marked by a very, very dangerous high wire strategy adopted by Theresa May with the encouragement of hardline Brexiteers, and that is to sit this out
and hope that somebody somewhere might blink and that they might get some leverage, but that hasn't happened. What's been asked --
AMANPOUR: Right. Mary Lou McDonald --
MCDONALD: -- for Ireland is very basic, very basic protections.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Look, you just saw the video, at least we all did of Theresa May in parliament. She has got almost lost her voice again and
she's working around the clock to try to get a deal so that Britain does not crash out.
But I want to ask you something that analysts and people on both sides of the -- well, in both parts of Ireland have been worried about, and that is
that this hard boarder this and whatever might come with it could, you know, be a little bit of a tinderbox and bring back the violence that we
thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Four explosive devices were left in various parts around London just this weekend and a group calling itself, you know, Splinter IRA with the right
code words called in to let the police know, you know, and defuse them. That seems to me not a coincidence. Is that a worrying development in your
view? Is that a message that's being sent or just opportunism at this time?
MCDONALD: Well, I can only speculate as to the motion of those that sent those packages. Can I condemn those actions without reservation? Can I
say again that the appetite on the Island of Ireland is for peace and for democracy? And I saw the (INAUDIBLE) history that she set out in terms of
the Irish conflict, those days of conflict are behind us.
We now have, as a matter of international agreement, the mechanisms and the modalities to resolve all of our differences and our dispute over what is a
contested border to do all of that peacefully and democratically. And that's what people on the Island of Ireland want.
Bear in mind, Christiane, that people in the North of Ireland have not consented to Brexit, they in fact voted to remain. And any hardening of
the border would be utterly unacceptable to all of, us to Democrats, to people who live on the islands of Ireland and to people internationally
here in the United States. This is a country that has, if you like, skin in the game in terms of the Irish peace process.
You cited George Mitchell. He was just one of the envoys, one of the figures from the United States. It was absolutely central to brokering the
peace. And I let me tell you, we're not going to give up on that. And whatever decisions Mrs. May might take or the British people might take,
and I respect all of that, but they can also inflict damage, collateral damage on our island.
As to any fresh of potential violence, there is no appetite for that in Ireland. Absolutely none whatsoever. But I would have to say this, that
it would be a very, very reckless, reckless person who would take any chances with the very precious piece that we have collectively built over
the last 20 years.
AMANPOUR: And Mary Lou McDonald, you have said very, very expressively that the United States has skin in the game over this peace process, and
you're absolutely right. But also, for years and years beforehand during The Troubles, the United States were big backers, at least certain, you
know, Irish-Americans and certainly politicians. Every year we have big same St. Patrick's Day parade in New York and elsewhere. It's a big part
of American life in parts of the country.
And I wonder whether in your talks there you are detecting a sort of a desire about -- to sort of have a united Ireland. Because I know you
believe that Brexit has put the idea of unification on the table again. What kind of response are you getting when you mention this to political
leaders or community leaders in the United States now?
MCDONALD: Well, certainly, Brexit has laid bare for all to see the real jeopardy that partition brings to the Island of Ireland to our economy, to
our society, to our social fabric and to our democratic institutions. And the fact is, that the border on the Island of Ireland is now no longer
simply an Irish problem, it is now a European problem. It's a very long 300 kilometers or more border, it's extremely porous, it is -- since
contained in what's called the backstop. Impossible to protect or maintain the integrity of the European single barring because with the border on our
The opinion, Christiane, is moving very firmly in the direction of a new Ireland, of removing a border that has been on our island since the 1920s,
it is, of course, a scar on the island, a marker left as the colonial retreat of Britain from our country. And yes, there is an appetite to
democratically resolve that issue.
Here in the United States, of course there is tremendous goodwill for Ireland, we have a huge diaspora, a huge global family who want what's
right for Ireland. This isn't a case of, you know, I told you so or who was right or who was wrong at this stage in the history of our conflict,
this is about doing the things that our right for our people, for our economy and for our society.
And I believe increasingly, as the conversation around uniting Ireland as it unfolds, I think more and more people, not just in our land but
internationally, will see the good common sense of it and will see the huge benefits of seeing the peace project in Ireland through from conflict and
participation to that interest -- to that Democratic settlement and vehicle that is the Good Friday Agreement, and then, ultimately, to its final
destination, which will be the last word on Irish reconciliation, truly reconciled and unified.
And I think it's very challenging at the moment because Brexit is so uncertain. But I think it's a time of really hope and opportunity to --
for Irish people right across the globe this St. Patrick's Day.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I do find it extraordinary and also coincidental. Here is -- here you are, leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou
McDonald in Ireland talking about unification and in other words, part of the dissolution of the United Kingdom. And there we have in Scotland,
north of us, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, saying that this Brexit could seriously propel that country to another independence referendum and the
result may be different this time.
I mean, I wonder if you, you know, are thinking about what Brexit is doing to the integrity of the United Kingdom. I realize you have your own
political agenda. But ironically, could it break up the United Kingdom?
MCDONALD: Well, there is no doubt that Brexit is a constitutional earthquake. I mean, it's not just a minor short-term inconvenience and
it's not just about the economy and trade, although those are critical concerns. It also upends the constitutional arrangements right across
what's called the United Kingdom. For us in Ireland, it lays bare the real danger and the real jeopardy that the partition of our country brings where
you can have a situation where people in the North of Ireland take a democratic decision, they reject Brexit. And yes, due to the sovereignty
of west minister, Brexit can be imposed and they can attempt to coerce people out of the European Union.
And likewise, I suppose for the Scottish people, they look to the fact that although they have their unique circumstances and needs that, in fact,
those in London called the shots. And yes, Brexit lays bare all of the anomalies and the injustices of that.
For our part, Brexit or no Brexit, we will pursue Irish unity. And I have no doubt that people in Scotland who believe in the independence of their
country, likewise. But you're quite correct to say that Brexit now politically, legally, constitutionally puts these questions front and
AMANPOUR: And just finally, I mean, of course, let's remind everybody, I mean, you've said it many times, but Northern Ireland voted to remain in
E.U., Scotland voted to remain in the E.U. What happens -- what recourse do you have as an island, the Island of Ireland, if the worst happens that
it crash out without a deal, that there's no backstop resolution? What recourse do you have on the Island of Ireland? What will happen the day
after and the weeks after?
MCDONALD: Well, that's a very, very good question. And let me tell you that none of us wanted it to come to pass that the British crash out of the
European Union. I have always feared that that could happen as much by accident, as by design. In other words, when the British government
decided to talk down the clock and to delay and to stall and to play a game of chicken, you always ran into the prospect, at least, that the crash
could happen just because they ran out of time, and that might as well come to pass. And that raises fundamental issues for us.
I think in circumstances where there is a crash, we will need short-term mitigation for the Island of Ireland, that will mean hard discussions with
the government in London and with our partners at a European level.
But I think inevitably, if there is a crash, well, then the issue of putting the question of the border on our islands to the democratic will of
the people will be unanswerable. In other words, a referendum, an Irish unity, I think would be absolutely essential in the event of a crash out.
For no other reason but to protect our economic and our national interests.
I think in any event, Brexit has demonstrated very clearly for us on the Island of Ireland that we need to now have an inclusive conversation, a
democratic conversation about our future. We need to start talking about now what Ireland looks like post Brexit. We need to start the discussion
now around a new Ireland and possibly united Ireland, it looks like.
And can I say, as the leader of Sinn Fein and as an Irish Republican, I am hugely conscious that that conversation has to include people of the other
tradition, in other words, people of unionist tradition, people who proudly call themselves and who are very, very British.
So, it's a very challenging time for us. I still hope that there won't be a crash. I hope that the deal at the table can carry the day. I hope that
those as Westminster will remember that this deal was not hoisted upon them, it was, in fact, negotiated by their government. And I hope they
understandable above all, deal or no deal, Irish interests will be protected, deal or no deal, the British state has obligations to Ireland
underwritten in international law, and we are quite insistent that they will be honored.
AMANPOUR: Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein leader, thank you so much for joining us from New York.
So, all of this, as you've heard, enormously complex. The deadline is fast approaching.
Tony Gardner is America's former ambassador to the E.U. and he's joining me now here at Westminster.
Welcome back to the program. We've talked periodically about this. You know, is it crunch week, is it crunch time or can you see this thing
endlessly being delayed?
TONY GARDNER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE E.U.: Well, I think the risks of it crashing out with no deal have certainly gone up. and, yes,
Christiane, I've lived in this country for 19 years. I'm an anglophile because I admire the characteristics of pragmatism and rationality. But
what we see --
AMANPOUR: Well, the --
GARDNER: Of the British people.
AMANPOUR: Oh, really?
GARDNER: Of the British people. Well, not much the evidence today. But I was saying, the elites, the governing elites of the last two-and-a-half
years have exhibited lack of those qualities and have acted more, I think, like the Greeks did when they were at risk of crashing out of the E.U. and
So, irrationality and fundamentally not understanding the E.U. and its redlines.
AMANPOUR: So, as an American from American perspective --
AMANPOUR: -- and you were -- your government, the Obama administration's envoy to the E.U., ambassador to the E.U., what is the skin in the game
that the U.S. has in preserving Europe and having the U.K. remain in Europe? I mean, it's not going to but at least a decent relationship with
Europe, a deal, something rational.
GARDNER: Huge skin in the game. So, when we were in the last year of the Obama administration, we did a series of studies as to what -- you know,
leaving the E.U. -- U.K. would mean, both for us, the United States, for Europe and the U.K. itself. And the result of all of those studies, which
were quite detailed studies, it would be bad news for the United States and Europe and the U.K., lots of reasons.
But the key reason is we wanted the U.K. to be part of a bigger tent, a part of a community because we think that -- we thought under the Obama
administration that the E.U., despite all of its faults, was a partnership, was a union that actually can deliver and has useful tools to address
common challenges. regional and global challenges with the United States. I still believe that.
This administration, the Trump administration, fundamentally believes the opposite, that Brexit is the beginning of other exits that should be
encouraged. I think that's fundamentally illogical.
AMANPOUR: Why so? I mean, look, obviously, the United States has a huge trading relationship with the E.U., it's a major trading partner of the
U.S., right. Its biggest draw (ph) is second biggest.
GARDNER: That's right.
AMANPOUR: Why would it be in America's interest to see the dissolution of this union that has a big economic power but also, it's kept the peace and
shares intelligence and --
AMANPOUR: -- defense and all of those good things?
GARDNER: Because I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what the E.U. can do. The view from the White House, I think, it's not an
exaggeration to say is that we can do better by negotiating one on one, bilaterally, transactionally and put leverage of the United States on
individual countries, let's say, Germany.
What the White House, I think, does not understand is the E.U. has real assets, you mentioned law enforcement and policing but many other things.
The Iran deal, maybe this administration doesn't like, it doesn't like the climate change deal. But certainly, sanctions you have to believe, if it's
true, the E.U. working together has much more leverage than any individual member state. And there are lots of other examples that I witnessed
personally. The E.U. is much more powerful on the world stage than any of the member states acting alone.
AMANPOUR: So, where in your gut do you think this is headed? Not necessarily the votes that's happening behind us because she's expected to
lose it. But where do you think we're going to be on the 29th of March when we're meant to have a deadline for leaving the E.U. and there's still
GARDNER: Well, I suspect that the vote will be -- take a no deal off the table. They will ask for an extension, and I'm not sure that will be voted
into -- that will go through. So, there will be another crunch.
And I think the risks of a crash out still are there but there could be an extension of time to allow for a technical preparation for a, you know,
leaving without a deal. Because, you know, crashing out on the 29th with absolutely nothing is a real risk. So, there might be a few weeks or a few
months even, extension period to allow the U.K. to leave without a deal.
The fact of the matter is, this country is not prepared for a no deal. It could have spent a year or more preparing for that eventuality, you know,
building infrastructure of the border, building up regulatory bodies and doing other things, but it hasn't done that.
AMANPOUR: So, let's talk about leadership then because I know that's a big issue for you and as you've seen what you, you know, described as a
reliable, rational, pragmatic, consensus driven, you know, bureaucratic administrative project, which is the U.K., crumbling before our very eyes
in face of this Brexit. What about leadership? I mean, what would you say hasn't been done right to get us to this point now?
GARDNER: Well, it's not a country I recognize, you're right, because there's been a fundamental lack of leadership. There wasn't just one
flavor of Brexit. This government should have to explained to the British people, "Here are the various options of Brexit and here are the logical
consequences that flow from each of those pads (ph)," that was not done.
You know, those redline of leaving a single market in the Customs Union wasn't written in stone.
AMANPOUR: No, that's Theresa May's choice to put redline --
GARDNER: It was -- absolutely.
AMANPOUR: -- at the very beginning.
GARDNER: And that was --
AMANPOUR: So, she boxed herself in.
GARDNER: Well, she boxed herself in. And then even after boxing herself in, I don't think the government made a serious attempt at saying to the
British people, "Look, you've made a sovereign decision and a democratic process, absolutely, we need to respect it. But here are the consequences
that flow from those decisions," and that wasn't done.
So, here we are two years later and people are surprised --
AMANPOUR: And we're nearly three years.
GARDNER: Well, three years later, you're right, from the referendum. And people are surprised that, "Oh my goodness. This country has become poor."
Something that would have been known from the beginning.
Look, the government did studies that should have published them to the British people and saying, "Look, our best analysts are telling us these
are the consequences, these are the hits that the economy we can expect."
AMANPOUR: But we live in a fake news environment where people just didn't believe it and those who were against these government studies just said it
was project fear and made everybody believe these were just political statements that the government was publishing on.
Look, I wonder what you thought, you just heard that leader of Sinn Fein, a very dynamic new young leader with the power based in Dublin, not in the
North, talking about the inevitability of Brexit causing constitutional changes and laying out what those would be. In other words, vote on the
unification of Ireland and, let's say, they do the same in Scotland as Nicolas Sturgeon has talked about many, many times. I mean, you could see
the U.K. disintegrating before your very eyes.
GARDNER: Well, that would be a terrible tragedy.
AMANPOUR: But you agree, right?
GARDNER: But it's --
AMANPOUR: It's possible?
GARDNER: It's possible. But, you know, this was known as a risk when the referendum was called and even after was won, right.
AMANPOUR: Yes. But nobody believed it, nobody talked about it.
GARDNER: Well, but --
AMANPOUR: Nobody really understood the consequence of Ireland and the border.
GARDNER: But that's why this was such a big gamble. I know this is looking backwards. But even at the time, even with foresight not
hindsight, one could have said, "One of the risks is the U.K. could split. The Scotland could decide to have another referendum and the, you know,
outcome could be different this time."
AMANPOUR: I just want to put -- play a little -- a couple of soundbites we put together, the latest from the president of the E.U. Jean-Claude
Juncker, and Prime Minister May, just in parliament about this deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: If the meaning meeting vote falls (INAUDIBLE) let us speak crystal clear about the choice in this
deal of Brexit might not happen at all.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The danger for those of us who want to deliver, to have a faith with the British public and deliver on their
vote for Brexit is that is this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, do you think Brexit could just not happen?
GARDNER: I still am doubtful. I'm doubtful that a Brexit won't happen because we're heading to a no deal messy Brexit, which is the worst outcome
of all, to be clear. The country isn't prepared, the economic hit is the largest of all the possible outcomes. So, I hope that doesn't happen.
AMANPOUR: Let me talk specifically again about E.U., U.K. U.S.
AMANPOUR: The ambassador of the United States here in Britain, Woody Johnson, recently caused a lot of kafuffle by complaining about British and
European, mostly European farming practices and comparing them unfavorably with farming practices in the United States. You know, one of the issues
were these chlorine rinse chickens and a whole lot of other things. He called the E.U. antiquated in his methods, like a museum. And then he sort
of had to -- sort of -- well, he came out and had to talk about it. But when people started talking about the chlorine chickens, this is what he
Oh, it's a quote. I don't have a soundbite.
"American farmers care about their land and the animals as much as they do here. A lot of these statements are designed, perhaps by the E.U., to
create barriers to U.S. farm products." How did you read that? I mean, it just seems to be this administration takes any opportunity to tweak and
poke the E.U. And we know this Steve Bannon, the president's, you know, campaign genius --
AMANPOUR: -- has had a project to try to get many, many populist nationalist groups, anti E.U. groups into power in the upcoming European
GARDNER: That's right. Well, look, I would agree with the ambassador here, the chlorinated chicken is a complete sideshow, it's not a serious
issue. I just suffered through some of this when I was trying to negotiate a transatlantic E.U.-U.S. deal. But it's certainly not true to say that
the E.U. is just about antiquated farming practices and just about obstructing our exports.
Yes, we face serious problems with exporting some of our major commodity products to the E.U. because of GMOs, because of hormone treated beef and
so on. But look, let's be clear, a U.K.-U.S. deal is actually going to be rather complicated and lengthy to negotiate because there is significant
opposition in this country to many things that would be in the deal, and not just agriculture, it is much broader and it's going to be quite
difficult to achieve.
AMANPOUR: So, those hardline Brexiters who have been telling everybody that, "Oh, don't worry if we crash out, we'll have a deal with the United
States tomorrow or with who knows, Australia, Japan," that's not likely to happen.
GARDNER: No, it's not. And look, government procurement is just one of the issues where -- one of the areas where the United States have
(INAUDIBLE) quite protection. There is no chance that we will liberalize both federal and sub federal, sub federal government levels of government
procurement protection. Maritime restrictions are another example. There are many others, right.
GARDNER: And those are not going to be eliminated. And the final point, Christiane, you know, even if you get an ambitious deal between the U.K.
and the United States, the studies have shown it would be -- it would represent a 0.3 percent GDP increase, right, to this country's economy.
This is not a hugely, you know, big deal and not a big deal for this economy. So, it certainly is no way a substitute for losing the benefits
of frictionless access to its major market in the E.U.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And generally, Ambassador, money talks.
GARDNER: Money does talk.
AMANPOUR: Thank you so much, Tony Gardner, for joining us tonight.
GARDNER: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: So it is a fast-moving story and we should get back to it very soon. But now, we're going to turn to a tragedy many many years in the
making which is entering a fundamentally new phase.
Eight years ago this week, protests in Syria first began against President Bashar al-Assad's rule. The war would become a proxy for regional powers
vying for influence even dominant. They did it on the backs of nearly half a million dead and 5 million who have fled to become refugees abroad.
And after all of this, after eight long years embarrassing me, after the west repeatedly insisted Bashar al-Assad must go, he is not only still
there, but he can claim victory albeit perhaps a hollow one. There are still pockets of ISIS insurgents where the Americans, Kurds, and their
allies are close to wiping out the last bit of that territory.
Correspondent Ben Wedeman has been there for weeks following it all, speaking with those who are fleeing ISIS and with those who support ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRANSLATOR: Despite the war and all the problems imposed upon it, I think the Islamic state was a success Firas (ph) in Iraqi tells me. No one gave
it the chance to offer anything to the world.
REPORTER: The state where men claim to rule in the name of God, women of faith is on the brink of extinction. And the children and the women are
paying the price, caked in dust, dazed and confused, hungry and thirsty. Scrambling onto trucks normally used to transport livestock, bound for
camps to the north in defeat, misery is their lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It really is tragic. And the United Nations says that 2018 was the deadliest year for Syria's children. At least 1,100 were killed in the
Now, Mouaz Moustafa leads the Washington base Syrian Emergency Task Force and he's organizing an event in Congress to raise awareness about the war.
And he's joining me now from Washington. Mouaz Moustafa, welcome to the program.
So, let me just ask you to, you know, for your assessment of the winners and the losers as we enter this anniversary, if you like, this week.
MOUAZ MOUSTAFA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SYRIAN EMERGENCY TASK FORCE: You know, it's really hard to sit here eight years. We thought when these protests
came out calling for freedom for democracy, for the God-given rights that we enjoy in the west and the United States and Europe, and elsewhere,
didn't think that the brutality of the regime would be to this extent.
But the winners right now is Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, extremists, and their propaganda, not the Assad regime. General McMaster, the former national
security advisor to President Trump, said that 80 percent of on the ground troops for the Assad regime are Iranian-backed militias. It is the Russian
Air Force that has bombarded and targeted civilians.
And so the winner isn't Assad. It is an occupation by Russia and Iran of a country because its people came out calling for their dignity.
AMANPOUR: But he's still there after the United States said over and over again and many in the west said over and over again that, you know, Bashar
must go, Assad must go. What will his role be then if you say he's not the winner, his country is occupied? They're his allies.
MOUSTAFA: He's merely a puppet. He's a puppet to Iran and to a lower degree of Moscow. And what he is -- if you look at the areas where he
controls right now, look at the lives of the areas that he controls. He's unable to govern. Even some of his own loyalists have sort of been
critical of the regime.
Of course, they have to be careful because anyone who shows any sort of criticism, including loyalists of the regime, are tortured to death in some
of the worst dungeons. And he continues despite the fact that he has the Russian Air Force and the Iranian ground troops, he still has not taken
over the entirety of Syria and people still, even those in the reconciliation areas that came under the regime control, were coming out in
protest in the last 48 hours calling for democracy.
And so he's there now but he's more of a puppet than anything. And I think that the Syrian people will continue to call [14:35:00] out for their
democracy, for their freedom, for their rights of self-determination as long as they have the power to do so, despite the fact that the world has
deserted Syria, has deserted our never again moment.
AMANPOUR: Mouaz Moustafa, let me just ask you because you are also a close ally of the man who goes by the name Caesar who broke the news to the world
about the horrors taking place in Assad's prisons.
And there are reports again now that these continue, and particularly a new report by the Syrian Rights Group says high levels of sexual abuse are
being suffered in jail, including awful mechanical torture devices.
"The Washington Post" interviewed a person who has just been detailing it. These were moments when you didn't recognize yourself as a human. As I lay
there, it wasn't that I wanted to die. It was that I wished I had never existed.
What do you know about the continued regime if you like, Assad's regime doing to returnees or people who are still there in their jails? What's
happening and what's the aim of this right now at this point?
MOUSTAFA: You know, what's shocking is that the Assad regime, I think Jamil Hassan who heads his Air Force Intelligence branch at one point
declared that there's three or four million arrest warrants still out. I could tell you that there's not -- and for those refugees, by the way, that
were essentially came back to Syria based on guarantees that nothing would happen to them were either arrested, killed, or forcefully conscripted to
go kill their own people.
The conditions in Assad's jail since Caesar, the incredibly brave humanitarian hero, not just Syrian national hero that brought out almost
55,000 pictures of men, women, and children, and elderly tortured to death. That systematic machinery of death continues.
He continues to kill people. He continues to torture people in some of the most sadistic ways. According to -- I was talking to a Holocaust survivor
and it's been incredibly powerful. I want to thank the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for all they've done to raise awareness about the
atrocities that are ongoing in Syria.
But he mentions to me that he's hearing from victims of the Assad regime about the sadistic torture that he just can't imagine that this is somehow
OK in this century, that we allow this to happen knowing that we have the documentation. Having someone like Caesar, a defector who documented on
behalf of the regime what happened and showed the world and testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is mind-boggling that we
are not doing more to stop it.
And what's more disturbing is that the Assad regime likely holds more American citizens than any state or non-state actor in the world. And so I
call on President Trump, who has had a success record in bringing Americans home, to bring every American held by the Assad regime home and to hold
them accountable for what he's doing to his own people.
If we do not stop the Assad regime for example from attacking --
AMANPOUR: Mouaz, just detail -- just tell me again because this is important for Americans who are listening and people around the world.
There is Austin Tice, the freelance journalist and there are others. Who are the Americans and other foreign nationals being held in Syria still
MOUSTAFA: Well, there is a large number of Americans and foreign nationals that are held in Syria today. The American families, for the most part,
have not decided to go public.
But I could point to one amazing family who decided to bring their case publicly. The family of a man named Majd Kamalmaz who's a humanitarian
therapist, who was arrested when he visited an elderly family in Syria and spent less than 24 hours. This American citizen continues to be held by
the Assad regime.
Austin Tice, an amazing journalist, continues to be held by the Assad regime and quite a few others that have decided not to go public yet. But
the fact is that even one American is one too many and they need to be home yesterday.
AMANPOUR: Mouaz, I just want to drive that point home, you know. We were very, very pleased to be able to help Caesar broadcast his evidence to the
world. We broke the story of the pictures and the documentation.
And I interviewed him a couple of years ago about what he had seen. It's just worth remembering. Let's just listen to what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAESAR, SYRIAN DEFECTOR: I was horrified. I was terrified every day of the job that I was doing. I would look at the different horrendous ways
that these individuals were slaughtered and tortured to death. The only crime they had was that they called for their own dignity and for their own
freedom. The types of torture were the worst that I've ever seen, very bloodthirsty regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So it really is quite shocking to hear that again. Mouaz Moustafa, what next then? What do you see over the next year happening in
Syria briefly? This is our final question.
MOUSTAFA: Absolutely. [14:40:00] So there are two ways to go. The world can continue to do nothing and the Assad regime will slaughter millions.
You have in Idlib Province, 4 million or 3 million people and millions of them are children. You have countless civilians that continue to be
targeted. You have hundreds of thousands of people that are being tortured to death.
If we do nothing about it, this will continue. This will empower more extremist groups, ISIS and Al-Qaeda and others will use this as propaganda
saying the world doesn't care about the Syrian people and some Al-Qaeda recruit. And the Assad regime is very smart at manipulating and utilizing
But there is a ray of hope. There is a bill in the United States Congress called The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act that has passed the House
three times. It has now passed the House of Representatives in a voice vote. And has passed the Senate in a different form.
I call on members of Congress in the House and Senate to put this bill at the president's desk at the nearest possible opportunity. And I know that
the White House is in support of the Caesar Bill which calls for the protection of civilians.
I also call on the president who has done this in the past to continue to raise the alarm about Idlib, to continue to make it clear that Iran,
Russia, and the Assad regime cannot murder civilians in the Idlib Province which has the potential of doubling the refugees in Europe.
And I call for anyone, all of your viewers, human beings to know that sometimes when the Holocaust happened, we should all have been calling for
the bombing of the railroad so 6 million Jews don't get murdered. When Rwanda happened, we should have stopped the machetes from being shipped.
Today in Syria, civilians are targeted and men, women, and children are tortured in prisons. And it's our obligation to raise our voice and do all
we can to put a stop to the killing.
AMANPOUR: Mouaz Moustafa, you certainly have done that. And let's not forget so many refugees are trying to go back into that reality in Syria
So, back here in Westminster, we are just minutes away from that crucial vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal. And after a break, I'll
be back with my colleagues, Hala Gorani, Richard Quest, Julia Chatterley for continuing coverage. Stay with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to CNN's special coverage of a new parliamentary vote on Theresa May's Brexit plan. I'm Christiane Amanpour.
GORANI: We are live outside the Houses of Parliament as MPs behind us decide whether to accept the new 11th-hour divorce deal Theresa May
negotiated with the E.U. I'm Hala Gorani.
QUEST: And I'm Richard Quest. It is a crucial vote. It is widely expected to fail again, as a second meaningful vote that we've seen that's
AMANPOUR: And Julia Chatterley is in the City of London tonight. And, of course, we're going to bring you the vote as soon as it happens.
CHATTERLEY: Hi, Christiane. Hi, Hala. And hi, Richard. We're keeping a close eye here in the City of London on the currency the markets on the
U.K. Pound, of course, in particular. And asking the important questions, what's in the price right now and have investors already priced out the
risk of a no deal exit here?
For now, though, Hala, Richard, Christiane, I'll hand back to you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. And we're just watching live coverage of inside the Parliament. We just saw the Labour Party's Brexit shadow Minister, if you
like, delivering his speech. We've got some -- this is Kenneth Clark, a former major leader of the Toure Party talking. He's a very passionate
Remainer and in favor, I believe of this deal.
In any event, the Prime Minister defended her own plan today, urging MPs to back her "improved deal" or risk no Brexit at all. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER: The danger for those of us who want to deliver to have faith with the British public and deliver on their vote for
Brexit is that if this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: So that was Theresa May's last-ditch effort, Christiane and Richard, to get that deal through. Not looking great.
When we were here in January, Mrs. May lost, if you all remember, by a resounding majority of 230 votes, 432 members of Parliament were against
her Brexit deal. Will it be the same today or will it be a loss that is not as bad --
AMANPOUR: Well, people are saying that -- I mean it's hardly likely to be a victory unless we're all completely and utterly, you know, wrong, which
is possible --
GORANI: Yes, wrong.
AMANPOUR: -- but unlikely.
GORANI: It happened before.
QUEST: The fascinating thing --
AMANPOUR: It might be less of a defeat the last time.
QUEST: The fascinating thing was, of course, until today, there was the eking out possibility she'd get it through. Over the last 10 days, there
have been (INAUDIBLE) until before--
AMANPOUR: People that wishful thinking.
GORANI: It was before Geoffrey Cox addressed Parliament.
QUEST: Yes. but certainly, the moment Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, addressed house and released his legal advice to the U.K. government,
revisions to the deal, the very deal that the Prime Minister trumpeted last night in Strasbourg. Her own attorney general says, don't change the legal
risk or the U.K. could be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEOFFREY COX, BRITISH ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me make it clear. The legal risk as I set it out in my letter of the 13th of November remains
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: Well, Bianca is with us. Bianca Nobilo. Come to my rescue here. There was a chance before Geoff last week or 10 days ago that she might
have got the deal through.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a chance before we knew what her deal was, yes, when we were staring into the great unknown.
QUEST: It's three against one on this.
NOBILO: Well, as somebody put it to me, they weren't even expecting the Prime Minister to pull a rabbit out of her hat. He said a hamster would
have done but this isn't quite a hamster either.
So they think the changes just aren't [14:50:00] substantive enough to get and save the line. But I do agree with all of you that we are expecting
the defeat to be less humiliating today.
AMANPOUR: And then what does that mean? Because clearly, we've all sort of set ourselves up for this not being a deal, and, therefore, there will
be two more major votes this week which are very important.
NOBILO: Well, I think it means two things. First of all, it would mean that we go through the vote tomorrow which is on whether or not Parliament
would approve a no deal. Parliaments had two opportunities to express whether or not it opposes no deal already and has resoundingly on both
Then it would go to the next day, Thursday, where the vote would be on whether or not to ask the E.U. for an extension. So the other important
byproduct of the vote tonight is by how much does she lose.
Because if she loses by somewhere between 30 and 80 votes, that it might show us there is life left in her deal. She might bring try and bring it
back for a third attempt next week. Any more than that is very hard to continue with this.
GORANI: This is really unprecedented I believe that a prime minister can suffer blow after blow, defeat after defeat. The largest in British
history back in January and still consider a defeat by less than a hundred, a quasi-accomplishment.
QUEST: But nothing about this process has accorded to anything like a precedent, which raises the question, Bianca, the prime minister's deal,
what would she have to do to get the most ardent Brexiteers on her side?
NOBILO: Well, the Brexiteers backed this amendment tabled by Graham Brady to replace the backstop, the controversial aspect, the most controversial
aspect, of the withdrawal agreement with alternative arrangements. What the Prime Minister has come back with is a mechanism by which the risk of
remaining in the backstop is reduced.
Now, that is nowhere near replacing it entirely. So she's just simply not going to win over a contingent of the most hardline, people like Iain
Duncan-Smith leading figures, the Vanguard of Brexiteers if you like. But what about the others and those other MPs that are making the calculus of
whether or not if they don't back the deal, they risk a softer Brexit all over?
AMANPOUR: Here's the really interesting thing because we've been exploring. Ireland is obviously the big stumbling block. What is going to
happen to that border area? Is it going to upend the peace agreement, which depends on an open-border, the free flow of goods and people?
And I've just been talking to the Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald. And a couple of things have come up. One, that this could eventually lead to
the dissolution of the U.K. because there will be a big move amongst a certain political group in Ireland for reunification or unification.
And as we know, Nicolas Sturgeon in Scotland is mooting the idea of another independence referendum at a time of their choosing, but this could lead to
really, really dramatic changes in the United Kingdom. And one of the things Theresa May has constantly said is that I don't want to split my
party and ever I don't want to be responsible for splitting the U.K. but it might happen.
GORANI: Yes. No, absolutely.
QUEST: Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary or the minister for exiting the European Union is just concluding the debate on behalf of the
government. He's got about eight minutes to go.
Julia Chatterley, if you're with me, Julia Chatterley, if you're with us in the city, how much of a bad decision has been priced in during the course
of the day?
CHATTERLEY: You know, it's interesting, Richard. We did see the Euro was at a 22-month high -- sorry, the Sterling, the U.K. Pound at a 22-month
high versus the Euro.
After the talks last night -- then, of course, we had the attorney general come out today and say, look, the legalities around this backstop have not
changed. We took some of the good news out of the price.
But ultimately, Richard, I could argue that there are a lot of investors out there that are already saying the big issue here is the risk of a no
deal exit. And a lot of people are bargaining here that as a result of the votes this week, that's off the table and that's the key issue here.
QUEST: All right. Julia, watch closely please because you'll be the one who will see the results in the markets as the vote happens. Let's just
talk about what happens over the next 20 minutes. If you were with us a few weeks ago, you'll be well familiar with the way this takes place.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean --
GORANI: We have some news from Stephen Barclay here. What did he just say? Because it appears as though we have some sort of update on -- or
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, saying he'll support the deal
NOBILO: Yes, David Davis who famously resigned, the first of Theresa May's Brexit secretaries to resign but not the last. He has now said that he's
going to back the deal. Bear in mind, he resigned because he objected so fundamentally the way that the Prime Minister was approaching this. So
this is a huge political win for her today.
AMANPOUR: So does that mean that they're buying [14:55:00] her line? That if they do not, there might not be a Brexit at all?
NOBILO: Yes. There are certainly some. I've actually noticed the shift happening for about two months within the ERG. They said every time they
walk into Parliament at the moment, they feel like it's going into a casino on betting Brexit. They just don't know if they can lose it every time
they go into one of these votes.
QUEST: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the ERG said today that he was going to weigh up whether or not this threat was real, that whether or not he was
going to lose Brexit. And because he was quite blunt about it, he said, if we are going to lose Brexit as a result of not supporting the deal, then,
of course, we'll support the deal, but are we going to lose it?
AMANPOUR: Another fact I think is important to layout is, as you've said, is the Irish backstop that is causing all the obstruction right now and the
paralysis right now. It turns out -- and let's just face it. Hardliners in Northern Ireland, the DUP, who prop up Prime Minister May's government
and ERG, the European Research Group, absolutely ideologically oppose to this backstop deal.
However, not the majority people in Northern Ireland, some 67 percent according to the latest poll by "The Irish Times" believes that the U.K.
should remain in the E.U. Customs Unit and the single market in order to prevent that hard border.
But here's the interesting thing, 59 percent say according to this poll, say they want a special arrangement for Northern Ireland so that the border
remains open, even if that means a different arrangement in the rest of the U.K.
GORANI: Well, that's the breakup --
AMANPOUR: So very pragmatic.
GORANI: That's de facto of breakup of the U.K. as a one territory.
AMANPOUR: But we should have one set of rules for Northern Ireland and another set for the rest of the U.K.
NOBILO: But this is where it's important to highlight what you are all hitting on to the inherent complexity in all of this is that fact that the
dissolved administrations of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. So that is where the problem began and that's
where it continues to be.
QUEST: It is worth us taking a second or two to just go through how the next 20 minutes is going to pan out. In about four minutes from now, the
Speaker of the House will put the motion. They'll ask for the ayes, the nays, and then there will be a division. What happens after that, Bianca?
NOBILO: After the division, the MPs will literally divide into the I lobby for those who are voting for the deal and the no lobby, those voting
against the deal. So this is where you get a sense of the kind of characters that are obviously switching sides.
And then once the tellers, the people who are accounting, know the numbers, they then approach the front of the speaker's chair. And then we'll have a
clue at that point as to which side is being victorious because of where they are standing. And then they'll declare how many votes for and how
many votes against. And the whole process takes around sort of seven or eight minutes.
GORANI: And it's important for all of our viewers who are not intimately familiar with British politics and Parliamentary procedure, there are 650
members of Parliament. You need a simple majority. So the higher -- the last meaningful vote as we were discussing with Christiane, Richard, and
Bianca, the Prime Minister lost by 230. Can she bring it under triple digits? Can she pull a rabbit out of a hat, even a hamster, and maybe lose
by a couple of dozen?
NOBILO: Also, she needs around 116 votes tonight. We've had public declarations of around 15 to 20 MPs saying that they have decided they're
going to support the Prime Minister's deal, ones that haven't the first time. So we'll just have to wait and see how many people are struggling
with this decision. I was being (INAUDIBLE) MPs a couple of hours ago who still haven't made their minds up so this is very fluid.
AMANPOUR: And let's not forget the other major partner in this relationship. That's the E.U. which has been used essentially as a
whipping boy by the Brexiteers and by those who believe that the E.U. is somehow holding Britain over some kind of hostage.
We've heard a lot of complaints from Europe over the last couple of days that they're sick and tired of being painted as the bad guys. They're sick
and tired of being accused of playing chicken with Britain's destiny. And that this is about British politics, not about the E.U. at this point.
QUEST: Just watching these pictures, fascinating pictures as we get ready for the actual vote. The speaker is clearly having the last few minutes.
The Brexit secretary is finishing off what he's saying but lots of disturbances. You can feel that the House is --
GORANI: It is an important night because this -- and you've covered these in the last few weeks, these indicative amendments that are not binding.
This is a meaningful vote on the deal. This is D day for Theresa May.
And remember, this country leaves the E.U. in 17 days, right?
AMANPOUR: Meant to. Unless there's an extension.
GORANI: If nothing else changes, you're trained in law, that's what happens unless they vote for an extension.
AMANPOUR: But that's not a given.