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Health Benefits of Kindness; Interview With Author and Historian Ervand Abrahamian; What Brought Down Boeing 737?; United States and Allies Believes Plane Was Hit by Iranian Missile; Investigating Boeing 737's Black Boxes; Michael Kergin, Former Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., is Interviewed About Boeing 737 Crash; America's Strategy Towards Iran; Iran's Next Steps. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 10, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Conflicting stories on what brought down the Ukrainian airline over Tehran. All on board were killed, including 63 Canadians. I speak to the former
Canadian ambassador to the U.S.
Then taking stock. A week of high crisis and next steps with Former British ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton, and American/Iran expert Barbara
And this crisis began even before the ayatollahs came to power. Professor Ervand Abrahamian talks to our Walter Isaacson.
Plus, kindness can be contagious and even lower your blood pressure. I speak to the director of UCLA' new kindness institute.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It was the week the world held its breath after targeted killings of Iran's military chief, Qasem Soleimani, by the United States. And it took a tragic
turn when the Ukraine airliner crashed over Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard. Most were Iranians and Canadians. Along with 11 Ukrainians and
And while it was first called a crash, the United States and its allies now believe the plane was actually brought down by an Iranian missile. This
video appears to show the moment that a missile hit an object in the sky over Tehran. But Iran's civil aviation chief denies it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALI ABEDZADEH IRANIAN CIVIL AVIATION CHIEF (through translator): The thing that's clear to us and that we can say with certainty is that this plane
was not hit by a missile. As I said last night, this plane for more than one and a half minutes was on fire and in the air and the location shows
that the pilot was attempting to return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Iran also says that today it is beginning to investigate the black boxes. And Boeing, American NTSB officials and Ukraine have all been
invited to take part. The Canadian prime minister. Justin Trudeau, attended a candlelight vigil in Toronto to mourn the victims of the crash. And he
addressed the nation, saying that Canadians have questions and they deserve answers.
This could end up being the tragic human cost of the military confrontation between Iran and the United States. So, let's turn to Michael Kergin,
Canada's former ambassador to Washington.
Mr. Kergin, Ambassador, welcome to the program.
MICHAEL KERGIN, FORMER CANADIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you. Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: First, I just want to get your take on the mood, the grief in Canada about what's happened. It's the largest air disaster to affect
Canadians since 1985, and we'll get to that in a moment. But it's a huge, huge, terrible blow for your country.
KERGIN: That is correct, Christiane. I don't think the camera can show out the window behind me. But I'm right in front of the Canadian parliament
building where the flag obviously is flying at half-mast.
No, this is a tragedy for Canadians because you know we're a country of fairly recent immigrants. And the Iranian community here has made a
tremendous contribution, both intellectually and in economics and in a business way. And so, each community across the country has friends or
associates or people who they've worked with who have been touched by this tragedy.
So, right across the country, Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto and so forth, flags are being lowered and people are being -- suffering a great deal, the
tragedy. Very young people, mostly young people whose careers and futures have been abruptly terminated.
AMANPOUR: So, that's very interesting because we obviously looking at these sad pictures of some of the victims. We can see the candles that are
being lit in memory. And it's really important that you focus on the fact that there were young people. And just explain, perhaps for our viewers,
you know, they're called Canadians or Iranians, but was this also a lot of Canadian-Iranians so to speak?
That's correct. And I expect -- you know, we talk about the 63 odd Canadians but I suspect there are other Iranians on board who were coming
back to Canada to study, who have had the student visas perhaps or might have, you know, landed immigrant status for a time to become Canadian later
So, indeed, those who we say are Canadians, they're Canadian-Iranians. We, in Canada, tend to sometimes hyphenate our first-born immigrants. You know,
Canadian-Iranians. Iranian-Canadians. And, indeed, because as I said earlier, we are a fairly recent immigrant country, there is a lot of
empathy for people who've fled places or who have come from other places to study.
And then sometimes make their whole life in Canada. So, yes. This is something which really does cut to the bone in Canada.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you what you're thinking as you see the aftermath, if you like, since this plane was brought down, either, as you
know, there are conflicting narratives. It started by everybody saying that it was a crash and nobody thought that it was anything else. And now,
intelligence apparently in the United States, Canada, elsewhere, believes that it was a missile. Iran denies that. What do you think about what it
could be? And knowing the United States, having been ambassador there, the significance of the cause, frankly?
KERGIN: Yes. I mean, I thought Prime Minister Trudeau was very good. He's very transparent in his press conference yesterday. He was one of the first
leaders, if not the first, to indicate that it appeared to be a missile attack. And he also qualified that by saying, Christiane, that it was
perhaps by accident.
And that, I think, held a message in his press conference that we are really expecting the Iranians to cooperate fully in allowing Canadian
technicians, aviation technicians, and officials access to the crash site, to actually prove, in fact, that it was indeed an accident. In fact, it
We're handicapped badly because we aren't present in Iran. We broke relations with Iran back in 2012. So, our interests are being looked after
by the Italians. So, we are rather dependent on Iranian cooperation to allow us to get in. And of course, we can use the Italian embassy, which is
our protecting power. But that doesn't substitute for Canadian boots or people on the ground. The wider implications -- sorry, go ahead.
AMANPOUR: Well, I want to get the wider implications. But first, I want to run a little bit of what Prime Minister Trudeau said about this, when
somebody actually asked him in a press conference, did he think that this was a terrible tragedy that was the result of this military confrontation
between Iran and the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that the United States is at least partially responsible for this tragedy?
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I think it is too soon to be drawing conclusions or assigning blame or responsibility in whatever
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, the prime minister has said they need to know, you know, what actually happened. And the United States is vehement, the Trump
administration, that nobody should equate what happened there with the hostilities between Iran and the U.S.
So, what does Iran need to do right now given that this situation is so delicate? Does it -- do you -- are you satisfied by what it's said about
the investigation? About who it's inviting in? I mean, you probably don't like the fact that it's denying it. But --
KERGIN: Absolutely not. And this, I think, is going to be the litmus test as we go forward. Will be the degree of cooperation that Iran provides, not
just the Canadians, but to other experts to come in from Boeing and other places, to start to really determine what had happened.
I understand that, already, they have moved evidence on the ground, which makes it much more difficult for technicians to determine whether or not
there are fragments from a missile that are embedded into the aircraft fuselage and so on. So, this is an important moment for Iran, it seems to
Now, the optimist in me says that the fact that we had no Americans on board sort of mitigated any violent reaction from President Trump on one
side. And on the other side, that it provides a bit of an opening to the Iranians to show some cooperation on this, and that is important that we
have all the allies, the Western Europeans and others, who press Iran to say, you have to cooperate on this.
And perhaps at the same time, it -- if there is enough outcry on this, it will, to some extent, reign in the more extremist groups that are in Iran
that are pushing for military action. And when -- they'll start to know the limits if, in fact, there are potential for civilians as victims of their
activities both in the Middle East and elsewhere. So --
AMANPOUR: Again, Mr. Kergin, the Iranians say that -- yes. Well, let's hope there is because it's a tragic, tragic cost in terms of human life.
The Iranians say, you know, they complain that the accusations are "psychological warfare." But they say that all those countries whose
citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black
So, that's their response at the moment. But I just want to remind everybody that you were an advisor to then prime minister when a tragedy
occurred on an Indian airlines flight in 1985 and killed more than 260 people. Again, Canadians, Indians. How does this compare? And do you
remember that terrible moment?
KERGIN: I do, indeed. And one thing that has changed a little bit, Christiane, at that point, regrettably, the prime minister said, well, the
plane was carrying Indians. Of course, they were actually Canadians of Indian descendants. And so, for where we, I think, have evolved in Canada
is since that time, is that immediately the reaction by the government and by all Canadians, these are Canadians. Once you become a Canadian, you're a
Canadian. They may have secondary citizenship.
So, in that sense, I think there's certain evolution in the way government is -- our government anyway, is looking at tragedies that happen about --
which involve Canadians --
KERGIN: -- albeit fairly recent Canadians. So --
AMANPOUR: Well --
KERGIN: -- the -- that tragedy was also homegrown to some extent. It was an extremist group in Canada that had links internationally. And,
therefore, the bomb that was placed had links to Canadians who were of Indian extraction. In this particular case, of course, this is one where
it's a completely foreign power that is responsible for the tragedy.
AMANPOUR: Of course, at the moment, they're denying it. And we all wait to see what the evidence in the investigation results are.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Michael Kergin, thank you so much for joining me.
Now, perhaps this terrible disaster highlights the urgent need for diplomacy to lower the temperature in the whole region. But what is
America's strategy towards Iran now? And what can we expect next from Iran? I ask Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Tehran, and
Barbara Slavin, Iran expert at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
Sir Richard Dalton, Barbara Slavin, welcome to the program.
Let me first ask you, Richard Dalton, as former ambassador to Iran, what impact does the death, the targeted killing of one man, as powerful as he
was, Qasem Soleimani, what impact do you think that will have on Iran's behavior and its thought process going forward?
RICHARD DALTON, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO IRAN: It won't have much impact on their policies towards the region, which they consider derived
from their fundamental national interest in security and in removing, as they see it, the threat that the United States presents to them. Nor will
it change their interest, which of course lies alongside the interest of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, Israel, in intervening in the
struggles taking place in countries that are vital for that security and national sovereignty that Iran prides. And they have a deep bench.
So, yes, Soleimani was uniquely charismatic. He stayed above the political fray in Iran. He was seen as a defender, as a soldier, as somebody who
appeal just to the nationalism of the country and not just to the ruling system.
AMANPOUR: Do you agree, Barbara, that the killing of Soleimani will not affect Iran's strategic aims and goals?
BARBARA SLAVIN, DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC COUNCIL'S FUTURE OF IRAN INITIATIVE: You now, I think it's actually going to advance Iran's strategic goals
because we've seen that the Iraqi parliament, of course, they voted after the U.S. strikes that killed 25 members of an Iraqi militia, they voted
that the U.S. should remove its troops.
But after this very embarrassing assassination on Iraqi soil of someone who was clearly there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, it's going to
be very difficult for the United States to keep 5,000 troops in Iraq and several hundred troops in Syria.
So, if Iran's goal is to eject the United States, particularly the U.S. military, from the region, I think it will advance that strategy.
AMANPOUR: This is a really major issue, actually, because I asked the defense secretary, Mark Esper. He said there's no way we're leaving. We're
staying there. Not just to fight ISIS but to guarantee our allies and our security and our vital interests there. I guess I just want to ask you, is
President Trump advertising that he actually wants to be less involved in that region? And if so, what does that look like?
DALTON: He wants to see the United States' interests protected, at the least, material and human cost and with the maximum political benefit,
particularly in appealing to his base back home. So, it didn't surprise me at all that he felt that he had to take the action he took in killing
Although, I do regret it didn't take place in the context of any strategy to enhance United States interests in the region. And that it wasn't
accompanied with any convincing presentation of the evidence of imminent threat because we are all less safe if the fundamental rules of the U.N.
charter about when you can exercise self-defense are flouted.
AMANPOUR: Well, actually, you know, let me just ask you to pick up, Barbara, because right there where you are there in Washington, D.C.,
already you've had members of Congress, including at least two Republican senators, who have said out loud that this was one of the worst briefings
that they had ever received regarding this evidence. What are you hearing about that?
SLAVIN: I'm hearing the same from everyone, from journalists, from everyone who has been briefed on the topic. I mean, you've seen the
reaction of Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, acting offended when journalists ask him for any inkling of the evidence. It looks like it was
revenge. It doesn't look like it was preemption. It looks like it was an opportunistic strike.
There was Qasem Soleimani, not trying to hide in a cave somewhere but arriving at Baghdad International Airport. So, it didn't take any great
military feat to assassinate this man. Also, you must remember that they have been downgrading the importance of intelligence. They've been
disparaging the Intelligence Community pretty much since Donald Trump came in. And now, all of a sudden, they say the Intelligence Community is
supposed to be believed on this.
So, they have a real credibility problem.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, again, you know, I saw you nodding when Barbara Slavin suggested that this was a revenge attack. I mean, presumably revenge
for a whole host of things. But the proximate cause was the breaching of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. That, we understand, is what caused President
Trump to get really angry and up the degree of option he had. Do you think it was just a gut reaction by President Trump?
DALTON: Yes, I do. The military told him that it was possible and he said, well, that's great. Then I don't think you need to look further than his
statement that a bad guy was on the battlefield, and we got him. But that's not good enough going forward.
AMANPOUR: You saw the leadership in Iran and you've been there and you know this, both of you have. You know, the word came down from the supreme
leader to the foreign minister, the president, and all that. We've done this. It's a slap in the face. Our long-term goal is, you know, to get the
U.S. out of the region.
But others, like a big commander from the Revolutionary Guard Corps has said, this is just the beginning of our military strikes. I mean, he has
warned that there will be other responses. That they want harsher revenge. Is that just rhetoric from a Guard Corps that has lost its most heroic
member, if you like, or do you think that's likely and what would it look like?
SLAVIN: Yes. Look, I think there are going to be continuing attacks probably not as dramatic. You know, I was thinking one of the reasons that
President Trump got so upset about the embassy was that he saw himself in Jimmy Carter's shoes. You know, if our embassy in Baghdad had been taken
over as the U.S. embassy was in Tehran in 1979, well, we all remember the 444 days and what that did to Jimmy Carter's chances for re-election.
But going back to the IRGC strategy and so on, as long as the United States maintains maximum pressure, so-called, on Iran, tries to prevent Iran from
exporting any oil, there are going to be retaliatory attacks of various sorts, by proxies, by cyber, you know, unless there is some negotiating
process that can be started.
AMANPOUR: Right. To that point, I'm going to play this little bit of what President Trump said when he addressed the nation about the strike and
about the -- his next steps forward. He talked about this precise issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality. They must now
break away from the remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer
and more peaceful place. We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, there's a lot happening there, Sir Richard. What do you think? Is there any chance that that will happen, the nations, including
your own, who President Trump is now calling upon to exit like he did, the Iran nuclear deal?
DALTON: That's an irrational request. Irrational for U.S. interests. Irrational for Saudi, for Israeli interests. And I doubt that the Europeans
will go along with it.
Why? Because if you got the kind of fresh negotiation that President Trump is calling for, you would need to reinvent the very things that are in the
JCPOA. Now, you might want to debate the length of certain -- the duration of certain restrictions. You might want a wholly separate negotiation on
But on the core question of preventing Iran getting capabilities that could be used for a nuclear weapon, there's nothing better than the currently-in-
force IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, monitoring of everything that Iran does and holding Iran to the commitments it's given, which it has
not retracted, never to research or develop nuclear weapons.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just ask you because Charles Michel, who is -- was the prime minister of Belgium, now the president of the E.U. Council, he
says, just spoke with Hassan Rouhani about recent developments. JCPOA remains crucial for global security. I called Iran not to pose irreversible
acts. E.U. has its own interests and its vision and will enforce its role on an international level.
So, what can the E.U. do in this regard? And are we setting up now a major political split between the United States and the rest of the world?
Because nobody else agrees with pulling out of this deal except for the Saudis and the Israelis.
DALTON: The split's been managed so far. But the stakes are now so much higher. But question for European leaders is, will we manage it better by
going 100 percent with Trump or will we manage it better by retaining some credibility with Iran, Russia, China and the International Community as a
mediator between extreme positions, between the extreme position of some in Iran who want to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the
extreme position that we currently see in Washington, which is so fruitless?
AMANPOUR: Is there anything you've heard or seen come out of Iran in this last week that leads you to hope that this kind of negotiation can somehow
get kick started again? I mean, we talked to moderates, I mean, one of the vice presidents who was, you know, roaring revolutionary, turned reformist.
And she says, look, we took a gamble. We were demonized for taking a gamble, negotiating with the United States. Our hardliners told us that the
U.S. wasn't to be believed. And now, after this, how can we go back to the negotiating table?
DALTON: That's why it has to be a multilateral negotiation. Any idea in Washington that they can get to grips with the Iranian leadership, as
President Trump has sought to do with North Korea, is totally wrong. Within a multilateral context, with the presence of countries who are taking a
more rational attitude to the risks of peace and war in the Middle East than the United States currently is, why shouldn't Iran get involved?
They are under the cosh economically. They're getting real hammer. In 2010, after the last round of international sanctions, it took three years for
Iran to be brought back to the negotiating table. It took a crucial concession from President Obama about enrichment in Iran, which enabled
talks to be crystallized.
Now, in this very difficult and different situation that we face, one could envisage the International Community persuading the United States to come
up with a similar 2013 moment. Bearing in mind that we now need, from Iran, what it has taken away from us. Namely, those detailed limits on their
enrichment and research and development activity. We want them back and we should be prepared to pay a price. The United States should be prepared to
pay a price.
AMANPOUR: We always have to say that Iran is America's enemy. America has decided that Iran is the enemy and vice versa for the last 41 years. I
mean, is this inevitable? Is this going to continue like this do you think?
SLAVIN: I certainly hope not. I mean, it may have to await, frankly, a new supreme leader in Iran and a new president in the United States who would
be willing to return to what we had with Iran during the Obama administration. I mean, it wasn't exactly a friend. But it was not the arch
enemy anymore. And we have to return to a place where we're not demonizing each other.
The other odd thing about Trump's speech. He mentioned that he would have wanted to work with Iran against ISIS after he had just killed the
mastermind of Iran's operations against ISIS. So, we have to go back to a more realistic strategy, a more coherent strategy that recognizes Iran's
important and lasting role in the Middle East. And that the United States, frankly, cannot afford to have this continued with Iran or vice versa.
Finally, to you, Sir Richard Dalton, I mean, the U.K. as well as the United States have had a very fraught relationship with Iran going all the way
back to the early 1950s, the coup, that you and the U.S. sparked to get rid of a democratically elected prime minister. And obviously, after the
revolution, it's just been this standoff.
Do you see any way that there can be, not just a return to the era around the Obama administration and the nuclear deal, but any kind of strategic
win/win situation for the West and for Iran going forward?
DALTON: Undoubtedly. You don't need trust to start a negotiation or even to successfully conclude it. If you identify the sweet spot in which each
side gets enough of their minimum requirements to clench a deal. Now, that can be done, again, because frankly, neither Iran nor the United States nor
the European Union have a better strategy on offer than the one of painfully trying to reconstruct relations in which you can strike such
deals that everybody gets something out of in future.
They get more security at less risk. And that can also cover the essential United States allies in Arabia, too. Everybody can get something out of the
next round over, I think, quite a long period of time.
AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating. Maybe there is an opportunity. But as you've both laid out, it's going to be very difficult, very painstaking,
and at the moment, somewhat hard to see.
Sir Richard Dalton, former ambassador to Iran, and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council, thank you so much indeed.
DALTON: Thank you.
SLAVIN: Welcome. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, a study says most Americans couldn't place Iran on a map. The United States has a long and complicated history with that
country. Dating back to before the ayatollahs came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution
Ervand Abrahamian is an Iranian-Armenian author, historian and university professor, whose book "The Coup" is his latest work, unpacking U.S.-Iranian
relations. Our Walter Isaacson sat down with him to discuss the events that contributed to the distrust and hostility between these two nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Let's set this into historical context and begin in 1951 when Iran nationalizes its oil industry. How does that set a
context of what's happening?
ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, "THE COUP": It's a very important background context because for Iran, the nationalization of oil in '51 was
the same as other colonial powers getting -- colonial states getting their independence from the former colonial ruler. So, it was a way of
declaration of independence from Britain to take over the main natural resource Iran had, which was oil. It was, in fact, equivalent to Indian
independence, Indonesian independence.
ISAACSON: They even lower the oil company's --
ISAACSON: -- flag and raise the Iranian --
ISAACSON: -- flag as if it were a transfer of colonial power.
ABRAHAMIAN: It was. And it would seem that way both in Iran and Britain.
ABRAHAMIAN: So, if you look at the British press at that time, especially the newspapers like "The Daily Telegraph," conservative papers, they saw
this as another sort of blow against the British empire. To try to balance that off, actually when the flag was lowered and the Iranian flag was
raised, the RAF flew jets or planes over at Abadan in a way to say, we still have the -- basically, the military power.
ISAACSON: But then Britain and the United States, CIA, MI6, in 1953, foment a coup in order to reverse this decision. Was that about oil or was
that about decolonization?
ABRAHAMIAN: The very historical question is why was the U.S. interested in helping a coup? And what the argument really was at that time that if Iran
succeeds in nationalizing the oil industry, even though it's a British oil industry, this will start a bad example, and other countries where American
oil interests were, like Venezuela, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, that those countries would try to basically follow the example of Iran.
And you would get a swift -- basically, a snowballing effect of nationalization of oil. And that would really weaken American interests. So
it was basically the fear of a bad example leading to what -- the repercussions.
Of course, eventually, in the '70s, 1970s, oil was nationalized throughout most of these countries. But, in 1951, it was seen by both the State
Department and American oil companies that, basically, it would be the end of Western civilization as we knew it, the sky would fall if these natives,
countries, basically took over their oil.
ISAACSON: So we put, meaning the United States and the West, the shah, the shah of Iran, into power after that coup in '53, or back into power, as a
real ruler of the nation.
And he becomes a lynchpin of Western security in the region. How long did that last?
ABRAHAMIAN: It lasted basically from '53 to '79.
And, superficially, it looked very stable. Here we had monarch, claimed 2,500-year history of monarchy. He had a huge army, huge military forces, a
huge bureaucracy, and, of course, after the oil boom of '73, unlimited oil resources.
So, on the surface, it looked like a very stable, formidable ally. That's why Nixon basically appointed him American policeman of the region.
ISAACSON: But it doesn't work. This -- 1979, there's suddenly a huge revolution, which most people don't predict, right?
ABRAHAMIAN: Well, that's the problem.
On surface, because it seemed so formidable, it looked like it was going to last. Even in 1978, the CIA's estimate was that, you know, there were no
problems in Iran until the oil runs out.
The problem with their analysis was that they didn't really understand that the '53 coup had really delegitimized the monarchy.
ISAACSON: Do you actually believe that people in Iran in the '70s felt that the shah was illegitimate...
ISAACSON: ... because of something that happened in '53?
I mean, the memory of '53 was very formidable. I mean, it was the main event that had occurred in Iranian history, basically, in their memory. And
they knew -- I mean, everyone basically knew that this regime was installed by the British and the Americans in '53.
So it was -- but, more than that, it was installed by overthrowing Mosaddegh there, who was seen as the emblem of national aspiration.
ISAACSON: He was the prime minister.
ABRAHAMIAN: It would be like in -- let's say in India, Nehru and Gandhi were overthrown and some British supporter came to power. They wouldn't
have legitimacy of an independent state.
ISAACSON: What was life like in the '70s under the shah?
ABRAHAMIAN: For the middle class, upper class, it was actually quite good, because, with the oil boom, there was considerable amount of economic
prosperity at the higher levels.
But on the general public, there was still a great deal of deprivation. There was lack of schooling, lack of universities, lack of medical care.
Those issues really then aggravated class differences between the better- off and less-off. So the revolution became very much also an uprising of the poor against the regime.
ISAACSON: We know the revolution, the way you describe it in your book, is also a uprising that's populist, that's religious, that's somewhat
paranoid, very fervent, almost alt-right.
It seems like it's part of a whole global populist rebellion.
ABRAHAMIAN: The best way to define it, some people called it fundamentalist.
Sure, there was religion, but the way the clerics reinterpreted Islam was a very, very new way that really made it into right-wing populist movement.
So they tapped into things such as nationalism, anti-imperialism, what they called the mostazafin, which is the downtrodden, the retched of the earth,
the poor, that the state should represent them.
So, if you look at their rhetoric, actually, it sounds very radical. And, in some ways, they were trying to compete and outdo the left on basically
ISAACSON: And they end up defeating the left, because you have the mujahideen, which is somewhat of a left-wing, right, anti-shah party.
ISAACSON: And then you have the clerics, the mullahs.
ISAACSON: And they, the mullahs and clerics, end up taking over this revolution. How did that happen?
ABRAHAMIAN: Well, I think the clerics some ways had much more social support.
The mujahideen had a lot of support in high schools and university. But the clerics, with their rhetoric, appealed to the poor, especially urban poor
or recent arrivals from the villages. They had their mosques, which was an informal network that existed and it's a way the secret police and the
SAVAK could have really disbanded the mosques.
But, also, there's the fact that they -- although the language was rhetorically very radical, Khomeini, and his ideology very much had roots
in the petty bourgeoisie, the middle class of the bazaar.
So these are very, you can say, traditional shopkeepers, merchants, more entrepreneurs that are located in the bazaar. They have very close
networks. And they have very strong ethics about Islam and social justice.
And he -- and Khomeini's, basically, theology appealed to that base. And they had a great deal of money, actually, so they were able to finance the
ISAACSON: And, SAVAK, the secret police under the shah, to what extent did that cause resentment that eventually exploded?
ABRAHAMIAN: Obviously, the oppression created resentment.
It was a period, actually, in the '70s. There was a lot of literature you just couldn't read. If you went to a secret bookstore, usually, the joke
was, well, if you are caught with this book, that'll get you five years, if you get this book, 10 years.
So it was basically the bookstores could tell you how many years you would get for possessing various books. So, oppression was there. But, again,
oppression is not really enough to explain a revolution.
We can see nowadays many countries become more oppressive. It doesn't mean that there's more discontent.
ISAACSON: But it was more than just oppression. I mean, there was torture. There was fighting back.
ABRAHAMIAN: Yes, there was, I mean, especially this period when they started using the tactics of torture to get confessions for public arena,
not confessions for information, but to force people to go on television and basically confess that they had made mistakes, they had now seen the
light; in prison, they had read books and now seen how great the shah was and so on.
That actually further alienated, I think, especially the intelligentsia, from the regime.
ISAACSON: How important was the shah to America's foreign policy? And why did the U.S. insist on trying to keep him?
ABRAHAMIAN: It mainly is due to the Nixon doctrine.
After Vietnam, Nixon had the notion that, basically, U.S. was overstretched and needed to outsource its, basically, power. And the obvious -- from
Nixon's point, the obvious person to outsource it was the shah in the Gulf.
So, especially when Britain decided to move out of east of Suez, the shah then quickly said, you know, I will be the person. But part of that deal
was that you, the U.S., basically sold the shah whatever weapons it wanted, even though a lot of people in the Pentagon, State Department said this was
not a good idea.
But there was an ongoing debate. And this debate, I would say, the business community sided with the shah. Give him whatever he wants.
So, another aspect of, I think, the business community supporting the shah was that you don't interfere or meddle too much in Iranian politics. You
don't talk to opposition figures. You basically write reports that everything is fine, the shah knows what he's doing.
You don't even check into internal politics to see what's going on. So, when the revolution started, the U.S. Embassy and the CIA were really taken
short, because they really didn't know who was who. For years, they had been told not to talk to people.
ISAACSON: You were in exile, I know, when the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran. But describe to me what that was like in Iran and what that meant.
ABRAHAMIAN: Khomeini by then was like a charismatic figure.
I don't think it was his person. It's the situation that created the charisma. But when he returned, literally millions, I think something like
an estimated three million people came into the streets to greet him. It was really basically an outpouring.
And it was like the messiah returning.
ABRAHAMIAN: Because he was seen as the symbol of a revolution, the person who was going to bring a new Iran, independent Iran.
And, also, he was authentic. He all -- spoke basically in Persian. He was very literate, but he also often spoke in Persian that the average person
could relate to.
He had basically lived a simple life, so he wasn't identified with the rich and so on. And, of course, the rhetoric I talked about of populist rhetoric
very much appealed to the average person.
So he was seen as a basically superhuman person who had come to save the country.
ISAACSON: When the embassy gets taken over by the students, originally, this is the beginning of the revolution.
What were the options then that could have saved this from becoming as bad as it did?
ABRAHAMIAN: When the students took over, they thought it was a sort of temporary act to stop the Americans carrying out the '53 coup again. So
they didn't think in long terms.
But what Khomeini did, as a very sort of Machiavellian politician, he used this for his own interests, which was to get a clerical constitution
Khomeini's disciples in the Constituent Assembly really revamped the document and brought in great deal of clerical influence, so that you would
still have the sort of the markings of a democratic republic, but umbrella organizations which are clerical to supervise everything.
And if he had gone -- if there was if there was a choice to the public of a republic or a clerical republic, there was a good chance that the public
would have expected a republic.
ISAACSON: In other words, not had an Islamic republic with clerical oversight.
ISAACSON: So, how did we end up getting all of that?
ABRAHAMIAN: Well, the hostage crisis helped that.
ISAACSON: Ah, I see.
ABRAHAMIAN: In the height of the hostage crisis, Khomeini dragged it out. There was always an image, the U.S. is going to attack. The U.S. is the
imminent enemy. There was attempt, of course, to rescue the hostages.
In that context, then they took the document to the public and said, are you going to vote for this constitution? Or, if you voted against it, it
was like going against the country, supporting United States.
And so then even the people who'd written the original constitution, Bazargan, ended up having to vote for the clerical constitution, because
they didn't want to be labeled as pro-American.
ISAACSON: There's some lessons for today, of course, which is that, if we give an excuse to demonize the United States, the hard-liners take that and
run with it.
And that's what happens in '79. It's what's happening today.
ABRAHAMIAN: And this will -- actually will happen very much next month, because Iran is about to have parliamentary elections in February.
And I'm sure they will use this issue, the right-wing populists, to appeal to the public that the country's still in mortal danger, you have to vote
for tough guys. And they might very well sweep the parliamentary elections.
Then you're going to have a government that's much more hard-lined than the present Rouhani government.
ISAACSON: Professor, thank you so much.
ABRAHAMIAN: Thanks very much.
ISAACSON: Appreciate it. Very good.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: So, the end of a turbulent week, let's take this chance to switch gears, because in our world filled
with violence and polarization, there are also new studies showing that there are significant health benefits to even the smallest acts of
kindness, like holding open a door or buying someone a coffee.
From lowering your blood pressure to lessening depression, being kind is good for you.
Now UCLA has set up the world's first institute to study kindness. It aims to research how kindness can catch on.
I have been speaking to the Bedari Kindness Institute's inaugural director, anthropologist Daniel Fessler.
AMANPOUR: Daniel Fessler, welcome to the program.
DANIEL FESSLER, DIRECTOR, BEDARI KINDNESS INSTITUTE: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: Why kindness? And why now?
I mean, it does seem, given all the -- I don't know, the stress, the unhappiness, the polarization in the world, and the pressures of social
media, that kindness actually is probably a really good thing to focus on right now.
FESSLER: Well, certainly, I and my colleagues here at UCLA and our benefactors who have funded this organization agree with you that kindness
is the solution or at least part of the solution to many of the problems facing us today, problems at the individual level and problems at the
social and political levels.
So, I think there is a growing body of research about the positive consequences of compassionate and kind interactions between individuals,
the effects on the individuals, and also on the groups of which they're a part.
So I would agree with you I think the time is right now.
AMANPOUR: What is your definition or the definition of your study, your group for kindness? What does it actually mean, as applied by you?
FESSLER: That's an excellent question.
And we define kindness as the actions, thoughts, and intentions that are designed to benefit another person or party, where doing so is an end in
itself. That is, it's often the case that people will benefit others for some ulterior motive.
We exclude that from kindness, and instead define kindness as simply seeking to enhance others' welfare as an end in itself.
AMANPOUR: Give me a few instances of how you discovered that.
I mean, there's the famous McDonald drive-in burger buy. And there are a couple of other things that you focus on.
So the McDonald's drive-in burger buy is actually not a single event. This happens periodically, where at drive-through fast-food restaurants, someone
pays for the meal of the people behind them, total strangers, and a chain of altruism begins, sometimes going for 100 or more separate individuals.
My own group has been working on what can be called contagious kindness. And we and others have shown that, as a third party, observing kindness, so
watching one person be kind to another, evokes a positive emotion in many observers, and motivates that observer to be kind in turn.
And, in fact, here at UCLA and in the Los Angeles area, we have done experiments where we stop people on the street. We pay them for their
participation. And we evoke this positive emotion in them by showing them acts of kindness.
And then we give them the opportunity to donate any portion of their payment to the children's hospital here. And, in fact, some people donate
not only their full payment, but even more than they were paid.
So we are evoking kindness and altruism on the spot by giving people the opportunity to observe it in others.
AMANPOUR: I think it's amazing, also, the idea of this contagious nature of kindness, whether it's, as you say, buying a burger or donating or even
just smiling or making a phone call, or something.
But I wonder, also, whether these times are any different than previous times, in that, sometimes, people equate kindness with naivete or with
weakness, especially when applied to men.
And President Obama, I think, came out and really struck a blow for the notion that kindness is actually, you know, an integral part of humanity
He actually said this during Elijah Cummings, Congressman Elijah Cummings' funeral. We will just play a little of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Being a strong man includes being kind...
OBAMA: ... that there's nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There's nothing weak about looking out for others.
OBAMA: There's nothing -- there's nothing weak about being honorable.
You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was Obama's eulogy. It was last year, obviously, after Elijah Cummings died.
And Elijah Cummings himself had become the target of some unkindness by the president, in terms of directly against him, against the district that he
was representing in Maryland.
Just talk to us a little bit about the challenges to kindness on a daily basis in today's world, because, surely, it also means interacting with
other people. And, surely, there's a barrier to that with social media and the way people increasingly interact today.
FESSLER: There are two important things to understand about human beings that really differentiate us from other animals in many ways.
The first is that we are remarkably cooperative. So there's no other species in which individuals provide benefits to unrelated individuals and
cooperate with them on the scale that human beings do. It's simply entirely unprecedented.
And an important question in our evolutionary history is, what was the spur, the motivating factor for the development of this capacity?
And there is quite a bit of evidence that one factor in this regard was violent conflict between groups. Essentially, the group that could
cooperate and benefit its own members better won out. It killed or displaced its rivals.
So we really have both sides of the coin as part of our intrinsic evolved psychology, that is, the capacity to be extremely generous, cooperative,
altruistic, compassionate towards others, and at the same time to coalesce in groups where we cooperate only within those groups and put ourselves in
opposition, often violent opposition, to other groups.
So one of the things that we're seeing in the world today is increasing populist movements, nationalist movements, xenophobia, intolerance of
others who are different from oneself on any of a wide variety of dimensions, from religion to ethnicity to gender identity.
It's really -- fundamentally, a way of promoting in-group solidarity is to see one's group as pitted against outsiders. And you mentioned social
media. You know, the great promise of the Internet was that it will allow individuals to connect, share ideas, share knowledge. Certainly, that
But one of the things that it allows is tribalism and the spread of misinformation and disinformation. And, importantly, anybody who spent any
time on the Internet realizes that many conversations often devolve into hostility. And this is, in part, because of anonymity.
So on the Internet, where people are interacting anonymously, they can connect with like-minded individuals. But any disagreement easily devolves
into conflict. And it's very easy to demonize those who are seen as being on the outside.
AMANPOUR: So what would you, through this project and through this kindness project and through your own research, what would you suggest that
ordinary people, who are feeling the lack of kindness, who are feeling unhappy, stressed, maybe even physical -- other physical, you know,
manifestations, what would you recommend them to do on the kindness track?
FESSLER: Just a kind word, saying hello, asking someone how they are doing, holding the door for a stranger, letting another car go ahead of you
when waiting in line on the road, all of these things fundamentally promote changes in our own experience of the people around us.
And, importantly, in so doing, they change the social environment for all of those people. We can have both positive and negative spirals in this
regard. If people behave in a self-interested fashion, if they only look out for their own interests, then their actions fundamentally shape the
experiences of the people around them.
And the result is that cooperation degenerates. People become more and more hostile, right?
Conversely, if people just take a moment to reflect and to think of others as worthwhile in their own right and as deserving in their own right,
deserving of respect, deserving of opportunity and so on, then even small gestures can create positive feedbacks between individuals that ultimately
can enhance the welfare of entire communities, even whole societies.
AMANPOUR: And, again, I'm fascinated by the amount of, let's say, attention that's being paid now to the spiraling mental health issues, to
stress, to the lack of happiness.
As you know, because you're on a campus, it's happening a lot on campuses, soaring mental health crises. According to the National Alliance for Mental
Illness, over 40 million adults in the United States now have some kind of anxiety disorder.
And last year, I spoke to Dr. Laurie Santos, as you know, a psychology professor at Yale University, who had, for want a better way -- word, a
happiness course that was hugely oversubscribed. And that led to an online course. That led to a podcast.
And I interviewed her about it. This is what she said about what she had discovered, where the need was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. LAURIE SANTOS, YALE UNIVERSITY: I think one thing to know about what's happening with college student mental health is that the stats are really
getting worse over time.
It's actually -- I make these graphs for students where I show them the statistics of things like anxiety and loneliness and so on. And they're
just depressing, because all the stats are just skyrocketing.
One of the scariest ones is that levels of depression have doubled in just the last nine years. So ,in less than a decade, we have twice the number of
students on campus who are in really serious psychological distress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you think we're at a tipping point, where perhaps we can redress the imbalance? Do you think enough attention is being paid now to
FESSLER: Dr. Santos is absolutely correct.
So, in the United States today, the leading cause of death of young people is suicide. And this is an absolute shame. It's a disgrace, right, that, in
a highly developed nation, people's lives are so fraught with difficulty and lack of connection to others that they're taking their own lives in
large numbers, right?
The rise of the Internet and smartphone technology in particular has been a contributing factor. Extensive use of a smartphone, in fact, leads to
alienation, loneliness, and so on.
So what's happening is that, for a substantial portion of people, importantly, including young people, they are having -- they're
substituting shallow, superficial relationships with individuals who would not actually assist them in times of need.
You put these things together, and this is just a recipe for mental illness.
AMANPOUR: Your work then at the kindness lab is very, very important.
Daniel Fessler, thank you very much, director of the Bedari Kindness lab at UCLA.
FESSLER: Thank you. And we really appreciate your interest in the Bedari Kindness Institute.
AMANPOUR: So, kindness catching on, that is something really good for us to end this week on.
And that is it for us now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast, and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.