tv Amanpour on PBS PBS April 17, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PDT
♪ welcome to "amanpour" on pbs. tonight, the strike san bernardinoo bernardinoor -- interior, but after the former fbi director slams the president as dangerous and morally unfit for office. former u.s. defense secretary and cia director leon panetta joins me from california. plus, russian reaction to those air strikes. tlel threats of u.s. tanks and new cold war. my discussion
good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. the united states, france and britain claim that they have now removed, quote, the heart of syria's chemical weapons program. after the allies launched a barrage of missiles at several of bashar al assad this weekend. president trump declared mission accomplished and they declared the right to do it again. they made clear they had no plans to topple assad as prime minister theresa may told parliament today. >> it was not about intervening in a civil war and about regime ange it was about a limited, tarted strike that sought to alleviate the suffering of the syrian people by degrading the chemical weapon capability and deterring their use. >> inside syria the war rages on
with more than 400,000 people killed since 2011. 5 million syrians fled their country and another 6 million are internally displaced. what, if anything, has changed in syria, which has become the battleground for much bigger powers trying to control the middle east? leon panetta was america's defense secretary under president obama and joins me from california. secretary panetta, welcome to the program. >> nice to be with you. >> actually, i'm going to refer to your last administration position as director of the cia. in that, given that you were there in 2012 when president obama drew a red line and in 2013 when he didn't, what is your analysis of what the over-the-weekend strikes might have achieved? >> well, i would have thought that president trump would have been careful about using the
same words that president bush did during the iraq war because we really don't know whether or not this mission has been accomplished. on the one hand it was a very effective strike in coordinating the efforts of both the united states and our allies to go after a specific set of targets. it was done well. it was done precisely, and, hopefully, it was done effectively. i think the bigger issue though is whether or not this strike is really tied to any long-range strategy in dealing with syria. assad still remains ino questios to have an arsenal ofhemical weapons. i think the real question about whether or not this strike was worth while will be determined in the future, not the present. >> so you're sure that he still has a stockpile of chemical weapons? >> i don't think there's much question but that he would not have put all of his chemical
weapons in one place. he's distributed those chemical weapons throughout his country. that's been his approach as long as i can remember. >> and so what do you make, what would be the next step? you know, president trump overnight talked on wednesday when he announced -- on friday when he addressed the american people about all of the tools at america's, military and economic and diplomatic, that it would be sustained if assad crosses the line again. i guess all of the leaders said that the ball is in assad's court and to an extent russia's court. do you think they'll do it again, whack him again if he uses these weapons again? >> i think it will be determined by whether or not the united states really does develop some kind of long-range strategy working with our allies. if there's an effort here to follow up on the use of military
action -- which i think was important in the signal that it sent -- but in order to make it effective you have to follow it up with a very strong diplomatic effort to go after the issue of assad's use of chemical weapons, to try to see if there isn't an approach that can result in some kind of long-range political solution in syria. if those eorts are not done, if alle wo is strike and then sit back and wait for the syrians to take the next step, my fear is that will repeat exactly what happened the last time we struck in syria, which was that soon after assad continued to use chemical weapons without any kind of payback. so i think we're in a dangerous moment where, frankly, we have to continue to watch assad, continue to watch what he does, and then at the same time follow
it up with a very strong diplomatic effort to try to see if we can pursue some kind of strategic solution to what is a disaster in syria. >> just before i move on, you would admit though that it was better for president trump to actually fire back when that red line had been crossed as opposed to what president obama did, which wasn't respond? >> no, there's no question. look, when the president of the united states gives his word by drawing a red line that chemical weapons cannot be used, and president obama did that and president trump did that. but when you draw that kind of red line, you have to back it up, because if you don't it impacts on your credibility and it sends the wrong message both to our allies as well as to our enemies. >> so let's get back to the strategy we were talking about. there's clearly no appetite, mr. secretary, for any kind of
bigger involvement in syria, and you remember that just days before assad dropped those barrel bombs of chemical weapons that president trump had signalled that he wanted to bring american forces back, those who are there in the anti-isis coalition, about 2,000 of them. then over the weekend in h interview before he comes to the u.s., president macron of france said the following about his effect on president trump's decision. listen to this. >> translator: ten days ago president trump said the u.s.'s will is to disengage from syria. we convinced him it is necessary to stay. please be reassured we convinced him we had to stay on in the long-term. the second thing is we convinced him we had to limit the strikes to chemical weapons, even though there had been an immediate uproar by way of tweets which you may have been aware of. >> so there's macron saying that he had talked president trump into keeping those american forces there and being in it for the long haul.
but sarah sanders at the white house podium yesterday said the president wants u.s. forces to come home as quickly as possible. so you raised a very legitimate question about what is the strategy. what should be the strategy? what should the united states do now? >> you know, the basic problem is that for seven years the united states has had an ambivalent policy towards syria. we made a statement that assad should step down. we've tried to do what we can to assist the rebels. we obviously have aimed our effort at isis and working with the kurds and isis, but, very frankly, we've never had an overarching policy about where are we headed in syria. for that reason, we continue to pay a price. the hope that somehow we can just walk away from that situation and it won't affect our national security is a
serious mistake. the reality is what happens in syria, whether we like it or not, is going to affect national security interests. so we are going to have to take steps there. we can't just back away. wean'tust walk away. we're gng to have to build a coalition, working with our allies, working with france, working with great britain, working with the u.n., to continue to pursue some kind of strategy here that will ultimately result in assad stepping down. because we can never have a stable syria as long as assad is still there. 400,000 people killed. 5.6 million displaced. no, we can't allow assad to remain in power, so we're going to have to work on a strategy to gradually move him off, working with russia, working with others to try to reach that end. secondly, we're going to have to develop some kind of political
approach that allows the syrian people to make the decision about what their future will be. that's the only way we're going to find any kind of stability for the future. otherwise, we're going to continue to pay a price for the chaos that is syria. >> so he has been obviously -- next question, you say that, and of course you were one of the very few in the obama administration who wanted actually to do things much more robustly when there was a chance they would have made a difference back in 2012, 2013. president obama said no to that, and here we are with russian involved -- russia involved and iran involved. you know, former secretary of state madeline all bright told me she was horrified when she saw the picture of president putin, president of iran, basically laying the ground work for what happens in syria and there was no america in sight. there is a diplomatic process.
it belongs to them. there is a military proce. it belongs to them. there is a strategy. it belongso them. how does the u.s. or the west have any hope of making a dent or changing that? >> i'm a believer that the united states has to exercise world leadership when it comes to those issues. we're facing a number of flashpoints in the world today, and syria is one of those. if the united states steps away from our responsibility, very frankly, nobody else will fill that vacuum. the united states has to be a world leader. the united states has to be there to be able to confront russia, iran, hezbollah, assad. we can't just allow that situation to develop, because the reality is what we will have is the extension of iranian influence in syria. we'll have continuing russian influence in syria, and we will
pay a price for that in the middle east if we allow that to happen. so it is for that reason, whether we like it or not -- and sometimes, you know, world leadership cannot just decide when it should or shouldn't act. it has to depend on what happens in the world. and what is happening in syria has demanded our action in dealing with chemical weapons. it will continue to demand our action, and it is for that reason that we have to develop some kind of geostrategy here to deal with assad, with russia, with iran, with our allies, with our arab allies in that part of the world, to develop an approach here that can show that we do, indeed, have a strategy for trying to bring some kind of peaceful solution to what is happening in syria. >> and just before i move on to more domestic issues, do you think there's anyway to have an
agreement with russia? everybody is saying it is the cold war with words, russia is denying there was a chemical attack, what happened was a hoax, says the russian leadership. how do you get that back on track? >> well, there's no question we're in a rough period here with russia for a lot of reasons. russ, i think, read weakness into the united states. as a result took aggressive steps in the ukraine and crimea, in syria against the united states in this election. but i have always been a believer, frankly, that you can deal with mr. putin if you make clear where the lines are, if you deal with mr. putin from strength rather than weakness. if he knows that there are limits to what we will tolerate in terms of russian interference and russian aggression. we have to make that clear.
if we make that clear, then i think there's an opportunity to deal with mr. putin and russia. but if we deal with putin from weakness, we will continue to pay a price for that. >> i just want to sort of switch gears slightly, but actually it is the same track. with all of these very heavy global issues and domestic issues that the president, any president has to deal with, he now also is consumed by his personal issues with the mueller probe, you know, his personal lawyer, and now a former fbi director james comey coming out with his interviews and his new book. just listen to what comey has told abc about what he thinks of president trump. >> our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country, the most important being truth. this president is not able to do that. he is morally unfit to be president. >> i mean that is pretty remarkable. in your experience, have you
ever heard a major government official speak like that about a president and do you agree with his assessment? >> well i've been involved in public l for 50 years and, very frankly, i have never experienced a presidency like mr. trump's presidency and i have never experienced a lot of the events we're going through now, and never would have expected that we would hear the kind of things that we're hearing. but the reality is that mr. trump is president of the united states and that ultimately we're going to have to find a way using our democracy, using our kooun constitution to be able to use a system of checks and balances to make sure our country moves in the right direction. that's what is going on now. very frankly, our system of checks and balances is alive and well. we have an investigation going on by mr. mueller.
it is an investigation looking at the russian situation but also looking at whether the president has violated any laws. and i would put a lot more credibility into the investigation by mr. mueller than the comments that are currently being made by anybody. i think the real issue for the united states and for our future will depend a lot more on mr. mueller's investigation than whatever books are written about mr. trump. >> secretary panetta, thank you so much for joining us from california tonight. now, as things heat up inside america, important international relations are cooling down to sub zero temperatures as we've just been discussing with the accusations and insults flying between russia and the west. the u.n. secretary general says the cold war is back only with a crucial difference, communication, that vital safety valve, are worse now than they were back then.
the trump administration is deciding whether or not to impose more sanctions on russia, but what will their next move be? just how much worse can these relations get. joining me from vienna is andre fortunov. sir, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> i am sure you heard secretary panetta. i mean he really said that we have to -- the united states, the west -- has to work with russia and all of the other countries in -- you know, in the field when it comes to syria. given all that'spened, can you see anyway towards that happening any time soon? >> well, i think that on the ground there is a good deal of compensation of the so-called agreement is still in operation.
and i think that the context between the russian military and the military on the ground are fairly strong. however, that is not enough to end the conflict in syria. we need to work much more in the framework of the geneva process, and, unfortunately, the united states right now is not an active participant of this process. >> mr. fortunov, you say the geneva process. but you know that russia, iran, turkey, all are headed off on a different line, and president assad has never really cooperated with the geneva process. do you actually think at this point with tensions so high that there's any chance for a political solution to this? >> well, first of all, on cooperation between russia, iran and turkey, there is the so-called -- but it is not a competition with the geneva process since we're talking
primarily about their declaration and ceasefire. geneva should resolve political issue of syria and turn syria back into a normal country. but let me tell you, you are talking about whether it is possible. many people would say that we need another major crisis so that the two leaders would look into the abyss and get really scared and start working together likit was the cas during the cuban missile crisis back in 1962. maybe the time has come to really look into that and to make sure that our tactical interests are not less important so that they would prevent us from working with each other. i don't expect miracles. i don't think that something will change dramatically, but i still believe that we need to have a summit meeting between the two presidents. we need to discover
fundamentals. the specific u.s. position is to either somehow find a modus operandi with russia. >> i just want to play you a sound bite from foreign minister sergei lavrov. he spoke about what happened over the weekend and about the words he might use against the allied leaders. just listen to this. >> translator: to the head of other states and, of course, to the head of my state. but you, the leaders of france and uk and the united states, and, frankly speaking, all of the evidence which they quote was based on the media reports and on social networks. >> so, mr. fortunov, he went on to say the event did not take place. what did take place was a staged sting. he is talking about the chemical weapons attack on douma a couple
of weeks ago. how does one go -- do you believe it was a hoax? >> well, no, i think that the international investigation is still on, and inspectors from the organization on elimination of chemical weapons should make their sion. we know thatet sesmistakes happen. we know how the united states got into iraq. so i would suggest that we would give the experts representing the international community to get to the ground to explore and to make the findings public. >> well, i mean they've been trying to go and there's been a lot of back and forth about why they can't get in. they're saying that the russians and the syrians haven't yet given them access to douma. so we will see whether that's the case. the u.n. says they've given all of the clearances. again, foreign minister lavrov over the days has said that the situations between russia and the united states is, you know,
cold -- is below the level they were during the cold war. and as you heard the secretary general of the u.n. said the same thing. how do you assess it? is it that bad? you talked about the cuban missile crisis and we talked about this citevital communicat link which doesn't seem in a real way to be present. >> it is exactly the point. i think that the situation today with the cold war, it is not the cold war of 1970s or 1980s. it is the cold war of early 1950s when they had no red lines, where they didn't know what to expect from each other or when the risks were very high. this is very unfortunate. i think that it can and should be changed. it will not require capitulation of either side. think it does mean that the united states should make a favor to russia or the other way around. it is just a matter of political
wheels. unfortunately, i think many politicians in both countries do not realize the gravity of the situation, arguably during the week -- weekend was by far the most dangerous situation since the end of the cold war. >> let me just carry on with that line because prime minister may to parliament said today one of the things -- one of the reasons they did it was becse there was no other avenue. they had been blocked over and over again from doing the kind of things that you are recommending by the russians in the security council. listen to this for a moment. >> on each occasion when we have seen every sign of chemical weapons being used, russia has blocked any attempts to hold the perpetrators to account at the u.n. security council with six vetoes since the start of 2017. just last week russia brought to u.n. resolution what would have established an independent investigation, able to determine responsibility for this latest
attack. regrettably we had no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own is not going to work. >> so it just seemed to be that, you know, on both sides it just keeps sinking into a deeper and deeper freeze. you know, you talked about another great crisis. i mean this is one of them, but do you think syria is now going to be a free-for-all or do you think russia and its ally, you know, iran and assad have kind of won already? how d you assess the situation on the ground in syria? >> well, i don't think that you can read into it because the conflict keeps being fuelled from the outside. the pour this fuel into the fire. so the conflict cannot seem to exhaust itself. it is not just about iran or russia, but we have turkey, we
have the gulf, we have the united ates, we have israel. so i think that the major players have to get together and to decide whether they can afford to continue these conflicts. and if not, then i think we have the geneva document, we know that we need the constitutional reform in syria. we know that we have elections that should be monitored by the united nations. we want to have a syria and a democratic country. >> all really interesting. thank you so much for your perspective. andre fortunov. so important to get views from russia and the united states in the aftermath of these serious strikes, try to figure out what the strategy might be going forward. that is it for our program. thanks for watching "amanpour" on pbs. join us again tomorrow night. ♪ ♪