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Barbara Walters says she regrets trying to help Syrian aide

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:16 PM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
ABC's Barbara Walters acknowledged her recommending the daughter of a Syrian diplomat created a conflict of interest.
ABC's Barbara Walters acknowledged her recommending the daughter of a Syrian diplomat created a conflict of interest.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Walters contacted CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" on the woman's behalf
  • CNN did not interview or hire Sheherazad Jaafari
  • Jaafari is the daughter of Syria's U.N. ambassador
  • Affectionate e-mails from the woman to Syria's president were obtained by CNN

(CNN) -- ABC News' Barbara Walters is expressing regret for attempting to help the daughter of Syria's U.N. ambassador by seeking an internship or college admission for her.

"In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that," Walters said in a statement Tuesday.

After Walters returned to the United States from a December ABC interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, she said, Sheherazad Jaafari contacted her. Jaafari, the daughter of Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, was described in March as a Syrian government press officer in New York.

Sheherazad Jaafari appears to have a close relationship with the Syrian president, according to e-mails obtained by CNN. In e-mails from Jaafari to al-Assad, she writes, "hey handsome" and adds "I love u."

Walters said Wednesday that Jaafari was "looking for a job" when she contacted her. "I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her. I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia."

Walters sent an e-mail to CNN's Piers Morgan and his executive producer, Jonathan Wald, recommending Jaafari, describing her as a "sensational young woman."

CNN has said "Piers Morgan Tonight" was contacted by Walters on Jaafari's behalf; however, she was never interviewed or hired as an intern.

Morgan himself denied having any contact with Jaafari. In an article published in March in the British newspaper Daily Mail, Morgan wrote that an e-mail from Jaafari to al-Assad had surfaced in which she mentions a meeting with the CNN anchor.

"I am meeting Piers Morgan tomorrow ... I feel appreciated here!" Jaafari wrote in that e-mail.

Morgan wrote in the newspaper, "I had absolutely no idea what the hell this was all about until I recalled that a famous American TV interviewer had recently recommended I consider this lady -- daughter of Syria's ambassador to the U.N. -- for a job at my CNN show.

"We didn't meet, nor speak, nor in fact have any contact at all. And given the nature of her e-mail correspondence, I don't think you should expect Ms Jaafari to be popping up in my programme title credits any time soon," Morgan wrote.

Walters also e-mailed a professor at Columbia University's journalism school on Jaafari's behalf. The professor, Richard Wald, is the father of Jonathan Wald.

Walters later sent a follow-up e-mail to Jonathan Wald, advising him not to bother following up with Jaafari, since she did not have an appropriate U.S. visa.

Walters said in her statement Wednesday that Jaafari "didn't get a job or into school."

On her résumé, Jaafari said she graduated from college in June 2010 and for a year after graduation was an account executive at Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm in New York. Before that, she said, she was an intern at the Syrian Mission to the United Nations and an assistant to the president of the U.N. General Assembly.

Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," said the incident makes Walters "seem a little too cozy" with someone close to the Syrian regime.

"This looks like a bit of a quid pro quo," Kurtz said Wednesday. "This woman was close to Assad, the daughter of the ambassador, helps her arrange the interview, and the next day they're on e-mail talking about helping her -- Barbara Walters helping her to either get into an Ivy League school or land a media internship."

In his interview with ABC, al-Assad maintained that he is not in charge of Syria's military, which opposition groups say has conducted a brutal crackdown on dissent in the country over the past year in which thousands have died.

"They are not my forces," he said. "They are forces for the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country."

Walters, in her statement Wednesday, described the interview as "hard-hitting" and said "the fallout for Assad from the interview was such that the Syrian government went to great lengths to discredit me and ABC News."

Jaafari was among those who coached al-Assad before the interview on how to describe the violence, according to e-mails purportedly from Syrian officials released in February by the hacking group known as Anonymous.

"Don't talk reform," Jaafari wrote in one e-mail. "American's (sic) won't care, or understand that. ... American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are 'mistakes' done and now we are 'fixing it.'"

After the interview aired December 7, Jaafari wrote to al-Assad, in an e-mail obtained by CNN, "I'm still awake and I am being updated by my father and through the embassy and Barbara's team ... it's extremely positive ... the whole U.S. is talking about this."

"Ur amazing," she told the president, adding that he looked like "a 25-years-old super star."

In other e-mails from Jaafari to al-Assad, she strikes a more personal tone.

"I miss ur voice already," she wrote him in late December. "Give me a call whenever u can so I could get some energy from you and tell you how much I misss u."

"I am coming today. I will arrive there tomorrow," she wrote in January, telling him she wanted to see him, "no excuses ... miss uuu, please please please."

"Hey handsome," she began an e-mail to the president three days later, including a suggestive story about a relative. "I love u," she added. "I hope ur doing well in school and at the gym. Be nicer."

CNN's Gena Somra and Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.

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