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World Reaction to Obama Re-election

Aired November 9, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we bring you two of the big stories we covered this week. And the big story was what happened here in the United States, America elected a president, reelecting Barack Obama, who will have four more years to fix what ails his country at home and abroad.

So how is the world reacting to Obama 2.0? One of the strongest reactions came from Russia. I had the rare opportunity to speak to a key ally of President Vladimir Putin, a true insider, Alexei Pushkov. And we'll have that interview in a few moments.

But first to Israel, and the notoriously chilly relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama.

Netanyahu, though, was one of the first to congratulate the American president on his victory. But many in Israel complained that their leader had backed the wrong horse, challenger Mitt Romney, as one headline blared, "Bibi Gambled; We'll Pay."

And all of this came after an explosive television report rocked Israel, revealing that in 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu had allegedly ordered his military and his intelligence to prepare a strike on Iran. But, the report says, they refused.

I spoke with Ilana Dayan, the journalist who uncovered the story.

But first, to Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, about Israel's reaction to all of this and about how the Israeli-U.S. relationship will go forward now.


AMANPOUR: So first off, you can't be that thrilled with all the headlines --


AMANPOUR: Thank you. You can't be that thrilled with all the headlines in the papers today, saying that your prime minister took the wrong political gamble.

AYALON: You know, we are our worst critics here in Israel. I respect very much Israeli media and papers, even though not all the time they're correct, and many times they're sensational, which is fine. But let me tell you, I think we should set the record straight.

It is true, Christiane, that there was a special kinship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Romney, based on the fact that both of them were graduates of MIT, working together later in the same McKinsey consulting firm, but from this, to say that there was a preference, it's a little bit of a stretch. Israel cannot afford to be meddling or involved in U.S. policies.

Now, I know very much how acrimonious this campaign was. We were dragged into it by campaigns, not by our own design. And --

AMANPOUR: OK, Mr. Ayalon, you're --

AYALON: -- (inaudible) for me to tell here that --

AMANPOUR: You're mounting a spirited defense and I would expect nothing less, but of course, your own population sees it differently. So the real question is, going forward, what kind of a relationship on particular issues -- Iran -- has the temperature in Israel now, in the prime minister's office, dropped over a military confrontation with Iran? Or will we see that rise again?

AYALON: Let me tell you, first of all, you know, Israel and the United States are natural allies, based not only on shared values, common threats that we have, but also on the very sense of the core similar identities and outlook of the future, investing of the two nations.

Well, on Iran, we also share almost identically the same outlook with the United States, and we very much trust the leadership of the United States, the leadership of President Obama.

And I went on record, just two months, actually in September, in New York, with a conference of major Jewish organizations, to say -- and I am on record -- that we have no better friend than President Obama.

Actually a year ago, with my good friend -- which I'm sure you know, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I said the same thing. We have no better friend than President Obama.

And we know that we will continue the consultations because we cannot afford not to work together, because the issues are too big and too immense, and a threat, not just to Israel or to the region, to major American allies in the region, but also to the very basic interests of the United States in Europe. Nobody can afford a nuclear Iran. The question is how we go about stopping it.

AMANPOUR: All right.

AYALON: And I have a full confidence knowing not only the president's commitment but also his team. And there is, in a way, there -- I see an advantage by the continuity of the administration, being very seasoned, knowing very well that Iran file and portfolio to continue and make sure that Iran will not become nuclear.

AMANPOUR: If I'm not mistaken, then, that is a ringing endorsement of the Obama administration's policy towards Iran.

AYALON: Yes, well, absolutely. And, well, we're not going to hide anything behind the table. I know we are great allies and friends. Even among the best friends there are sometimes difference of views. And let me tell you -- and I can understand it.

You know, the view from, let's say, Kansas City, or the view from Tel Aviv, about the threats from Iran is different by nature of the proximity. But at the end of the day, we will continue and work together. Yes, there were differences about some timelines, about what is exactly the goal, whether to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities or actually having the bomb itself.

But I think today we can safely say that we are very much on the same page and will continue to follow the lead of the United States.

By the way, what the United States has done under the leadership of Obama is something that we would have dreamed about a year ago, actually amassing a great pressure in a concerted effort where the entire international community now is coming hard on Iran with the sanctions, not only the United States, but also most of the like-minded countries including Europe.

And Iran is hurting now and, for the first time, paying a price. So the dilemma now is of the ayatollah's, whether to continue and breach international law and all the agreements, or space the consequences. And I have full trust that together internationally we will be able to stop Iran.

AMANPOUR: Danny Ayalon, thank you very much indeed. Israel's deputy foreign minister. Thank you for being with me.

And now, for more on that sensational story that's rocking Israel, Ilana Dayan is one of Israel's leading journalists, as I just said. She's the anchor of the investigative news program, "Uvda," which is Hebrew for "fact."

She's the reporter who broke the story that we were just talking about, the story that, apparently two years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his military to prepare for attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Dayan's story documents how the army chief and the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence, both refused to comply. And she's just shortly about to join me as she's getting into the chair.

But as we wait for her, let me just say that: "The Iranian government has responded to that very program, saying in a letter to the Security Council, the Islamic Republic of Iran expresses its strong protest and condemnation of such a provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible statement by the Israeli regime's prime minister.

I wish to reiterate that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never had any intention of any attack on any other nation."

Ilana, thank you so much for joining me. You've heard the whole premise; you heard what your deputy foreign minister has responded about this. He wouldn't confirm or deny. He said that there was no order from the prime minister.

Do you believe that the prime minister had ordered a strike, or do you believe that this was part of the preparations and the psychological pressure to ratchet the pressure up on Iran?

ILANA DAYAN, UVDA ANCHOR: I'll tell you the facts as I know them from many, many talks that I had, also from people who were in the room, this specific, dramatic meeting of the G-7, the seven city ministers of our government.

It happened in the course of 2010 and all of a sudden, just when they are at the door, the chief of staff, then Gabi Ashkenazi, and the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, are given an order by the Prime Minister Netanyahu to step into a pre-attack alert and be ready to strike in Iran. This is what happened.

This is as close, I believe, as Israel has ever gotten to a strike in Iran.

And more importantly than that, this was, I guess, the most dramatic rift between the military establishment and the political establishment in which you find really a fascinating dispute between these two sides, when you have on the one side Prime Minister Netanyahu with a deep conviction, very coherent world view in this respect; you have Ehud Barak, who is a, you know, Mr. Security.

And on the other hand, you have the chief of staff and the head of Mossad who very courageously set off the alarms and say, guys, this is not the right thing to do now. And if we step into this pre-attack alert, this is noisy; this can lock us into war.

AMANPOUR: You just heard your deputy foreign minister be very conciliatory -- or maybe you didn't hear him.

Did you hear Danny Ayalon talking about following the U.S. policy and believing that the U.S. and Israel were together on this policy of Iran?

I may have lost you, Ilana.

It looks like I may have lost Ilana Dayan.

DAYAN: We are trying to do -- yes.

AMANPOUR: You can hear me?

DAYAN: I'm fine now.


AMANPOUR: You can hear me? OK. Let's continue. This is live television, now why the heck not?

So do you believe that the temperature for a military strike against Iran has gone up or down in Israel, especially since the U.S. election of Barack Obama and not Mitt Romney?

DAYAN: It's interesting; I was listening to Deputy Minister Ayalon just a couple of minutes ago, and it was interesting, the way he put it. He said Obama has done for us much more than we could ever expect. He said that he thinks Israel and the U.S. are now on the same page, not only in terms of the intelligence understanding of what's happening, but in terms of what should be done.

That was not the case of the interview I had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, just last Friday, in which he very, very strongly said if the U.S. doesn't do it, we'll have to do it ourselves. This is Netanyahu's agenda and the interesting thing that we are about to be seeing now is what happens with the just newly-reelected President Obama.

And in my view, you know, the most important -- really the most important thing is whether these two guys, these two gentlemen will be able to create this strategic intimacy, as someone put it to me, that can really be the only way to create innovative options and who are both dangerous ones.

AMANPOUR: So you've also said that, look, this discussion continues. You understand where Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming from. You also understand where the opposition, those who don't agree with this kind of strategic direction towards Iran.

So are we likely to see this conversation continue in Israel?

DAYAN: No doubt about it. I mean, we have this postponed deadline until the spring of 2013. But again as far as Netanyahu is concerned, this -- neither this prime minister came to the table with a very coherent, a very well-established -- I have to tell you, very, very respected world view, a historic conviction that he should get rid of the Iran nuclear threat.

When you hear Mr. Netanyahu, you understand that it is something which is really very deeply embedded in his psyche, in his world view. And on the other hand, when you speak about opposition, it's not only the brass that really, you know, unexpected and unprecedentedly holds its horses back. It's also the intellectuals.

You have writer David Grossman, the brilliant writer, Israeli writer, perhaps one of the most famous ones, writing an article a couple of months ago in the arts newspaper, in which -- in which he said something that I think is very interesting and very important to bring into account when you think about this Israeli dilemma, the bomb or the bombing?

And he said that we might be locked into our most ancient Jewish fears of annihilation, of destruction, of death, of murder, of somebody wanting to -- wanting for thousands of years to wipe us from the face of the Earth. And he was trying to claim that Netanyahu is playing upon those fears and he's really touching upon those fears.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, will tell you these are true and genuine fears, Iran is running for the bomb. It has already almost 200 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium. We might not know when they run for the last presplit (ph).

So it's an interesting dilemma; it's an important dilemma. And the way I see it as a journalist, it's a fascinating dilemma because you have - - you have an unprecedented vision of the players, of the characters on the field.

AMANPOUR: Ilana Dayan, it was a great program and it's always fascinating to talk to you. Thank you very much for being here.

And when we return Russia's reaction to the presidential election in the United States, a fascinating look inside the Kremlin with Alexei Pushkov, comrade and confidant of President Putin.

But first, another look at the U.S. presidential campaign. Politicians kissing babies; nobody knows when it became an American tradition, but it is as much of a part of campaigning these days as hot dogs, balloons and flag waving. And it's not just an American phenomenon any more. International leaders have started puckering up for the camera. Even some you might not think of as babysitters. Take a look.



OBAMA: You OK there? Aw, come on. (Inaudible).






He was one of America's most trusted soldiers and for a little more than a year he has served as the nation's top spy, but now David Petraeus has abruptly resigned his position as the head of the CIA because, he said in a letter to the president, of an extramarital affair.

Petraeus, formerly a four-star general who took on the leadership of America's intelligence community in September of last year, put it this way, "After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment," he said, "by engaging in an extramarital affair.

"Such behavior," he wrote, "is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon the president graciously accepted my resignation."

David Petraeus was a four-star general closely associated with the success of the surge in Iraq and an attempt to replicate its success in Afghanistan. He led U.S. forces in Iraq; he led U.S. forces in Afghanistan and then as a sign of President Obama's regard for him as a military man, slightly more than a year ago, he became the leader of U.S. national intelligence.

Now, though, America's top spy has revealed a secret that he felt apparently he could not keep. David Petraeus resigns as head of the U.S. CIA because of an extramarital affair. I'm Jonathan Mann. We return you now to AMANPOUR.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. As we went around the world this week, seeking reaction to President Obama reelection, we stopped in Moscow.

Now Mitt Romney, President Obama's challenger, had called Russia America's greatest geopolitical foe, and that didn't go down well there. Leadership has not always been pleased with Barack Obama and his policies, but Romney's bellicose stance enhanced Obama's reputation.

So President Obama begins a new term, an opportunity to reset once again America's relationship with Russia. Earlier this week, I spoke exclusively to Alexei Pushkov. He is the chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian parliament.

I had asked him about Syria, because clearly the United States wants much more Russian cooperation on that raging civil war there. But I also asked what does Russia now expect from the United States?


AMANPOUR: Let's just talk about perhaps some of the opportunities ahead. I want to play you something that took place, transpired; it's now very well known, this off-mike video has been played and replayed between then-President Medvedev and also President Obama.


OBAMA (from captions): This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility. I understand you.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.


AMANPOUR: So there was President Obama, assuring the Russian leadership that he would have more flexibility in a second term.

What is it that Russia would like to see? In other words, where do you see the area of opportunity now in an Obama second term?

ALEXEI PUSHKOV, CHAIRMAN, RUSSIAN STATE DUMA FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, President Obama clearly pointed to the situation around the U.S. ABM system in Europe. So I suppose that one of the opportunities could be to show this flexibility and to try to establish an ABM system in Europe which will not be considered by Russia as something detrimental for its security interests.

I think it would be a reasonable approach and I think it would have really helped for the United States to have Russia as a policy partner than -- rather than foreign policy adversary.

AMANPOUR: So just to be clear, you're talking about the general anti- missile defense system that the United States is talking about building?

PUSHKOV: I'm talking about the American ABM system that will be placed on the European soil. And there it becomes an issue of European security and of Russian security, because Russia is part of Europe.

And this is why Russia says that if America wants to establish an ABM system on the European soil, Russia should have a say. And Russian concerns should be taken into account. So we just actually proposed a negotiation that will lead to some kind of compromise over this.

And we cannot accept the approach which had been stated by quite a few American politicians, that this ABM system will be established, no matter what Russia thinks and even if Russia thinks it is directed against its security.

AMANPOUR: Well, then, when you heard that conversation between President Obama and Mr. Medvedev, do you believe, then, is it your understanding that a second Obama administration would be flexible on that precise issue?

PUSHKOV: Well, that's what Mr. Obama suggested. And personally, I tended to think that he was sincere. And we would like, actually, that some, at least, flexibility be shown on this issue.

On the other hand, we see very well from Moscow that the ABM system in Europe is an issue around which there are a lot of passions in the United States and first of all in the U.S. Congress.

And some people imply that any steps forward, Russian -- in the direction of Russian concerns would mean the selling out of American security to Russia, which, to my mind, is a complete nonsense. It's not about selling out American security. It's about reaching an agreement like we did reach an agreement on START III, for instance.

AMANPOUR: President Putin has just basically fired the defense minister. It's said that it is about a corruption problem.

But it looks like he may have upset and ruffled the feathers of many in the establishment, in the defense establishment, by his reforms.

PUSHKOV: Well, we have to pass from an army that was an army of a global power, like the Soviet Union was and which numbered around 2 million people, and which had important goals to fulfill outside of the Soviet Union, to an army that would react to modern challenges and that would be much more flexible and much better technologically armed.

So of course you have to fire a lot of officers. You have to fire a lot of generals. It's a very painful thing. And we have to have a more efficient army, but efficiency also meaning cutting the personnel. And that's why it is true that there were quite a few accusations towards the minister of defense in Russia that he's cutting across living tissue.

But also there were accusations that the reforms he's conducting are not quite that efficient, that some of these reforms are leading to the weakening of some elements of the Russian army that were rather considered to be OK. So I would say that there is a mix of and criticism which is well-found and a criticism which is -- which is connected with vested interests.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Pushkov, how do you think the Iran nuclear situation is going to be resolved?

PUSHKOV: Well, it's a very complicated issue. First of all, nobody has any clear proof that Iran is making a nuclear bomb. And you know that in 2003, 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have stated that they don't have proof of such a nuclear program in Iran.

Of course, some years have elapsed since then. But nobody said for sure that Iran is making such a bomb. So we are based on some assumptions which have not really very strong basis. That's one thing.

The second thing, what I certainly see is that if the military scenario, the military scenario is applied, If there are strikes against Iran, this is a very secure way to make Iran nuclear armed in 3-5 years, because if Iran is attacked, if it is aggressed, then Iran will have all the reasons to make such a bomb as a means of defense.

And as no country in the world will be able to occupy Iran for a long period, I think that once Iran will redress itself after those strikes, if they happen, then it will take a clear path for arming itself with nuclear weapons.

So once again, it's also a complicated issue like the Syrian one. But I will also say that we need more negotiations and we have to talk Iran into not building this bomb. And I think that's the only way we have to proceed, because when -- if it goes to a military solution in Congress (ph), I don't think it will be a solution. I think it will be a way to disaster.

AMANPOUR: Alexei Pushkov, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

PUSHKOV: You're welcome.


AMANPOUR: Of course we'll be watching the re-reset in U.S.-Russia relations, particularly on all those important issues and how that relationship survives.

But in the wilds of China, there is another kind of survival of unbearable proportions. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And a final thought, in a week where the new Chinese leadership is being unveiled in Beijing, now in the West, China is often seen as a secretive and threatening force. But imagine a world where panda-monium reigns.

There was cause for celebration last week at a research base in Szechuan province as seven new panda cubs were introduced to the world and its insatiable appetite for anything panda, there was even an Internet contest to name the cubs.

Almost 1 million people went online to name Oreo, the oldest cub, who was born last July on the opening day of the London Olympics, where, incidentally, China came in second to the United States with 88 medals.

The pandas' keepers often dress like pandas themselves, and they even smear themselves with panda urine so that when the pandas are released into the wild, they're better able to adapt. China has given the world gunpowder, pasta and tea, along with economic heartburn, but nothing more cuddly than the pandas, including the human ones.

That's it for this weekend edition of our program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.