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Goodbye, President Karzai; Afghanistan Prepares to Vote; The Final Frontier; Imagine a World

Aired February 27, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

NATO has been meeting in Brussels today, keeping a close eye on rising tension in Ukraine; the secretary general tweeted a warning for Moscow not to escalate the crisis.

NATO is also on edge about the future of Afghanistan in the event the United States should deploy its zero option. In other words, withdraw all troops this year, leaving no residual force and possibly returning the country right back to the unstable terror haven it was in 2001.

President Obama's total withdrawal threat is the latest in an ongoing snub and countersnub between him and President Hamid Karzai, who has so far refused to sign a joint security agreement. And while this personal relationship to continues to head south, Karzai's time in office is also ticking down. Elections are just over a month away and all the candidates have so far said that they would sign the security deal with the U.S. because it would be good, the right thing for Afghanistan.

Tonight, I'll talk to one of them, former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul; some say that he's Karzai's handpicked candidate. He's not the front-runner, but he insists that he's best placed to reset relations with Washington as well as Afghanistan's other desperately needed donors. And he joined me earlier from Kabul.


AMANPOUR: Zalmai Rassoul, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

ZALMAI RASSOUL, AFGHAN POLITICIAN: Thank you very much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: You have been foreign minister; you're now a presidential candidate. You have been working at the very heart of the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

This week, President Obama warned your president, Hamid Karzai, of the so-called zero option, in other words, no U.S. or NATO troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

How destabilizing would that be for Afghanistan?

RASSOUL: First of all, I hope and I'm confident that the zero option will not be an option. We have already signed with the United States such a partnership two years ago; the bilateral security agreement is the annex of that partnership document.

We have worked and I wrote personally, word by word in this document, a difficult negotiation and I hope that this document is going to be signed as soon as possible and I'm not looking to a zero option situation.

AMANPOUR: You're not, but the United States seems to be and that is because your president, the man you served as foreign minister, has so far refused to sign this BSA, the bilateral security agreement.

RASSOUL: He has the right to decide about taking consideration his view on the issues.

But I hope that after all that this agreement, this bilateral security agreement should be signed before the elections or maybe after the elections.

And so the zero option would not be an option. which is not a good option for Afghanistan and therefore the United States.

AMANPOUR: When you say it's not a good option, spell out for me the dangers, as you see them.

RASSOUL: Of course because our national security forces, which are very well trained and they are sacrificing their life, ready to defend Afghanistan and to fight against terrorism and extremism, are not yet well equipped. They are suffering from that. They need better equipment, training and advice.

So -- and also the sustainability of the Afghan National Security Forces need this bilateral security agreement. So I hope -- and also in the interest of the United States, after 10 years of wars and dollars, billions of dollars and sacrifices of the American soldiers and civilians, I think it will not be something good for both of us.

So I hope again that this bilateral security agreement should be signed as soon as possible. It will benefit both countries.

AMANPOUR: Have you been given an assurance that, let's say, the next president could sign the security agreement?

Is the United States prepared to wait until after the elections?

RASSOUL: It's a possibility. And I hope that the signing of the document will also provide an environment which bring peace and security, lasting peace and security in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that, in a next administration, the relationship, which appears to be very poisoned between Afghanistan and the United States, can be resolved, can be put on a better footing?

RASSOUL: I'm confident of the future relation between Afghanistan and the United States. There have been problems, of course, between friends. There are always some problems.

But the fundamental I mentioned of the relation between Afghanistan and the United States is very solid. And I'm confident that you have a long-term friendship and alliance of the United States.

AMANPOUR: Now 21 Afghan national army soldiers were killed over the weekend by Taliban.

Can you really negotiate with these people as they are also killing your soldiers?

RASSOUL: We need to make a difference between those who are the enemies of Afghanistan and they are -- we are going to be -- to fight with them until they -- until the end. And that is what our soldiers are doing and giving their lives.

But there are also those people who are amenable to the peace process. They are not the same.

Of course, in the framework of the respect of Afghanistan constitution, and also the -- all this achievements we have made with your support and help for the last 10 years, especially democratic process, the human rights, women's rights, freedom we have made in all these issues, they are not negotiable, but the rest, we are ready to negotiate for those who are accepting of our constitution and are amenable to the peace process.

For those who are killing our people, innocent people and our allies, they are the enemies of Afghanistan and we will continue to fight them.

AMANPOUR: You've just listed a whole load of tangible progress that's been made over the last decade. There are still people, though, who are very concerned that, in a post-NATO environment, Afghanistan could descend into civil war again.

What are the chances of that happening?

RASSOUL: I don't see any chance for the civil war in Afghanistan.

We have signed, in the last few years a long series of strategic partnership with our allies, European, United States, and also regional.

And I'm confident that after the withdrawal of the NATO ISAF force from Afghanistan and the continuation of support on our National Security Forces, we can change this relation to a long-term relation which will provide Afghanistan the need that they have for the years to come.

AMANPOUR: Let me just read you a couple of statistics; you're very well aware of them, I'm sure, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Afghanistan as one of the three most corrupt nations on Earth. The other two countries in the bottom three are Somalia and North Korea, not great company to be in.

How should the country's next president address this fundamental issue?

RASSOUL: I think I'm talk about myself, but I think that my other colleague would do the same. That is the main thing that Afghan people ask from us, fighting corruption, good governance, justice and security, of course above all the security.

And we cannot bring a lasting security in Afghanistan if you have corruption in the country and if you have not the good governance. Personally I'm committed to do that and that is the main reason that I have been a candidate for this election.

AMANPOUR: And as you know, so much of the world looks as an indicator of progress to women's rights. You have chosen a woman as your running mate, as you are now candidate, as one of two running mates. And you know, Human Rights Watch has said that opponents of women's rights have really been seizing the initiative.

I mean, you know, every time we turn around, we see yet another law or bill or something signed that seems to chip away at these hard-won rights by Afghan women.

What would you do if you are president to absolutely stand by the rights of women?

RASSOUL: Christiane, the way -- the reason I have chosen a lady of my second vice president is to -- is not a electoral issue. That's because I believe in that and I always believe in my life that the woman can play very important role in the -- in any society, especially in Afghanistan.

The women in Afghanistan represent half of our population. They are very committed. They are very sincere.

And it's time now. It's really the time now that they have the rightful part in the Afghan society and the politics and the business and any part of Afghan society.

And I'm -- I can assure you that we will do everything -- I will do everything to make sure that Afghan women, they have their rightful part in the Afghan society, including changing the laws or other issues that we have not done yet.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about the rather wide field that appears to be contesting these elections?

There are all sorts of reports that a whole load of tribal leaders have gotten together and have tried to get some of you to join forces, for instance, yourself and one of President Karzai's brothers, who's also running for president, and to contest the ticket in a more united way.

Is that a possibility?

Will you join forces, for instance, with Mr. Karzai, the brother of the president?

RASSOUL: You know, Christiane, that we are 11 candidates in this election. And I believe that if we can -- those candidates that have same views and same program for the future, if they are coming together, is better for all of us, is better for the Afghan people. We are not only need the other candidates in our negotiation. And we'll see what will happen.

AMANPOUR: So you're not ruling that out for yourself?

You can see yourself perhaps joining forces with another of the current candidates?

RASSOUL: Yes. It is -- you know, the side street (ph) left for the election, if any candidate those -- that are also seems that they are becoming together because they have same view, I think that's something positive.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

RASSOUL: Thank you very much, Christiane, thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as we said earlier, NATO and Western governments are also keeping a close eye on the rising tensions bubbling up in Ukraine's mainly Russian Crimean Peninsula, which has actually been contested by Russia and the West ever since the Crimean War in the mid-1800s.

It's worth remembering that history now, for Crimea was the setting of terrible carnage back then. The Charge of the Light Brigade, a doomed attack by the British cavalry against Russian cannon was glorified by the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, with these words, "Ours not to reason why; ours but to do or die," and die they did, side by side with many wounded soldiers who were cared for by Florence Nightingale, the famous "Lady with the Lamp" and the founder of modern nursing.

Less well known, however, was her colleague, Mary Seacole, a black woman from Jamaica. Her request to serve as a nurse was denied because of her race. And so she raised her own money and traveled to the Crimean battlefield where she tended to the wounded.

In 2004 in an online poll, she topped the list of the 100 greatest black Britons.

After a break, what do you get when you combine "People" magazine's sexiest astrophysicist with one of "Time" magazine's 100 Most Influential People? My next guest is what you get, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a stargazer who's a supernova in his own right. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to the final frontier, space. NASA has just announced the discovery of 715 new planets, which is by far the biggest single batch ever announced. Four of them are deemed habitable, which means they could possibly support life.

But what does it all mean? Well, American students, for one group, may be scratching their heads trying to figure this out because they rank 27th amongst developed countries in science and 35th in math.

And that's the point, because what will it take to inspire a generation of young Americans to propel their country back to the forefront of science, like when we sent men to the moon and also to enhance their own job opportunities in this time of global crisis?

And what of solving the great issues of our time like climate change? I put all of this to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's the director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York' Natural History Museum, and he joined me earlier.


AMANPOUR: Neil deGrasse Tyson, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: What about these 715 new planets?

How spectacular is it?

TYSON: It's not like we discovered them all last night and then it got reported this morning. These were -- they've been lined up for a while until the confidence in the detection was high enough to then present it all as one release.

You could ask, are we alone?

Is the solar -- our solar system unusual? Is it -- is it common?

And that's one of the great questions we always ask about ourselves, and we've been asking it since we came out of the caves.

AMANPOUR: And what does it mean for America today, frankly, the world today?

Look, it doesn't take a genius to look back and see America's unique exploration of space and the boundaries of science is being taken over by others and Americans sadly are lagging when it comes to students in terms of science at school.

Is this a dangerous time for American progress?

TYSON: As an American, I would like to have America on the frontier. But as a scientist, science doesn't know national boundaries. One of my worries is that here we are, a country with this great legacy, that it'll fade and then what happens to the future of this country?

Other countries will surely take up the slack, because they understand the role and the value of exploration as a force of inspiration on a whole next generation of people who would rise up and occupy the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and math.

Those fields will be the engines of tomorrow's economy.

AMANPOUR: Tell me a little bit more about that.

TYSON: I want to explore because I think it's fun and I like learning something different and new tomorrow that I didn't know today. But I can't require that of everybody.

But in any sort of capitalist democracy, money matters, economies matter. With wealth comes health, comes security.

And so if you needed a pragmatic reason to explore, the best one out there is innovations in science and technology are the engines of tomorrow's economy. We've known this certainly since the Industrial Revolution.

But even before then, those nations that invested in exploration and discovery would lead the world in almost every metric that mattered in anything that we call civilization today.

AMANPOUR: So then the question really is how does one motivate that imagination and that continuing avenue of study?

And I guess it brings me to your new project, which is the "Cosmos," right? A sort of a reboot of a classic Carl Sagan 13-part series decades ago.

TYSON: It's the continuation of the saga of the universe and the discovery of our place within it. And this one is "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

AMANPOUR: And in the interest of full disclosure, I've been asked to narrate at least one line in that, so it's a great thing to be part of.

But seriously, do you worry about how to motivate young people today in the, you know, in the seriousness and the depth of the necessity of breaching scientific frontiers?

TYSON: Yes, that's a great question. And "Cosmos," we think, has the power to motivate anyone who is watching it to want to become scientifically literate or at least embrace how and why the methods and tools of science can tell us about our past, present and future in this universe.

And that knowledge empowers you to become sort of better shepherds of Earth. And people say, well, can it influence the next generation of kids? Yes. But adults outnumber kids 5:1 -- 5:1 in the industrialized world.

And so I say to myself, maybe the problems today are not scientifically unmotivated kids; it's scientifically unmotivated adults, because adults are in charge. Adults wield resources. Adults create or destroy opportunities.

So I think -- I think "Cosmos" is really for everyone here, because it will allow us to invent a future that will be better than the one that anyone was otherwise thinking about.

AMANPOUR: And your new exhibition at the Hayden Planetarium in the Natural History Museum is all about the discoveries, but also that amount of science that remains a mystery, stuff that we don't know.

TYSON: It is a whole show on dark matter and dark energy, two things we've measured in the universe but about which we know nothing.

There's still profound mysteries out there. And with mystery comes awe. And I'd like to believe a deep sense of curiosity, where you want to go out and find those answers.

And when you find answers, the history of the science has shown, it -- the -- that great questions that produce great answers can transform how we live in this world.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the ignorance that you talk about in this regard, but also the collision, sometimes of ignorance -- others might say it's political positions or fate versus science -- and obviously this comes to play in climate change and that whole debate.

TYSON: Yes, I -- you know, there are people who have politicized science. You know, science is apolitical, right? Science is what -- it's what the methods and tools of inquiry tell us about the natural world.

The truths of nature are the truths of nature. You can stand in denial of it, I suppose, but what kind of country are you making if that's how you conduct -- if that's how you're going to base your policy, because you don't want it to be true?

I mean, it would be like blaming gravity because you're gaining weight.

So what we do in "Cosmos" is just highlight for you how and why science works and why it empowers you to make informed decisions about the world.

Our goal is for you to say to yourself, wow. Science has completely shaped the world in which we live. Science and the -- and its -- and its first cousin, technology, has completely shaped the world we live.

And this is how science works. And this is why I understand what a truth is, and here's how I can detect when people's philosophies are interfering with the dissemination of those ideas and that knowledge.

AMANPOUR: Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you very much indeed.

TYSON: I'm happy to be on with you, thank you for having me.


AMANPOUR: And you can find a little more of the fascinating things that Tyson is talking about online at

And while the cosmos contains wonders that we've yet to find, imagine an irreplaceable human treasure right here on Earth. Mankind made and then the environment almost destroyed the fabled Altamira cave paintings in Spain. But now we've been given a second chance to rediscover and reclaim them, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as new planets are being discovered in galaxies far, far away, some of which may even support life, imagine a world where humans' earliest artistic expression is about to be rediscovered right here on Earth. Spain's famed Altamira caves are reopening for the first time in a dozen years. They're home to magnificent cave paintings that date back over 20 millennia, the subterranean treasure which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was first discovered back in 1876. And it became known as the Sistine Chapel of cave art.

But 100-plus years of human contact, even just breathing in the same confined space, threatened to destroy the paintings. And so the caves were closed to the public; that is, until today when five lucky Spaniards, chosen in a random drawing, and wearing protective clothing to prevent contamination, were granted a brief 30-minute window into the wonders of Paleolithic bulls, bison, horses and other animals.

But Altamira isn't merely a glimpse of Spain's prehistory. It's also emblematic of its modernity because Pablo Picasso himself was in awe of the limestone paintings and once declared that, quote, "After Altamira, everything is decadent."

This so-called primitive art greatly influenced Picasso's development of cubism. And the Altamira bull even seems to make an appearance in his greatest masterpiece, "Guernica." For the next six months, some 200 people will be allowed to view the Altamira caves with the hope that more visitors will one day follow as we learn to preserve the Earth and the treasures it holds within.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.