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Obama to Europe Amid Ukraine Tension; The Reign in Spain; Imagine a World

Aired June 2, 2014 - 14:00   ET


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

President Obama is heading into the lions' den. He's on his way to Europe for a World War II memorial trip that is sure to be dominated by today's Ukraine crisis. And tough questions about American leadership on everything from Ukraine to Syria.

Obama's task is to convince allies from Poland to Paris that the United States still is the indispensable nation on a trip that'll end by commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day landings that turned the tide of World War II.

There on the Normandy beaches, he'll see Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the deep chill descended between East and West over Crimea. More clashes erupted between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in Eastern Ukraine today. More than 100 militants stormed a border guard base near Luhansk and five of them were killed.

President Obama's first stop will be Poland, which played a key role as mediator in the Ukraine crisis. And the Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, joins me from Warsaw.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Sikorski, welcome back to our program. Thanks for joining me from Warsaw.

President Obama is going to be in your country this week.

Is Poland going to say, Mr. President, well done; you have really marshaled the West's strong response to Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine crisis?

Or does Poland still have issues with the robustness of the response to Crimea and other Putin ventures?

RADEK SIKORSKI, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: We are always glad to see President Obama in Europe; in Normandy he will be celebrating one American success, ridding our continent of Nazis.

And in Warsaw 25th anniversary of ridding us of communism. And yes, we expect him to say important things to hear from him.

He'll be speaking from the same place at which President Clinton announced that Poland will be admitted into NATO. And yes, America provided leadership on Ukraine. America has simpler decision-making structures and the joint action by Europe and America has possibly prevented a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is high praise indeed. It means that you all got your act together and, in fact, some people do believe that President Putin has blinked in the face of this cohesion, in the face of the sanctions.

Do you agree with that assessment, that he didn't get his way in Ukraine?

He saw that people didn't want a Moscow solution there or a Crimea solution. He saw that Petro Poroshenko, a decidedly pro-European, was elected president. He saw Europe trying to get independent of Russian gas.

Did he blink, do you think?

SIKORSKI: Well, I think the costs of annexing Crimea are probably much higher than he had budgeted for. One hears that pension salaries are not being paid, that the banking system is in disarray; the agriculture, the tourist season is lost. And it's costing tens of billions of dollars.

Eastern Ukraine is 3.5 times bigger, so the cost would be proportionately higher.

But it's good when realism wins out.

AMANPOUR: And indeed, not just the IMF but in fact Russia itself believes that it could be headed for a session; one of deputy foreign ministers did say that these sanctions have taken a pretty big hit on Russia.

Do you think there should be more sanctions?

Or has President Putin indicated that the crisis is over?

SIKORSKI: Well, we were planning to impose sanctions in case Russia either invaded Eastern and Southern Ukraine or decisively disrupted the presidential election.

In fact, we have a president-elect of Ukraine who has a very strong democratic mandate and one all over Ukraine, belying the fact that Ukraine is supposedly divided.

In fact, Petro Poroshenko comes from the Party of Regions, was a minister under Mr. Yanukovych and is someone who is credible, both for the West and should be someone that Russia should be able to do business with.

And I think they are talking already. And it would be good for the two countries to normalize relations because they need each other. They needed each other in the gas sphere; Crimea needs Ukrainian water just as much as Ukraine needs Russian gas.

And perhaps this could be the start of resolving this crisis. But of course weapons and terrorists are still crossing the Russian border into Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: Part of the celebrations in Poland will be the end of the war celebrations, but also the 25 years of Polish democracy. And we just note that General Wojciech Jaruzelski died recently; he was the last Communist leader of Poland. He just was buried at a funeral.

What is his legacy?

SIKORSKI: Let me also add that we are, for the first time, going to be granting the solidarity prize of a million euros for someone who is known for fighting for democracy today. And the first laureate will be Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the -- of the Crimean Tatars.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is a very political statement, isn't it, Foreign Minister?

SIKORSKI: Well, yes. I mean, the Tatars were forcibly removed by Stalin from Crimea and they were recently unable to celebrate the 70th anniversary of that genocidal decision.

So, yes, the struggle for democracy, for human rights, in this case by democratic Muslim people, which is the Tatars in Crimea, it goes on.

In other words, the things that General Jaruzelski didn't exactly stand for -- he's a very controversial figure in Poland. He was -- you know, he received the Order of Lenin for imposing martial law in Poland.

But it's true that he anticipated the fall of communism and allowed semi- free elections in Poland 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall was still standing.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that free Poland deserved more than just 150 extra NATO troops, U.S. troops, in this latest round of trying to pressure Moscow?

Would you have preferred to have more troops on your territory?

SIKORSKI: Yes, we would welcome more troops, both from Europe and from the United States. We simply think that the level of security across the NATO area should be more or less even.

And at the moment, we have NATO bases as legacies of the Cold War, in places where they were useful during the confrontation with the Soviet Union and it doesn't take into account the events of the last quarter of a century. And this should now be addressed.

AMANPOUR: And given what's happened over the last several months between the West and the East, because of Ukraine and Crimea, what kind of a meeting, what kind of an atmosphere can you imagine between President Putin and all these Western leaders who've been very angry with him over the last several months, when they meet in Normandy?

SIKORSKI: Well, we were all hoping that Russia was on a convergence course with the West. Russia joined the Council of Europe, World Trade Organization; Poland was actually in favor of Russia joining OECD.

And then suddenly Russia does something that no European country has done since the Second World War, grabbing a piece of territory from another European country by force.

That's a very dangerous precedent and we need Russia to come back to within the fold of international treaties, international legality.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it will?

SIKORSKI: Only one person knows, and that's President Putin.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Foreign Minister Sikorsky, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

SIKORSKI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And while Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe keep a close eye on the conflict in Ukraine, the eyes of much of the world turn to Western Europe today, where, after 40 yreas on the throne, Spain's King Juan Carlos suddenly abdicated in favor of his son, Crown Prince Felipe.

This remarkable photo from 1968 shows a youthful Juan Carlos -- seen on the right there -- along with his brother-in-law, King Constantine of Greece, carrying Baby Felipe in a little basket on a visit to Athens. And we'll speak to one-half of that baby-toting royal pair, King Constantine himself, on the historic legacy of Juan Carlos when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Spain's King Juan Carlos went on national television today to announce that he's setting aside his crown after nearly four decades on the throne, a king who ushered in democracy, he's handing over to a new generation, his son, Crown Prince Felipe will succeed him.

This dramatic tale starts back in 1939 when the century's-long reign of the Spanish monarchy was interrupted as the Spanish Civil War brought the fascist general Francisco Franco to power. And he ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1975, when the people of Spain who had known nearly half a century of dictatorship were ready for the restoration of the monarchy. And so a mere two days after Franco's death, to cheering crowds, Juan Carlos was crowned the king of Spain. And within two years, he had brought political reforms that led to Spain's first democratic election since 1936.

More recently the king's popularity had suffered from a series of royal scandals and the global economic crisis has plunged Spain into high unemployment and a stagnating economy.

King Constantine II knows like few others the challenges facing contemporary royalty. He was the last king of Greece before that monarchy was abolished in the early 1970s. And he is brother-in-law to King Juan Carlos. And he joins me exclusively from Copenhagen.


AMANPOUR: King Constantine, welcome back to our program. Thanks for joining me.

KING CONSTANTINE II OF GREECE: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So this took everybody by surprise; your brother-in-law, King Juan Carlos of Spain, after 40 years on the throne, decides to abdicate.

Why? Why now?

KING CONSTANTINE: I suspect -- although I'm not party to his decision -- I suspect that he considers that 40 years is quite substantial and his older son is perfectly eligible to take over for him now. And so it definitely is to find the right moment; I believe that he has done that. He has found the right moment.

AMANPOUR: What would you say his legacy is?

KING CONSTANTINE: I would say his legacy is very, very important, that he was instrumental in first keeping Spain out of extremism and keeping Spain democratic. As you well know, he went through a very difficult period to do that.

But I was convinced that he would overcome all the difficulties; and he has done that.

And at the same time, Spain has evolved enormously well as a great power in Europe and a power for good.

AMANPOUR: He had practically a storybook story, really; he was born in exile. It was the time of fascism in Spain. And he went back to Spain when I think he was about 10 years old or so. And he was named by the dictator Franco to succeed him.

What was going through your mind as that was going on in Spain?

Walk us through that historical moment.

KING CONSTANTINE: I can tell you that Franco must have been -- if we look at the history books -- the only historical autocrat who prepared the future of his country. He was not as concerned about, you know, after him, the whole place goes to pieces. And so he prepared the succession. And as he himself told my brother-in- law, the king of Spain, that when you become head of state, Spain will be democratic.

And King Juan Carlos has not only proved that he kept Spain democratic; but he also made Spain with the support of the elected government a very, very strong, democratic country for Europe.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. Two years after he went back to Spain, he did prepare those first democratic elections after so many years of dictatorship and fascism in his country. And then in 1981, there was an attempted coup. And again he distinguished himself -- the history books will say -- by insisting that democracy had to be preserved.

Can you walk me through that moment as well?

Give us a sense of how that was and how tense it was and how close democracy was to being subverted.

KING CONSTANTINE: Well, no, there's no question that it was an extraordinarily difficult situation. All these situations evolved enormously quickly. So you have to have a very clear brain and a very clear mind, how to deal with it. And you have to have, like he did, very successfully, free communications.

So he could clearly speak to the commanders of armed forces; he would speak to the people on television and that was very important. So they knew, the Spanish people, exactly how the king was thinking. And he never deviated from the most important part, that Spain is democratic and has to remain so.

But it was very, very touch and go.

AMANPOUR: Tell me a little bit about that.

Was there a moment that actually he might not have been successful and this coup might have been successful?

KING CONSTANTINE: Oh, no question about it. I think that if he hadn't shown his firmness and immediate communications with the Spanish people, they might have succeeded. But he went on television; he spoke to the people directly. He spoke to the armed forces directly. And the whole thing just fizzled out when they realized it wasn't going to work.

But it was a close run thing, no question about it.

AMANPOUR: And so we come to the last several years where the king faced quite a lot of criticism. He is your brother-in-law, but nonetheless, he was criticized at a time that Spain was going through so much austerity, for going on this private trip to Botswana, for going on this hunting trip.

And of course none of it would have been public unless he hadn't been injured and flown back.

Did he misstep? Did he miscalculate?

Did he somehow get out of touch with the people and the severe austerity they were going through at that time?

KING CONSTANTINE: It's very hard to judge when you're far away from the actual situation as it evolved. I don't know the details of it. But as I don't hunt myself in Africa or wild animals like that, I -- it's very difficult to judge. But in any case, he got over it. And I don't disagree he would ever do that again.

AMANPOUR: And of course he also has, you know, a certain amount of scandal to deal with over his own daughter, Princess Cristina, the youngest daughter. She's caught up in a tax fraud and money laundering investigation, along with her husband.

I know they deny it; but all of these punch holes and put knocks in the facade of this monarchy.

Is there something that could have been done differently?

KING CONSTANTINE: You know, you can punch holes, as you said. But she's a fantastic young lady. And I don't believe that she ever would do anything like that.

The one thing that worries me a little bit is why does it take so long for the judge to come up with a decision one way or the other?

It is dragging on and dragging on. In a democratic country, you have to have a decision and finish with it. You can't go on and on. It's like they're dragging it out on purpose to do harm to the institution. It's very clear.

AMANPOUR: And do you think that's what's happening, that the system is trying to do a harm --


AMANPOUR: -- to the monarchy?

KING CONSTANTINE: -- I suspect there's -- something like that is going on, because in a democracy, you have to come up with a decision. You can't just, well, let it go and drag and drag and drag. And she's a wonderful person and I don't believe she would ever, ever do something consciously that is illegal.

AMANPOUR: Given that the world is becoming more and more democratic -- and, again, your brother-in-law transformed a fascist system into a democracy. But he was a king; he was a monarch. And in many people's views, the monarchy all over the world is an outdated system.

How does monarchy exist in a democratic system today, do you think?

Is it time for the whole shebang to be outmoded?

KING CONSTANTINE: That can only happen if the people of the different countries that have a constitutional monarchy don't want it anymore. You know, most of the countries in Europe that are progressive, democratic, had constitutional monarchies at the time.

Some of them still have it. And countries are still democratic and extremely well oriented. I'm calling you from Denmark. Denmark is a very democratic country, extremely well run and very successful.

So that can happen in most Europe -- in Belgium and Holland, they're all the same. It's Norway, Sweden, they all have extremely young people running their countries and young monarchs who are encouraging that direction.

AMANPOUR: King Constantine, thank you very much for joining me.

KING CONSTANTINE: It's a pleasure to meet you again.


AMANPOUR: Another big story today: President Obama, before leaving for Poland, took one of the biggest steps any American leader has ever taken on climate change, proposing strong new rules targeting coal-burning power plants in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan seeks to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. Here's EPA chief Gina McCarthy announcing that today.


And given the astronomical price that we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing of all that we can do is nothing.


AMANPOUR: Climate change is not just an American problem. And in fact, China surpassed the United States as the world's biggest carbon polluter in 2006.

But President Obama has made it clear that in the global fight against climate change, the United States must lead by example.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We can't exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.

We can't call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it's taken place.


AMANPOUR: And coming up, imagine a world where leading by example means looking to the skies and the sun -- that's when we come back after a break.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a flight around the globe could be fueled by nothing more than rays of sun.


ADNRE BORSCHBERG, COFOUNDER, SOLAR IMPULSE: This is the first plane ever which has unlimited endurance, can fly day, night; can fly week, can fly months. And for this, it chooses the sun and only the sun.


AMANPOUR: Solar Impulse II took wing for two hours today on its maiden flight from an airfield in Switzerland. It's designed to fly both day and night, charging its batteries with solar power that keep propellers turning after sunset.

The plane's landmark flight around the world broken up into stages is scheduled for next year.

A first version of the plane, its younger brother, came of age last year. And like many an American teenager with a coast-to-coast road trip, in this case an air trip across the country. The man leading the cause third generation adventurer Bertrand Piccard admits that solar passenger travel is still some way off. But he hopes an aerial ambition can spark a climate reality check for our leaders.


BERTRAND PICCARD, COFOUNDER, SOLAR IMPULSE: We can today save half of the world's energy with new technologies, clean technologies. And we have to do it. It's not enough to demonstrate it on a solar airplane. We need people who follow this step, but on the ground.


AMANPOUR: 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.