Return to Transcripts main page


Reshaping the Middle East; New Reign in Spain; Imagine a World

Aired June 19, 2014 - 14:15:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight President Obama steps in, trying to stop borders being redrawn from the new battle lines in

Iraq to the rest of that region. And ahead, we'll look at Europe, where Spain welcomes a new monarch. But are the boundaries of his kingdom about

to shrink, too?


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, saying the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance,

President Obama announces limited emergency military action.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisers, up to 300, to

assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.

Because of our increased intelligence resources, we're developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL. And going

forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Pressure had been building in Iraq and in Washington as fierce fighting in Baiji, Iraq's largest oil refinery,

continues today, threatening the nation's energy supply.

The vast band of territory that is now under ISIS control that spans Iraq and Syria shows a region splintering along sectarian lines. And so

could even that famous Sikes-Picot line be slowly wiped out? That hundred- year-old line in the sand, drawn by the French and the British in Versailles after World War I?

And is this the start of the much heralded greater Sunni-Shia war? With his landmark book, "A Shia Revival," and as a former senior adviser at

the State Department, Vali Nasr is the leading authority on all of this, and he joins me now.

Vali, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So President Obama has just announced a few hundred advisers to Iraq.

What do you think that will happen? And does he have to be very careful not to appear to be the Shiite armed forces or the Shiite advisers?

NASR: Well, he has to also be careful not to appear to the Shiites of Iraq, to the Sunni armed forces as well, as a Sunni supporter. He has to

walk a very delicate line. I think the numbers that he announced is in the eyes of many Shiites in Iraq, is not going to appear as it is going to

address the problem and the fear that they have of ISIS marching into Baghdad.

And it's not going to lessen their dependence on Iran to bail them out of this crisis. I think the president was -- the president's numbers, the

commitment to Iraq is designed more to assuage the fears of Americans from getting involved in Iran than assuage the fears of Iraqis from what's

happening to their country.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's pursue that, because that's really very interesting concept you raise. And people asked President Obama about

Iran, because so much speculation has arisen over possible cooperation.

The president said clearly that Iran has a constructive role to play. But only if it agrees like we do that there must be inclusive government.

If Iran thinks that it's coming into prop up a Shiite dictatorship, then that's not something that we would condone or allow.

What do you think is on Iran's mind right now?

And would it play the kind of inclusive ball that the U.S. is demanding?

NASR: Well, I think Iran will play a constructive insofar as wanting an inclusive government. But then the question is what are the terms of

that inclusive government? Under what prime minister, who still holds the cards in Iraq? I don't think Iran would be willing for the Shiites to give

away power to the Sunnis and to have a kind of a restoration of Sunni authority in Iraq that now ISIS and its backers demand.

And on the other side, I think other regional powers are equality insistent that Maliki give up much more power to the Sunnis. And I don't

think Iran will agree to that. I think generally Iran is fearful of ISIS. Generally Iran wants this crisis to be resolved. It's -- to that extent,

it's on the same page with the U.S. But I don't think Iran is ready to go as far as the United States wants to and including the Sunnis in the power


AMANPOUR: Well, then, what do you think will be the result of President Obama sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this

weekend to talk to regional allies and to try -- I read between the lines - - to try to come up with some kind of joint plan, political plan, for Iraq in which all the neighbors -- he said neighbors, such as Iran -- presumably

have a say at the table?

NASR: Well, this is a very ambitious scheme, because most of the neighbors of Iraq and most of America's allies have no good relations with

Prime Minister Maliki, are not supportive of Shia power in Iraq. Maliki views them as the enemy. Maliki actually accuses them of supporting ISIS

in Syria and supporting the Sunni project in Iraq.

So we're not going to get very far with getting Maliki to cooperate if our partners in this are mostly the Sunni countries in the region. Maliki

will, in that case, rely much more on Iran. So now can the United States actually bring Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan in and Iran at the table?

Well, that's the -- that is why -- what is required to solve this.

But the United States I think is not making that degree of a diplomatic commitment to resolving the overall crisis.

AMANPOUR: You keep saying Maliki. Do you believe that he is the one who will stay standing? I mean obviously there's been a lot of talk about

dumping Maliki.

NASR: Well, that's talk here. We also wanted the Syrians to dump Bashar al-Assad and he's still there. I think Maliki's constituency is not

worried about its own future. People are worried about being massacred and people are worried about the threats of ISIS to destroy their shrines.

I think they want Maliki to deal with ISIS, not necessity give the shop away. I think we have to be very careful that what we preach here may

actually to Iraqi Shiites sound as very shaky and not give them the degree of confidence that they need to make a compromise.

I think Iraqi Shiites want to get guarantees about their own safety and security first and foremost.

AMANPOUR: Maybe this is not about Shiites in general. Maybe it's about the one person, Maliki.

And let me play what David Cameron has said today in London about that kind of obstacle.


DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: There is no doubt that the government of Iraq has not given enough attention to healing sectarian

divides, to including Sunni and Kurds in the government, to bringing the country together.


AMANPOUR: So that, again, laying the blame on Prime Minister Maliki.

But the bigger picture, Vali, is this the beginning of yet another worry about a greater Sunni-Shia war?

NASR: There is no doubt about it. I think the Shia-Sunni war started in Iraq and then traveled elsewhere in the region and we're now back to

where we were in 2006-2007. And Maliki's a very big part of this problem. But in the end, this current crisis actually started in Syria. The

sectarian war was there between Assad and the Sunni opposition.

It has now -- there's been a blowback effect into Iraq. And now we're dealing with a much larger territory that wherein the Shias and the Sunnis

are fighting for power and the regional backers in the form of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are defending different sides.

And this is not going to subside unless this regional forces come to some kind of an agreement to have a -- the current territory of boundaries

and political structures remain intact.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's what I was going to ask you, because we raise the question at the beginning, is this the beginning of a redrawing of

those current political boundaries, the Sikes-Picot lines, that 100 years of frontiers that have existed in that region?

Do you think that's going to happen or do you think you can keep the current boundaries intact?

NASR: I think in Iraq it's very difficult to keep the current boundaries intact. First of all because the Kurds are ready to leave Iraq.

And they have had a de facto independence. So already Iraq has been fracturing between its Kurdish and Arab population. And now you have a

situation where the Shiites and Sunnis, these positions are so far apart. The Shiites are so afraid of ISIS and anger and the viciousness that they

see in these Sunni forces that they can't see compromising with them.

And the Sunnis now think that the wind is in their sails, that they have captured a lot of territory; their sympathy for the cause in

Washington, in London, in other Arab capitals, they're going to be asking for concessions from the Shiites that not only Maliki but other Shiite

politicians who might succeed Maliki will be in a very difficult position to give.

I mean, we forget that Maliki may be an authoritarian sectarian figure. But he still has a constituency in Iraq that he has to satisfy.

That constituency is afraid, is worried about his future and once guarantees and that really propels a certain intransigence on the side of

the Shiites as well.

AMANPOUR: When you talk about the Sunnis, obviously ISIS or ISIL have to be separated out. This is the terrorist group. These aren't the

mainstream Sunnis.

NASR: Well, at least the narrative that we're playing in Washington and in London is that ISIS may be a terrorist group but now has the full

backing on tribal forces, politicians, former Ba'athists and when it was in Syria, it did have support and financial backing from some countries in the

region as well.

So this is now being billed as the sharp edge of a Sunni revival in the region and that's the way the Shiites are seeing it. And the Sunni

countries in the region are not separating ISIS from the rest of the Sunni forces. And Iraqi Sunnis have not stood up and, for instance, condemned

massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers in Tikrit.

And all of that gives a sense that everybody's accepting ISIS as now the voice of Sunnis. And that's exactly what will cause the Shiites to be

very worried about any kind of concession to the Sunnis.

AMANPOUR: And frankly, terrify the rest of us, since ISIS are the even more brutal successors to Al Qaeda.

Can I ask you about Syria? Given that Syria is the -- is the Petri dish that all of this has been allowed to fester and flourish and back and

forth across this porous border between Syria and Iraq, do you think now -- the president was asked about it -- is now the time to do the arm and train

of the moderate opposition who all the officials I talk to say the West knows very well who the moderate opposition is. We haven't helped them.

As you say, weapons and money have been dumped in there by Saudi and Qatar and have gone to people like ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Is it time now to

drain the swamp by helping the moderates in Syria?

NASR: Yes, it is. And there -- it's better to be late than not do it at all. First of all, because I think even Syrians who are on the side of

Assad look at what ISIS is doing in Iraq and they are going to rally behind Assad. If we're going to have a political solution in Syria, we have to

produce a moderate Sunni faction that is not aligned with either Jabhat Al- Nusra or ISIS, that can basically provide a moderate face to those Syrians who are still in Assad's camp, who would then be comfortable enough to

reach out and contemplate a political deal.

If things in the Middle East get -- boil down to you either have terrorists on the Sunni side or authoritarian sectarian rulers on the

Shiite and Alawite side, you're not going to have political compromise. And that -- and both Syria and Iraq will come apart.

AMANPOUR: Vali Nasr, so much more to talk about. Thank you so much for joining me.

NASR: Good to talk to you.

AMANPOUR: And with an estimated 1.5 million people driven from their homes in Mosul and other parts of the country, UNICEF, the United Nations

Children's agency, has upgraded the Iraqi crisis to an almost unheard-of level 3 humanitarian disaster. How bad is that? Well, there is no level

4. And this chilling news comes on the eve of World Refugee Day, as United Nations also reports that as usual, it is the children who are the greatest


In fact, almost 7 million children have fled the violence in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic. And in Syria alone,

nearly 5 million children have been displaced, either within their own country or forced into exile in neighboring sanctuaries like Jordan and


But of course it's not just in the Middle East or Africa. Even as people flee the current crisis in Ukraine, the faces tell us all we need to


And after a break, we'll turn to another country in transition, Spain, where a new king is being crowned. But old wounds remain to be healed.

The view from Castile and Catalonia when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. It's been a roller coaster day for the Spanish, misery after their reigning football kings were kicked

out of the World Cup. But then there was the proclamation of their new king and queen.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Felipe VI, Queen Letitia, their daughters and the former king and queen of Spain face a sea of flags and deafening cheers

as they wave from the balcony of the royal palace in Madrid. Earlier the 46-year old swore his oath before a packed parliamentary chamber.

But this is a monarchy that is now faced with challenges to its very existence. And top of the new king's agenda will be to try to win back

support for the scandal-hit royal family. Today some 400 Republicans took to the streets during the new king's proclamation.

In Catalonia, resentment of the monarchy dates back hundreds of years. In 2012, more than 1 million people took to the streets to demand

independence and the movement is growing.

Catalonia is Spain's economic powerhouse and many there feel the wealthy region is carrying the can for a nation that's been buckling under

austerity and high unemployment. And Catalonia has vowed to hold a referendum on independence in November, a move that the Spanish government

says would be illegal.

The region's president, Artur Mas, was at the ceremony today in Madrid and he joined me to talk about all of this afterwards.


AMANPOUR: Artur Mas, welcome to the program and thank you for joining me.

Let me ask you first: have you met the new king?

ARTUR MAS, PRESIDENT, GENERALITAT DE CATALUNYA: I have met the new king several times. I have a cordial relationship with him although we

have not talked deeply about the current problem between Catalonia and Spain. So I hope that we will have -- that I will have the opportunity in

the near future to talk to him in a very -- in a more calm way.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that the new king can be a mediator?

MAS: We don't know. Wait and see. We really don't know.

But as you know, the powers of the king of Spain are non-executive powers. He has representative powers. He can help certain mediation

between institutions. But he doesn't have the possibility to decide by himself.

AMANPOUR: No, he doesn't have the possibility but he is a new generation. He speaks your language. He apparently will visit Catalonia

as one of his first visits.

And do you believe that he could -- there could be some kind of conciliation and mediation that he could facilitate?

MAS: We would appreciate it. We would appreciate his mediation and his help. And I'm sure that he will try to do something in order to work

out the solution, in order to solve the problem.

But as I said before, he doesn't have executive powers. So he has to try to put in touch institutions and to try to make easier all the

dialogues, all the conversations, all the negotiations. Probably he will do that.

AMANPOUR: What will happen in November when this referendum is held?

MAS: Two things can happen. The first one is a reaction, a moderate reaction of the Spanish government tolerating the -- tolerating the

referendum in Catalonia. That would be the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario would be that just after I call the referendum in November the Spanish government sends to the constitutional court the

referendum and the constitutional court would have the possibility to revoke it. That would be the most negative scenario.

But I hope that after full and frank and fruitful conversations we will be able to reach a solution. And I hope that we will have the

possibility, we will have the chance to organize this referendum in November.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Mas, although a majority of people do want to hold the referendum, I read that not even half actually want to break away from


MAS: Well, this is true. But believe me if I say that it is absolutely impossible to know what is the majority in Catalonia for

independence if we don't hold a referendum. The referendum is needed exactly for that reason because we have to know how the majority for -- how

broad the majority for independence is in Catalonia.

AMANPOUR: Now as you know, in the United Kingdom, there is a sanctioned referendum. The British government has allowed a referendum to

be taking place in Scotland in September.

What do you think will happen if that vote goes for independence?

Will that affect what happens in Catalonia?

MAS: In fact, it would affect in a positive way, because if in Scotland there is positive vote for independence, that means that the

United Kingdom and Scotland are going to negotiate with the European Union the terms of -- the terms of the permanence for it, the terms of joining

the European Union in the case of Scotland.

So that would be about -- that would be a former experience that would give some light to the -- to the Catalan political process.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Mas, as you know, the European Union has been quite negative on the prospect of a breakaway Scotland.

But beyond that, you're watching all over in parts of Europe; let's just take Ukraine, for instance, and certainly in the Middle East right

now, this catastrophe of imploding states and borders being redrawn by force, of course, and by invasion and by terrorism.

Do you not worry that this is a very delicate time to be talking about redrawing borders in a place like Spain?

MAS: Catalonia was born 1,000 years ago. We have a long history behind us. So we have found a lot of different obstacles, problems,

difficulties and so on. And we have always tried to overcome.

And now it's the right time because we have the social majority and the political consensus. Now it is the right time for the referendum in

Catalonia to go on and to go ahead. And our way to do that will be absolutely peaceful and this is not the case in Ukraine and also absolutely


AMANPOUR: So let me then finally ask you, why does Catalonia want to be independent? Why would it be more beneficial to you to be broken away

from Spain?

MAS: What we know for certain is that there is a huge majority for the referendum, this is to say for deciding our political future by


AMANPOUR: OK, well, what is your goal, then? What is it that you want out of this referendum?

MAS: Well, in my personal case, I'm going to vote yes as a citizen.

But as a president of Catalonia, my commitment is to hold the referendum

AMANPOUR: Artur Mas, thank you very much indeed for joining me today.

MAS: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you. Very kind of you.


AMANPOUR: And while the map of Spain may one day be redrawn just as cartographers are poring over the borders of Iraq, Syria and other parts of

that troubled region, a different kind of nation building is taking place in the middle of the ocean. Manmade islands where politics, not paradise,

reigns supreme, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, borders melting away from Kirkuk to Crimea, whole countries suddenly on the verge of being swept up by ancient

sectarian claims. Now imagine a world where manmade islands and new territorial ambitions are taking shape in an ocean of distrust.

The Chinese are nation building -- or more precisely island building - - in the vast expanse of the South China Sea, creating fresh atolls out of sand and coral reefs.

No, it isn't to entice wealthy tourists to exotic locales. The idea is to establish a beachhead, literally, that gives China a strategic

advantage in the bitterly disputed area known as the Spratly or as the Chinese call it the Nansha archipelago.

As this map illustrates, the 160,000-square mile area is also of vital interest to Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Last month, tempers boiled over on the high seas after China planted an oil well off the coast of Vietnam. And a Chinese ship reportedly rammed

a Vietnamese fishing boat during the dispute. Now these instant islands present an even greater challenge, giving China new economic zones that

extend for hundreds of miles and which could also extend the range of China's ever-expanding navy.

If maps, like history, are shaped by the victors, the Chinese are reshaping a vital corner of the world one island at a time.

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

Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.