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Fidel Castro must have been involved in U.S.-Cuba deal, says his niece

December 18th, 2014
06:32 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Fidel Castro’s niece told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday that the former president and revolutionary must have had a role in the decision-making process that led to the historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of President Raul Castro, said she doesn’t know “what is his view about this process but imagine that at any moment he’s going to write his reflections as usual. But I’m certain that he’s really happy about it, he must have participated in all this decision-making.”

In the first television interview from a leading member of the Castro family since the move to renew U.S.-Cuba relations was announced by both countries’ presidents on Wednesday, Castro said she feels “thrilled and excited and feel that a dream has come true, something that we wanted for so many years.”

“Normalizing the relations is something we’ve always wanted since the beginning, at the start of the Revolution as declared by our leader Fidel Castro.”

The Cuban President’s daughter, who is an elected member of Cuba’s parliament and a civic leader, said she “didn’t have the slightest idea” the negotiations, which had been ongoing for 18 months and kept in secret, were ongoing.

“Yesterday I was as surprised as you have been, as all Cubans have been all over the world. And I think that in Cuba when things like this are done, they are done in silence and so this is the result that we had.”

The Cuban leadership has been especially elated about the release of the last three of the “Cuban Five”, who were convicted and jailed in the U.S. for espionage, but are largely regarded as national heroes back home.

Castro said the shift in relations between the two countries and the prisoners’ release are both “extremely important to our people and the fact that they have started together - this has been a surprise and also extremely gratifying.”

“I have said myself on interviews that if I had to choose, I better choose first to have the five freed and then the negotiations, this step taken which is so important in our history and to do it together really I would like to say congratulations to both parties.”

Castro, who was born not long after America placed an embargo on Cuba in 1960, congratulated President Obama “for his courage.”

“Really what I wanted the most was for Obama to go down in history as the U.S. President who ended the blockade and also who freed the ‘[Cuban] Five’.”

“I didn’t want to lose hope and I am glad to have faith, and to have the trust and confidence that this possibility was going to be possible. So I would like to thank President Obama and all the teams and people who have supported this cause, not only for the ‘[Cuban] Five’ but also to start normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S.”

Amanpour asked her if the U.S.-Cuba thaw could provide an opportunity for Cuba to improve its human rights record and move towards party pluralism.

“I can say that the Cuban Revolution is a project, a historical experiment, just to try and find equality and social justice and to cover all human rights. We have been working in this direction, have free education and so on, but we’ve had yet many challenges identified by the people.

“And we have a lot of deadlines we are going to continue working towards. The fact there is opening in the relations, it will help, but us Cuba, we do not identify pluripartidismo [a multiparty system] as democracy.”

Castro argued that “many countries have many parties and yet have not achieved democracy,” adding that “this is an issue we can continue and talk about further ahead. It’s very interesting and it is fantastic that it is part of the dialogue.”

She also hit back at claims that Cuba lacks freedom of expression.

“We haven’t got an issue with freedom of expression, we can say whatever we want, nobody can shut us up. This is just a media cliché.”

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Cuba • Latest Episode • U.S. Politics

Exclusive: ‘Afghanistan is ready to cooperate’ in fight against Pakistan Taliban

December 18th, 2014
01:12 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Afghanistan is ready to collaborate in the fight against the Taliban, the Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah – the de-facto prime minister – told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday in an exclusive interview.

Abdullah’s remarks came as mass funerals got underway for the 145 victims, most of them children, of Tuesday’s massacre carried out by the Taliban at a school for the children of those in the military in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The “sincere and genuine cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan will help” tackle the terrorist threat, Abdullah said, adding that “there is a new phase of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“And the situation which didn't exist before, it was only blame game and we knew that Taliban enjoyed sanctuaries and free right and the leadership are still there and the situation is very clear what I'm talking about."

"So it is the right moment for all of us to decide once and for all that terrorists will not serve any country's national interest.”


Filed under:  Afghanistan • Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Pakistan

Cuba policy change was 'a long time coming'

December 17th, 2014
02:48 PM ET

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Cuba • Latest Episode • U.S. Politics

Iraqi Deputy PM: Fight against ISIS entering a new phase

December 17th, 2014
01:08 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The fight against ISIS is entering a new phase, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

“The fight against ISIS and the other terrorists in Iraq is now going through a stage which is different from previous stages. In the past, the terrorists were able to accomplish some successes, particularly in Ramadi and other areas.”

“But now after the allies started the aerial bombardment, particularly the United States, the situation has changed.”

“And now the battle is turning into a new phase,” Shaways said, adding that “the fighters have started now – the fighters who are fighting against terrorism – are now advancing and accomplishing victories against terrorists.”

Last month, Iraq’s armed forces had their first major victory against the militants with the recapturing of the Baiji Oil Refinery, the country’s largest refinery which fell to ISIS in June following the Iraqi army’s near collapse.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iraq • Latest Episode

Taliban is biggest threat to ‘existence of Pakistan,’ says Defense Minister, pledging continued war

December 16th, 2014
03:41 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo and Mick Krever, CNN

Pakistan’s war against the Taliban will continue, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, in the wake of the Taliban massacre of Pakistani schoolchildren.

“The Taliban, these extremists, the terrorists, they are the biggest threat to peace in this region, to peace in Pakistan, to the existence of Pakistan,” Khawaja Asif said.

“We are undeterred. We won’t back off, we are on the front line for the last now almost eleven, twelve years. We need the world, especially Western countries, must recognize – unqualified recognition should be given to our sacrifices. … Even the children are dying on the frontline in the war against terror.”

At least 145 people were killed and more than a hundred injured, most of them children, at a school for the families of military personnel in Peshawar.

“The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry it. And we’ve been carrying smaller coffins today, more than a hundred small coffins we’ve been carrying, the Pakistani nation.”

“It’s a very, very tragic day, and when people tell us how to conduct this war and they say that we are discriminate against this group and not doing enough otherwise, it really hurts, you know. It’s like belittling our sacrifices against this war.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Pakistan

Australia was 'apathetic' about radicalization

December 16th, 2014
01:54 PM ET

Kuranda Seyit, Director of the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations, talked to CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday about the issue of radicalization in the country.

Filed under:  Australia • Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode

Jihadism a global challenge that must be tackled collectively, says former Australian PM Kevin Rudd

December 16th, 2014
12:00 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

In the wake of the more than 16-hour Sydney siege by a self-styled Muslim cleric, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday that jihadism is a challenge that concerns all, and tackling it requires collective effort.

“This violent jihadism represents a challenge for civilized peoples everywhere. And so it’s a challenge for us all to come together and I believe work at two levels.”

“The first is through the intensification of our efforts, as security and law enforcement authorities around the world work collaboratively against this common foe to us all.”

“And secondly, dealing also with some of the lessons which are slowly emerging from countries around the world about what motivates such people to join these organizations from coherent multicultural societies around the world as well.”

Early Tuesday, Australian authorities stormed the Lindt Chocolate Café, where a gunman identified as Man Haron Monis had been holding hostages for some 16 hours. Monis was shot and killed, and two of the 17 hostages died.


Filed under:  Australia • Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode

Iran’s charges against Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian ‘relate to espionage,’ his mother says

December 12th, 2014
03:03 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The Iranian government’s charges against Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who has been jailed since July 22, are “serious” and “relate to espionage,” the journalist’s mother told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Friday.

She said she had “no idea” what the specific charges were, which were officially filed this week.

“We have hired a lawyer who represents Ali, my son, and I. But up until the time of the actual charges, Jason was not permitted access to a lawyer.”

In an interview on the show in October, Iranian Human Rights Chief Mohammad Javad Larijani said that “during the court process, it will be definitely explained and determined whether they are serious charges or they could be dropped.”

Mary Rezaian told Amanpour that nothing has been explained to her or her family.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iran • Latest Episode

June Steenkamp holds out for truth in death of her daughter

December 12th, 2014
12:51 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

As prosecutors in the case of Oscar Pistorious were this week granted the right to appeal the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, her mother said the only hope she has left is her search for truth.

“I just hope some truth comes out along the way. I'm hoping that it's a good thing because it's not dead yet, the case. It's not - you know, all through the case Reeva was deceased. They seem to forget that somebody actually died, actually,” June Steenkamp told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Friday.

State prosecutors will be able to challenge the acquittal on murder charges of the Olympic and Paralympic track star, who was sentenced in October to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend.

Pistorius maintains that he mistook the 29-year-old law graduate and model for an intruder before shooting repeatedly through a locked bathroom door, killing her almost instantly on Valentine’s Day last year.

June, who says she wrote her new book “Reeva: A Mother’s Story” as a tribute to her daughter, insists she doesn’t believe the athlete’s story.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • South Africa

CIA agents who tortured are vulnerable to prosecution in ‘any country in the world,’ says U.N. official

December 12th, 2014
08:43 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

CIA agents who tortured inmates can be prosecuted anywhere in the world, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“They are considered as war crimes, they are crimes of international jurisdiction,” he said.

“Any country in the world can prosecute CIA agents involved in this activity, and Italy already has prosecuted, convicted 22 CIA agents, including the Milan station chief, and sentenced them to significant periods in prison in absentia.”

Italy sentenced the agents, including CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, to prison in absentia in 2009 for their role in the alleged CIA capture of a Muslim cleric on the streets of Milan; prosecutors there said that Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr was then rendered to Cairo, where he was tortured.

This danger of prosecution, of course, means that any CIA agent involved in the program could potentially be arrested whenever he or she leaves the United States.

A former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Colonel Morris Davis, told Amanpour on Tuesday that “my advice would be vacation domestically.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Torture • U.S. Politics
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