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Amanpour's Big Get

At a breakfast co-sponsored by The Daily Beast and Credit Suisse, the ABC anchor told Tina Brown about interviews with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hillary Clinton, plus her forecast for Middle East peace.

09.17.10 1:12 PM ET

Fresh off a flight from Jerusalem, Christiane Amanpour was not feeling terribly optimistic Friday morning—about progress of Middle East peace talks or about the prospects of her upcoming interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I will tell you very frankly that the only good interview he ever gave was the one I did five years ago,” when the newly elected Iranian president told Amanpour he planned to reignite Iran’s nuclear program. That revelation made big news, but in the years since, Ahmadinejad has learned how to stymie every interviewer, repeating the same talking points ad nauseam.

“I don’t think he gets it that people really don’t like him,” Amanpour told a crowd of banking executives and high-powered women at a breakfast co-sponsored by Credit Suisse and The Daily Beast. “He believes that in the Islamic world, he is a folk hero.”

The Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown interviewed the host of This Week on a wide range of topics, including the development of the Obama administration’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal; the execution and aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Amanpour’s move from CNN to ABC earlier this year; and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sex life.

In his introduction to the talk, Credit Suisse chief executive Brady Dougan said the breakfast, the first in a series of collaborations with The Daily Beast, was part of a larger effort to make the bank appealing to successful women—both as employees and clients.

The longtime CNN foreign correspondent who leapt to ABC News this year to succeed George Stephanopoulos as host of This Week, arrived at the breakfast straight from an overnight flight from the Middle East, where she interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I literally just fell off the plane,” Amanpour said, after bursting into the room a few minutes delayed, to raucous applause from the assembled guests.

She had nothing definitive to report from the talks, saying it was a colossal struggle to get behind all the diplomatic posturing to see the real points of negotiation.

“The hopeful thing is that the majorities of people on both sides want this,” she said, adding later, “Everybody knows the end state is going to be a two-state solution.”

The last decade of American foreign policy, she argues, has been premised on a major—and unverified—“assumption”: that “one al Qaeda strike, as catastrophic as it was, completely changed the world.”

What happens between now and then is an epic bureaucratic tangle, the details of which are difficult for anyone to tease out. Amanpour described Clinton as both a diplomat and a politician, and therefore well-suited to the task of negotiation.

And the consequences, of course, are huge. “Obama is the first president to make Middle East peace the first priority of his administration,” after the hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Amanpour said.

The anchor went on to analyze the last decade of American foreign policy, which she argues has been premised on a major—and unverified—“assumption”: that “one al Qaeda strike, as catastrophic as it was, completely changed the world.”

Later, Amanpour and Brown compared notes on their respective interviews with Blair after the release of his memoir, including a question Amanpour asked about a passage in Blair’s book that made the former prime minister blush. The passage had to do with Blair’s feelings of ferocious lust for his wife after a moment of political triumph.

“It’s one of those paragraphs that his editor should have said, ‘Wait a minute…’” Brown said.

Amanpour described ABC and Disney as “brave” for hiring her and thereby shifting the focus of This Week in the direction of international news, placing less emphasis on the usual Sunday morning domestic political agenda.

“What I think ABC wanted to do was differentiate itself a bit,” she said. Amanpour has landed major interviews in her short tenure at ABC—the Clinton and Ahmadinejad interviews will air this Sunday. This Week is the lowest-rated of the three broadcast network Sunday news programs in total viewers and the second-rated of the three in viewers aged 25 to 54.

“I’ve never believed what the bosses believed—that people don’t want foreign news,” Amanpour said.