TSR: "There's a lot of damage control that has to be done to recover from America's image from the previous administration."
Michael is back for the first clip of 2009.
Wolf Blitzer speaks with Christiane Amanpour (in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Summit) and Michael (in New York) about the reactions and realities of President Obama's outreach to the Arab world. Michael also touches on tomorrow's election in Iraq.
WOLF BLITZER: Joining us now, two of CNN's top international journalists, our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, in Davos, Switzerland, and Michael Ware. He's usually in Baghdad, but he's in New York right now.
Christiane, how is this decision he made to give Al-Arabiya this first interview - reaching out to the Muslim world, the Arab world -- how's it actually playing out there?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very well. I mean, it's very significant.
In fact, I asked several of the foreign ministers from Iran, from the other parts of the Arab world here what they thought, and they thought it was a very positive sign. You know, it's never been done before, and President Obama not only mentioned the Muslim world in his inauguration president-elect, but really went out of his way to reach out in that interview with Al-Arabiya.
BLITZER: And he didn't waste any time, Michael, in saying that he's going to have a special envoy for the Middle East, the former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and he sent him over to the region right away.
I assume that underscores his commitment to try to jump-start this Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
And I also believe that it shows us the imperative that the situation in Gaza currently poses, not just for the region there, but for U.S. policy interests beyond the Middle East, as far-flung as Pakistan. So this week we have actually seen a time of sweeping statements in both word and in deed: obviously the Al-Arabiya interview that he conducted re-branding the new American administration to the Muslim world, as well as the appointment of envoys -- former Senator George Mitchell to the Middle East, and a new ambassador for Kabul. So, really up and running.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Christiane, that he clearly is reaching out to the Iranians as well. And he wants to have a dialogue.
But, in response, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says he wants an apology from the United States for, supposedly, 60 years of crimes against Iran. What kind of response is that?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know very well, Wolf, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also sent congratulatory letters to President Obama on his election and after the inauguration.
We spoke to the foreign minister here. And, yes, for public consumption, they say they want to, you know, to talk about some of the things that went on over the last 60 years of U.S. involvement there, for instance, putting back the shah after the -- in 1952, after the democratically elected prime minister there.
But in general, the thing to focus on is what was said here. And that was, the foreign minister reached out. He said, we really appreciate this reach-out. He didn't sort of go overboard in negotiating right here in public, but he said, yes, we will meet that extended hand.
And, of course, he also said that, you know, we don't want just rhetoric about change. We want to see real change.
But I think it's important to say, we talked to a lot of world leaders here in Davos. They're all here. It's a captive audience. There's a genuine sense of a page being turned, not just by the Islamic leaders here, but by Russia, by China, by all these world leaders who we have heard speaking here.
BLITZER: You're one of the great experts on Iraq, Michael. Normally, as all of our viewers know, you're in Baghdad.
He's telling the U.S. military brass, start a process of withdrawing all U.S. combat forces from Iraq over the next 16 months, and move some of them, at least, a big chunk of them, to Afghanistan.
There are elections going to be taking place over the weekend in Iraq right now. What's going to be the fallout from this?
WARE: Well, this election, it's for the provincial governments, not for the central government itself. That comes later in the year. What we're going to wait and see is, A, whether the elections are peaceful. And I think most of the indicators are that it will go through the poll without, hopefully, too much disruption.
But what we're waiting to see is how the chips fall. All the parties in Iraq right now are playing the political game. They have rolled back their military and paramilitary campaigns, waiting to see what are they going to get out of this political process. And this is the first big step.
What we will have to see is who gets what, and those who feel that they have been underdone, how are they going to react? That's going to present challenges for President Obama as he's pulling the troops out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, on this developing story we're getting, Christiane, this phone conversation between President Obama and Hu Jintao of China, one of the important items included in this White House statement, "the two presidents discussed the international financial crisis and agreed that increased close cooperation between the U.S. and China is vital."
A lot of people don't understand how intertwined these two economies are right now.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, and very interestingly, you know, there was a bit of a controversy, because Secretary -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in his confirmation, talked about accusing China of manipulating their currency.
And this, of course, was a bit of a buzz here. So, you know, probably President Obama, in any event, was going to be talking about some of those issues. But, certainly, the Chinese here, Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, talked about, for instance, their huge stimulus package, and how, you know, the world is globalized, and how it has to really react as a global unit to try to solve this global economic crisis.
And that also was what Vladimir Putin said here, the prime minister of Russia. You know, he didn't do the normal hard-line thing, swiping at America, as he has been doing in public. Here in Davos, at least in public, he was talking about trying to work together, trying to get out of this global crisis together.
So, it was a definite change of tone by both those leaders.
Michael, can President Obama marginalize al Qaeda and other extremists out there, as he's clearly trying to do in reaching out to the Muslim and Arab world?
WARE: Well, that's an extremely tall order, Wolf.
I mean, there's a lot of damage control that has to be done to recover from America's image from the previous administration. And even those who -- in the Muslim world who may not side with or sympathize with al Qaeda, they still have a very skeptical view of America.
And, tactically, on the ground, can this new administration, militarily or otherwise, get at al Qaeda in its safe havens in the remote Northwest Frontier areas of Pakistan? That's the big question.
Can President Obama get Pakistan to cooperate? If he can't, then that's a major stumbling block for his policies throughout the region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael Ware and Christiane Amanpour, guys, thanks very much.