August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

Mommy, who is Saddam Hussein?

Your 3-year-old son has just dropped this doozy on you, and Dr. Spock didn’t cover explaining brutal despots. What to do? Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s ace international correspondent, knows how to simplify complex issues. “I told him Saddam Hussein was a bad man, and now he’s gone,” says Amanpour of a recent talk she had with son Darius. “I don’t believe in burdening him too early.”

Not that little Darius will ever lack for top-notch global insight: His folks are the ultimate power couple in the world of foreign affairs. Amanpour, 45, the exotic TV reporter who shows up wherever a war breaks out, and Jamie Rubin, 43, the former State Department spokesman and host of the PBS series Wide Angle, “are two of the smartest people on the planet,” says CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan. “They are very passionate people who were made for each other.”

Forget their career credentials, though: Someone ought to do a reality show about their home life. For starters, it was Rubin who quit his influential job with the Clinton Administration when his wife (they’ve been married since 1998) gave birth to Darius in 2000. She soon went back to work; he threw himself into child-care in their four-story home in London’s Notting Hill. “The primary thing was to help Christiane raise Darius,” says Rubin, whose documentary series examines key foreign policy issues. “It was an incredibly fortuitous time for me. I really got to know my son.”

Then there’s the matter of Mommy’s job, which deposits her in dangerous locales like Bosnia and Iraq. After the Sept. 11 attacks Amanpour spent several weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Jamie hates it,” says film producer Eric Fellner, a friend of the couple’s. “He behaves like any human being would: incredibly concerned, nervous and anxious.” Amanpour is especially aware of the new stresses. “I suppose there are things I did before which I didn’t think about,” she says. “Now I think about it.”

Since getting married, she has cut back on long-term assignments. “She still works in war zones and with hostile characters,” says Jordan. “But now she doesn’t want to be away from home for more than two weeks at a time.” Says Amanpour: “It is just great to get back to your child and husband after being in some of the most inhumane and often devastating circumstances known to humankind.”

The real challenge for the first-time parents is fitting Darius into their peripatetic lifestyle. So far the kid has racked up major frequent flyer miles. “They aren’t parking him at some school and flying off,” says their friend and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. “They are attentive, loving parents. But they both need other things in their lives. Christiane is not going to be a housewife, and Jamie is never going to be a househusband.”

That zeal and drive is what drew them together. Born in London, raised in Iran and schooled at the University of Rhode Island, Amanpour joined CNN (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) in 1983 and eventually became a correspondent, despite always being told “that she didn’t have the right looks or the right voice,” says her sister Lizzy, 34. Rubin, raised in tony Larchmont, N.Y., majored in political science at Columbia University and became top adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1997.

They got to know each other in war-ravaged Bosnia and fell for each other over a late-night drink in a hotel in Zagreb, Croatia. Their 1998 wedding in Italy was nearly disrupted after al-Qaeda bombed embassies in Kenya and Tanzania a day before the nuptials. “Can you imagine a government official and a journalist on the eve of their wedding having to deal with Osama bin Laden?” says Amanpour.

At first they were together only one week a month and “saw each other mainly on the tube,” jokes Rubin. Now they often steal away to Hyde Park and London museums with Darius for quiet dinners by themselves. “They are this glamor couple, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them,” says colleague Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a London news anchor. “You see them in a restaurant, and they are very unobtrusive and a bit scruffy, really.” Says Jordan: “They have trouble keeping their hands off each other. They are the best of friends and very much in love.”

And so their adventure continues. Rubin, one of the top foreign policy commentators on British TV, hopes to get back into government one day; the Emmy-and Peabody-winning Amanpour will soon be off to Iraq and Afghanistan. “You tell yourself you can carry on by making some adjustments, and you do,” says Amanpour. “But it is incredibly challenging.” As for Darius, he should be able to pronounce Ahmad Chalabi any day now.

Alex Tresniowski

Simon Perry and Eileen Finan in London

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