War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
China’s expected new president visited the U.S. this week, President Obama took the opportunity to press him on human rights and trade issues; Iran reportedly offered to restart talks over its nuclear program; tensions mounted in the Greek parliament and on the streets over the E.U. bailout package; the U.N. secretary general said the Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity as the violence escalated; and claims of secret three-way talks between the Taliban, the U.S. and the Afghan government. David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and James Kitfield of National Journal join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The UN General Assembly condemned Syria for human rights abuses. More than 6,000 Syrians have died in the 11 month crackdown on descent. Israel says Iran is behind a plot targeting Israelis overseas. Greeks riot over austerity measures as the EU continues work on a bailout plan. The man next in line to lead China visits the U.S. and we mourn the death in Syria of New York Times reporter, Anthony Shadid.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international news on the Friday News Roundup David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers and James Kitfield of National Journal. You are always a part of the program. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. James Kitfield, the Chinese vice-president, Xi Jinping, is wrapping his visit to the U.S. What's he achieved during this visit?
KITFIELDWell, it's kind of a getting-to-know-you visit, which is pretty typical of future Chinese leaders. It's an acknowledgment that the U.S.-Chinese bilateral relationships probably the most important relationship in the world right now, the rising the power and the current, sort of protector of the world order as it exists today. What's been achieved? You know, I think that a lot of this is based on ceremony.
KITFIELDWe did hear from the Chinese vice president was a lot about core interests and this makes us nervous because we know what China's doing when they talk about core interests, which is carving out red lines that they don't want us to venture over. And his red lines are increasingly to do with sovereignty. Tibet, they've had a very unrestful year in Tibet. More than a dozen monks have burned themselves to death protesting sort of the Chinese rule of Tibet.
KITFIELDTaiwan's always, you know, front and center on China's mind, although the situation there seems pretty calm because the Chinese leader -- I mean, Taiwanese leader is kind of a pro-China policy. But also, the South China Sea has been a sort of battlefield for us in the last year. China has asserted itself very aggressively there, makes a lot of its neighbors nervous, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, any number of countries, Indonesia.
KITFIELDSo there's that part of it. China's trying to sort of give us its red lines and we're telling them, okay, our major concerns are economic. We're worried about your currency manipulation. We don't say manipulations, but Vice President Biden came very close. And we worry about your protection of our intellectual property rights. Really, the trade imbalance is what's most on our mind.
REHMDo you think we made inroads there, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think the inroads are really in getting to know this new leader, the heir apparent. There's an interesting way in which the Chinese validate their leaders by sending them to the United States. It shows that in Chinese eyes, we really do still dominate the international system and I'm struck by the fact that this was a good generally tranquil visit after the U.S. had really pushed, in terms of sending additional military power into Asia, pivoting as they said, toward the Asia-Pacific.
IGNATIUSAnd the fact that Xi Jinping came, went to the Pentagon on Tuesday as part of his trip, I think, signals that we're, you know, back in a kind of normal rhythm. And I'm struck today, Friday is the 40th anniversary of the day that Richard Nixon set off for Beijing on his trip that really sealed this new relationship. And it's striking how through so many different presidents and administrations, there's been a continuity and I think that's one thing you saw with Xi Jinping, another Chinese leader and probably continuity in this relationship.
REHMWhat was interesting to me was that Mitt Romney wrote rather a strident piece up in The Wall Street Journal saying President Obama's taking completely the wrong tact with China.
YOUSSEFThat's right. He called the visit pomp and ceremony and promised that if he were president, he'd be far tougher on China. That he would call it currency manipulation rather than the diplomatic approach that the United States has tried to take on the issue and suggested that Obama was too soft on China. And frankly, domestic politics in our election really crept up throughout the visit as Obama tried to strike that balance of building a relationship with China without giving the Republicans leverage to say that he was weak on China. And so this column by Mitt Romney really was a sort of written source of pressure on the president to strike that balance.
KITFIELDYou know, there's a timeworn tradition here of candidates for president criticizing the current occupant of the White House for being insufficiently tough on China. Bill Clinton did it to Bush 41, Bush 43 did it to Bill Clinton. But even amongst those standards, I was struck by what a shot across the bow Mitt Romney is sending China, saying in the first day of a Romney presidency, he's going to designate it as a currency manipulator, saying I don't want to start a trade war with China, but doing the exact -- the thing that will insure a trade war with China.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, I remember that when Bush 43, George W. Bush came into office having been very tough on China. Rhetorically, it led to a year of very rocky relationship with China that led, you know, culminated with the downing of one of our military spy planes in China and that whole business of getting our crew back, et cetera, and the aircraft back. So these things can have actual repercussions and I was struck that Romney is really taking a very hard line here.
IGNATIUSI agree with what James said. I thought the comments were strident. They were criticized by, among others, Jon Huntsmen, another Republican who's dropped out of the race and has endorsed...
REHMWho was a former ambassador to China.
IGNATIUSWho was an ambassador to China for President Obama, but really knows this subject well and he was quite blunt in saying he thought this was over the top and this rhetoric is part of the ritual of campaigning, appealing to the base, denouncing easy enemies. But as Jim says, it does complicate life once you get in government. Again, to go back 40 years, in 1967 as he was getting ready to run for president, Richard Nixon wrote an article in Foreign Affairs in which he first suggested the unthinkable, that we needed to open to China. That was a different era.
REHMDavid Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Let's turn to Syria where it's now said as many as 6,000 people may have been killed. President Assad has ordered a referendum to be held at the end of the month on a new draft constitution. Is this going to placate anyone, Nancy?
YOUSSEFNo, because this has been the standard operating procedure for Assad when there's been uprising. Not just no but in the 29 years that he and his father have been in power that he promises reforms and then they don't quite happen. And this was the latest effort at that to suggest that there will be term limits which had never been introduced before and that the Ba'ath party would have a limited role in governing. As you know, they dominant government in Syria now and, in fact, it did nothing to placate the violence.
YOUSSEFWe saw the 14th day of bombardment in homes and the rebels continuing to fight there. The other thing that we saw, which I thought was quite interesting, were a lot of interesting statements coming out of Washington about Syria. We heard James Clapper this week suggest that al-Qaida was moving in on the Syria uprising and that's important because remember in Iraq, al-Qaida essentially hijacked the Sunni uprising there. And I think that there's a fear here that that could happen in Syria.
IGNATIUSI think Nancy's right. There's growing concern about the nature of Syrian opposition. This is one reason the U.S. has been reluctant to do what John McCain and others have recommended, which is to arm the opposition feeling that militarizing this when we really aren't sure just who these people are could be a mistake. You asked about President Assad's proposal for referendum on the constitution, change the constitution, to be followed in three months by elections. I wonder if there's a way to take yes for an answer.
IGNATIUSAssad is now offering the kind of transition platform that if it was not under his control, but under international control, would be pretty much what the Arab League and others have been calling. And I think rather than watch this slide to what could be an absolutely bloody civil war, thinking about some way to get a transition, again, not under Assad's control, under international, whether that isn't the urgent priority.
REHMBut considering the current conditions, how do you hold a legitimate referendum, James?
KITFIELDI just think it's impossible. I think, you know, if it wasn't so tragic, it'd be almost so far as to say that you could -- he's doing this in two weeks at a time where he has launched bombardments of major cities like Homs and Hama. And that constitution he wants you to vote on gives parliamentary elections, but it leaves it in the president's hands, basically, the right to sort of say, whatever parliament does, doesn't matter. I mean, it really very much leaves a president in charge. Does have term limits -- I mean, I take David's point, we need some way out of this crisis because I mean, you know, we've talked, you know, on these Friday News Roundups for a long time about problems in the Middle East.
KITFIELDBut I mean, there is something qualitatively different about what's happening right now and it could very well segue way into civil war in Syria that backs Iran further into a corner. I'm sure we're going to talk about Iran, but it's qualitatively more dangerous now in the Middle East. Talking about strikes from Israel on Iran, Iran feels, well, again, segue way into that, I'm sure, about, you know, it's launching assassination attempts all over the world against Israeli diplomats. Syria is a problem. It is turning from one of these Arab Spring uprisings to civil war with armed opposition. That's something very different.
REHMJames Kitfield at "National Journal." Short break now. When we come back, we'll turn to Iran. Take your questions, comments, I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we're back with the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup this week with Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News, James Kitfield of National Journal, David Ignatius of the Washington Post. One last question on Syria from Louise who emails, "What do we know about Syrian opposition? Who are they? Are they as divided as the Libyan rebels, as likely to win and fight on? And who is arming them?" David.
IGNATIUSOne of the difficult things for the U.S. and its allies has been that this is a very diffuse opposition. It's well organized outside Syria and there are a number of groups that have membership and structure. But inside the country it's tended to focus around individual mosques, neighborhoods. One thing that our ambassador Robert Ford, when he was there while it was still possible for him to travel around, would say in every meeting with opposition groups is, you need to pull together. You need to have a platform. You need to give Syrians a sense of where you're going in terms of policies. And that's still something the U.S. feels strongly about.
YOUSSEFAnd just to give you a sense of what they're up against, Assad has an army of 300,000 with surface to air missiles. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence told congress this week that he is employing 80 percent of his maneuver units, that is infantry, to go against them. And we saw pictures last week of the Syrian army using its forces to go after. So the obstacles that they're facing are really profound. It's a huge ground force army. It's a very desperate group of rebels. Even Gadhafi didn't have that size of a force to take on the rebels in his country with.
YOUSSEFAnd on top of that, we haven't had the level of defections that I think is needed. Remember, a lot of these are Alawites who are the same sects as the Assad family. And so they have an incentive to hold on to power because they face retaliation if and when the Assad regime falls.
KITFIELDI talked to some of the Syrian opposition leaders from the Syrian National Council this last week. You know, they reformed back in October to do just what David said, to sort of swage international concerns about what comes after Assad if he topples. They are saying the right things about protecting minority right, about trying to be inclusive in a big tent. But -- and they said they have councils in all these cities. So if Assad does topple, they'll step in and try to avoid any kind of sort of retribution attacks against minorities.
KITFIELD'Cause that's the thing that's holding the glue together for Assad is the Alawites and some of the Kurds. And the Christians are worried that an overwhelmingly Sunni opposition takes power there'll be retribution against them. The overwhelming Sunni nature of this is why Al-Qaida's a worry. You heard the Al-Qaida's leaders while they were here this week say, you know, sorting his fighters to go into Syria and take part. There have been some bombings that have very much an Al-Qaida imprint on them. So there is a lot of fear and trepidation about what exactly this opposition consists of.
KITFIELDAnd then, there's this free Syrian army which are defectors from the army, 25 to 35,000 soldiers. That's what's starting to give it more of a tenor of a civil war 'cause they're armed resistance.
REHMAnd it's so interesting to me that Western journalists pretty much were not allowed into Syria or had to remain really undercover. And there was Anthony Shadid working there in Syria about to leave. I know he was a good friend of yours, David. And what do we know about the circumstances in which he died?
IGNATIUSWell, Anthony in characteristic fashion felt it was important -- essential for him as a journalist to witness this uprising. Not to report it from Beirut, which is the way most correspondents have done it safely, but to go inside the country. And so he snuck in through the wire through the Turkish border. Anthony had asthma which was exasperated by his closeness to animals. And the smugglers who were bringing him and his photographer Tyler Hicks across the border had horses. And both on the way in and then as they were coming out yesterday that seems to have triggered this very severe asthma attack.
IGNATIUSWhat I would say about Anthony -- and Nancy and James also knew him -- was that he really represented the thing that makes great journalism special. He had a way of grasping not the facts but the essence of the story and how people lived. He got under the skin of the places that he was based. I used to spend time with him in Bagdad and I was always amazed at how he would just sort of go to coffeehouses, go to the places where ordinary people went and listen...
REHMHe was Lebanese.
IGNATIUSHe was Lebanese. He spoke good Arabic, but he would listen to what people said and feel with them what they were going through. So he was a very special correspondent. Anybody wants to know what's valuable about our business, which is under so much attack, just read some of those dispatches.
YOUSSEFDavid's exactly right. You know, when I think of Anthony, you know, you'd be in these conflict zones with him in Libya and Iraq. And he was such a source of serenity in the midst of all this chaos. He was such a calm spirit. And I think that was -- he exuded that in his stories. You know, to me, his articles were almost love letters to the people he was writing about, a way to sort of give them voice. And they were also -- they were letters to the reader. They were a way to try to connect the human spirit and to say what's universal amongst all of us.
YOUSSEFIt was really just -- it was magical story telling. And it's nothing that can be taught or -- it's something engrained in you. It's not -- it's something that just transcends anything that you could ever learn about journalism or even practice. It was really special to see him, not only in the field but then in his work. And that love for both the reader and the people he was writing about really came through in every story.
REHMHe survived a gunshot wound in the West Bank back in 2002.
KITFIELDRight. And, you know, I didn't cross paths with him personally, you know, but he had covered Iraq and covered, you know, the West Bank. He was the gold standard. I mean, Anthony Shadid was the gold standard. His writing was absolutely the best amongst us, I'll just say it that way.
REHMAnd he was 43. He had been New York Times correspondent. We send our condolences to his wife and children. Let's talk now about Iran. Iran has indicated or offered to return to nuclear negotiations. What are Western officials making of that, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, the problem is they did this on the same week in which they had Ahmadinejad wearing the white jacket on state television, showing off that they had developed their own nuclear rods to go into research facilities. And so this is sort of a contradiction in terms of what their intent was. There was, I guess, some optimism but it was really juxtaposing against that. And then, the attempted attacks on three Israeli diplomats this week in Bangkok, Tbilisi and New Delhi.
YOUSSEFAnd so they may be saying that they're opening negotiations, but their actions this week spoke of sort of tit for tat for the suspected Israeli attacks on their nuclear scientists.
REHMWhat is our best understanding of how close they are to developing a nuclear weapon, David?
IGNATIUSWell, the estimates typically range from a year on up. We should make clear that U.S. intelligence believes that the Iranians have not yet formally embarked on a weapons-building program. They're assembling all the components that you need for a nuclear weapon, but they have not crossed that red line. And the U.S. has said, that's the red line that we observe. We think if Tehran crosses that line and goes into a weapons-building program we are committed to stopping it. The U.S. has said through two administrations that it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
IGNATIUSBut -- so, you know, how long that breakout period would be and then in terms of negotiations could you negotiate a clear and verifiable line that kept them on the civilian side of the threshold. That's one of the issues that our administration's been thinking a lot about a as it thinks about what they should talk about if we got back to serious talks.
KITFIELDActually this is something David should talk about 'cause he broke the story. But, I mean, the feeling is not our red line that is the driver here. It's Israel's red line. And Israel's -- you know, I back up -- from my reporting, senior Pentagon leaders think that Israel is going to do it. That's the word I got. I think they're going to do it. So they may have -- we may have a year or a two-year red line. Israel may have one you can count in months.
KITFIELDSo that's one worry that -- I take David's point about taking yes for an answer. I actually think that it's no secret that the sanctions are biting Iran now. They are biting hard on Iran. It's -- currency has lost half its value just in the last few months. It is facing a European embargo of its oil coming up this summer.
KITFIELDIt's worried about what's happening next door in Syria 'cause that's its only remaining ally in the Middle East. It has launched -- you know, someone is killing Iranian scientists and now Iranians are striking back against Israeli diplomats around the world, three places, Georgia, Thailand and, let's see, Tbilisi. Where was the other one? There was one more.
KITFIELDSo this thing is devolving into an open conflict. And I think to put the brakes on it we'll have to get back to at least discussing this with them. Not -- I should say, Nancy's exactly right, you can't take the boot of sanctions off the throat until they actually do something substantive. But I think it's time to talk.
REHMDavid, you reported in a column a few weeks ago that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was saying that Israel was likely to attack within two to three months. The Department of Defense backed off from that saying it was what? You tell me.
IGNATIUSWell, I don't know that they backed off exactly. What I reported was that Secretary of Defense Panetta believes that there is a strong likelihood that Israel will attack in April, May or June. That's based on various signs, but in particular on what Jim was talking about. The Israelis think that it's important to hit this program before Iran enters what they call the zone of immunity where you no longer can take out the elements you need to take to make the bomb, that they're then in this kind of tunnel where they could move towards assembly of a weapon. And the Israelis argue you need to act before that.
REHMBut how did they do that without drawing us in to a war with Iran?
IGNATIUSWell, that's -- Diane, that's precisely what the U.S. has argued. What I was reporting in my column, it was not simply this concern about the likelihood of an Israeli attack but that the U.S. has said to Israel, if you do this we think you're making a mistake. We think that it's bad for the United States and it's bad for Israel. And we want to say to you that if the red line we regard as crucial making a weapon is crossed, we are committed to take action.
IGNATIUSAnd I think Israel has responded, we understand that you don't -- that you're going to stand aside. Stand aside. If we decide we have to take action to protect our security we'll do that. And that's not an issue for you. It's an issue for us. And that's kind of where it stands.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And this morning, there were reports of a possible attack on U.S. soil. What do we know about that? Anybody? You didn't hear that on NPR? There was...
IGNATIUSWe were too busy getting ready for "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMYeah, okay, David. We'll let it pass at that. What do you want to add to the Iran discussion, Nancy?
YOUSSEFThe only thing I wanted to add is in a way I wonder if what Ahmadinejad did in a way backfired. Because there was almost a sense among some in the International Community, this is what you have to sort of threaten us and showcase that you're marching forward. And remember it's not only that they develop a weapon, but one that's deliverable. And that's years away.
YOUSSEFAnd the other thing I would point out is we have to remember that Iran, as Jim rightly pointed out, they have the pressure of sanctions. But also -- and he's coming up against parliamentary elections in March and it's not clear to me how much this was for international audiences and how much of it was for domestic audiences.
KITFIELDYou mentioned, you know, whether the United States could get drawn into a war with Iran. But let me tell you, there's more likelihood than not that if Israel attacks we do get drawn into that conflict. I mean, you know, you talk through this with Pentagon leaders and they tell you, we get all the blowback if Israel strikes. But they don't have the capability to actually set the program back two or three years. We have that capability. So if Israel forces the issue it's going to be a huge amount of pressure on the United States. Go ahead, get this done.
KITFIELDBecause we have said, like David said, we will not -- you know, they've been very strong in saying, we will not allow this -- them to get this weapon.
REHMAnd what would be the aftermath if we were drawn into it?
YOUSSEFBut this is the problem. If we attack, it doesn't -- you know, how long does it set a program back? There's no guarantee that it does. I mean, famously the Stuxnet attack, the internet -- the cyber attack on their system, they didn't even know it happened until they read about it in the New York Times. So there's no guarantee that a strike slows down the program in any real way. And that's the fundamental problem with this.
YOUSSEFAnd there is a guarantee that there are unintended consequences that come with some sort of strike. And so that's the balance. It becomes when do you enter that tunnel that David talked about? And can you launch something that sufficiently slows it down?
IGNATIUSWell, we're in a particularly dangerous period where threats of war and retaliation are being made and at the same time that a shadow war is actually being fought. You're seeing assassinations in various capitols around the world. And this is a period where it would be easy to misread the other side's signals, to make misjudgments and to suddenly find yourself slipping into a conflict. That's one reason the U.S. is, I think, trying to be very clear with Israel about its own judgments.
REHMAll right. To Birmingham, Ala. Let's take a call from Evan. Good morning, you're on the air.
EVANGood morning, Diane (unintelligible) .
REHMI'm -- Go right ahead, Evan. I can barely hear you.
EVANOkay. I fixed it now.
EVANCan you hear me now?
REHMYeah, go right ahead, please.
EVANThank you. Yeah, I was reading a Salon.com article a few days ago and they brought up some interesting points. They talked about a lot of press recently that Iran and, you know, this possible -- or potential conflict is getting. And I'm concerned that while I agree we can't let them have nuclear weapons, it's a very bad idea, a lot of the rhetoric is going back and forth saying, oh, if Iran attacks us, they've -- I'm sorry, if we attack Iran, they said they would defend themselves. Well, of course they're going to defend themselves.
EVANAnd I feel as though in the media it's being played up to the fact that they're to a point where we might make a big mistake, like...
REHMAll right. Quick response, James.
KITFIELDWell, let's have no misconceptions. If there is an attack the repercussions will be absolutely huge in the Middle East. It's an unstable place. It'll get way unstable. Oil prices spiked through the roof, you name it.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal. Short break now and when we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd before we go to the phones, let's talk about Greece and whether there will likely be a bailout for Greece, David, or whether, as has been rumored, some members of the Eurozone would like to see Greece bailed out or thrown out.
IGNATIUSWell, we had the Greek parliament on Sunday voting to support the austerity measures that had been demanded and doing what the so-called troika, the group of EU and IMF et cetera had demanded as a condition for providing the bailout. There are really two bailouts. There's one of Greece's public debt, which is on the order, I think, of 170 billion and then there's private debt that's held that also needs to be rescheduled. They're interlinked.
IGNATIUSIncreasingly, what you're hearing from Germany is we don't trust the Greeks. We don't think that they're going to deliver on their promises. We think we Germans are being played for suckers. We think that they're taking our money and going out and spending it. And so you're getting -- and in Athens you're getting comments like, we're sick of the German jackboot on our throats. I mean, it's a kind of tension, a national tension, that we haven't seen in Europe for a long time, thank goodness, and that's a dangerous new element.
YOUSSEFThat's right. The Eurozone has turned into a two-state conflict between Greece and Germany and it got to the point that the German finance minister was suggesting that Greece postpone or that the bailout not be given until after elections suggesting that if they won, that they would not be as serious about enacting these very unpopular austerity measures.
YOUSSEFThe other interesting thing I thought that came out of this was this is first time we're really hearing an open discussion about whether you let Greece default. Before, it was if you let one country default, it weakens the entire euro. Now, it's -- well, they're only 2 percent of the Eurozone GDP, maybe we can afford it. And I think it's interesting given how fragile Europe and the rest of the world is economically that that's now on the table.
KITFIELDYou know, it looks like they're going to get this next bailout by the deadline of March 27th. The European Central Bank is now -- the news this morning was they're buying, or exchanging the old Greek bonds for this new Greek bond that represents a write-off of a certain amount of their debt. But there is, as Nancy says, a lot of talk that the next -- Greece is basically in a death spiral right now.
KITFIELDThey are cutting so dramatically and they had riots that burned a lot of businesses in Athens, 100,000 people rioting in the streets, burning businesses. I mean, the austerity measures are already biting very hard on the Greeks. There is concern that they will not be able to take the further steps and if they do, their economy has already declined 6 percent just in the last year.
KITFIELDTo meet their next tranche of goals, they have to have some growth in that economy. There's no sign there's going to be any growth so people are starting to talk about, by the time the next tranche comes, maybe we can build a firewall so if they do default, they do come out of the Eurozone, it won't sort of have a chain reaction. So that, to me, is a pretty worrisome sign that Greece is not out of the woods by any measure.
REHMHow many people in the Eurozone agree with Angela Merkel's approach to squeeze more and how many feel that there should be some relaxation to allow Greece's economy to grow?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, it happens on this north side divide that we've seen the whole euro crisis be. The rich countries in the north think that Greece has not lived up to its promises so far so they want to squeeze it to actually do the things it's been promising to do. I think a lot of its neighbors in the Mediterranean area say, look, to say there but for the grace of God go I or I may go next, and say, you know, you guys are ensuring that the Greek economy tanks and they'll never make these targets.
IGNATIUSI think one reason that there's a growing feeling in Northern Europe, let's squeeze the Greeks. If the Greeks are going to default, let's let them default, is that there's a sense that the contagion, if you will, wouldn't spread as widely as was thought a few months ago. Italy is in much better shape, it's thought, than it was, now under its new technocratic prime minister, Mario Monti.
IGNATIUSHe was here in Washington last week and talked to the president and came away from that feeling that there was a real U.S./Italian understanding about going forward. So if you can isolate this to the Greek economy, which is fairly small, and it doesn't spread to the big consequential economies, Italy and Spain, then there's a thought you can get through and so let's turn the screws on the Greeks. The point that Jim makes is you cannot bleed the patient to good health.
IGNATIUSThis idea that you just make them suffer more and they'll get out of this, that's not going to work. And at some point the Germans have got to stop scolding people for their bad, spendthrift policies and think about if they're all going to be Europeans together, how they're all going to grow together.
REHMDo you think they will, do you think she will?
IGNATIUSShe has become very popular with Germans by taking this hard line.
IGNATIUSAnd I think, you know, when you think about it, here's the core problem of Europe. The Eurozone assumes mobility of capital and labor and capital is completely mobile, it moves from country to country and that's why Greece suddenly went on a borrowing and spending spree. But labor isn't mobile. What you need now is for Greeks to be able to move to where the jobs are, which was not in -- they don't speak German. They live in Greece and that's sort of a fundamental disconnect, I think, in this whole idea of how Europe is going to adjust and get out of the crisis.
REHMAll right, let's go back to the phones to Jose in Holland, Mich. Good morning to you.
JOSEGood morning. I'm curious about how the administration has reacted to the recent defection of a Chinese national and in light of that visit from the heir apparent, how that portends for human rights issues in general. Does it bring it more to the surface or does it -- are they trying to squash it or -- in light of human rights violations that China's got going on?
IGNATIUSI'm not aware of the specific defection that the caller is referring to. The human rights situation in China, the degree of internal dissent and ferment is substantial. It's something that really makes the Chinese nervous and I think it's something the U.S. watches very closely. I don't know about the specific defector.
REHMAll right. And here's a question for you, David, on Mitt Romney's statement that he would declare China a currency manipulator. How does that declaration appeal to the Republican base?
IGNATIUSMitt Romney has said that absent changes in Chinese policy on day one of his presidency he will declare China a currency manipulator and slap on sanctions. It appeals to the base by getting tough. He's saying to people...
IGNATIUS...who feel that they have lost their jobs to Asian markets or may lose their jobs that he's going to take tough action. It sounds good as a campaign slogan. In the world of negotiations between countries, statements like that are a problem.
REHMAll right. And to Raleigh, N.C., good morning, Danette, you're on the air.
DANETTEHi, thank you for taking my call.
DANETTEThis is in reference to, again, the Chinese discussion and human rights. My son has been in China since 2005. He worked in, as a DJ and C there and, of course, that means that he runs into police and officials and he has to be careful what he says when he performs.
DANETTEHowever, he's found them to be pretty much hands off with the foreigners in China but he says his biggest problem is with the Chinese bosses. There are big boss gangs in all the major cities and the government has been trying to crack down on these gangs because the gangs do rough up the foreigners.
REHMHum, James, do you know about this?
KITFIELDI haven't heard about the boss gangs, but I mean, China's economy is in a strange state of flux where you have this Communist, sort of quasi-Communist, regime that is trying to stoke sort of Capitalist fires all over the place and it's not the most, you know, we've seen the stealing of intellectual property rights and DVDs and everything. It's not a very well-controlled economy so it doesn't really surprise me.
KITFIELDWhat I will say about, you know, keeping the hands off foreigners, they keep their hands off foreigners if foreigners don't step over those red lines of being seen to agitate against, you know, free Tibet or more democracy. Anyone who agitates with that inside China is at risk.
REHMRed lines all over the place this morning. I want to go back to a question I raised earlier about a potential threat against the U.S., the AP reports that "The government is worried that Iran will consider a terror plot on American soil, but it has no specific or credible threat about such a plot. Police from L.A. to New York City say they're anxious about the risks even as a senior U.S. intelligence official reassured Congress it was unlikely Iran would attack."
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we'll go now to Keith in Phoenix. Ariz. Good morning to you.
KEITHGood morning, Diane. I'm actually going to be going to Iran also and I'm looking at -- and I'm thinking about this in that we have allowed -- or not allowed, but supported Israel in their nuclear power and so forth and now we're denying and trying to deny Iran to have the same opportunity. And I just wonder why there is not more discussion of global de-nuclearization and trying to control the nuclear proliferation of all countries?
KEITHBecause in reality, no sovereign nation is going to use it on somebody as we did in Japan in the '40s because it's just such a horrific thing. The biggest threat that I see is a country like Iran getting nuclear weapons and then a regime coming in that is radical and taking those weapons and using them as a terroristic threat and I just -- it seems like there should be a deeper discussion of (unintelligible) .
REHMAll right, David.
IGNATIUSPresident Obama, when he took office in 2009, did lead a new push to talk about non-proliferation and about some kind of progress towards de-nuclearization. That hasn't gone very far. In a hostile world, trying to push Israel to give up its nuclear weapons is not likely to succeed, but it's an idea you hear more and more talk about, including within the administration.
IGNATIUSThere's an understanding that this arms spiral in the end is not making Israel any safer, but it's just if this is -- it's tough to get to where people imagine you'd be.
REHMAnd here's an email from Sam saying, "Israel has accused Iran of the bombing incident in New Delhi last Monday. If true, why would Iran conduct a terrorist operation in India which buys its oil despite U.S. pressure? The accusation makes no logical sense." Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, that's what Iran would say. Iran charged that it was actually Israel who did it in an effort to make Iran look like they did it. But the reality is I don't think it has to have that kind of domino effect. I think this was an effort arguably to retaliate for the assassination of their scientist. Remember, it was the same tactic that had been used in the assassination of their scientists, these sort of magnet bombs put on vehicles.
YOUSSEFAnd so it's certainly suspicious and it's a way to send a signal arguably without having these greater implications on relationships with other countries because it's not clear that they did it and that this is sort of, I don't know, sort of an assassination campaign rather than a state-on-state conflict. And again, no one can ever prove definitively that they did it. It could have been the Likud's forces. It could have been Revolutionary Guards. It could have been arguably Hezbollah elements. We don't know.
KITFIELDLet me go out on a limb here and say that if you eliminate all the other options and look at the most simple explanation for something, it almost certainly is Iranian agents in all three of these cases. They all use the same kind of weapons. In Thailand, they actually captured the guys. They definitely said they are Iranians working for the regime.
KITFIELDAnd let's say also that it's very likely that Israel is assassinating Iranian scientists. They had assassination programs in the past. We have said categorically, it's not us. There's really only the two culprits I can think of that makes sense so I think we can probably call those things as being very likely.
REHMAlright and let's talk about the Wall Street Journal's report yesterday that the U.S. and Afghan governments have initiated three-way talks with leaders of the Taliban, David?
IGNATIUSThe Wall Street Journal interviewed Hamid Karzai in Kabul and Karzai said that he had been involved in these three-way talks. No sooner had the story broken than the Taliban said, we haven't been in any talks with Karzai. Karzai is a puppet. But other Taliban sources said that there had indeed been a meeting.
IGNATIUSIt's very interesting that Karzai followed up this comment in The Wall Street Journal which is supportive of a process that he initially was very wary of. By going to Pakistan, recognizing correctly I think that if this is going to succeed, if this effort to put together as structure for negotiations, is going to succeed, it will require Pakistani help.
IGNATIUSAfghans, including Karzai, are very suspicious of Pakistan so he sensibly went to Islamabad and, I think, is basically saying, are you going to make this work? Are you going to help us out here?
YOUSSEFThat's right. And remember that up until this point the Taliban had said that they would never negotiate with Karzai, they would negotiate with the Americans, but not, as David pointed out, the public government. And it certainly suggests that everybody is sort of positioning for the end of a war and I think it increasingly raises questions about this whole 2014 deadline.
YOUSSEFHow do you end war two years ahead of schedule and how do you plan the end of war and you see this sort of negotiation going on? And I think it increasingly begs the question whether we will be there 'til 2014 if we see parties already sort of positioning themselves for the post period two years out.
KITFIELDI actually disagree a little bit because I see plenty of opportunity for twists and turns in this process that could go well beyond two years. But I think we should say that this is actually progress. We have been talking to the Taliban for months trying to sort of set the set conditions where they would sit down with Karzai. Apparently, now that has already happened. He, as David said, has gone to Pakistan, which is a lynchpin in this because they support some of these Taliban elements.
KITFIELDSo to me, this looks like progress and, you know, I think that two years will happen very quickly. In Afghanistan, there's a lot to be done yet in two years even to set the conditions that might be agreed upon in any talks.
YOUSSEFWell, I think James raises a great point, but the question becomes is the negotiating with the Taliban the way to do it or should it be that we're negotiating with the Pashtuns. I think it becomes who we are negotiating with and what kind of impact can they have on the outcome of Afghanistan.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, thank you all. Have a great weekend. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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