America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called for intervention in Syria at a summit of non-aligned leaders in Iran. German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in China on Thursday as head of the largest German business delegation ever to visit the country. And human rights activists called for the release of a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy for burning religious texts. Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcasting Center, Mark Thompson of Time magazine and Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Turkey appealed to the UN Security Council for a safe zone for Syrian refugees. At a summit in Tehran, Egypt's new president and the UN Secretary General rebuked Iran for its policies toward Syria. And China pledged to buy more bonds to support the euro zone.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Nadia Bilbassy of MBCTV, Mark Thompson of Time Magazine, and Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. We'll take your calls, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. MARK THOMPSONGood morning.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
REHMNadia, I'll start with you. Syrian President Assad made a television appearance this week, certainly a rare one. He's talking about a regional and global war now.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. I mean, first of all it's really interesting that we saw him relaxed and comfortable. This is the first time we've seen him on television shortly after the end of Ramadan when he appeared in a mosque and he seems to be in a hurry and people trying to interpret his body language, whether he was worried that he's going to be a target of assassination or not.
BILBASSYSo we're seeing him now in the studio. Of course, this interview was given to a pro-government television, Addounia TV, and the questions actually were hard on him. so it seems like it's not the soft ball, he wanted to convince the Syrian people that this is not a game, Actually, I wanted to give you some serious answer. But there's no doubt that the questions were given in advance to him.
BILBASSYSo he talks about this regional and international conspiracy against the Syrian government and these terrorists who are trying to take over the achievement of the Syrian regime. Now, what he means by that is the United States, Western Europe, the Gulf States led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He means Turkey and basically he's saying that, what are you talking about, civil war?
BILBASSYWe actually have these terrorists who are extremists supported by these Gulf countries, trying to take, to confiscate our own decision because we are a sovereign country with standing for the international community and this is why. So he's in complete denial that actually the country is divided and actually these rebel groups have overtaken major cities, including Aleppo and there is skirmishes outside his own capital, Damascus.
REHMAnd, Mark Thompson, what about all these people who are trying desperately to get out of the way of harm?
THOMPSONWell, what's interesting is as the Western world sits by and watches this unfold, it's now been more than a year since President Obama told Assad that he had to leave. The war's escalating. It's gone from helicopter gunships to MIG fighter planes killing people in bread lines and the rate of outflow of the citizenry is now, it's gone from 500 earlier this month to 5,000 a day, many into Turkey and Jordan.
THOMPSONPlainly what's interesting, if you listen to Marty Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs yesterday, he was saying we don't want to get involved, we can't do a no-fly zone. If we do a no-fly zone, you know what, we're going to also to have anti-missile weapons there. So plainly the U.S. and NATO do not want to get involved, yet the civilian terror that's happening may force, it may become a humanitarian disaster. They may be able to ignore the bloodshed but they may not be able to ignore the outflow of citizens.
REHMBut Britain and France have said they would not necessarily not provide a no-fly zone?
GLASSERWell, that's right, Diane, I think that's an important point and remember as well that Turkey is going to be pressing both publicly and behind the scenes, the United States, increasingly, aggressively. This is the sort of nightmare scenario for them unfolding on their borders. They've made clear they'd like to be doing something more but that they're not in a position to do so, of course, without United States support for it.
GLASSERI think, you know, this of course is the creeping painful issue that in a way neither party and the United States wants to talk too much about. but think about this, first of all, August has turned out to be the bloodiest single month of the Syrian uprising which has been going on now for more than a year and a half and it's already been also one year since Barak Obama called for Assad to step aside. Obviously the power of the bully pulpit alone is not working here.
GLASSERIn fact, we're seeing an escalation, some could argue that Assad while interestingly coming out and making this sort of unusual PR campaign this week, at the same time if you look militarily at what's going on with his decision to, in effect, unleash a campaign of terror against his domestic opponents, right, he's using massacres as a tactic of this civil war in a way that is both horrifying on a regular basis, right.
GLASSEREach week now we are seeing, you know, a new example of an entire village, families gunned down, mass graves found. This is a really threatening, I think, military development and how they've chosen to prosecute the war suggests that they don't perceive themselves to have many other options it seems to me.
REHMAnd what about what's happening in Tehran and the meeting that took place this week, how does that tie in with what's happening in Syria, Mark?
THOMPSONWell, basically in Tehran this week at the Non-Alliant Conference session, the head of the UN and the Egyptian president both said, hey what's happening in Syria is wrong. And of course they were saying that right next to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who is Syria's, you know, key and perhaps almost lone ally in that part of the world.
REHMIs he still very supportive of what's happening in Syria?
THOMPSONWell, yes. I mean, they plainly don't want any outsiders involved. We've got this sort of fever of sovereignty, you know, you must not interfere with Syria's sovereignty. But what's interesting when we debate what can be done and what should be done, what's looking increasingly, I don't know if the word is likely, but come on. NATO in the 1990s set up safe havens in Kosovo, they did, they came to the aid of the Libyan people.
THOMPSONI talked this week with the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Sandy Vershbow and he talked about, well, you know, Libya was a more rural war. This is a more urban war, it would be tougher. But these sort of excuses, I think, are going to be wearing thin as more and more people flee that terrible nation.
REHMSo, Nadia Bilbassy, where does this go from here? Do we just stand by and watch this continuing massacre? What happens?
BILBASSYIt's actually terrible, Diane, because as everybody said here that the United States is not taking a leading position in a way, that the United States does not want to be involved militarily. Russia and China are blocking anything in the United Nations Security Council and any Western power to operate, even Turkey, has to be under the Chapter VII of the United Nations, to allow them to use military power even if they talk about this safe haven for refugees, which is absolutely true because it's having a huge toll on a countries like Jordan, for example, who already have a problem with the Iraqi refugees. They have a problem with the Palestinians from (unintelligible) and they're having a problem with the Syrians.
BILBASSYSo instead of opening the gates, allowing them to go to the capital, they're actually having camps on the desert. And yesterday, if you watch on the border with Syria, if you watch the foreign minister, Nasser Judeh and the UN saying, like, we cannot cope basically, we need help. So in terms of the humanitarian crisis and its toll, it's going to be massive and somebody has to do something but even in terms of the massacres and the killing and the whole world is watching and nobody's doing anything and the Syrian opposition is livid at this administration saying that President Obama's only going to move when they use chemical weapons.
REHMWell, and that's the issue, is President Obama -- is the UN fearful of the threats that Assad has made, that if there is some interference by an outside power that he would feel free to use those weapons, Susan?
GLASSERWell, I mean, that's an interesting question. My sense is that that is the one red line that Obama and his team have very clearly laid down, publicly, privately. He's said, remember -- one of his only comments actually, recently, on the Syrian conflict Obama just said, just a little bit more than a week ago, that chemical weapons was unacceptable and that...
REHMBut that puts him between a rock and a hard place.
GLASSERAbsolutely, absolutely. At the same time, I think people might not have looked at the significance of what did happen in Tehran this week. I think that having the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, go to Tehran. There was a lot of unhappiness about that here in Washington. People were very upset that both Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and the Egyptian leader, the new head from the Muslim Brotherhood, were going to Tehran. They were very worried what does this signal send, they're being used by Tehran and some sort of thing.
GLASSERBut what happened was a surprise and Morsi got up there and he said very clearly and unequivocally, we need a free Syria. And that was the word he used, free and independent.
THOMPSONYes, I mean, I think that's important. I mean, Egypt is now showing itself to be a more independent player. You know, there was some talk that maybe is there a sort of, there was some wishful thinking perhaps, there might be an Iranian-Egyptian access after this week. That's not going to happen, as a way of counterbalancing the American-Saudi access.
THOMPSONBut that's not going to happen so what's going to happen now is the notion that the Syria is a festering wound. It's a sucking chest wound in the middle of the region it is as was stated in Tehran, sort of a last act of the Arab Spring and for Assad not to see it that way just shows that ultimately I think as soon as his, the fellow Alawites get the sense that they won't be murdered when he leaves, that he will be gone.
REHMAnd what about the International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran and nuclear weapons, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, this is really interesting because it all depends on what's the next step that's going to be taking place. Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency is saying that the Iranians actually managed produce more enriched uranium that might allow them to produce a nuclear weapon. And now it's going to be all eyes on Israel to see what's the next step, what they're going to do in light of this report.
REHMAnd we'll talk about Israel after a short break. Do join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. Before we move on to Israel here's an email from Marilyn who says, "Observers in many quarters say the U.S. is supplying arms to the Syrian rebels through third parties. What's the story on that?” Mark.
THOMPSONWell, first of all, the Syrian rebels are not a monolithic group. There are something like 2,000 and that's good and bad depending on what side of the equation you're on. That means the Syrian military will never been able to kill them 'cause -- or negotiate a deal with them. Conversely, you know, the -- all these amorphous groups can come from all different directions. It's a lot like the Taliban and that poses a problem in settling this conflict.
GLASSERYou know, Diane, I think it's an important point that, you know, the U.S. can be involved in many different ways, right. And what we're trying to do is put time on the clock. There's a lot of uncertainty about the nature of this rebel movement and that has, I think, slowed down things as much. Of course the United States is involved. Remember that Turkey, which is where many of them are using as their rear base is a key U.S. military ally is also deeply involved.
GLASSERThe Gulf States are financing much of this opposition, again our crucial allies in the region. So we're very much involved. We have a lot of visibility I would say into what is going on there.
REHMBut the key question, you know, is the U.S. supplying arms probably in one form or another? The answer is yes?
GLASSERI would say that whether it's the money and the decision making and the supervision over the arms traffic versus actually taking weapons our of our arsenal or not, right now you're at a semantic distinction. Clearly, we're involved.
REHMAll right. Just before the break we were talking about the IAEAs latest report on Iran and nuclear weapons there. There has been talk that Israel was preparing to attack Iran to try to forestall the development of nuclear weapons before it reaches that crucial point where they're not available to target.
REHMWe have a report that German's Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging Israel not to strike Iran, Nadia.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. I mean, the Israeli line has been the following, that tough sanction, isolation of Iran, even sabotage of the computers is only a tactic to delay it. But it's not going to destroy it and it's not maybe delayed by long. So the only option for them is to strike militarily. Now with this report coming is basically either the Israelis cannot do it by themselves because we know this plant is in a place next to Qom and it's underground.
BILBASSYSo the Israelis have no military capabilities of doing it themselves. The only people who can do it is in -- and the person who can do it -- authorize it is the President of the United States. So now is Israel pushing the United States to go ahead and to do it or is it now a subzero game that actually nothing they can do. Because all Israelis can do is most likely strike outside of this plant and block the entrance. But that's it.
THOMPSONYeah, I mean, once again, I hate to refer back to General Marty Dempsey, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he was in London yesterday and he used an interesting word. He said the United States does not want to be complicit -- that was the word he used -- in any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
THOMPSONThe fact of the matter is the people I talk to in the military don't think the United States can do it in a clean shot, that it will take repeated attacks on the umbilicals, the air, the electricity, the entrances to the Fordo facility. And it will require repeated attacks. It will be much more like the no fly zones were over Iraq before the final -- the second Iraq war
THOMPSONSo the notion is going to be if both presidential candidate Romney and President Obama had declared Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, the IAE report out today shows they are getting closer and closer and deeper and deeper to doing that. And if we can't negotiate our way out of it it's going to be a long bombing campaign to make sure they don't get it.
REHMI can't believe that anything would happen before the election. Where are you on that, Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think we've seen an escalating series of saber-rattling months over the last few months from the Israelis as they've attempted to sort of pressure signal that they may well do something. At this point it would look so nakedly political and I think there would be an incredible uproar frankly from potentially across the political spectrum in the United States. The idea that headed into the fall of a U.S. presidential election -- again we're not talking about what could've happened last spring but we're now talking weeks away from the presidential election.
GLASSERAnd I think that the international condemnation for Netanyahu -- never mind the potential backlash here at home among his very strong supporters -- and by the way Israel has strong supporters across the political spectrum in the United States, Democrats as well as Republicans. So I think it's not even a clear cut decision for the Israelis politically by any means. And never mind these very serious military questions that have now emerged about whether a strike has any significant benefits.
REHMWouldn't Netanyahu be forcing Obama's hand if he moved toward a strike?
BILBASSYOf course he would, but I will tend to believe that both sides -- the President of the United States is very clear, we got your back. He has said hundreds of times that we not gonna let Iran develop nuclear weapons. The problem is the timing. They both side agree but they don't know when. Now there is a meeting coming up in New York on the (unintelligible) the U.N. general assembly. President Obama is going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I think Iran is going to be in the forefront of that meeting.
BILBASSYAnd I think the discussion will be nothing's going to happen. I tend to believe nothing's going to happen before the U.S. election. Just wait and see because two months from now or four months from now is not going to make a huge difference. So he wants him to be calm and he will reassure him again that he is with him every step of the way but no military strike yet.
REHMMark is smiling.
THOMPSONWell, I just think it's sort of silly to suggest or to believe or to ponder that Israel could undertake such a profound military operation without at least a wink from the United States. So unless we're getting a double game from the White House you have to believe that Obama means what he says. He's not yet winking at the Israelis to say go ahead. And if he doesn't wink Israel won't move.
GLASSERWell, and I think along those lines one final point related to what General Dempsey said yesterday about not being "complicit" in such a strike, every scenario in every war game of this -- and there have been many to test what would happen in the event of a unilateral Israeli military strike on Iran -- sooner or later and in general pretty soon the United States gets enmeshed in all of these scenarios for what happens.
GLASSERIt's inevitable and it would risk an enormous rupture with the United States. It's basically only patron on the world stage.
REHMAnd an Israeli court ruled this week that the state is not responsible for the death of Rachel Corrie. Who was Rachel Corrie? What's your reaction to this verdict, Mark?
THOMPSONShe was a 23-year-old woman, an idealist who went to Israel to stop Israel from tearing down houses in Gaza. And she got between an operation, an Israeli -- an IDF bulldozer and was killed by the pile of rubble that the bulldozer was building up. Her family maintains that it was done deliberately and they sued in civil court in Israel several years ago. And this week the judge said she was flirting with death and she lost. It was her fault.
GLASSERWell, it was interesting. We ran a very powerful and really painful sort of piece by a leading Palestinian on our website the other day in the wake of the Corrie thing saying the only problem here is that this is the kind of justice that we see often from Israeli courts, which have consistently in effect really empowered the Israeli military to do whatever is necessary in clearing land for settlements, in policing the policy decisions that have been made by the Israeli civilian government.
GLASSERAnd, you know, it's just one of those tragedies. She -- this young woman has become now a public face all over Palestine. She's a very prominent, you know, figure and now she's unfortunately yet another wedge between these two societies.
BILBASSYBut what's interesting as well is the UN Human Rights Commission has condemned the Israeli outcome and the judge saying basically that her death was accidental. Also the U.S. Embassy, I think they had something to say into that respect. And even going back to when her family raised the case in 2004 when Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said that the Israeli promised a full investigation -- they promised to be this investigation transparent and credible, but they fell short of that.
BILBASSYSo now she's -- absolutely she's like a watershed now for many people who are saying the Israelis, what they're doing in the court is basically throwing this blanket to protect the Israeli soldiers from any wrong doing no matter what. So they're always going to be immune from any prosecution. And human rights organization saying this is really indeed a sad day for justice. And they're going to set a very bad precedent.
REHMAnd certainly a sad day in Afghanistan. Reports that Taliban forces beheaded 17 Afghan civilians, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. This is in a very remote and Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan in Helmand Province, Kajaki near the Kajaki Dam which the United States has tried and failed to recapture for the use of Afghan civilians for the last more than a decade. And it strikes to the fact that the political situation is very opaque in Afghanistan. Even reports were wildly conflicting as to whether 17 people were civilians or not. And, you know, there were conflicting statements between the governor of Helmand Province and the head of the local region.
GLASSERAnd I just think it underscores yet again what a terrible situation we find ourselves in, and by the way how much we want to ignore it. How interesting was it that last night Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech never uttered the word Afghanistan.
REHMMark Thompson, what did you make of that?
THOMPSONWell, I was glad to see Clint Eastwood speak about it if the presidential candidate wouldn't. I mean, not only that. The night before it was the foreign policy night of the Republican Convention and they mentioned Syria and Iran more than they mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq. And, you know, we have sent 2.5 million young men and women off to wars since 9/11. And it would be nice if the party that spearheaded those wars sort of recognized their and their family's sacrifice at their convention.
REHMTo what extent do you believe that Afghanistan and our scheduled departure date of 2014 is going to be part of the presidential campaign or will it simply be ignored overshadowed by economics?
THOMPSONIt'll be ignored and it won't just be because of economics. It will be because the two parties really don't see it very differently. Both of them want to leave. John McCain is not the Republican nominee who was denouncing President Obama for setting that 2014 deadline. So I think it's -- as we saw last night, you know, Governor Romney did not bring it up.
THOMPSONIf this fellow has fought the war poorly over the last four years, you'd think his challenger would be quick to bring it up and he didn't. And that spoke volumes.
REHMMark Thompson. He is Washington deputy bureau chief of Time magazine. he's editor of Time's "Battleland" blog. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And Susan, in Pakistan, a young girl has been jailed for allegedly burning a Quran. What's the latest? What's happened to her?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's a murky case right as Pakistani cases so often are. There's been a dispute even about whether this was a young girl who shouldn't even be in court because she had Down syndrome. There's been -- you know, it's really cast a renewed light on Pakistan's extraordinary -- even in the context of conservative countries -- extraordinary law basically saying in effect you have to -- you can't touch the Quran.
GLASSERYou can't have anything to do -- you can't speak publicly in effect -- remember the assassination of a liberal-minded governor just last year who -- Salmaan Taseer who was looking to try to reform, and by the way, work through the political system, work through the parliament in Pakistan to reform these very blasphemy laws which are now being used to prosecute -- or persecute, as your perspective might be, this young girl in Pakistan.
REHMShe may be as young as 11.
GLASSEREleven years old, that's right.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. They say 11 or 12. Some even say that she is -- she cannot hear very well. They're keeping her in jail since August 16 'til now and basically they refuse to let her out on bail. But what's interesting in the case is this lawyer who basically doing it for free to defend these people who take it upon themselves to lynch people. I mean, the problem with this young girl Ramsha Masih has not just -- maybe the court will allow her to go eventually, but actually people take justice into their hands.
BILBASSYThere has been many incidents in the past day and when people go to the court they drag these people. Some are mentally deranged even. They bring them and they set them on fire alive. And the problem with this anti-blasphemy law is it's so loose and the government can't do anything about it because people are going crazy over it to the degree it's not just, as Susan mentioned, that this liberal minded governor of Punjab who was assassinated because he said he wanted to reform it. But also the only Christian minister they had as a minority minister in the government, also he was gunned down.
BILBASSYAnd even the current ambassador to the U.S., the Pakistani ambassador Sherry Rehman, she herself was targeted when she was a member of parliament in Pakistan because she said we need to reform this. It's just a ridiculous law and the zealot extremist conservatives who use the law into their hands. And by the way, very often people use it for personal use. It's nothing to do with Islam or the Quran or burning. Even this girl, nobody can -- it's her neighbor who said he saw a bag and in the bag he thinks it's burnt papers of the Quran. They're not even sure of that.
BILBASSYBut if I have a dispute with you over land, I can go to the court and say, oh, this person is blasphemous. He said something against a prophet or because of -- there are many cases being documented to say basically somebody had a disagreement with his cousin over land or over -- dispute over something else, they take them to court.
REHMSo now you have this international coalition of churches representing more than a half billion Christians who will meet in Geneva next month to take up this young girl's problem. Now is that going to be in time, Mark?
THOMPSONWell, there's going to be a bail hearing tomorrow. Hopefully, she'll be released. Probably not. Her incarceration was extended yesterday by two weeks so she's there for at least that long. I mean, we talk about this case like in some way it's normal. But it is a very young girl with potential mental problems. I mean, the notion that this is even happening is incredible.
GLASSERWell, unfortunately, I think the problem is really that it's -- this might be an exceptional case, but Pakistan has a pretty long and pretty bad record of persecuting individual minorities, or more importantly having a sort of mob justice rule. It's not just the Christian minority. Remember that Pakistan's various Islamic minorities have faced years of sectarian violence, have been targeted in various ways over time. It's a Sunni majority country and Shiites have often face difficulties there. So it's a broad problem, I think, that Pakistan has not come to terms with.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Mark Thompson of Time magazine, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. We'll take a short break and when we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones. We have many callers. I'll try to get to as many as we can. Let's go first to Hamilton, Ohio. John, thanks for waiting.
REHMHi, go right ahead, sir.
JOHNI really appreciate your show, number one.
REHMThank you, thank you.
JOHNAnd yeah, I have certain issues with the comments that Obama this, Obama that and doing such and such in Syria. And you know, the Bush administration when they were running hammered, you know, Clinton for, you know, his involvement in, you know.
REHMI think you've got to put your thoughts together, John. I'm going to put you on hold for just a couple of minutes while you think about what you'd like to say. Let's go to Atlantic City, in N.J. Gary, you're on the air.
GARYI fell asleep during the second half of Romney's speech last night, but I heard on the BBC overnight on NPR that he mentioned Iran. And is anyone questioning the wisdom of him mentioning that in an acceptance speech? I mean, it's not the debates in the spring and it's not the debates coming up. Is that like a green light to Israel to somehow attack Iran?
THOMPSONI certainly don't see it that way, Gary. I mean, plainly that would be sort of betting on the com, that you would believe Romney would win. I just don't see it that way at all. I think the country, here at least, only has one president at a time and I think to the degree Israel is going to accede or acknowledge or deal with the Americans in power, they've got to deal with the incumbent.
GLASSEROh, yeah, I think Mark's point is very well taken and I would also just note that, you know, this is very consistent with what Romney has been saying on the campaign trail. Remember on his recent foreign foray, he went to Israel as well as to Poland and Great Britain and what did he say? He, in effect, said, my policy on Iran is Netanyahu's policy on Iran and we're one and the same so he's consistent.
REHMAll right. To Washington, D.C., Kadani, you're on the air.
KADANIGood morning, Diane.
KADANIMy question to your panel is what does the IAEA report say? Did it say they are getting ready to produce the bomb or the power?
KADANIAnd another thing...
THOMPSONWell, basically what they said was, our inspectors have gone in and they're still only upgrading their uranium, to enriching their uranium to 20 percent level which isn't bomb-grade yet. It's very close.
THOMPSONWhat they're doing is plainly creating a breakout capability where the inspectors come in and say, you know, hey, you're not there yet. Hey, you're not there yet. But, you know, they could be an inch away from the finish line basically.
BILBASSYYes, I mean, according to the report as well, that Iran has produced like 189 kilogram higher grade of enriched uranium, but that doesn't mean they are, tomorrow they're going to develop a nuclear bomb. And by the way, the Iranians always insist, including Ayatollah Khomeini in this Non-Aligned Movement summit, saying that we're doing it for peaceful purposes.
BILBASSYOf course, nobody believes that and he actually went on to say -- he almost like issued a fatwa against having Iran developing this nuclear weapon saying it's crazy. We will never do it to develop a bomb, but we only do it to be sufficient, you know, for peaceful purposes et cetera.
BILBASSYSo they're getting closer and this is the alarm, but even the inspectors are saying, we didn't have full access. They're complaining actually that they haven't been to all the sites and the Iranians moved many things underground.
GLASSERYeah, I think that's an important point in this particular report and, of course, there are regular reports that come out so you can monitor how it changes every time. They said two things of note that we haven't mentioned yet.
GLASSERNumber one, more than a thousand new centrifuges, according to the IAEA, have been installed this summer. Now there's a question about whether they're the most effective model. They seem to be the bad, old model that they bought from the Pakistanis in part of their proliferation efforts. But still they have significantly amped up their capability with the centrifuges, which is what Mitt Romney referred to in his campaign speech yesterday.
GLASSERNumber two, they were very critical, I would say, of what appeared to be escalating Iran efforts to cover up and to literally bulldoze the evidence at a couple of very significant nuclear sites in Iran. And you know, again, if you're building a peaceful capability, there's very little effort that goes into bulldozers and that sort of thing. And I think unfortunately, that's what has fueled this incredible disconnect between these outrageous sort of lavish, over-the-top statements of peaceful intentions by the Iranian leadership.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting China. Mark, what was she trying to get from them and what did she get?
THOMPSONWell, she got a pledge that they will consider buying Eurobonds and basically, you know, China is increasingly depressed because Europe is depressed and it's in China's interest to re-ignite whatever economic engine Europe can have and they know the key to that engine is Germany.
THOMPSONAnd so this is Merkel's second visit there in recent times done solely to get that economic engine up and running and even though the Chinese told her, listen, we're still concerned they got a -- they got a pledge that it's likely that they'll be buying the bonds and will be back on track in terms of that.
GLASSERAh, well, I think that's right, but at the same time, I think it was striking that the normally very diplomatic, bureaucratic Chinese leadership issued some very public words of criticism of Europe's inability to get its act together and I think that was a sort of finger-wagging at the podium with Merkel in Beijing is very unusual.
REHMHere's an email from George in Rochester, N.Y. He says: "Here's a question and it's a crossover between domestic and foreign. Will Israel play any role behind the scenes or overtly in being an advocate for Romney in the upcoming election, especially in light of Romney's statement in his acceptance speech concerning the Obama administration throwing Israel under the bus?" Mark Thompson?
THOMPSONAh, yeah, I think Israel would much prefer Governor Romney to President Obama. I think they run a real risk to whatever degree they try to influence the election. But you know, money is a fungible commodity, it flows across borders and it can be used especially with the superPACS the way they are now to influence elections and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see something like that occur.
REHMMr. Adelson and his millions being donated…
GLASSERWell, that's right. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and chief Republican fundraiser, and well known not only hawk on the question of Iran and his support for Israel, but that's really his signature issue and there are a number of key financial supporters of the Republicans who have made that very clear, that that's a key part of their agenda this year.
GLASSERBut they don't need a lot of pushing. I mean, they're pushing on an open door here, frankly. Romney and his team are absolutely of a very hawkish nature when it comes specifically to the Iranian threat.
BILBASSYAnd also there is a wide support between among both parties towards Israel. It's not just like -- it's really hard, as Susan said, you know, Democrats as well are very pro-Israel on everything, but I think there is no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu would like to see Governor Romney become the next president of the United States.
BILBASSYAnd he has this personal connection. His problem with President Obama is, they always have these grudges. They don't like each other physically although, I mean chemistry-wise, although the Obama administration has been the most -- the administration who supports Israel entirely.
BILBASSYThey have given them everything they wanted and yet somehow this is lost under the bigger kind of argument that this administration is anti-Israel.
REHMAll right. To Great Falls, Va., good morning, Susan.
SUSANOh, good morning. I'm an American-Iranian and I just have a comment and a question actually. My comment is about the sanctions in Iran.
SUSANI have family in Iran and I talk to them just about every day and I know they tell me the sanctions are not doing anything to the government of Iran. They don't even care about it. They just go about their business. It's the people that are hurting extremely and under a lot of pressure. The value of Iranians' money, it just dropped by over 50 percent in the last two or three months. So that's about the sanctions.
SUSANAnd my question is why the U.S. and the European allies, they don't help to get rid of the government, just change the regime in Iran?
THOMPSONWell, sanctions, of course, are a double bank shot. Yes, they do hurt the people and the logic is the people then get rid of the government. It doesn't always work. Sometimes it takes a long time. All you've got to do is look 90 miles south to Cuba and you realize, well, gee, maybe that isn't the way to go.
THOMPSONBut your point is well taken.
GLASSERWell, that's right and it's a very painful for that reason in perennial debates about sanctions as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. I sat at a dinner once next to the last apartheid-era leader of South African and, you know, he, in the end, really reached out right across the lines and made a deal with Mandela and is in part responsible for the peaceful transition.
GLASSERAnd his view is the sanctions the international sanctions on South Africa prolonged the apartheid regime for any number of years. That was his view. It's certainly a controversial and debatable view, but the economic hardship, I think, is an underrated story that we should be paying a lot of attention to in Iran.
REHMTo Belleville, Ill., good morning, Ed.
EDGood morning. I have a question about our own American national intelligence estimates. There have been at least two that I can think of in the recent past which indicated that Iran was not running a nuclear weapons program. In fact, one of them supposedly stopped the Chaney/Bush administration from attacking Iran and destroying these facilities, if you recall.
EDWere those things wrong? Are they outdated? How come nobody is talking about them? Was there a new one issued?
THOMPSONYes, they were wrong in 2003 and they come back into accord with what the best available evidence is right now. I think it's important to realize that intelligence often times are intelligent guesses. They aren't, you know, knowledge. But that one was an egregious out-liar.
REHMBut surely we wouldn't want to get back into a situation where we were once again drawn into something with only the "best available intelligence"?
BILBASSYAbsolutely, and that was the case for the war in Iraq then as you pointed out and you're absolutely right. I mean, the thing that the United States does not have diplomatic relationship with Iran since 1979 so they don't have any human intelligence on the ground.
BILBASSYSo they leave it to -- and this is very, why it's important to keep the inspectors, to have the door open so at least they can tell us something of what's happening through an international consensus and an umbrella. But in the absence of that, I think there are so many guesses and I actually agree with Mark.
BILBASSYI remember with President Bush I was covering the. I was in the briefing room at the White House at the time when President Bush came and he acknowledged publicly about this, the report said Iran actually miles away in developing nuclear weapons. And even Secretary Gates at the time at one stage he said that also, that Iran is far away and now we're having this contradictory report saying that actually, no, they're very close.
BILBASSYSo I think it's absolutely a guessing game because nobody has an absolute, solid information as where Iran stands on developing nuclear weapons.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Martin, Tenn., good morning, Tommy.
TOMMYAh, good morning. I saw this thing on the internet where they're discussing these trucks going in and out of the Russian naval base. It's located in Syria and I wonder if there's any updated information on that or any verification of that.
REHMMark, do you know anything about that?
THOMPSONJust that, you know, Russia's only warm-water port in the Mediterranean is in Syria in terms of a military base and there has been a long pipeline going back and forth between those two countries in terms of military wares, mostly coming from Russia going to Syria and I think that continues.
BILBASSYYeah, I mean, Syria still relies heavily on Russia in terms of supply of weapons and they have treaties that go back so many decades before and that's a problem. And unlike Libya, for example, when people use this analogy, the Syrian army is very well equipped on every level, the air force, you know, the ground forces, all the tanks. They have all the MIG airplanes that they have from the Russians.
BILBASSYSo this is why this war might continue for long because you have a very conventional army, armed to the teeth and you have an opposition who is not very well armed and nobody can for sure decide the end of this battle for the time being.
GLASSERWell, I think that's an important point. Certainly, the Russians are helping to shore up Assad, but let's remember what has Assad been doing over the last few weeks. He's been bombing this insurgency, this rebel movement from the ground, from the air, with fighter jets supplied by the Russians.
GLASSERI mean, Mark is a military expert here, but when you bomb people -- when fighter jets that were meant to have not that capability, it speaks to a certain desperation and a certain lack of other tactics that you have available to you.
REHMI just don't understand for the life of me how anyone in Syria right now is surviving, Mark?
THOMPSONWell, there are 2.5 million people in Syria who are in need of grave help because of shelter, food and other medical shortages. I mean, let's face it. We were just talking about the sanctions in Iran. Well, what we have going on now in Syria are kinetic sanctions.
THOMPSONEffectively, Assad is bombing neighborhoods where the insurgents come from. That is why people are fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. He is punishing their families for their support of their husbands and sons who are fighting Assad.
REHMAnd how much more room will Turkey make for these refugees who are fleeing Syria's borders?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think that's part of, unfortunately, the delicate diplomacy surrounding the situation. Turkey, of course, is the neighbor. They're going to let these people in and they have been providing a way for the refugees to come in and...
REHMAnd feeding them.
GLASSER...feeding them at the same time. That's part of the pressure that ups the pressure on the international community. And remember that Turkey wants there to be more action taken by the U.S. and other Western allies in NATO. Turkey is a NATO member. They want NATO to start thinking much more seriously about a humanitarian corridor, an air corridor.
GLASSERWell, again, you don't want to just sort of lay down your hands and say, fine, everybody into our country. That causes big problems for Turkey and it reduces some of their leverage in the negotiating.
REHMSo one wonders how much longer that plight of the refugees can continue both into Jordan and to Turkey.
BILBASSYIt will continue, Diane, as long as this conflict is continuing and President Assad again in denial. He said in the very same interview, he said, what human corridors? What isolated areas? It's not on the table. This is an international conspiracy against our people. It's not going to happen.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center, Mark Thompson of Time magazine, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, I hope you all have a safe, sane weekend.
BILBASSYThank you, same to you, Diane.
REHMEnjoy the holiday. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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