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.
Geneva talks on Syria stall as negotiators fail to agree on conditions. Deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi goes on trial. And the European Central Bank cuts its benchmark interest rate to a record low. Guest host Katty Kay and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top international stories.
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is on a station visit to WESA in Pittsburgh. She will be back on Monday. Western and Iranian diplomats may be near agreement on Tehran's nuclear program. Geneva talks on Syria have stalled as negotiators fail to agree on conditions. And the European Central Bank has cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic.
MS. KATTY KAYJennifer Griffin with Fox News, and Yochi Dreazen at Foreign Policy. Thank you all so much for joining me this Friday.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAThanks, Katty.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks.
MS. JENNIFER GRIFFINThank you.
KAYThe phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. We will be taking your calls and questions later on in the program. You can also email us at email@example.com. Or, of course, you can send us a tweet at drshow. We look forward to hearing from you. It's been an incredibly busy week around the world, and a lot of what is going on is happening today, as we speak. I want to get to Iran in just a second, but I do want to start the program with the Philippines, because we have this super typhoon Haiyan that is slamming into the Philippines, as we speak.
GRIFFINJennifer, I know that NGOs had been very worried about casualties. They've tried to evacuate as many people as they can, but the images coming out of that typhoon are extraordinary. Do we know what's happening?
GRIFFINWell, what we know is that it did slam into land a few hours ago. It seems that it passed over four of the central islands, including Cebu and Cebu City, because it was moving at such a fast rate. So, it was moving east to west. It is now heading into the South China Sea, and it is moving, heading towards Vietnam. What makes this typhoon so extraordinary is it is the strongest recorded storm to have hit land in the history of, since they started recording these things.
GRIFFINAnd the US Navy Typhoon Center, that monitors these things, says that it recorded 195 miles per hour winds coming in. The one thing the Philippines has learned is that they warned people and about 750,000 people took to shelters. So, they have learned something from those days of the Tsunami, years ago.
KAYAnd as I understand, all the ships in ports were told, obviously, not to leave the ports. And some of the areas hit were actually areas that had been recently hit by an earthquake, and people were still in tents.
GRIFFINPeople were in still in tents. Many of them were evacuated, but yes, this was a year ago. An earthquake, and people still in tents in Bohol.
KAYWell, we are thinking of the people of the Philippines this morning. And watching that typhoon, of course, as it heads towards Vietnam and Laos, as well. Okay, other news that is breaking this morning. Secretary Kerry, Yochi Dreazen, has just arrived in Geneva, we understand, to take part in these talks on Iran's nuclear program. What can you tell us about what we know so far?
DREAZENWhat we know, so far, is that there's a presumption that because he's there, because Lady Cathy Ashton is there, Laurent Fabius, from France, is also en route, that they are very close to a deal. That you wouldn't bring in this sort of heavy fire power if the Secretaries of State and Foreign Ministers, of these countries, unless they felt they were very, very close. That's the reason that you're beginning to hear really kind of extraordinarily undiplomatic language come out of Israel.
DREAZENThe cancellation of a joint press conference between Benjamin Netanyahu and John Kerry, for fear that this would all erupt publicly. The Saudis and other Gulf States, privately, are going ballistic, bad choice of words, admittedly, with fury over this deal. So you have on the one hand, the presumption a deal is close. On the other, you have very close allies reacting with tremendous anger.
KAYOkay, Abderrahim, what does the deal look like? Well, the parameters of this deal look like, as far as we know?
FOUKARAWell, we know that the Iranians have offered some concessions, In terms of enriching uranium. Yochi, a little while ago, mentioned Israel. The Israelis are very skeptical. In fact, more than skeptical. Benjamin Netanyahu. He seems to think that those concessions are just, basically, a maneuver on the part of Iran.
KAYAnd what are the concessions, exactly? Can you spell them out for us?
FOUKARAWell, the concessions is enriching uranium to a level that would not make people suspicious that they are trying to use it to actually build a nuclear weapon.
KAYSo, below 20 percent.
FOUKARABelow 20 percent. And that is the version of it that the Israelis, and some others in the Middle East, like the Saudis, are not buying, they say.
KAYIt's ironic, isn't it, that we have the Israelis and the Saudis agreeing on opposition to this kind of a negotiation.
GRIFFINI think what is also interesting is when Secretary Kerry was in Saudi Arabia for what was supposed to be a make nice meeting with the king. It was very unusual for King Abdullah, aged 90, to meet with him. And what he did is he brought into the room all of the princes from across the kingdom. This was sign that the kingdom, as a whole, was very disappointed with the United States. Secretary Kerry tried to come out of that saying that we had bridged some differences.
GRIFFINBut the indications from Saudi Arabia is that those differences have not been bridged, and they are very concerned.
KAYOkay, so with so many allies in the region skeptical of this deal, what is it that the P5+1 think that they are actually getting that makes them, as you have said, Yochi, think that it is worth flying their big guns into Geneva. They must feel fairly confident.
DREAZENThey do, and the question that you keep hearing from the Israelis is, and again, from the gulf states, as well, is why the rush? I mean, why rush when the sanctions are clearly working? Why not hold out for a full deal rather than a partial one? Abderrahim's point before, the details here really matter, and I think we should just take a second to talk them through.
DREAZENThe more you enrich, the less you have of the higher concentration. So, the concern now is they have enough of the 20 percent uranium, that if they enrich it to 90 percent, which is the weapons grade, that they have enough.
KAYTo break through.
DREAZENTo break, to get to 90 percent. What the Iranians are saying is, we will stop enriching to 20 percent. We'll stay in this lower range. But, for the countries that are skeptical, they say, and by all measures, correctly, that the Iranians already have enough of this 20 percent. So whether you stop enriching or not, it's almost irrelevant. What they want, instead, is the 20 percent stockpile to be reduced to a point where they don't have enough to build a weapon.
DREAZENAnd what this does, it means they can't add to that stockpile, but it also means they can't reduce it.
KAYOkay, it seems to me that all three of you are suggesting that the P5+1 are wrong.
FOUKARAWell, I don't think they're wrong. I think it depends which perspective you look at it from. If you look at it from the Obama, the perspective of the Obama administration, even if the progress is very small and tiny, and tentative, at this particular point in time, it opens up the horizons for avoiding something that he's been, President Obama, trying very hard not to do. Which is to get involved, yet again, militarily in the Middle East.
FOUKARAAnd given the pressure that, for example, the Israelis, but not just the Israelis, the Saudis, and others in the region, have been putting on this administration to actually go to war against Bashar Al Assad to weaken the regime in Tehran. And, perhaps, do a rehearsal of a military action against the Iranians in Syria. If you look at it from that perspective, then any small progress, that they are flying to Geneva to announce, is significant.
GRIFFINLet's also remember that this is an interim agreement. It is not the final agreement. And, just last week, you had a very important report that came out from David Albright's group, the Institute for Science and International Security. And what he determined is that the Iranians, based on public records, have enough of this highly enriched uranium to break out, in essence, to have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, in a matter of weeks.
GRIFFINThat's far shorter than what we've heard publicly. The Israelis have been suggesting that for some time. But, that means that there is a rush to not only stop the clock, in terms of how the Iranians are moving forward on their nuclear program, but to actually reset the clock and move it back six months to give some breathing room, in order to negotiate a final deal.
KAYOkay, Yochi, to get back to Abderrahim's point. Does what we are seeing happen in Geneva today make the likelihood of military action, whether it's by Israel, with or without American complicity, less likely?
DREAZENNo, I think it makes it more likely. For a long time, there had been a perception that you had had sort of a good cop, bad cop, that you could have the Israelis warning, warning, warning. The US saying, hold off, we're gonna push on this. The sanctions are working. Benjamin Netanyahu is very serious. I mean, I was just there for a month. They do see us as an existential threat. It is not simply talk. They are well aware, when you talk to people there in the military, of how hard it is to destroy three of the facilities.
DREAZENOne called Qom, which is deep buried. Another called The Iraq Facility, where they're building plutonium, that these are very difficult. But they see it as an existential threat. They hate this deal. They know that they will have the tacit support other gulf states, potentially not just tacit. So, I think it actually raises the odds, somewhat significantly.
KAYDo you agree, Abderrahim?
FOUKARATo a certain extent, I do. But you have to also talk about the other side, because this is extremely important for the Iranians. For all the things that have been said about the sanctions not having done their work, the Iranians are really hurting internally. And they see the rise of Rouhani to the Presidency, the new President. They see his rise to the forefront of Iran's diplomacy as a significant moment in trying to alleviate those hardships inside of Iran.
FOUKARABut I think, ultimately, from where I stand, ultimately, the Iranians are not saying, we will never develop nuclear weapons. They're just saying, at this particular point in time, we are open to dialogue.
KAYJennifer's point that it's -- we have to move on, because we could talk a lot more about Iran, about the 34th anniversary of Embassy siege. We saw the biggest protest that we've seen. There's a lot more, clearly, politics and economics surrounding this, but I want to get to one other quick issue. The BBC, Jennifer, is reporting that Pakistan has nuclear weapons ready for delivery to Saudi Arabia. What do you think of that as a possibility?
GRIFFINWell, it's interesting. We lived in Islamabad for a number of years, back in the time when A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program was...
KAYYou know him. Proliferating.
GRIFFINI know him. I sat in his living room on many occasions. I was there for the first Pakistan nuclear test. I think that this has been a rumor that's been out there since about 2003. That the Saudis, who financed much of Pakistan's nuclear program, that they would expect a quid pro quo in response. And this report that appeared on the BBC is really a compilation of that rumor coming to the point where an unnamed NATO source said that there were indications that, perhaps, even some of the Pakistani missiles, the Shaheen Missiles, which could potentially reach Israel and Iran from Saudi Arabia, that they had been delivered.
GRIFFINSo, there's more and more concern about that relationship between Saudi and this arms race, this nuclear arms race, that could be set off should Iran continue with its nuclear program.
KAYJennifer Griffin is National Security Correspondent for Fox News and co-author of "This Burning Land: Lessons From the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Yochi Dreazen's with me. He's from Foreign Policy, author of the upcoming book, "Invisible Front." Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington Bureau Chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. We're gonna take a quick break. We'll be right back.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've joined us for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. It has been an extremely busy week. We were talking just before break about the report that comes from the BBC, in fact, that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and that they have them ready for delivery to Saudi Arabia. Jennifer, you were just talking about this. Abderrahim, I want to ask you, if Saudi Arabia did obtain nuclear weapons, how would it change the balance of power in the Middle East?
FOUKARAWell, I think that the -- one of the issues that the United States faces in the region is that you have a lot of people saying, why are the Iranians developing nuclear weapons. But you also have a lot of people saying, if the Israeli have nuclear weapons why couldn't others have nuclear weapons? And I think that the hewn cry that the Saudis made over the issue of whether they want to occupy the seat in the Security Council, which they lobbied for, worked hard for and at the end of the day said, no we're not going to do it.
FOUKARAPart of it, at least as far as they're saying is that they know that the Israelis have nuclear weapons but they're in this tricky position where in some way they are -- they've become allies with the Israelis when it come to Iran's nuclear weapons. So they don't want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons. They don't want the Israelis to have nuclear weapons. And therefore they see the only course they have is for themselves to have their own nuclear weapons.
FOUKARAThe difference is obviously, the Iranians are fully in control of their program. The Israelis are fully in control of their program. To what extent would the Saudis be fully in control of their program given that these weapons are not produced in Saudi Arabia? They're produced in Pakistan. Who is manning -- or who will man that program once it moves to Saudi Arabia? If it does it opens a whole can of worms.
GRIFFINWell, also don't forget that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are signatories to the nonproliferation treaty, the NPT. That would be a huge problem for them with the International Community if suddenly they start proliferating weapons against -- you know, they are signatories. And it may be a hint as to why the Saudis didn't want to be on the Security Council.
KAYYochi, I mean, the assumption had always been that were Iran to get to the stage where it could make a nuclear weapon to the breakout stage, then that would inevitably trigger an arms race in the Middle East, not just from Saudi Arabia but potentially from the United Arab emirates in the Gulf states as well.
DREAZENAnd also from Egypt. I mean, Egypt has seen itself for a millennia as the most powerful hegemon of the Middle East. It's very hard to imagine, despite all the current controversy there and all the current chaos that whichever government emerges, particularly if it's a military government sitting pat as the Saudis, potentially the other Gulf states, Israel, Iran, potentially Turkey throughout these countries develop nuclear weapons capabilities and that they don't have one.
DREAZENAn argument that the Obama Administration privately has been making to the Iranians for some time is that this will enhance your security, It will weaken it because...
KAY...because so many other states around you who are opposed to you will then have...
DREAZEN...exactly...will gain weapons. That argument...
KAYDoes that argument have any traction.
DREAZENSo far, no.
KAYIt seems to be only the sanctions, right, that seem to have had some traction
DREAZENExactly. Yeah, exactly.
GRIFFINAnd don't forget that in 2009 when Dennis Ross, who was on the -- was the White House point of contact on Iran was in Saudi Arabia, he was told point blank by the government there that Saudi Arabia would try to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran passed a certain point.
KAYYochi, how damaging to you as relations is the recent breakdown in U.S.-Saudi relations that we've seen?
DREAZENI think it's significant. I don't think it's irreparable. I think a lot of it is sort of public outrage that privately is somewhat more muted. There's no sign, for instance, of cutting back on their weapons purchases or our weapon sales to them. No sign of oil changes. But if it continues when we have poor relationship with the Israelis, fairly poor with the Turks, not great with Egyptians, not great with the Saudis, it's problematic. You sort of lose your influence in much of the region.
KAYAnd is there anything that Secretary Kerry said, do you think, in that meeting with the king this week that might have appeased the Saudi's ire.
DREAZENUnless he managed to persuade them that, yes, the U.S. will use force if necessary. And I don’t' think they'll believe it even if he said it.
FOUKARAI think one of the things that Kerry may have offered to the Saudis -- one of the things -- I'm sure he offered them several things to assuage their concerns -- his trip to Cairo, he made it look as if the United States is okay now with the coup in Egypt. And given how much importance the Saudis give as far as their security's concern to Egypt and to the regime set up by General Sisi. I think that's a major move by Kerry.
FOUKARARemember, he didn't mention once the trial of Mohammed Morsi while he was in Cairo when the trial was actually supposed to be happening the next day. So for the U.S.-Saudi relationship, that was significant, at least for now.
KAYOkay. Well, let's talk about that trial. We saw the former Egyptian president in defiant mood come into that courtroom. Ironically the very same courtroom that former President Mubarak had also been in, the same cage -- metal cage that President Mubarak had been in a few months before. Mohammed Morsi came into that courtroom and said, I'm still the president of this country. This is an illegitimate trial, Jennifer.
GRIFFINHe did. And what is so extraordinary and unless you've seen an Egyptian trial and since that cage first hand, it reminded me so much of the images we had shortly after 9/11 when we went back to archive footage from the assassination of Sadat and when the only pictures we had at that time of Ayman Zawahiri, the al-Qaida leader, were from that trial of those who had been responsible for Sadat's assassination. And they were inside that cage. And we had never seen something like that.
GRIFFINAnd what struck me as I watched President Morsi inside the cage and his followers outside was how, in fact, this could lead to the same kind of underground movement. You push the Muslim Brotherhood further and further underground. Also in Egypt this week, they passed a law in which they can now cease the assets of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is going to push them underground and you will see an al-Qaida-like reaction.
DREAZENI'm surprised actually there hasn't been more violence up to now. You know, the Muslim Brotherhood does have a history of it, and they have renounced it for quite some time, but...
KAYWell, there's been quite a disintegration of general law and order in the country.
DREAZENSure, but primarily in the Sinai. You haven't had massive attacks in Cairo. You haven't had massive attacks in Alexandria. I agree with Jennifer that they're probably coming. But beyond the Sinai they haven't come yet. And I'm waiting to see how long it will take until they come.
KAYAbderrahim, what happens now to the Muslim Brotherhood, now that they're banned, and as Jennifer is suggesting, the assumption is that they go underground and they carry on their political campaign. But with no access to the democratic process that they will use violence to do it. How much support does Mohammed Morsi still have? There he was in his cage in the courtroom saying he's still the president. But we saw millions of Egyptians sign up to a petition that he should go.
FOUKARAWell, let me first of all say that I find it extraordinary that the Egyptians went for 7,000 years without putting a president on trial. And then in three years they put two different presidents on trial.
KAYIn the same courtroom...
FOUKARAIn the same courtroom...
KAY...in the same cage.
GRIFFIN...in the same cage.
FOUKARA...in the same cage. And I think that...
KAYYeah, it is a sign of the tumult...
FOUKARAIt is a sign of the tumult, yes.
KAY...that is going through Egypt at the moment.
FOUKARAYes, yes. And it is a sign of the earthquake that has actually befallen the state in Egypt, that you can take to the streets, change the president and put the president on trial. And I think there's a cautionary tale in that for Sisi as well. He's not home and dry, although as Yochi has suggested, the situation is relatively calmer than we had thought it would be by now, given all the things that have happened to the Muslim Brotherhood.
FOUKARABut I think the Muslim Brotherhood is getting -- they're reorganizing their ranks slowly. I don't think -- it's going to take them a long time to get to the point where they were until Morsi was deposed. But remember, their strength has, for 70 years, been not just in political action. Their strength has been in social and economic action helping the disadvantaged of Egypt. They're not going to go away, not politically, not socially, not economically. So everybody is now on the lookout as to what's going to happen once these elections that have been announced take place in the spring.
KAYJennifer, the state of emergency in Egypt is due to lapse on November the 14th. Do we know what steps Sisi has taken and the military-backed government has taken so far to move towards a civilian crisis?
GRIFFINIt's not clear and it's likely that that's something that Secretary Kerry was speaking of when he was there. Remember that just last week the Pentagon and the State Department, through their foreign military (word?) have cut off some of the military aid that they had been giving to the government of Egypt.
GRIFFINIt's also significant, if we go back to the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. right now, don't forget that the U.S., one of the biggest points of leverage that they had with the Egyptian government was this $3 billion in aid each year. Well, the Saudis and the other Gulf states stepped in and they have provided $12 billion. So that dwarfs any leverage that we thought we had through foreign military sales and financial aid.
KAYOkay. Let's go to the phones to Raiza in Gaithersburg, Md. Raiza, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
RAIZAGood morning. Thank you very much for taking my call. Just wanted to share my view of -- a comment is not in support of Iranian government at all. But the comment I wanted to make was that all those groups of fundamentals and Islamic people around the border basically in Pakistan, they've been funded by radicals and majority Saudi Arabia for many, many years. And no one ever talks about it.
RAIZAAnd I don't know any Iranian or don't know any or have heard anybody that ever think that way through being that a state of mind to do anything that crazy.
KAYRaiza, I'm going to have to move on from the call because your sound quality is very poor. But what -- the point that Raiza seems to me, Yochi, was making is that Saudi Arabia has been the financer of extremist groups over the years. Iran obviously hasn't. We have a Sunni Shia issue there. And perhaps in the notes that he gave us that Saudi Arabia's perhaps underestimated as a threat to the West.
DREAZENI mean, I think the second half of that is somewhat debatable. Iran is the biggest funder and the biggest provider of armaments to Hezbollah. There is a semantic difference obviously. Al-Qaida certainly...
KAYWhich groups you're talking about.
DREAZENExactly, which group is a terror group, which was an extremist group. But the notion that Iran wasn't funding extremists groups is, I think, a difficult one to make.
KAYLet's go to Richard who calls us from Haverhill, Mass. Richard, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
RICHARDYes. Thanks, Katty, a lot. We had eight years of President Clinton, eight years of President Bush. Now we're heading to a closer eight years of Barak Obama. And we're nowhere near a peace agreement or two-state solutions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Even though Kerry looks like he might have something going. But as long as -- I think the onus is more on the Israelis. Netanyahu had a statement there recently that he said that the Palestinians are creating artificial crisis to avoid sitting down and talking.
RICHARDNo. The artificial crisis is that him, Mr. Netanyahu, every time we start talking about getting closer to a peace agreement, he builds more settlements. Right now they're building 1500 and East Jerusalem starts putting the stake right through the heart of what the Palestinians want for their capital. It's time for the world community -- because all settlements are outlawed by international law, it's time for the American community and the International Community to do what we did in south Africa and start boycotting and having sanctions against Israel until they really sit down to talk peace.
KAYOkay. Richard, I have to say I'm not sure that sanctions against Israel are either helpful or are going to happen. And I think what your first point, however, is a very apt one that we have had a very long time with various presidents -- American presidents having tried this. And we are no closer, it seems, to settling the Palestinian-Israeli question.
KAYAnd my question, Jennifer, is Secretary Kerry, who is investing an awful lot of time, energy and effort in this at the moment, is he operating with the full political backing of the White House? And is the president prepared to put political capital into this? Or is Secretary Kerry somehow -- this is his project. He wants to give it a go and the Obama Administration will see if he can manage to come up with something?
GRIFFINWell, I think what we've seen, Katty, with Secretary Kerry is he sometimes speaks and he gets a little bit ahead of the White House. I think this is his pet project. I think he has the backing of the White House but they aren't going to put political capital into this. I think it's interesting that he had to circle back to Jerusalem and meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
GRIFFINBecause the talks which started three months ago and which Kerry himself gave a nine-month deadline to get to a final status agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they're moving along. They've had 12 meetings, no progress. Both sides are ready to call it quits. It's not going well. And, in fact, there is increasing talk inside Israel in the right wing about a one-state solution, which would be annexing the entire West Bank. That's something we haven't heard of since the (unintelligible) courts.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're watching -- listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You're not watching it. You are listening to it. You watch the BBC. You do not watch "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to -- stay in that area of the world now and to Ramallah where we have been getting reports, Yochi Dreazan, from Yasser Arafat's widow Suha who had commissioned a series of tests on the remains of Yasser Arafat, that she says prove that he was poisoned.
DREAZENYes. This is an interesting and somewhat bizarre case where there was a report coming out from scientists that had been enlisted to do this study that he had levels of polonium, that were like 17 times what they should've been. What's strange about it is that the evidence they presented is not totally persuasive.
KAYYeah, and even the Swiss scientists themselves are pretty cautious in their language on this.
DREAZENExactly. And it's interesting when all of us think back to the '90s when Arafat was really relevant, how long ago that actually seems and feels, compared to Hamas, compared to the current level of violence, compared to the lack of any movement on peace. It just seems like a relic of a bygone era.
KAYAbderrahim, I know that Al Jazeera has seen a copy of the report that Suha Arafat commissioned from the Swiss team. There are, of course, also there's a French report, a Russian report as well, being conducted. The Israelis have said the only one of those three that is actually reliable is the French one because it's the only one that is independent. Fair charge?
FOUKARAWell, I think to go back to Yochi's point, I mean, these things have been seen by Al Jazeera. Jazeera is saying that it is categorically clear that, you know, he was assassinated, that he was poisoned. As to who poisoned him, you know, that remains obviously a subject of debate. The Russians had, in the past few weeks, they came out and they said he wasn't. And then they retracted that. So you have different people interpreting what happened in different ways.
FOUKARABut I think I also agree with Yochi, that's -- in the current climate in the region, that's almost academic. And it's bound to stay academic. Kerry is there and following the debate here in Washington, people are beginning to talk again about the Middle East. When they talk about the Middle East they talk about stability, that people have stopped talking about change. And I think the Palestinians have gone back to that situation which preceded the so-called Arab Spring where you had this sharp divide between Fatah and Hamas, regardless of what the Israelis were doing.
FOUKARASo I think the Palestinians are now caught up in regional politics. And no amount of saying that Arafat was assassinated by the Israeli or by others is going to change the regional dynamics at this time.
KAYAbderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. We'll be back in just a moment to get to Syria, Congo and yes, Toronto. Stay with us. We're going to take a short break.
KAYWelcome back, I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Jennifer Griffin, you had something you wanted to add on the findings around Yasser Arafat?
GRIFFINWell, I think it's far from clear even though this report came out of Switzerland the Israelis say that the report itself has more holes than Swiss cheese and remember Arafat's body was exhumed eight years after he died. Polonium 210 decays at a very rapid rate so what they actually found it's really debatable at this point.
KAYAbderrahim, do you want to come back on that?
FOUKARAWell, as I was saying earlier I think for me the more important story at this time is what's actually going to happen with the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think the.
KAYDoes this complicate the talks at all or does it, as Yochi suggested, does Yasser Arafat really not have the sensitivity around him?
FOUKARAI think it complicates the talks to the. If it turns out that he was, he had been poisoned and if the people who poisoned him were actually the immediate people around him, if the Palestinian camp explodes as a result of these revelations then obviously there's nobody there to even pretend that they're talking to the Israelis about anything.
FOUKARASo I think on that level it's very important but I think what's more important is the larger picture. Now, we're back almost to square one. Fatah is supported by the Saudis, by the Egyptians, Mahmoud Abbas in Europe, allegedly lobbying for the Europeans to recognize what happened in Egypt, not as a coup.
FOUKARAAnd then you have the terrible split with Hamas which continues. That makes it. That makes me believe almost that Kerry knows that at the end of the day he's not going to achieve any peace and we're back to the things that we have been doing for several decades now.
KAYOkay, we're going to take a quick break from the Middle East. I do want to get to Syria in just a minute. But the European Central Bank this week surprisingly cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low on Thursday. Yochi Dreazen, no one had been expecting this. What effect does that have on Europe? What effect does it have on countries that want to export to Europe?
DREAZENI want to say that this is in no way as fun a story as the Rob Ford crack-smoking video...
KAYWhich I promise you we will get to before the weekend...
DREAZEN...but they cut the rate from .5 of a percent to .025. What's interesting about this is that inflation in Europe is very low, as is economic growth. The whole point of this in some ways was to juice the economy, was to get their economies to grow. What it means for the U.S. is the value of the Euro has fallen very sharply compared to the dollar.
DREAZENIf it continues to fall that's very good for U.S. people trying to buy European goods, less good for Europeans trying to buy American-produced goods.
KAYPresumably if you're trying to then export to Europe and the dollar is stronger it's not very good if you're an exporter in Ohio who is exporting paper clips to Germany.
DREAZENIt makes it much harder.
KAYRight, let's get to Syria, to the talks in Geneva. It seemed a very busy couple of days in Geneva but unfortunately the talks Jennifer, it looks like on trying to get a peace conference around Syria this year have at least for the moment stalled.
GRIFFINAbsolutely, and this is another Secretary Kerry initiative, trying to get both, working with the Russians to get both sides to the table. The real problem right now Katty is that you are, the world has become dependent on the Assad regime in order to dismantle the chemical weapons infrastructure.
GRIFFINAnd so with the U.N. inspectors there and the need for protection from the Assad government you are making Assad himself a crucial player so how are you going to then convince the Assad regime? One of the issues that they've had is that Assad would have to admit that he will not be a player after 2014 when his presidency ends.
GRIFFINHe's not willing to do that so these talks are now going to move to Russia and we'll see if the Russians can convince the opposition to come there and start talking. But again, without the Assad regime these aren't going to go anywhere.
KAYIn the meantime Abderrahim there has been better news from Syria on the chemical weapons?
FOUKARAYes, I mean the search, the inspections for, of the sites where the Syrians had chemical weapons have almost all been visited. Now it is said that they're at a stage where they're thinking about how to destroy the...
FOUKARA...stockpiles and who is going to pay for destroying the stockpiles. I think it will be ironic if the West, led by the United States ended up paying for the destruction of that stockpile. But I think at least for some of the allies of the opposition that is a, that deal to destroy those chemical weapons is very problematical because their charge is that it helps the United States and Israel and others with the issue of chemical weapons.
FOUKARAIt doesn’t help the Syrians with their effort to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and I think all the signs are. He has said that he's going to Geneva. Bashar al-Assad is going to Geneva not to hand over power to the opposition, just to launch a political process.
FOUKARASo we're talking about the Israeli/Palestinian issue being on the table for decades. At this stage it looks like several years down the road we could still be talking about the search for a solution in Syria.
KAYYeah, I think that's quite possible, isn't it Yochi? Do you think from your reporting with the White House that the White House may be coming to the conclusion that actually keeping President Assad in power is the lesser of two evils?
DREAZENI completely agree with Jennifer. It's hard to imagine this deal working with Assad out of power. If there's a power vacuum in Damascus these weapons could disappear very easily. The cooperation of the government would obviously come to an end. I think it's also just worth citing we have to talk of hotel rooms in Geneva and conference rooms where these talks are being held.
DREAZENWe have talks of this sort of big picture, all of which matter but the fighting in Syria has not stopped at all. So in the meantime while we're focused, rightly in some ways on chemical weapons, Aleppo which had been the biggest gain of the Syrian opposition is about to fall potentially. Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since these deals have been signed.
DREAZENSo I just think it's worth remembering that as all this happens on the high level, underground you still have tremendous carnage.
KAYAnd we have terrible reports that we've run on the BBC of a polio outbreak among children for the first time in decades in Syria and of starvation in some of the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. So as you say and frankly if you are Syrian and you are being killed whether it's by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons it doesn't make much difference to you.
GRIFFINThat's right and also the Assad regime did take many of the southern neighborhoods around Damascus this week, very significant. There was also an intelligence leak this week suggesting that the Assad regime was trying to hold on to about a dozen sites where they have some of those chemical weapons.
GRIFFINSo there is a mixed picture emerging even though the inspectors have gotten to 22 of the 23 sites.
KAYOkay, let's go to Africa and there were positive signs out of Congo where after an 18-month insurgency rebels of the M23 group announced that they were laying down their weapons and the United Nations is saying that this could be, at least steps on the path towards peace in Congo, Jennifer.
GRIFFINWell, what's fascinating about this is the M23 which is named for March 23rd when the group was formed by this General Makenga Sultani. He and 1,700 of his M23 fighters turned themselves in this week in Uganda and the reason for the turning point came when the U.N. decided to insert not just peacekeepers but they authorized for the first time in its history for those peacekeepers to actually take sides and they've been fighting on the side of the government.
GRIFFINAnd that is a new model and it was a turning point and is...
KAYThe M23 suffered losses when they started to do this?
GRIFFINHuge losses because they went after the M23 which have of course been accused of terrible human rights abuses and using children in the fighting and rape as a weapon. So it's a major step forward, however there's still dozens of other rebel groups there so the fighting is far from over.
KAYYochi, do we know where the commander of M23 is at the moment?
DREAZENNo, he's there, a couple of people who are still missing. You have American troops on the ground in other countries searching for other African leaders who have missing in some cases and wanted for several years.
DREAZENIt's interesting that Africa, I did a long piece for The Atlantic based on a trip to Mali but it's emerging not just in a continent full of its own instability but as a source of terror plots, not again, not only its own borders but also against the West.
KAYThe rebels surrendered because in part, Abderrahim, because they had had, suffered losses because the peacekeepers had effectively become offensive peacekeepers, just saying, but also because the West had cut aid to Rwanda and Rwanda had been accused of funding the rebels. How much of an impact did that have? And what role is Rwanda post-genocide playing in that region?
FOUKARAWell, I mean the story in both Rwanda and Congo is a cautionary tale. Basically if you don't have air power then ultimately you're going to lose and that's what, that was the deal-breaker, why this group was defeated. Ultimately, you know, the African troops, they had air cover and that's what led to the breakthrough.
FOUKARAIn a way, I say cautionary tale because it reminds me of what's happening in Syria. The rebels have been fighting on the ground for almost three years now but the air supremacy that Bashar al-Assad has had, that's what held him in power.
FOUKARAIn Rwanda they have the genocide. I think one of the tools that the Rwandans have they have the moral authority of having suffered the genocide. It remains to what extend the West will help the Africans put the people who are accused of crimes against humanity in the Congo on trial.
GRIFFINBut that Rwandan support, it was Tutsis in the Rwandan government that was supporting the M23. It was an ethnic issue and they were. There has been a lot of spillover as a result so in the wake of that genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda, as you mentioned Katty, the cutoff of aid to them and for them to cut off aid to M23 that was also a factor here.
KAYYeah, it's been such an interesting story in Rwanda because on the one hand I was, my husband was recently there with the VSO and he said Rwanda in some ways looks like Switzerland today. I mean they've done an extraordinary job of rebuilding that country but there are still spillover issues from that genocide which are playing out in Congo and have been destabilizing Congo.
KAYOkay, it is time, to get to Canada and Toronto, Yochi stop smiling. This is an extraordinary story. Who would have thought that we are talking about the biggest city in Canada and a mayor who has admitted to possibly drunken stupors, taking crack, who has a litany of charges against him from the last couple of years and is still the mayor. Tell us a little bit about Rob Ford.
DREAZENRob Ford campaigned basically as an economic conservative. He was arguing that. It was sort of similar to white flight argument you saw in Detroit, that factories are closing, blue collar workers are being harmed. I will help stop that.
DREAZENOne thing that he should have learned is stay away from video cameras because you've had videos emerge, one of him making this extraordinarily bizarre rant two days ago about he's going to kill a person and pull his eyes out through his skull.
KAYWe don't know who he's referring to?
GRIFFINThey think it was the driver.
DREAZENAnd the amount of like unspeakable, on our air, words is sort of staggering given the duration of the video. But the video of him smoking crack is really incredible. This brings back memories of Marion Berry here in Washington where he was videotaped smoking crack.
DREAZENSince then when you've had politicians with drugs it's been marijuana, cocaine. This is sort of old school. We're going to the 80s.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". Okay, let's go to the phones. We have Paul who is calling us from Washington, D.C. Paul, you have a comment to make on Mayor Ford? Paul, can you hear us?
PAULIt was about the drunken stupor and that seems to be having a sort of a lesser part of the story but if you have a mayor who regularly defends himself I think or is in a drunken stupor, how could you even put up with that? Forget the crack problem for a moment. That's just insane to have somebody who is so out of control that they say, oh, it's just my regular drunken stupor.
PAULHow could you have a mayor like that? What if there was an emergency in the city or something? It seemed very strange.
KAYI have to say I agree. Jennifer, it did seem like one of the more curious excuses for smoking crack.
GRIFFINWell, remember the back story here is that the police there have had this video for about nine months and they have been, and he's been under surveillance as has his driver who was caught in drug deals. And so there is some, there is a lot more to this story in terms of how they've been watching him for some time. And the police supposedly have more videos, another video that hasn't come out yet and it was really I found quite sad watching him say, okay I smoked crack once but I'm not an addict.
GRIFFINBut it was clear that he, he clearly has an alcoholism problem. We've seen the videos of him falling down drunk. This is somebody who needs rehab not to stay in.
KAYSuggesting an element of denial?
KAYAnd how apologetic has Mayor Ford been Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, I mean everything that we've heard from him didn't sound very apologetic. He's basically been denying that he's an addict. He's been attacking other politicians that have been saying that he's an addict.
FOUKARAAnd I think. I find it interesting. I was reading an article in the Guardian yesterday and one of the things, one of the arguments he was making is how this bizarre episode in Canada has sort of debunked the racial stereotype that only African-Americans for example do crack and now you have this white guy who is also in a position of power doing crack.
FOUKARAIncidentally the conduct of politicians in Europe, some people don’t care about the personal lives of politicians. Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France had a daughter out of wedlock. I cannot imagine that happening in America and yet this guy in Canada is still the mayor of Toronto.
DREAZENI think just to put a bit of a bow on it the weirdest part of the press conference where he admitted this. I agree to talk about the excuse being a drunken stupor he said I'm not going to resign and then said I'm going to run for re-election. And on the video you hear the journalists in the room burst out laughing. And he's standing there saying he's going to run.
KAYHis poll numbers went up.
GRIFFINHis poll numbers went up.
KAYThat was what was extraordinary that after this revelation he had a spike in his poll numbers. And what did he do the next day when he came to office. He took a tour of school kids around his office. Did he apologize to the waiting media or look contrite? No. He blew them a kiss. That is how Rob Ford has handled this process and presumably if we're watching his poll numbers, this base.
KAYI mean what staggers me Jennifer is that this base of support that he has, that you spoke about which is basically a fairly conservative suburbanite, maybe similar to the Tea Party type support that he has, at some point wouldn’t they say, enough is enough. I mean you draw the line at something right?
GRIFFINThey obviously relate to him in some way. And but I can't imagine that this support will continue after the revelation yesterday with this. I mean as the videos keep spilling out it's going to be hard to see. I think initially they saw him as one of their own who's fought for their own. But he's from a very well-to-do family from the suburbs of Toronto.
GRIFFINHe's not a blue-collar worker so it is really strange why they relate to him so much.
KAYOkay, quickly, does Rob Ford stay in office for the rest of his term?
GRIFFINNo. I think you'll see him in rehab soon or in a hospital.
KAYMaybe for his own sake, let's hope that that's the case. Jennifer Griffin, National security correspondent with Fox News, Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, Yochi Dreazen, senior writer for Foreign Policy and author of the upcoming book "Invisible Front". Thank you all very much for joining me on what has been a very busy week around the world.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you so much for listening. Have a great weekend, all of you.
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