From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Guest Host: Susan Page
A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories, including, prospects for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program improve with the release of a new report that found Iran’s nuclear expansion is slowing. Obama calls for patience in talks with Iran, while Israel remains opposed to U-S strategy. Another top Pakistani militant leader is killed. A U-S aircraft carrier arrives in the Philippines as relief workers struggle to get aid to victims after a devastating typhoon. Egyptian ties to Russia appear to be growing stronger.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. President Obama urges Congress not to beef up sanctions on Iran. He argues such a move could derail nuclear negotiations. Egypt hosts high level Russian Ministers as relations cool between Washington and Cairo. And relief workers struggle to disperse supplies in the Philippines after that devastating typhoon. Joining me for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. SUSAN PAGEIndira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News. And Stephan Richter of The Globalist. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. STEPHAN RICHTERGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll free number. 800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Indira, you're just back from Geneva and those Iranian nuclear talks. Where do things stand?
LAKSHMANANWell, I think that the western powers plus China and Russia feel that they got very, very close to a deal. And, in fact, one could argue that they would have gotten a deal because Iran, apparently, had agreed to a draft text that the US and the EU had agreed to, but as you know, the Foreign Ministers came in in the last minute, all hoping to sign off on a deal, or at least John Kerry had hoped to. And the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, came in and essentially added some tougher conditions on the Iraq heavy water reactor.
LAKSHMANANThings that ultimately the other members of the six nations who were negotiating agreed to, but it meant that the draft was different from what Iran had thought it would be agreeing to. And so it was necessary for them to take it back to Tehran, discuss in capitals. So, I think they are potentially close to making a deal this next week, when they reconvene in Geneva on Wednesday again. I'll be going back.
LAKSHMANANI think it is possible, but, you know, we just have to see. This is one of the most sensitive issues in foreign policy, and there are a lot of interests from Israel, you know, to Saudi Arabia, all over the world, who have their own interests, even if they're not party to the talks, in wanting to effect the outcome.
PAGESo Stephan, if they do manage to get a deal next week, how big a deal? How significant would that be?
RICHTERIf they get a deal, it would be tremendous, because it opens up a lot of other opportunities, because this is really more about Syria and unsticking the entire Middle East problems than just the other issue. I think...
PAGEThe other issue being...
RICHTERThe nuclear issue. I, however, remain a big skeptic on this. I mean, we've heard John McCain tweeting Viva La France. The US Congress has gotten fully back into the action. Just in general terms, it seems an almost impossible needle to thread, because they are very big issues. The biggest concern that I have is sort of Republicans looking at this and saying, this is the only issue we have on Iran. This is not about loosening economic sanctions. We basically screwed up as the United States, tilting the entire Middle East towards Iran, and these sanctions are the only thing we have to really change the landscape.
RICHTERAnd that would more require a toppling of the Iranian regime, because otherwise, the security situation, the geostrategic situation that the Bush administration caused in the Middle East, in favor of Iran, is never going to change. And I've talked with some very senior officials of Bush and other administrations, and they said, you know, we probably can't go beyond giving up an outer ring of sanctions. So, I think there is a lot more to this than what's currently in the news.
PAGEWhat do you think, Jonathan?
LANDAYWell, I think that the problem here is that there's been no alternative mooted beyond bombing Iran to getting a political negotiation and a diplomatic agreement out of this. The fact is there's two realities. The first is, even if you were to go to military strikes, you can't bomb knowledge out of the heads of Iranian experts who know every step of the process, basically, required not just to enrich Uranium and produce plutonium, which are the two ingredients for nuclear weapons fuel. But actually, they've researched how to put together a warhead itself.
LANDAYSo that's the first problem. The second problem is that you're not gonna get Iran to give up what it has already managed to develop, in terms of the resources it's put into it, the money it's put into it, the technology. And it's status. The standing that it's achieved by being able to master what's known as the nuclear cycle. And I don't think that, if you're looking at trying to put a cap on what the Iranians are able to do, there's no way that they're ever going to accept what the Israelis are demanding, what Republicans are demanding, others are demanding.
LANDAYWhich is, you have to give up the entire thing. You have to shut the whole thing down. You have to turn your centrifuges off. You have to close down all your facilities. That's just totally unrealistic.
LAKSHMANANRight. I think the crux of this is what is their nuclear program about? And of course, Iran, as John eluded to, has sunk about 100 billion dollars in sunk costs, into this program over decades and decades. Remember, this program started under the Shaw of Iran, seated by the US through the Atoms For Peace Program. So, it's been going on for decades. Now, Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for civilian energy and medical research. The US, Israel and other allies believe that Iran is secretly trying to achieve a nuclear weapons capability.
LAKSHMANANWhether they actually then develop a weapon is a separate matter, and part of the issue here is that the US and Israel have different red lines. President Obama's red line is that Iran will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. Israel's red line is Iran should not be able to have a nuclear weapons capability. Now what they've got right now is five percent enriched Uranium and 20 percent enriched Uranium, both of which are used only for civilian medical energy purposes, but they can be further enriched to 90 percent to bomb grade fuel.
LAKSHMANANSo the question is, how many days would it take them to get there? So far, they've not diverted any of their enriched Uranium for those purposes. We know that because they're under the monitoring of UN inspectors, and they have snap inspections every week, and, you know, so we know that they're not diverting that at this point. The question is, what kind of safeguards do you put on them, and John, I think, makes a very good point. It's about what's realistic.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think the US administration is trying to get what they believe is a realistic deal, that ultimately this would be a first stage, a first step in the process. Maybe it would last for about six months. It would go towards a comprehensive deal. And that comprehensive deal, ideally, would be something that, if it allowed low level 3.5 percent enrichment, would cap it, safeguard it, verify it, real time cameras in a way to make sure that they don’t go beyond that.
RICHTEROne important thing to add to all these excellent points is that from a US perspective, we always need to realize that this is really an iron triangle. There's Iran, there's Israel, and there's Saudi Arabia, and any of these solutions have a direct impact on that. And the question needs to be asked, in a broader context, not just the diplomatic details, but who can the United States trust in the end? And there used to be a time when the US and Iran were the best of allies, even compared to Israel, if you look back to, you know, the 1970s, before the 1970s and so on.
RICHTERSo, this has truly tremendous consequences, and ultimately, the question will have to be, which of these three horses, in a way, can help, or combination, can help the United States with its interests, most to stabilize the situation in the Middle East. And it's going to be very complicated because in this town, aside from the Israeli lobby, certainly the Saudis have a very strong lobby, and Iran not enough of one. Or none whatsoever.
RICHTERBut that's in the background of this over the longer term, in terms of where we're going to turn, in terms of outcomes.
PAGEWell, no question that at this point, our closest ally in the region is Israel. And Jonathan, what are the prospects for a real breach between the United States and Israel over the issue of how to handle these negotiations with Iran.
LANDAYI'm not sure that there's a prospect for a massive breach, because the Israelis get a great, a ton of American money every year. There are all sorts of other aspects to the relationship that go beyond Iran, that both countries are highly dependent on. Certainly, we've seen times of extreme friction between the Netanyahu government, during both of President Obama's terms. Things were starting to get a little better at the beginning of his second term, but this situation, the prospect of a deal with Iran has kind of set things off again, tensions off again.
LANDAYAs well as the fact that there hasn't been much movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front. And you had John Kerry essentially criticizing the Israelis by talking about the illegitimate Jewish settlements on the West Bank. And so, the prospects for greater tension are definitely there. We're already seeing them. But as for a rupture, I doubt it.
LAKSHMANANI also don't think there's going to be rupture in US-Israeli relations, but there's no question, at this point, even though they have the same goal, that they're working at it in completely different ways. And I think this fundamentally comes down to the question of trust, which is something that is a very hard thing to factor in to international diplomacy. As everyone says, trust but verify, ever since Ronald Reagan. And, you know, I've heard a lot of diplomats say, look, we don't think of trust, I mean, as -- we're not gonna base our decisions on Iran on the basis of trust.
LAKSHMANANI think what it comes down to is Netanyahu doesn't believe that this current Iranian regime is going to keep up its end of the bargain, no matter what they sign. That's the real problem. So, there are a lot of people, there are a lot of elements in Washington, lobbying groups, interest groups, who what they really hope for is for sanctions to bring down the regime. They're hoping sanctions will precipitate a balance of payments crisis, that the people will rise up, there'll be a popular uprising that will bring down Khamenei and the Islamic Republic.
LAKSHMANANAnd if that were to happen, then they think there'd be a new regime with which the United States could negotiate a nuclear deal. This has been a very long lasting regime. It's a regime of resistance. I don't see them on the verge of collapse. So the question is, do you go for a maximalist deal, where there's absolutely no enrichment, which they're not going to agree to, or, you know, do you not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, which is what the advocates of the deal are saying.
LANDAYWe've seen the Israelis prepared to act on their own. They've bombed two nuclear reactors in the Middle East over the last several decades, and there's no question that if they feel that this deal allows the Iranians too much leeway, in terms of enrichment, and particularly the Plutonium production reactor that's at the center of these current negotiations, there's no telling what they might be prepared to do.
LAKSHMANANExcept for the issue that while they did bomb reactors in Iraq and Syria, they don't have the ability to bomb the underground Fordo facility where the 20 percent Uranium is happening now. That's what, at least military analysts say, that they would need the United States' help, and that that's why they haven't acted yet. And so, you know, that's a big question. Also, if you bomb Iraq, the Plutonium heavy water reactor, if there's already stuff being fed in there, you kill hundreds of thousands of people.
LAKSHMANANSo that's something that I think nobody wants to do.
RICHTERAside from the question of how well we've done on bomb, bomb, bomb, on the part of the United States, with regard to Indira's point on maximalist options, we need to be very careful, because regime change that the US has tried to induce, has never worked in the recent decade and a half. So, won't be any better in Iran than it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about how relief operations are working in the Philippines. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Stephan Richter, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Globalist, a daily online magazine on the global economy, politics and culture, Indira Lakshmanan, diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News and Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
PAGEWe’re going to go to the phones and take some of your calls shortly. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, we've seen relief crews in these dramatic television pictures in the Philippines as aid is -- as they try to get aid to the victims of the worse Typhoon on record. How is that going, Stephan?
RICHTERThe Philippines, to begin with, is a very poor country. Their current president Aquino has been doing well on corruption but -- and the economy has been growing a little bit faster than in the past, but they would probably need 20 years of solid economic growth before they could be prepared on the key issues of infrastructure and all of that.
RICHTERSo basically they got caught with their pants down. We've had a lot of CNN and other reporting breathless and otherwise but the most important comment that I've heard is, when Americans start lecturing the Philippines about doing disaster relief, they might want to look at New Orleans before they get too high on it because we didn't perform on this either. So the story is, human tragedies are real.
RICHTERThere's a very important question as to U.S. soft power, U.S. military strategy in the past. We used to focus a lot on military aid with hospital ships. These days we've done with a pivot to Asia a lot of terrorist cooperation in the Philippines and everywhere. So there's an interesting question whether we have misplaced our priorities. But in general, this is a very hard problem to solve for anybody, especially with the way global climate is going. So we'll be faced with this time and again. And I think this is a useful reminder that we need to think more about what can be done, both on climate mitigation and on disaster preparation.
PAGEThe original estimates of the death toll was that it could be up to 10,000 and yet -- and that's been scaled back. Still a terrible tragedy but now the official death toll is 2,300 and some. Why the big mistake in the initial estimate, Jonathan?
LANDAYWell, there weren't any people on the ground really who were able to do these kinds of estimates. In fact, the power of the hurricane had to be estimated from satellites because there really were no sensors there. Right now I think there's a new death toll that came out today, locally at least. It's 300 -- 3,621, a difference from the UN estimate of about 4400. And, you know, I think they've had an enormous problem getting aid workers in, getting relief supplies in. There are thousands of people who are trying to get out.
LANDAYThings have started picking up in terms of the relief operation starting yesterday. Today you've had the arrival of an American aircraft carrier with 21 helicopters aboard and a whole bunch of other ships that are bringing supplies in, water in. But there's no shelter there so they've had problems getting relief workers in because there's no food, there's no water to feed -- you know, for them.
LANDAYAnd I think Stephan raises a really interesting point and that is, we've heard the UN climate change panel warn and other people -- experts warn that we should expect this kind of disaster more and more in the future because of rising seawater temperatures, which fuel these super hurricanes -- or this is a typhoon as they call it out in Asia. And the impact is going to be even greater as you get greater urbanization due to, you know, these economic magnets that draw poor people into urban centers, poor housing, environmental degradation, rising sea levels.
LANDAYAnd this is something like the third category 5 super typhoon to hit the Philippines since 2010. One of the interesting aspects of this though is that right now, at least, the death toll is -- as tragic as it is, is somewhat lower than people had expected -- much lower than people had estimated it at the very beginning. And so it may be that we're starting to see countries -- international powers learning how to cope with this kind of disaster.
LANDAYI mean, you even had the Israelis send aid teams to the Philippines. The UK is sending an aircraft carrier there as well. But this is a tragedy that I think the world is going to have to get used to in the future.
PAGEI know a lot of Filipino Americans have been watching with such great concern at what's happening there, relief efforts for family members and others. Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell yeah, I mean, I was going to say that this whole thing about the actual death toll will obviously take days or possibly weeks to, you know, play out. The UN humanitarian affairs office had just given the figure of 4,460 people dead. So, you know, we don't know what the ultimate figure is going to be. But what struck me as most interesting about all of this is the kind of soft power aspect of, you know, United States influence around the world.
LAKSHMANANNow we've been talking for a couple of years now about the United States trying to pivot to Asia, rebalancing, paying more attention to Asia, not trying to focus all of its time on the Middle East. This is one of those opportunities for the United States to highlight one of the real sort of golden things of its foreign policy, which is humanitarian relief and assistance and aid. And let's keep in mind that, you know, the United States has 1,000 troops on the way -- part of them already there, others on the way. It's got a whole, you know, aircraft carrier group going.
LAKSHMANANHad they been in Subic Bay still they would've obviously had a much quicker response than having to turn people around from Hong Kong. And we're talking about $20 million in emergency aid that the Obama Administration has already promised. Compare this to China. We've been worrying for years about China and their rising influence in Asia and how they're there and we're not paying attention. How much as China pledged to the relief effort? $100,000. It's nothing. It's chump change. And part of this is of course because China has an ongoing dispute with the Philippines over the South China Sea.
LAKSHMANANThey've really had bad relations over the last one or two years because of China's claim on some islands that the Philippines has been administering and claims for centuries. China now thinks that it should have those islands, so they have a dispute going. But it certainly doesn't look good for China to be so ungenerous in this respect. And it's something -- this is not the first case. China does not give a lot of humanitarian aid, whereas the United States -- all around the world China gives its aid in the form of development. We'll build you a community center, but we're going to bring in Chinese workers to do it.
LAKSHMANANAnd we're also building you this center because we want to have access for, you know, China to get commodities -- to extract commodities from your part of the world, Africa, Latin America, etcetera, whereas the United States still is really good at humanitarian relief. And this is, I think, going to play well for them.
LANDAYChina actually has just, I think yesterday, announced that it's increasing the amount of money that it's -- aid it giving to -- I think it's about 1.4 million in aid. And then there's going to be $100,000 -- $200,000 in cash. They're essentially shamed into doing this for the very reasons that Indira raises. But they also have to answer to a domestic audience that believes that, you know, China should not be this generous because of the disputes that Indira talked about in terms of the Filipino-China relations.
LANDAYBut don't forget also the United States plays into this. The United States is involved in talks right now with the Philippines to get access again to Subic Bay, which was once one of the major U.S. Naval bases in Asia. They're talking about being able to rotate troops in there. The Philippines have accepted gifts of warships from Japan, which is also in territorial dispute in the South China Sea with China.
LANDAYAnd so when you have these terrible humanitarian disasters, unfortunately you get this intersection between the aid operations and global politics.
RICHTERBefore we get too happy -- and no doubt that the Chinese have messed up and are taking their lickings on the soft power issue, we shouldn't get too happy from the vantage point of the United States. On the tide aid issue on, you know, what the Chinese do afterwards, at least they get the job done. I know it's not pretty. They bring in their workers and so on but if you look at a lot of areas including in Africa, western powers for centuries have promised to do infrastructure and stuff. And they haven't exactly delivered. So the Chinese can hold that in their favor.
RICHTERBut the more important point, I think, in the global context is that at some point there's going to be a very real soft power debate as to the constant militarization of U.S. foreign policy, as Jonathan you just mentioned, with regard to Subic Bay because that sells better in congress. There's people who can make money off it with appropriations and so on. There's Washington people who get larger villas because of it in the suburbs and so on.
RICHTERBut the real issue from the perspective of the Filipinos and so on, when we talk about a global community these days, is why is it that the United States still doesn't have a domestic consensus that there is such a thing as climate change and that we need to put that up on top of the agenda? Because from the vantage point of Filipinos and many poor people around the world, climate change is terrorism on them. And it is much more important than all the things the United States is trying to sell in order to have its troops forward positions.
LANDAYChina actually produces more global -- more emissions than the United States.
RICHTERWe know that, but we're supposed to be the advanced power here.
LANDAYThis is true.
PAGELet's talk to Abby. She's calling us, I think, on a related issue. She's calling us from Ann Arbor, Mich. Abby, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ABBY...because two summers ago, three summers ago when there was the horrible flood in Pakistan, I actually called in because the commentators were saying, this is a manmade disaster, corruption in Pakistan and lack of infrastructure and blah, blah. And I called in and said, absolutely it's manmade. It's climate change and that's western countries' fault far more than Pakistan. And the person answering the phone said, well that's true but I don't think we have time to talk about that today.
ABBYSo I'm so glad that it's getting the attention it is And my quick question also that so disproportionately huge storms and earthquakes and such happen in the global south. Why is the international response so thrown by the lack of infrastructure? Surely we should be (unintelligible) plan that in by now. Like, oh my gosh, Haiti doesn't have good roads. Well, why is it a surprise? And I'll take my answer off the radio. Thank you so much.
PAGEAll right, Abby, thanks for your call.
LAKSHMANANWell, part of this is, of course, something that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used to refer to as the dueling inboxes. You know, you have the urgent issues, you have the important issues, you have the long term issues. And everybody know that Haiti had an infrastructure problem. But, you know, when you got a war raging in Afghanistan or in Iraq, you're having to deal with the urgent issues at that time. And so part of that is just about bandwidth, about the ability of any government, no matter how rich or powerful, to deal -- to multitask and deal with everything at once.
LAKSHMANANLet's not forget though, we do have an entire USAID structure in place. And they are quietly in behind the scenes -- or not so much behind the scenes but they're doing things every day that we just don't report on because it doesn't reach to the top of the news. But I do want to make a point that it's not just, you know, on this question of, you know, U.S. generosity. I don't think it's just a -- you know, I don't think it's just a talking point of the government. I mean, you can look at it in many different places.
LAKSHMANANLook at Syria for example. In this whole Syrian crisis, yes, it's true that President Obama didn't want to ultimately, you know, drop some bombs and get involved in the war there. But if you look at the humanitarian effort, fully one-third of the humanitarian aid going to Syrian refugees, over $1 billion is coming from the United States. China's contribution to that is only $3 million. So, you know, there is this sort of question of American foreign policy and power has overtime really involved a humanitarian component. Whether there's climate change involved or war or no matter what the reason is.
RICHTERSo if we stay with Haiti for a moment, that's a very small speck on the face of the earth. And there's been a lot of U.S.-induced Haiti disaster tourism, a lot of NGOs going there all the time. There've been quite a few serious people, but every time anything happens, first all the people fly in, have their CNN television interviews and disrupt the efforts. So there is some disingenuity on our part. But the bigger thing here is -- and I think Indira is exactly right -- other people need to look at what they do.
RICHTERIn Asia, for example, there's such a thing as the Asian development bank. So what better tool is there than to take out long term loans for -- on behalf of all the poor countries backed by the credit rating of the ADB so that these countries can be prepared? Clearly the west can't do it all. We need to have more of a regionalization of these efforts. And these countries also independent of the discussion about who's at fault for climate change need to be prepared for their own sake because the investment in infrastructure also makes commerce easier, allows them to have better tourism and all of that. So it's an investment in their own future and they need to do that.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Indira, a leading member of the Haqqani network was shot this week in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad. You know, we're used to them being killed -- these leading militants being killed by drone strikes. This was different than that. How did he die?
LAKSHMANANYeah, it was rather bizarre circumstances. I mean, I was struck by a BBC feature on this that had the headline "Nasiruddin Haqqani Who Shot the Militant at the Bakery. So it's sort of, you know, got a who-done-it quality to it. A lot of these leaders of the Haqqani network or the Taliban have obviously been taken out by the United States through drone strikes. And this was a case of a bakery just in the suburbs of Pakistan's capital Islamabad, where at first it looked like a routine shooting, but many weird things happened.
LAKSHMANANBullet casings were taken away, the two men were disappeared, then one of them -- supposedly the body was spirited away to Miranshah. So, you know, one was supposedly a non-maker -- a bread maker. The other person who they believe died is this man Nasiruddin Haqqani who's one of the sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of a militant network that is, you know, described as being allied with the Taliban, but is not really part of the core Taliban. And he was sort of a financier involved in moving money.
LAKSHMANANSo one of the questions is, who would've wanted -- who would've had the motive to kill him? And there are many different groups who might have. Considering that it's also a big of an embarrassment, the United States has been saying for years that the Pakistani government, or at least elements of their intelligence services and their military were working hand in glove with the Haqqani network, something that the Pakistanis have denied all along. And yet how is it that this financier is able to live in Islamabad in the capital and apparently maintain a home there?
LAKSHMANANAnd so, you know, there are some people -- you know, conspiracy theories already cropping up about who would want to get rid of him, maybe from the Pakistani government side because it's an embarrassment that look like they're hiding him just like, you know, Osama bin Laden was living not quite in plain sight but just a few miles from the Pakistani equivalent of West Point.
PAGESo, Jonathan, regardless of who killed him, how much difference does it make that he was killed?
LANDAYIt makes a great deal of different for the reason that Indira raises. And that is, he was killed in the capital of Pakistan. He's an Afghan. He is a financier -- he was a financier of the Haqqani network, which is behind most of the really massive car bombings, suicide bombings, attacks in Kabul, controls a large chunk of eastern Afghanistan, living openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad or just outside it.
LANDAYAnd more to the point, apparently had an alias. The alias was Zahibullah Mujahid who was known to be the spokesman for the Afghan -- for the Pakistani Taliban. And so, you know, it's wheels within wheels. It's very difficult to say who would've been responsible for this. There's been feuds within the Haqqani network. There's feuds between the network and the tribe that dominates the Haqqani network. There's a drawn tribe in Afghanistan. The Americans certainly would've wanted him killed. They've taken out two of his brothers in the past. And so it's really -- you know, again, it's a who done it.
RICHTERYeah, I was going to say, this is a CSI type situation but let's not forget the Haqqani network mujahedeen used to a Soviet -- anti-Soviet fight on behalf of the U.S. But in the end, the U.S. drones have a lot to do with it so we need to stay focused on that. Because any time you take somebody out, as the old hydra saga, five hits or seven hits pop up so it's a muddled situation.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. We'll be back. Stay with us.
PAGEJonathan Landay, what do you make of Egypt hosting Russia's foreign and defense ministers this week? Is that significant for the United States?
LANDAYOh, absolutely. It's at least a message of displeasure to the United States for the fact that the United States has frozen a large chunk of the annual military aid it gives to Egypt in response to the military coup that ousted the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who's now on trial. And it's a message that: "We're not happy with you. This was the country that was once our main military supplier, our main foreign backer. And we're happy to at least court them and let you know that we're not going to accept your dictates."
LANDAYIt's also part of this intense -- I was in Egypt right after the overthrow of President Morsi -- and there is this virulent anti-American campaign that's being pushed through their media by the regime, accusing the United States, of all things, of working with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to create an independent Islamist state in northern Egypt. They need their external foes. The Egyptians are not happy with the way the United States reacted to the overthrow of President Morsi. And this is another piece of it.
LANDAYThe thing being, though, that it's very doubtful this will lead to a rupture because this is only -- the Obama administration has only frozen the military aid, it hasn't canceled it. And beyond that, the Egyptians, for the last 30 years, have been a major -- one of the top three major recipients of American military assistance. Their military is now largely based on American weaponry. So to try and now go out and buy Russian weaponry would be a very difficult thing to integrate into their military.
LANDAYBut, beyond that, they are cash strapped because all of this political turmoil in Egypt beginning with the ouster of the long-time ruler, Mubarak. And the ascension and overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood has scared away foreign investors and, more importantly, has scared away foreign tourists -- the all-important tourist trade that Egypt depends on. When I was there, I took a day off. I went out. I have to go see the pyramids and the sphinx. I was the only tourist there. There were no other tourists there as far as I could tell.
PAGEAnd you, of course, weren't exactly a tourist.
PAGEYou were a tourist only on that day.
LANDAYRight, exactly. Exactly. And the amazing thing, the desperation -- the economic desperation caused by this is such that, you know, the people who act as guides, who normally have this massive business, are so desperate they attached our car as we approached the area where you get out to go then visit the pyramids because they think that by attacking your car, you're going to say, "Oh, okay. I'll hire you as my guide." It was fairly frightening. And so there was rumors of a $2 billion deal that the Russians were going to make with the Egyptians for aircraft. The Egyptians don't have the money.
RICHTERI think we need to be cautious about looking at this in an all-too-U.S.-centric sense. I think we live in a post firm-loyalty world. If you look at the economic situation in Egypt, it's a country that, with its dynamic population growth and no resources, really is paddling up a certain creek without much support. They need any support they can get from anybody. They had then talked with the Saudi's and some $15 billion and stuff like that. If they can get anybody to cooperate with them, they're going to be happy because they don't have much money.
RICHTERThey will need Soviet -- Russian weapons really because American weapons are damn expensive and I don't think there's a support anymore to do a tied subsidized deal through some defense giving to Egypt so that U.S. sellers can sell into that market. So there is really a very different world out there and we just need to get used to it. It's not the Russian Soviets rattling their sabers or so, it's a desperate country that's looking for any allies, any support on anything. But that won't change the desperate economic and social situation.
LANDAYBut they need money to buy that.
RICHTERWell there will always be loans of some sort.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, I think that looking at it from a more macro level, Stephan warns us, don't look at it from a U.S.-centric view. But, of course, we are in the U.S. and we are in Washington, so we have to look at it somewhat from that point of view. And I think that there is no question that the visit by both the defense minister and the foreign minister of Russia has, you know, rekindled some people's concerns about the fact that in the early cold-war years, Egypt was the leading Arab client state of the then Soviet Union, and which provided it with weaponry and military advice and diplomatic cover.
LAKSHMANANAnd things have changed a lot since then and, you know, the U.S. obviously under, you know, Mubarak and before that became more of a -- I'm not going to say U.S.-client state but the U.S.'s biggest Arab ally. And that's changing. Now, I do want to say that the foreign minister of Egypt made a point of trying to say Russia's not substituting for anyone, you know? So, on the one hand, he is trying to downplay this idea of Russia moving into the U.S. role. At the same time, he said, "Russia's far too important to substitute for anyone.
LAKSHMANANYou know, they were out ally in their own right and they're important in their own right. It's not about substitution. So that's a sort of dual-edged message.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and invite our listeners to join our conversation. We'll go to Haim (ph) first. He's been waiting patiently. Where are you calling from? Haim? Haim, are you there?
PAGEYes, hi. Go ahead.
AUSTINUm, my name's Austin and I had a comment and a question.
PAGEOkay. Please go ahead.
AUSTINUm, one of the guests earlier had discussed that the Philippines was caught with its pants down. And I wanted to say that that's realistic and true. But because this is the kind of tsunami that we've never really seen before, and I guess to extrapolate on that, I wanted to say that the kind of global aid that the Philippines has been receiving is almost owed to it, both because we're -- America is its colonial forbearer; and also because the first world has kind of caused that environmental collapse.
PAGEAustin, interesting points. Jonathan, what do you think?
LANDAYYeah, I mean, I think he raises extremely important points, which were talking about earlier, and that is that, yes the U.S. was the colonial power -- before that, Spain -- in the Philippines. And that these super typhoons and super hurricanes are projected to increase because of global warming, for which the United States and China and other industrial powers are mostly to blame. And, as I said earlier, we're going to -- the experts are warning we're going to see more of these because of urbanization, because the poor are moving to urban centers, many of which are on coastlines.
LANDAYYou have rising sea levels. And, I think, putting the politics aside, because they're very real when it comes to what we're seeing happen in the Philippines, they're -- I think a lot of this is also being driven by the desire to help. And, you know, the more this happens, unfortunately, the better people learn on how to cope with these kinds of things. We're talking about the need to build infrastructure. You know, Bangladesh, which is essentially, you know, the estuary of three rivers -- they come out of the Himalayas -- used to be subjected to these horrendous typhoons also in the Bay of Bengal.
LANDAYThey went out and they constructed this network of typhoon shelters, of very strong concrete shelters to shelter local populations in. And they have gone out on their own and tried to deal with the impact of what we're going to see as these increasing environmental disasters.
PAGEAll right. Austin, thank you so much for your call. Let's go to Cary, North Carolina and talk to Ken. Ken, thanks for joining us.
KENOh, hi. Thanks. I wanted to pick up on the mention of the iron triangle -- these countries in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia and Iran. And, you know, these are cultures with a lot of resources and a lot of history. And they have, you know, we're all familiar, we talk a lot about the negative risks of conflict in this region. But I wanted to ask about the potential for constructive engagement among these three powers. You know, what -- is there any way forward for them to be working together?
KENYou know, there's, all right, the Shiite population, I know, in many different countries feels at risk, you know, especially in Iraq and right now in Syria. You know, Iran seems to see themselves as the protector of this faction. Whereas, you know, the Saudis are advancing the Sunni cause. And, of course, you know, Israel has many security concerns, which are familiar. But everyone would benefit from stability. Is there a way toward that? Is anybody working toward that?
PAGEAll right. Ken, thanks so much for your call. What do you think, Stephan?
RICHTERSo the basic rule, I think, in that iron triangle, is the old adage of the enemy of my enemy is my temporary friend. That's not exactly a way to build an economy or peace or good relations between each other. The United States, as I said earlier, I think plays a pivotal role because most of these countries still define themselves in some way relative to the United States. Israel has overreached. There's the debate that Jonathan mentioned that Netanyahu has been going too far for his own or Israel's good.
RICHTERMy own argument is, when I look at the Iranian people and those Iranians that we have met, they feel mostly like Californians, at least if they're under 30 and living in the cities. So there's a lot of potential that doesn't work with the politicians there. We have Rouhani, a reformist president who is being stopped out by his very conservative parliament, which is sort of reminiscent of what's happening to President Obama, who's also labeled as a reformist who's getting stopped out. So there is a lot of problems there.
RICHTERI think, in the end, it always boils down to having a good economic strategy. The Saudi strategy is just based on oil and otherwise playing zero sum games in the Middle East, which is not conducive to anything. The Israelis have potential, but right now with that government they can't go too far. And, you know, that makes it very complicated for everybody.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, I think there's no question that, at least in the case of Iran, their alliance in this point against what they would consider a premature or a too-favorable-for-Iran nuclear deal that Israel and Saudi Arabia are allied, at least conceptually at this point. But there's no way that these three are going to be allied in a realistic way unless we have Muslim states in the Middle East recognizing Israel. Come on. And that's not going to happen unless we have a peace deal. So I think there's a long time to go before we talk about any real cooperation amongst these three.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's not forget it was the Saudi ambassador who had been targeted by Iran for assassination here in Washington not so long ago. And so there enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia that exists as well.
PAGEKen, thanks for your call. Here's an email from Andrew, who writes us from west Texas. He notes he's listening to us on XM Satellite Radio. This question is: Could relations with Iran be improved if the U.S. apologized for the 1953 overthrow -- the CIA overthrow in Iran of a democratic elected government? Could it, Jonathan?
LANDAYI believe that Hilary Clinton did that. And I was at the U.N. during the U.N. general assembly, where in a way President Obama did that. No, I think it goes much beyond that. There are geostrategic issues involved here. You know, gestures help. We've seen a lot of gestures from both sides so far. But really, at this point, that's all we've really seen are gestures.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Here's a Tweet from Kevin. Kevin of Michigan is his handle. He says: "Can someone on your panel explain why one of the world's largest producers of oil needs nuclear power?" Do you think that's a fair question, Indira?
LAKSHMANANYeah, well, that is a really interesting question. Now, let's remember that Iran, in terms of its capacity, it's not able to refine gasoline. So that's an odd situation where it has all this oil and it has to ship it out, get it refined, and re-import.
PAGEWhy can't it refine it?
LAKSHMANANIt doesn't have the capacity. It hasn't built the capacity. Now, part of that is due to sanctions. There have been sanctions on Iran's energy industry such that there's been a stop to foreign investment and involvement. But, you know, it is true that part of this is about psychology and about national pride, right? It's about the notion that, you know, Iran feels that it's a great nation. It's the Persian Empire. I think a lot of people in Iran still think of it in that grand way.
LAKSHMANANAnd nuclear science, at least, is seen as a very important, you know, I don't know, imprimatur of being a world power, which Iran wants to be. And let's not forget there was a Gallup poll that just came out recently showing that Iranians, who have been, for the most part believe their government that this is purely a peaceful program, despite the fact that the vast majority feel that sanctions have hurt their economy really badly. And they understand those sanctions are tied to illicit activities in the nuclear program. 85 percent of them still want to continue a peaceful nuclear program.
LAKSHMANANSo I think the person makes a good point. Fossil fuel is not, of course, unlimited, you know. And Iran is a big nation. So, you know, there are different forms of energy that one needs for substitution as well.
LANDAYThat's right. And the more nuclear power you have, in theory, the more of your oil and gas you can export for hard currency. But there's plenty to show that, in fact, the nuclear -- the peaceful nuclear program, at least until the end of 2003, was a cover for a nuclear weapons research program that was, as we've heard both from the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and U.S. intelligence community, was shut down at the end of 2003, although there's no proof that some aspects of that continued.
RICHTERAlthough I'm tempted to combine that with the previous remark asking about the Mossadegh toppling, because the U.S. has made its strategy in the Middle East for the last 15 years to build democracy. Well, that was what Iran had at the time. And hindsight is 20/20, I know. But sometimes we probably caused -- in many way we caused this Iranian regime and this unstable situation, because U.S. and U.K. intelligence services acted prematurely to support oil companies from the U.S. and at the time still a little bit headquartered in the U.K.
RICHTERAnd, you know, those are the fruits of those labors that we deal with today because the Iranian idea of democracy was brutally killed at that time. And we shouldn't forget that and not just talk about the today but, you know, there's a clear arc that points to our own culpability in that turmoil in that country.
PAGECaroline Kennedy was sworn in as the U.S. ambassador to Japan this week. She's not really a Japan expert, Indira. So how did the Japanese feel about her being named as the U.S. ambassador?
LAKSHMANANThe Japanese were thrilled. So much so that I was at a reception -- I was lucky enough to be invited to a reception this week at the Japanese Embassy that was basically her goodbye party. And it was, you know, the Japanese Ambassador was up on stage talking about how many Kennedys had come, how many relatives. Maria Shriver was there and other cousins. And he said, "Well, for tonight at least the Japanese Embassy in Washington is the Kennedy Center. And John Kerry was there to give a speech.
LAKSHMANANI mean how many ambassadors are celebrities, that they get the Secretary of State to come speak at their goodbye party? I think there's a lot of excitement in Japan about it, because they, you know, there's still a lot of, you know, excitement around the Camelot ideal. Everyone remembers her father. I mean the reason she got this job is because there's a long history of American ambassadors being named as a thank you for their involvement in campaigns. And her involvement in his campaign obviously was critical to him getting -- to Obama getting the nomination in the first place.
LAKSHMANANSo I don't think it's going to change U.S. policy to Japan. I think we're solid allies with them and it'll be an easy lift for her to do that job.
PAGEIndira Lakshmanan, Stephan Richter, Jonathan Landay, thank you all for being with us this hour. I'm Susan Page of U.S. Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCERSupport for NPR comes from NPR member stations.
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