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Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators in Hong Kong clashed with supporters of the Occupy movement. Now, protesters are threatening to cut off talks with government officials. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended plans for Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. Turkey voted to authorize military force against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Barack Obama at the White House. And new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, signed a security deal allowing American soldiers to remain in the country past the end of the year. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius Columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com. His new novel is "The Director."
- Indira Lakshmanan Diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- Geoff Dyer Foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times; author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Protest leaders in Hong Kong threaten to call off talks with the government. Islamic State fighters continue assaults on key towns in Syria and Iraq. And Israel's Prime Minister says Arab State should be integrated into the mid-east peace process. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd of course, your comments, questions are always an important part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and welcome to you all.
MR. GEOFF DYERGood morning.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
REHMGeoff Dyer, what is the Hong Kong protest all about?
DYERWell, it started off as a dispute about how Hong Kong elects its leaders. At present, the system is, there's a committee of about 1200 people effectively dominated by the Chinese government, by Beijing, that chooses a leader. And then the idea was that in 2017, there would be an election to choose the leader. And at the end of August, the Chinese government came out with the precise rules as to how that's going to be conducted. And it suggests there will be an election.
DYEREveryone will have a vote on the new leader. But this 1200 person committee is going to choose two or three candidates, so it's almost like a sort of Iran type system, where yes, everyone gets a vote, but it's very much a sort of narrow field of, you know, of people selected by the establishment, by Beijing, so it can still keep control over who's actually governing Hong Kong.
REHMSo, what's the latest? What's happening now?
DYERSo we've had a whole series of huge protests through and through the week that really kind of kicked off last Sunday when there was a confrontation between the police and some students and the police tear gassed and pepper sprayed some of the students. And that really got peoples' attention, got a lot of anger in Hong Kong and drew many more people into the streets. We have two days of national holidays, Wednesday and Thursday in Hong Kong. Wednesday was the Chinese National Day Holiday. Huge protests really brought Hong Kong to a standstill.
DYERIn three main areas of the city, they absolutely massed hundreds of thousands of people in the street. Today and Friday, there's been bigger protests, but not quite so big. Hong Kong's going back to work today, and so we're now at a kind of uneasy point where it's not clear whether the -- how -- whether the protest will last, whether they'll choose to escalate. And also, it's not clear whether the police will keep standing back as they have been since Sunday. Or whether they will intervene to try and clear some of these protests.
REHMHaven't there been some use of rubber bullets, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, what we've heard about is journalists have reported seeing boxes marked as rubber bullets being taken into the police stations. But no, there's been no use of that until now. But, I'm fascinated by this story. I lived in Hong Kong for seven years, starting from six months before the handover in 1997. And, you know, watching this from afar, I have to say I think the Hong Kong people have been incredibly patient. This is 17 years since the handover and they've been patiently waiting for what was laid out under the so-called Basic Law, the mini-constitution for Hong Kong, as a high degree of autonomy under what's known as one country, two systems.
LAKSHMANANWhat this has allowed Hong Kong to do all this time is to carry on with its own legal and financial system, separate from that in the mainland. And it has people in Hong Kong enjoy all kinds of civil liberties that you don't have anywhere in mainland China. An independent judiciary, freedom of the press, the right to protest. But what China has never been clear about is exactly what the promise for eventual universal suffrage would look like. And so, it's easy for China to come back now and say, look, we're giving you so much more than we gave you 17 years ago.
LAKSHMANANInstead of this 1200 member committee, selected by us, that Geoff referred to, choosing your chief executive, we're now going to allow you to directly elect your chief executive. But it's kind of like saying, you can marry whoever you want, but here are the two brides who we're allowing you to choose. And that's been extremely frustrating for Hong Kong people. My concern is what happens next. And I think what we're seeing already is agent provocateurs. You know, people coming in. There's a lot of violence that we've seen today in Hong Kong.
LAKSHMANANIn Mong Kok, this very crowded area where triads and gangs have started attacking the peaceful protesters. So, I think it's entirely possible that we're going to see paid people coming in and trying to create an excuse for China to crack down on these protests.
REHMPro-government provocateurs? David?
IGNATIUSWell, we'll see if the government uses that tactic. I think, for me, the most interesting issue has been what position Beijing would take about whether it was willing to negotiate any aspect of these protesters' demands. The initial indication was no. A firm line, very strident editorial in the party press in Beijing. The chief executive in Hong Kong, Leung, who the protesters would like to see withdraw, resign immediately has stayed in place. But just in the last day, there's been an indication that they were willing -- the authorities were willing to talk to the protesters about their demands.
IGNATIUSWhich is a little bit of a bend from the initial position. I think, for Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, this is a fascinating test. He's had an extremely successful first year and a half of rule. He's gone after corruption across China more vigorously, and I'd say with more success than a lot of people thought. Here's the first real challenge for him, and the question is whether to take a very strident line, tough, tough, tough. Or whether to give just enough to hopefully calm down the protests.
REHMSo, what will, or what are the protesters' demands?
IGNATIUSThe protesters demand, basically, are that they want a reversal of the rules that were set in these sort of artificial elections for 2017. And they'd like the resignation of Leung, Beijing's man in Hong Kong. There's been, as Indira said, there's been a strong pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong ever since the British left. And it's part of the Hong Kong identity. And we'll just see how much of that Beijing will tolerate.
REHMSo, Geoff Dyer, if these talks really, truly materialize, might the students then leave their protest?
DYERWell, it's very hard to see the Chinese government giving in now on the substance of the democratic process for Hong Kong. That would be a huge step down for them, a huge loss of face. And would call into question all sorts of things about, you know, their hold in power in China as well. It raises all sorts of questions of politics in China. So it's hard to see that happening. It's possible, at the margins, to see that maybe Cy Leung would be encouraged to stand down. He would, you know, suddenly, we discover he has an illness that he's dealing with.
DYERAnd that would be a sort of elegant way for him to step back. But what I suspect he'll try and find is the Hong Kong authorities will try and find some way, not necessarily to satisfy the student leaders who are organizing these demonstrations, but to try and find ways to peel back a lot of the support they've got from other sections of society. And there -- well, there are a lot of people in Hong Kong are protesting because they want democracy. There are people protesting just because they want to keep hold of what they have already.
DYERAnd they're worried that Beijing might be encouraged to roll back all those civil liberties Indira was talking about. Freedom of the press and, you know, independence of the courts. And so, if there's some way in which the Hong Kong authorities could assure them that these things, at the very least, will continue to be protected, that might give them a way to try and split the protest movement.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I was gonna say that part of this is also a generational shift. You know, the young people, who are at the forefront of this movement, that's very interesting. Because some of these people were barely born at the time of the handover in 1997. And some of this frustration is certainly long standing, pro-democracy people who've been in Hong Kong activists for decades. I mean, let's not forget that Hong Kong has very important roots as an anti-communist haven. This is a territory to which, people in the 1940s, 50s and 60s literally swam across Mirs Bay, from mainland China.
LAKSHMANANYou have people who are representatives in the Hong Kong legislature, who, as children, swam across the bay from mainland China to escape the communist party. So, there is a serious undercurrent of that. But some of what you're seeing, also now, is resentment about the wealth gap that's seen now in Hong Kong. And resentment against these free spending mainlanders, who are coming to Hong Kong, buying up all the expensive property, trying to change the school system, buying up goods and services and making it hard for local Hong Kong people. So that's an element that I think...
LAKSHMANAN...some people here are missing. And that's really important. I think this is not going to go away, even if the protests are put down, because these young people think a different way and I think this genie is out of the bottle.
REHMWhat about the effects of the protests on Taiwan? David.
IGNATIUSWell, Taiwan coexists, I would say, fairly comfortably now, with mainland China. There's an understanding about the rules of the road. This -- there was a wave of Taiwanese separatism, you know, democratic self-assertion. That's receded some in the last few years. Whether this -- it will be reignited, I just can't say. I just would add one thing. I've been struck watching events this week in Hong Kong by the kind of leaderless, amorphous, decentralized nature of much of the protest. Just as was the case in the demonstrations that swept the Arab world in 2011.
IGNATIUSIt just shows you that the power of these communication tools that are pervasive among young people, in Hong Kong, everywhere in China, to organize what these people sometimes call a flash mob. You can just get at your cell phone and suddenly there are thousands of people in a particular place. The authorities can't prepare for it. They've been calling this the umbrella revolution, because they carry umbrellas against the rain and against the sun and against the pepper gas spray.
IGNATIUSBut I think the real point is that it's -- these protests are so hard for the authorities to stop, because they're so quick and because they don't have a hierarchical structure.
REHMBut what about international reaction, Geoff?
DYERWell, if there was to be a violent crackdown in Hong Kong, and we're not there yet, by any means. But if there were to be a violent crackdown, it would have huge implications for China's relations with the rest of the world. The Taiwan issue would be, you know, you'd get separatist sentiment in Taiwan would definitely come back to the fore. It would cause a chill throughout the rest of Asia. You would have Japanese nationalism would become even further entrenched as a result of that.
DYERAnd it would also, I think, fundamentally change the relationship with the US in an important way. You'd get a lot of people in the US who would start to say, well, Xi Jinping is basically mark two Vladimir Putin. You'd get a lot of more pressure to have a bigger defense, increase in defense spending more directed towards Asia. It would really, fundamentally alter the trajectory of the US/China relations as well. So, it would be a huge moment if that was to happen.
REHMSo, you would not expect that to happen, given what you've just said.
DYERWe're not expecting it, but, you know, we have to remember that 25 years ago, Tiananmen Square, lots of very, very smart people who felt they knew China very well said the authorities will never, you know, send the army in to clear the Square, because of all the damage that will cause, and then they did.
REHMAnd that's why people are wondering about today.
DYERIt can -- it seems to me very unlikely. It seems to me almost a crazy thing to think about it, but one cannot say it's not going to happen.
REHMAnd short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back with the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post. His latest novel is titled "The Director." Geoff Dyer is foreign policy correspondent at the Financial Times. He's the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition With China and How America Can Win." But having talked about Hong Kong and China, let's turn now to Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the new Arab alliance against ISIL could resuscitate the Middle East peace talks. How, David?
IGNATIUSWell, there is on the table an Arab peace initiative that was originally floated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia which has been a framework for negotiations that the Israelis, since it was first announced a decade ago, have said very little about. And I think that what Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking about is using that as a framework for engaging the Arabs as a group rather than simply the Palestinians, rather than simply Mahmoud Abbas going, in a sense, over Abbas' head to the wider group. Whether this stands any prospect of success I think is doubtful.
REHMWell, you heard President Obama, apparently not convinced, say the dispute is still over the Jewish settlements, Indira. And this morning on Morning Edition you heard Steve Inskeep talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu about East Jerusalem or South Jerusalem, what it was going to be like.
LAKSHMANANYeah, this has been a real bone of contention and difficult because in the week that Netanyahu is seeing President Obama for the first time in eight months that these two leaders who have a notoriously not very smooth relationship, so they haven't seen each other in nearly a year. In the same week Israel announces the approval of all this building in Arab-dominant East Jerusalem, which of course the Palestinians claim is their eventual capitol. They want Jerusalem to be a shared capitol. So not helpful.
LAKSHMANANThe White House and the State Department were both upset about this and said so publically. And it follows on President Obama's speech last week at the United Nations where he essentially, you know, made clear that he believes that Israel might not be interested in peace. And I thought it was really interesting how Netanyahu came back against this at his own UN podium this week and essentially accused the speakers before him of brazen lies. So he was referring not only to Mahmoud Abbas who was charging genocide, you know, against the Israelis, but also he was referring to, you know, President Obama's comments. And so that was really interesting.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, you have to wonder, who are these partners for regional peace who Netanyahu is talking about? Are these imaginary partners who are just sort of a diversion? I mean, also we can't forget he was really stressing Iran because Iran getting a nuclear weapon is the number one concern of Israel. And he wanted to keep attention on that as well.
DYERGiven the context of everything that's happening in Iraq and Syria, I mean, of building this coalition to go to war against ISIS, it seems a very inopportune moment to be raising the idea of somehow getting the Arab states involved in re-launching the peace process. And that might've been -- Netanyahu had said that a year ago when John Kerry was really putting all this effort into the peace process. That would've been something the administration would thoroughly have welcomed. But it's not maybe the right moment now.
IGNATIUSYes. I think Netanyahu and many Israelis feel that there is a kind of de facto understanding -- I don't want to say alliance -- but the commonality of interest between Israel and the Arab Gulf states in combating Iran, in combating Sunni extremism of the sort that ISIL represents. I think sometimes Israelis let themselves think that that would then open the door to working together to find a solution Israel could accept on the peace process. And everything that we've seen for the last few decades says that in the end the Arab Gulf states will not break with the Palestinians. They will not go over their heads.
IGNATIUSI mean, it's very -- the U.S. administrations have tried again and again to pull off precisely that kind of deal and it hasn't been possible. So I think it's coming back again. One final thought is that for Netanyahu, you know, the decisive issue is Iran and what is the United States position in Iran? Is the U.S. about to give away the store in negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal that come to a deadline November 24?
IGNATIUSInterestingly one other thing that happened over the last week, ten days is that all the evidence is that hopes for a breakthrough in those talks with talks between Rouhani, the president of Iran and Secretary of State Kerry, other sideline talks during the General Assembly meeting in New York really haven't produced anything. So in a sense, Netanyahu's anxiety that a deal might be imminent I think is probably less now.
REHMSo what do you expect to come out of these talks between President Obama and Netanyahu?
IGNATIUSYeah, you know, a kind of -- I want to say a continued stalemate. Those two don't like each other. This is in terms of the politics, the most prickly difficult U.S.-Israeli relationship I can remember in the 35 years I've been writing about this stuff. You know, they tolerate each other, they work in parallel but there's no real relationship between the two.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the Islamic State continuing its assault on key towns in Syria and Iraq. What's the latest, Geoff?
DYERSo what we've seen the last couple of days is fighters from Islamic State seem to be approaching the town of Kobani in northern Syria near the Turkish border as one of the times where a load of refugees had fled from in the last couple days across the border into Turkey. And this is at a time when, you know, lots of the U.S. coalition airstrikes have been taking place around this town trying to hit some of the Islamic State fighters.
DYERNow this is a very poorly-reported war. We have very little visibility as to what's happening on the ground. It's wrong to draw too strong conclusions but it certainly does feel as if, you know, these airstrikes are not in any way really holding back ISIL fighters from going after some of these very core strategic objectives.
REHMAnd here you have Turkey's parliament saying that they will join the U.S. in its air fight. But Prime Minister Erdogan not very happy about that, David.
IGNATIUSThe Turkish parliamentary vote is significant symbolically but it does not commit Turkey to intervene militarily. It authorizes that possibility. The Turks have also said that their territory, their airbase at Incirlik could be used by foreign militaries for operations. But it's not clear that they're, in fact, ready to let the U.S. use Incirlik as a base for armed drone attacks over Syria and Iraq. So...
REHMBut that' precisely what we want, isn't it?
IGNATIUSIt is what we want. It's what the Turks are hinting at. I just returned from Turkey. I was there last week and over the weekend and returned -- spent the weekend on the Turkey-Syria border in a border town a mile or so away from Syria and from this war. And had a chance to talk to some of the Syrian rebel commanders. And I think the thing I'd want to share with your listeners is the degree to which the Syrian opposition, the so-called Free Syrian army remains disorganized lacking the kind of command and control that would make it a credible force.
IGNATIUSI mean, the U.S. is bombing these ISIL positions in Syria but the problem is there is no organized disciplined force to come in and fill a void. Until that exists, all you're doing really is creating more chaos in the country.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I mean, I also think we have to think about the humanitarian impact all of this is having. And, you know, just before we came on the air I saw a report that as Turkey has opened its border in the last couple of days, you know, we've seen not only 150,000 more refugees coming across the border from Syria, but even the sheep are fleeing now, you know. So there are photographs of sheep fleeing across the border.
LAKSHMANANYou know, this is on top of 1.5 million people who are already in Turkey from Syria from the crisis over the last three years. And think about the fact that, you know, with this bombing campaign the United States obviously does not have its own spotters on the ground in Syria, at least what we're told is. While we do have support on the ground in Iraq, we don't have those same kinds of folks in Syria. And that makes targeting targets for these airstrikes a little bit more difficult.
LAKSHMANANAnd there have been grain silos that have been hit. And the question is, were those accidents? Was it intentional? But it's certainly having an impact on the population. And civilians have also been killed. And just last week at the United Nations, I met with a group of Syrian women activists who were in close touch with people in Idlib where they lived. They had just come for a few days to be able to talk to American officials and UN officials. And they were very upset and said that they felt that these airstrikes were fueling anti-Americanism which hadn't existed in the anti-Assad community because of the accidental airstrikes against civilians.
LAKSHMANANSo this is difficult because ISIL lives amongst the people and so does the so-called Khorasan groups. So a lot of these militant groups who we're targeting live in and around and with the community making it difficult to, you know, have clean targets against them.
REHMSo where does this Khorasan group figure into what's happening in Syria right now, Geoff?
DYERWell, that's a very hard question. I mean, they -- according to the administration they're essentially a small cell within al-Nusra or the al-Qaida linked group in Syria. And, you know, they've been there for some time. But it's only more recently they've started to use this Khorasan to apply to them.
DYERBut what you've started to see is also some interesting things that happened as a result of the U.S. airstrikes. Until a few weeks ago, Nusra, the al-Qaida linked group was fighting against Islamic State. What you started to see in the last week is Nusra people saying, well, maybe we should actually have a truce with the IS because actually what these airstrikes show us is that the U.S. and the west are a real enemy.
DYERI mean, you're starting to see all these possible realignments within these Jihadi groups. They're not necessarily in U.S. interests. Now we shouldn't take these statements at face value. There's lots of internal politics and in some way...
DYER...al-Nusra people are trying to get one over over Islamic State as well. But it is creating these very fluid alliances. They're not necessarily going to be in the U.S. or western interests.
REHMIt really is like a virus spreading throughout that area, David.
IGNATIUSIt is. It's a very well-organized aggressive virus. It's astonishing how quickly the ISIL cadres have spread in northern and western Iraq, in Syria. It's a mobile force that combines elements of a terrorist group and a conventional military. They're able to operate complex weapon systems surprisingly effectively. They're strategic in the way they think. You know, what I heard from the Syrian rebel commanders that I talked with was the ISIL fighters are very unpopular because they're so brutal.
IGNATIUSPeople should understand that Arabs are as offended by these grotesque beheadings as anyone else. This has not been popular. People...
REHMBut aren't there some who support what ISIL is doing?
IGNATIUSISIL has attracted allies and it has intimidated populations in the areas where it's put down root. And because it has a lot of money from the oil it controls, it's able to pay people. But I was told the real threat in Syria is not ISIL. It's al-Nusra. Because al-Nusra lives among the people and has been, you know, fairly generous in trying to share with local communities what it has, where a lot of the people we're backing have acted like warlords. And so that's -- you know, rooting out al-Nusra will be harder probably in the long run than ISIL.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about India's Prime Minister Modi and his visit with President Obama. What's the White House hoping for from this visit, Indira?
LAKSHMANANLook, this White House, not to mention the last several White Houses I would say, have really prioritized the India relationship. It's a natural alliance. It's the world's two biggest democracies. Why shouldn't we be very close to India? And certainly the Obama Administration has wanted to fast track India's opening economically.
LAKSHMANANThere are many things that the U.S. wants from India that it has not yet done in terms of relaxing its economy. That's a huge potential market for American business that takes you, you know, above and beyond the 1.3 billion people in China. You could have another, you know, 1.3 billion customers in India if only they would relax some of their restrictions on things like retail. So that's been an important priority. Of course the democratic alliance is a very important one.
LAKSHMANANBut I find striking about this is that Narendra Modi has taken a very interesting journey in the way he's being greeted in Washington considering that this is the same man who in 2002 was the chief minister of the State of Gujarat in which there were this horrible communal riots and violence in which a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed. And he was blamed for either turning a blind eye to this violence or even abetting it. And so he was denied an American visa, was not allowed to come to this country and now...
REHM...allegations of human rights abuses.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Well, of allowing this communal violence to go on, he was the head of a Hindu nationalist party, you know, from which he still runs. And it's quite fascinating how a dozen years later he swept this election in which there was, let's say, a weak field. And suddenly he's welcomed in the United States and seen as someone we can do business with. And I hope that's true, but it's a very interesting contrast.
REHMSo Geoff, what did the meeting actually yield?
DYERI think this meeting was more about just mending fences. It was about, you know, trying to make sure they have a working relationship between president Obama and Prime Minister Modi, you know, given that he was, you know, cut out of the country for the last ten years. It was just a short term goal here. But the other incredibly interesting thing about this visit was what Modi did in New York before he got here. He held this huge rally in Madison Square Garden. Eighteen-thousand people turned up and they had Bollywood dancers singing Bruce Springsteen songs.
DYERAnd we were talking earlier about Prime Minister Netanyahu. In a sense what he was trying to do there was take a page out of the Israeli playbook and was trying to curry -- you know, trying to build up a base of Indian American supporters, build a Diaspora here into a lobby group potentially in U.S. politics. That would give him more leverage and more influence in Washington. It was absolutely fascinating to see.
LAKSHMANANNo pun intended with curry favor.
DYERI apologize for that.
REHMDavid, any comment?
IGNATIUSWell, I think for Washington, the visit of Modi is part of a strategic effort to try to find some leverage against a China that's worrying and a Russia that's worrying. And here's India, this big powerful economy emerging. It's run into trouble in the last few years because of corruption and mismanagement. Modi wants to make those issues, wants a cleaner more centralized India. And it's very much in the United States interests to be a friend of that rising India because it's good for our trade relations, but it's also good in a world where we, you know, find a lot of new challenges coming from Russia, from China.
REHMDavid Ignatius. He is a columnist with the Washington Post and contributor to the Post Partisan blog on WashingtonPost.com. Short break, your calls when we come back. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. First, to Bobbi in Farmington, Mich. Hi, you're on the air.
BOBBIHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
BOBBIIt's a comment and a question. As an American -- an African-American -- and I look here and I see our country and I'm -- you know, that people are allowed to vote, that people can protest peacefully, that we don't use military force on our own citizenry here. I wonder, in the international arena, how are we perceived here, in America, when we go and we present our argument for, you know, democracy in other parts of the world. How are we perceived? Are we ever -- our leaders, are they ever presented with push-back to say, well, you know, you're not doing such a great job in your own country. I'm just curious, what's the conversation, if any?
REHMWell, indeed, President Obama himself, in a recent presentation, said, look, we're not perfect and pointing to what happened in Ferguson, Mo. So I don't think there are any claims. But, on the other hand, I think our caller is certainly interested in what would happen if mainland China were to use force against Hong Kong, David.
IGNATIUSWell, I think that would ignite protesting, indignation, anxiety, as Geoff was saying earlier, across Asia, around the world. I mean, the legacy of Tiananmen Square, when the Chinese opened fire on their own citizens, is still with us. On the caller's question about perceptions of America, there is a lot of anti-Americanism in the world, in a sense not surprisingly after the invasion of Iraq, which was deeply unpopular. This is a world that's very suspicious of the United States. There was great hope that President Obama, an African-American president, embodied a new America.
IGNATIUSYou remember the premature award to Obama of the Nobel Peace Prize. He'd barely been elected when he was awarded that. But that was a sign of the world's hope and expectations. A lot of that's, sad to say, diminished, if not disappeared now.
REHMHere's a question from Sam, an email. "Can your panel comment on what really transpired behind the scenes between the prime minister of India and the president of the United States, and whether Indian-U.S. relations are likely to improve in the next few years?" Indira.
LAKSHMANANI can't say. I wasn't in the room. I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall. But I can certainly say that even from what's been said publicly, we can discern a lot. I mean, one point is that Prime Minister Modi, the U.S.-China -- the U.S.-, sorry, India Business Council's members pledged to invest $41 billion in India over the next three years. That is very significant. So we see a public-private aspect here. I mean, one point you were making earlier about the power of the Indian-American community -- or Geoff was referring to that -- I thought was really interesting because the Indian-American Diaspora has been so supportive, not specifically of Modi, but of Indian-American relations in general.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, stepping up to the plate with $41 billion in investment is a real thing of putting your money where your mouth is. And also, remember, in Congress, the largest single country caucus in Congress is the India Caucus, which is so interesting, of members of Congress who are supporting better U.S.-India relations. So I think there's a lot of support for that and there has been for years. I mean, I was on a President Clinton trip back when he visited India and gave a speech to the Indian Parliament, and the Indians were standing on their desks and stomping their feet and clapping him. And that's how much of their support there is on both sides for a better relationship.
DYERI think the U.S. and India is a relationship to think very much of in the long-term view. At the moment, the last thing India wants is to be seen as a sort of a U.S. ally or partner in some case -- in some way and hedging against China. It's wary about China, but it doesn't want to get involved in any U.S. project to be seen to be trying to tie China down.
DYERBut in the long run, over the next decade or so, if China's Navy, if China's military presence starts to spread from the South China Sea, where it's very active at the moment, round into the Indian Ocean -- if it starts trying to build up, say, naval bases in Sri Lanka or even Pakistan, which has been talked about but not really confirmed -- if you start to see things like that, then, yes, India will make a big strategic reorientation and will start to become much more close to the U.S. and much more willing to work with the U.S. to push back against China.
REHMAnd, David, here's an email from Nick. "Why does the press so simply accept that the new announced settlement is in east or south Jerusalem. This area is pre-1970, 1967 West Bank land and not historically part of the more contentious problem of Jerusalem."
IGNATIUSI don't think the West accepts the legitimacy of the Israeli claims when they're reported -- when the Israelis announced 2,600 new housing units. It is reported, because it's news and it's important. But the listener is right that the claims to every square meter of land in this area surrounding Jerusalem is a matter of such intense passion for both sides. And it's one of the reasons why you wonder sometimes if it's going to be possible ever to unravel the strands and find some peace agreement. Jerusalem -- the passions about Jerusalem itself, about each place where people live or would live, is maybe the hardest issue.
REHMAll right. To Christine in Lantana, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
CHRISTINAI wanted to make a statement. I'm wondering, why are press in the West legitimizing the Islamic group -- that savage group over there -- by giving it a name, like ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State. Why not delegitimize them by just referring to them as IS, ISIS, IL. That way, they don't have a name people can cling to. That's all. That was my statement.
DYERIt's a very interesting point in the sense that, you know, all this publicity that have been given to this group, is giving it more legitimacy, is giving it more potentially popularity as maybe attracting recruits to it. But anyhow, as journalists, all we can do is report these things that are happening. And this is a group that has taken control over substantial amounts of territory in two countries. And we can't just ignore that, even if we worry that the implications of reporting that might actually be favorable to that group.
REHMAnd to John in Arlington, Va. Hi, you're on the air.
JOHNHi. I had a question about the United States' relationship with Israel and how it's affected by other kind of regional partners or global partners with Israel. As, you know, as -- particularly Russia, as they're gaining more influence and more immigrants moving from Russia to Israel. It's sort of -- it seems to me that kind of changes our ability to, you know, influence the peace situation or have discussions about, you know, other matters that are, you know, implicated by our competition with Russia at the moment. And I just wondered if the panelists could speak to that.
REHMAll right. David.
IGNATIUSWell, it's very interesting that the current Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is himself a Russian immigrae. And he symbolizes the way in which the Russian community -- Russian-background community in Israel is becoming a key political force. And they've opened up a kind of line of contact with Moscow. There is a Russian card that the Israelis are playing. And they're saying implicitly to the United States, you're not our only potential friend. It was very interesting, on one of the early votes about Ukraine, Israel did not vote, when it came up for a vote at the United Nations.
IGNATIUSNow the Israelis say, it was -- there was a strike that we couldn't deal with. There are all sorts of reasons that they cite. But even so, it was a telling moment. But the -- every time I ask Israelis about the degree of contact between Jerusalem and Moscow, I'm surprised by how much is going on, how much they're talking about.
IGNATIUSAnd we'll see. But it's a relationship that may have legs.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio. Achmed, you're on the air. Achmed, are you there? I...
ACHMEDCan you hear me?
REHMYes, sir. Go right ahead.
ACHMEDThree and a half years ago, Bashar al-Assad opposed American and NATO aggression against Syria. He said, it will backfire. Like, now, he welcomes it. And one thing, what Obama -- Obama decided to bomb Syria because popularity and domestically is down. Is he trying to make it up, the same, the reputation from his public is down?
REHMI doubt that very seriously. Go ahead, Indira.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I don't think that's the reason. I mean, it is true that the side effect has been to increase his popularity, because we have 70 percent of Americans in the latest polls who do support striking against this group, ISIL, in Syria and Iraq. But that's not the reason he did it. He did it because, as much as he was reluctant to get involved in a conflict that for three years he's tried to avoid because he felt it was scary. You don't know. You arm people. You don't know who you're arming. You don't know where those guns end up. But I think finally he was forced to do it, in part because of the public beheadings on video of these American journalists and the British aid worker. And I think he had no choice. They were seen as too much of a threat.
REHMWould you agree, Geoff?
DYERYes, I think that's right. But the first part of the caller's question raised an interesting issue about, you know, how this is playing with the Assad regime. And David was talking earlier about all the unintended consequences of starting airstrikes in Syria. And that is one of the great questions about the U.S. strategy, that is developing those, that it's very hard to see how it will not end up helping, supporting, boosting the Assad regime.
REHMHere's an email from Phil in Indianapolis, who says, "At the U.N. last week, the Iranian leader said the West created ISIS or ISIL by supporting rebels against the Syrian government. America says Iranians allowed ISIS to be created by directing the Iraqi government to exclude Sunnis from the political process in Iraq." Which version is true? David.
IGNATIUSWell, I would say both have some truth. The Iranians supported a polarizing, divisive Shiite leader, Nouri al-Maliki, who made Sunnis in Iraq feel they had no place in the country. And that added fuel to the ISIS fire, no question about it. The U.S. bumbled and stumbled the last two years trying to figure out a policy of supporting a moderate opposition, which was feckless basically.
IGNATIUSAnd in that vacuum in Syria, ISIS grew and grew and grew. And the U.S. didn't do anything about it. So, you know, there are arguments that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, directly aided ISIS, ISIL with weapons and money. I have not found the evidence to support that. But I do find evidence that all the money and weapons going in found their way to these Islamic fighters. And they just got stronger and nobody did anything to stop it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." American and Afghan officials signed a security agreement this week, nearly a year after the pact was thrown into limbo. Tell us about what they finally agreed to, Geoff.
DYERWell, this is the security agreement that will allow U.S. and international troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year, when the formal NATO mission comes to an end. And what allowed this to take place was the -- resolving a dispute over the Afghan election. They had the inauguration earlier -- the day before this act was signed, with Ashraf Ghani as the new President of Afghanistan.
DYERAnd in a world where U.S. diplomacy seems to be, you know, bumbling and fumbling as they would say on all sorts of fronts, this is the one small success they've had in recent weeks, of negotiating -- brokering this pact that allows the new president of Afghanistan to take office. However, there are still lots of questions about whether this pact will actually remain.
REHMBut isn't there the $16 billion tied to that, David?
IGNATIUSYes. The U.S. has made a promise of continuing aid to Afghanistan. And Ghani and the runner up, Abdullah Abdullah, are going to insist on getting the money. I think that Geoff is right in crediting Secretary of State Kerry for sticking with the negotiations to sort out who would be the next president and how he would make some sort of alliance with Abdullah to share power. This was one of those Perils of Pauline deals. It's just, you know, every other day it seemed to be falling apart.
IGNATIUSAnd people would, you know, a report from Kabul...
REHMThrow up their hands.
IGNATIUS...and Kerry just kept going back at it and back at it.
IGNATIUSHe'd show up there. And, you know, Kerry has worked awfully hard and had relatively little to show for it. But he -- what he can say, there's a new president of Afghanistan, despite a lot of nay saying. And there has been a renewal of this U.S. commitment, which I think a lot of people looking at Iraq say it's really important not to pull those troops out too quickly.
REHMSo, how long will they stay, Indira?
LAKSHMANANRight. Well, at this point, it's giving them the chance to stay beyond 2014, which is the key. It's not really saying, you know, what's going to happen after that...
REHMHow long. Yeah.
LAKSHMANAN...the 9,800 troops. I was with Kerry last November on that trip to Kabul where we ended up staying basically a day longer than we expected to, because Kerry would not give up. He was in the presidential palace with Hamid Karzai. And 12 hours after we were supposed to leave, we were still there waiting for a press conference. So I'm sure he's feeling quite happy that almost a year after he brokered this deal, it was finally signed by Karzai's successor. But I will say to the point of brokering this new government, I think Ashraf Ghani's people feel a bit frustrated. Because here's a man who, according to the final recount, re-tally, audit of the votes that was demanded really by his opponent and by the U.S., he won by an 8-point margin.
LAKSHMANANNow, in what system, which is a presidential system, when you have an 8-point win, do you, as president, have to make your opponent the prime minister? This is not a parliamentary system. This is a presidential system. So I think there was serious dissatisfaction. And I think it's going to remain at some level among the Afghans in Ashraf Ghani's camp about why the U.S. was sticking its nose in and trying to broker this deal, when in fact Abdullah lost.
REHMIs there one good news story internationally that you all can point to this week? Geoff.
DYERI'm desperately trying to think of one off the top of my head. I'm hoping for inspiration from colleagues here.
IGNATIUSI'd take the one that we're just talking about.
REHMThat's what I thought you'd say.
IGNATIUSYou know, the -- there have been a lot of predictions that Afghanistan, as the U.S. winds up a combat mission, would slip back into civil war. That is was, basically, all this money's gone for nothing. Well, there's a new government in Afghanistan succeeding Hamid Karzai. They ended up working out a bitter disagreement. American troops are going to stay there in a limited capacity to kind of help train people and fight terrorists. So I'd say, you know, in a world that's messed up, pretty good.
REHMDavid Ignatius, Indira Lakshmanan, Geoff Dyer, thank you all. Have a great weekend.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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