Guest Host: Susan Page

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is greeted July 22 by Gen. Mashal al-Zaben (R) and members of the Jordanian Armed Forces as he arrives at the Jordan Armed Forces General Headquarters in Amman, Jordan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is greeted July 22 by Gen. Mashal al-Zaben (R) and members of the Jordanian Armed Forces as he arrives at the Jordan Armed Forces General Headquarters in Amman, Jordan.

President Barack Obama arrives in Kenya today for meetings on security and trade with East Africa. It’s the first official visit to Kenya by a sitting president. Turkey grants the U.S. permission to use its bases to launch air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter makes a surprise visit to Iraq. The Iraqi army plans an assault to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State militants. Saudi Arabia signals support for the Iran nuclear agreement. And in Athens, negotiations begin on a third bailout for Greece. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of journalists discuss the top international stories this week.

Guests

  • Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
  • Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
  • Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent, Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward.

Transcript

  • 11:06:54

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Saudi Arabia expresses support for the Iran nuclear deal. Turkey agrees to allow the U.S. military to use its airbases to attack ISIS. And President Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia. Joining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Shane Harris with The Daily Beast, Nadia Bilbassy with Al-Arabiya, and Nathan Guttman at the Forward. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:07:28

    MR. SHANE HARRISThank you.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Susan.

  • 11:07:29

    MR. NATHAN GUTTMANHi.

  • 11:07:29

    PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, we've seen -- first thing we talked about on the domestic hour News Roundup was the Iran deal and the administration's efforts to sell it in Congress. We're also seeing an effort to sell it around the world. Nadia, I know that you sat down with Secretary of State John Kerry this week to talk about it. What did he tell you?

  • 11:08:02

    BILBASSYWell, I mean, basically, he was repeating what the administration has been saying for a while. This is the best deal that could be negotiated and it's not just good for America. It's also good for the allies, including the Gulf states who have been worried about Iran emerging as the new power in the Gulf and basically, being the (word?) power, if you want.

  • 11:08:25

    BILBASSYSo I think the worries from the Gulf states, basically, it wasn't just about Iran not having nuclear weapon because they're equally worried about Iran having more cash and more money going to the revolutionary guards, to Qassem Soleiman, a man who is control of four Arab capitals, you know, between Iraq and Yemen and Lebanon and Syria. And Iran, basically, supporting nefarious activities through proxies, through Hezbollah and the Houthis and maybe even go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait where they have a large Shiite minority.

  • 11:09:02

    BILBASSYSo I think Secretary Kerry, who's going to meet, by the way, with the GCC foreign ministers in Doha on the 3rd of August, will tell the Gulf states that the United States will have its back, that they will support them. They will have the security agreement with them that if there is any activities by Iran, they will share this intelligence with them and not to worry very much because we're going to share also cyberspace activities.

  • 11:09:28

    BILBASSYIf the Iranians were involved, we're going to protect you from a missile attack if they decided to launch this. But more importantly, I think, that he want to listen from them to see that actually they are approving this agreement, as the Saudi foreign minister said, that it has some provision, especially with the snap back sanctions, that if Iran violated that actually the United States would impose the sanctions.

  • 11:09:50

    PAGENow, the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, traveled to the Middle East this week to sell the deal to the country's neighbors. He met with, among others, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, who remains, Nathan, adamantly opposed to this deal.

  • 11:10:06

    GUTTMANYes, definitely. We're seeing some (technical) the Saudi approach. They're warming up to the deal, but no such move on the Israeli side. Netanyahu was strong opposed to it. And it's interesting that during Ashton Carter's visit to Tel Aviv, there was all this talk about offering Israel some kind of package of compensation, providing them with more military assistance, with assurances in case Israel is attacked by terror groups, it will be supported with this new Iranian money.

  • 11:10:36

    GUTTMANBut the Israelis didn't want to hear about that because in Netanyahu's mindset, you cannot discuss a compensation now because as he even said in one of the interviews over here, how can you compensate a country being threatened by the worst -- its worst enemy in the world. So right now, this idea of providing assurances to Israel, just as they were provided to the Gulf countries, is not on the table, but I think it's clear to everyone that once the dust settles and after Congress votes on this, there will be new understandings between the United States and Israel regarding mutual assistance.

  • 11:11:11

    PAGEWell, does that assume that the deal goes into effect?

  • 11:11:14

    GUTTMANWell, that assumes that with all of Netanyahu's effort and the pro Israel lobby's effort over here, they can still -- at least they won't be able to muster the veto proof majority.

  • 11:11:26

    PAGEYou just need 34 votes in the Senate to sustain the president's veto, if it comes to that. Well, Shane, tell us what the reaction was in Saudi Arabia. That was a little bit of a surprise.

  • 11:11:36

    HARRISYeah, I think it was a much warmer reception than he got in Israel, certainly, and obviously, the Saudis had been very much, you know, skeptical of this deal. They see Iran, as Nadia was saying, as a hegemon force in the region. So for them to come out and embrace this and to say they're behind it really kind of put the wind in the sails. And you saw Ash Carter kind of, you know, more ebullient on the press plane talking to reporters about this. This really was a big lift for them and it's a big win.

  • 11:12:04

    HARRISAnd we should remember, too, that, I mean, you know, the Saudis are becoming one of the largest, if not the largest, per capita arms purchaser in the world right now. They are certainly going to have U.S. companies gladly selling munitions to them as well. Cyberspace is another area where they're beefing up. So I think that there is both support for the deal, but obviously they are now amassing a more formidable defense force of their own as sort of their check on this.

  • 11:12:27

    BILBASSYBut I also think that the Saudis are different from the Israeli position regarding the deal because they like to conduct diplomacy quietly. Even if they disagree with the Americans, they're not going to stand up in a press conference like Bibi Netanyahu did and he said, this is historical bad deal. They will have difference with the United States, but they like to solve them when Ash Carter or, actually, when he even announced that King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who did not come to Camp David when the president invited him, he is going to be visiting the United States in September.

  • 11:12:57

    BILBASSYSo that's a big deal and that shows, in a way, is an endorsement of the deal. But the Saudis are still very worried about Iran and its support for Hezbollah and the Houthis, as I said, but they hope that they will get some guarantees from the American -- I mean, not quietly, but I mean, surely and robustly. But at least, they're not going to disagree with an ally like the United States publically like Netanyahu did.

  • 11:13:20

    PAGEWe saw Ashton Carter also make a surprise visit to Iraq. Nathan, tell us what that was about.

  • 11:13:27

    GUTTMANWell, I think it's mainly about him trying to strengthen the battle against ISIS, to provide American assurances that they're still there to help in whatever strongholds that ISIS has right now, to promise more help without actually going into any details of more consultants and advisors on the ground or more military assistance, but to show that the administration is still behind this battle.

  • 11:13:55

    GUTTMANIt probably also ties into the fact that the FBI director just said yesterday that ISIS is a greater threat than al-Qaida to the United States. So this is a way of conveying that message.

  • 11:14:06

    PAGENow, we see this effort, this promised effort, to try to retake Ramadi, the key capital in Iraq. 3,000 newly American-trained Iraqi troops are supposed to wage that battle. How does that look, Shane?

  • 11:14:24

    HARRISYeah, what's important about that, too, is that we're talking here about Sunni forces not being backed by the Iranian Shiite militias, which may help take other places. And what's key here is to see whether or not the Iraqi army, working, you know, with U.S. advisors can actually take the city back from Ramadi -- from ISIS, Ramadi. It's kind of a test case.

  • 11:14:42

    HARRISI think we might be able to look at it that way. And obviously, the Iraqi military has had a lot of problems in the face of ISIS. They've had problems with people retreating. They've had problems with desertion. And this is a real test not just of their fortitude, but our ability to train and equip and get these troops ready to fight because as the Obama administration has been saying for months now, the boots on the ground are going to be Iraqi fighting ISIS.

  • 11:15:03

    HARRISThere is no plan conceivable right now for putting U.S. soldiers in harm's way. Only in a training capacity.

  • 11:15:09

    PAGEBut the Shiite militias have been among the most successful in...

  • 11:15:11

    HARRISAbsolutely.

  • 11:15:11

    PAGE...fighting ISIS so why the decision not to use them in this case?

  • 11:15:14

    HARRISI think that there is a decision, you know, they're going to be helping in other places as well. But, again, I think this is sort of a test case, right, to see whether or not they can stand up and do it. And politically, this would go a long way to, I think, even bringing in other Sunni tribesman and other groups on the ground to turning against ISIS and joining forces with the Iraqis if they were seen as a credible military as well.

  • 11:15:35

    HARRISBut, you know, and we would, I think, prefer not to have Iranian-backed Shiite militias doing most of the groundwork and us effectively being, you know, Qassem Soleiman's air force in Iraq, which is essentially what is happening right now.

  • 11:15:46

    BILBASSYBut also, there is -- and I mean, Anbar is -- or Ramadi and Fallujah is the heartland of the Sunni tribal base so it will be for them to have the Shiite militias, the popular forces, lead in the battle to retake Ramadi is a statement by itself. And let's remember also, when the president authorized the 430 additional advisors, mainly, to go to Iraq, it was meant to set up a new camp, which is called Qadam.

  • 11:16:15

    BILBASSYAnd this camp is only 25 kilometer away from Ramadi itself and the whole idea is to train the Sunni tribal leaders, who's been alienated under Prime Minister Maliki, through an implementation of sectarian policies, and now, to a certain extent now, they're praising Prime Minister Abadi. But also, the visit of Ash Carter is -- let's not forget that he was very critical of the Iraqi army performance when Ramadi fell. So for him, he wanted to see, on the ground, to talk to the leader, both in the Iraqis and the U.S. military of how -- what's the battle going to look like.

  • 11:16:52

    BILBASSYBecause for the time being, the Iraqi army is not ready. And as we said, the Shiite forces proved to be the more viable forces to take -- over take or take over from ISIS many cities like we've seen before in Tikrit, although it was the hometown of Saddam Hussein, et cetera. So now, they're talking about maybe it will take two month before they can retake Ramadi, which was considered a catastrophe when ISIS took it.

  • 11:17:18

    BILBASSYAnd everybody said, well, this is -- you lose and you win in battles and it's going to be a matter of weeks or month. Now, we're talking about almost four month before they will be able to take it, if they're able to take it.

  • 11:17:28

    PAGENadia Bilbassy, she's the Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya. And we're also joined this hour by Nathan Guttman, the Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Forward, and by Shane Harris, senior correspondent with The Daily Beast. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we're going to talk about a big announcement yesterday by Turkey that may also affect this battle against ISIS and we'll take your calls and questions.

  • 11:17:51

    PAGEWe've opened our phone lines, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With us in the studio, Nathan Guttman, Nadia Bilbassy and Shane Harris, on the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. Now, we've got an email from Brian who writes us from Little Rock with a specific question. He says, "On three different news programs, I heard it mentioned that the Iranians wanted sanctions on the sale of conventional weapons lifted as part of the nuclear agreement, that the U.S. was resistant. But I've yet to hear whether or not those specific sanctions were or were not part of the agreement. Can any of the panel clear up this unanswered question?" Shane you're shaking -- nodding your head.

  • 11:20:38

    HARRISYeah. The conventional, say, embargo -- arms embargo that was imposed by the U.N. will life in five years. So there was -- and that was, I think, seen by the administration as a win, that they were able to postpone the lifting of that embargo and that the Iranians granted a significant concession in that. And then, in eight years, there will be a lifting on sales of ballistic missiles and ballistic missile components. So this was something that Iran was demanding. But the fact that the administration was able to delay that for years was seen as a significant victory for them.

  • 11:21:09

    GUTTMANIt also put the United States in an interesting situation in the negotiations in Vienna because Russia and China -- who stand to gain the most from lifting this ban because they'll be able to open arms sales again to Iran -- were really pushing for the immediate relief of these sanctions. And America somehow managed to negotiate it to five and eight years back.

  • 11:21:30

    BILBASSYBut I don't know if it was part of the agreement of the negotiation from the beginning. Because some reports were indicating that it came last minute, in the 11th hour, basically. That the Iranians said, "Look, we want this to be lifted." And they said, "Well, this is not part of the sanction against nuclear issues. So we should not link them." But they came to the compromise, basically, because, as you said. And Secretary Kerry was saying basically that, "Don't worry about these rockets because, even if they want to give them to Hezbollah, there is a U.N. Security Council that banned them from doing that.

  • 11:21:57

    BILBASSYEven if they want to give them to the Houthis, they want to give them to the Assad regime, we already have in place a mechanism what stop the Iranians from doing that. But people fear that actually these -- especially the ballistic missiles will carry nuclear heads and this -- and they can have a long range that could reach the United States. So they -- that's the main worries about them.

  • 11:22:14

    PAGEBrian, we hope that answered the question for you. Thanks for your email. Let's go to Miami, Fla., and go to Raphael. Raphael, hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:22:22

    RAPHAELHey, thank you for having me. I've got two questions. One, is a very quick one. Is why nobody talk about the 250 missile, nuclear missile or nuclear arms...

  • 11:22:34

    BILBASSYIsrael.

  • 11:22:34

    RAPHAEL...that the Israel had, first. And the second, why nobody -- nobody bring an Iranian opinion on the table? So why you don't -- nobody invite a Iranian, say, "Hey, what do you think about this deal?" It's always between USA, Israel and the Allies and it's only one side, completely one-side opinion. I'm angry because I don't think it's journalistic.

  • 11:22:58

    PAGEAll right, Raphael. Thanks very much for your call. Nathan, let's give you a shot at the first question.

  • 11:23:03

    GUTTMANOkay. It's not a big secret that Israel has a nuclear stockpile, although it never acknowledged that officially. It has it for nearly 50 years. And Israel reached some kind of arrangement with the United States and the Western world, basically saying, "We have the bomb. We're not using it right now. It's for a deterrence. We're not part of the NPT, so there is no inspections of the Non-...

  • 11:23:26

    PAGEThe Non-Proliferation Treaty. So they're not violating an agreement they had signed.

  • 11:23:29

    GUTTMANRight. And they don't have to oblige by any inspections or anything like that. And it's an arrangement that's unusual and is -- obviously draws a lot of concern in the Arab world. But it should be said that, at least for since this plan is there, Israel never used a nuclear weapon, never tested it as far as we know and is not endangering its neighbors. So it's an arrangement that the world feels safe with.

  • 11:23:54

    PAGEShane, what about the second question that our caller raised, which was, what about Iranian public opinion? What do we know about what the Iranian people think about this deal?

  • 11:24:03

    HARRISWell, there were images of the Iranian people celebrating in the streets when this happened, which I think maybe got interpreted by some people as, "Yay, we're going to get the bomb." I don't think that was it. I think it was, "At last these sanctions are going to come off and potentially $150 billion in previously frozen accounts are now going to be able to flow into the Iranian treasury and hopefully improve the lives of ordinary Iranians who have suffered tremendously under the sanctions regime." The sanctions -- they were punishing in that regard. But, look, this deal is, I think, it's the definition of compromise. Everybody got something and everybody had to give something up.

  • 11:24:35

    HARRISAnd even Foreign Minister Zarif, in Iran, has been saying, you know, "This was a give and take." I don't think it's being greeted or even pitched, frankly, as "Look at all the things we got from the Americans and we made them bend to us." You know, the devil is in the details, of course. And the more we get into the deal, we find out that there's some pretty significant oversight mechanisms. It's not going to make everyone happy. But it's not as if, you know, there was just one clear winner and one clear loser in this agreement. Everybody got something.

  • 11:25:00

    PAGERobin Wright, who is a frequent guest on "The Diane Rehm Show," has an interesting piece in The New Yorker this week from Tehran, talking to Iranians, who she's covered -- a region that she's covered over many years, which presents them as being pretty positive for the reason you say, not because of the pathway to a bomb, but because they have suffered under these economic sanctions. That's why the sanctions have worked.

  • 11:25:20

    BILBASSYYeah, absolutely. But also, let's remember, Iran is a diverse country with 80 million people. Most of the younger generation don't even remember the Shah or the Khomeini. So these people are very much in the Western camp, the way they are educated, the way they speak, the way they affiliate with the West. And they really wanted to be -- they want to break the isolation. So for them, I mean, there is two forces. The liberal, or if you want, the moderate, not the liberal, and the hard liners. And the moderate are President Rouhani, who was elected on the ticket of improving the economy. So for him, it's a good deal, if they can get this $100 billion or $180 billion part of it that goes to every -- to revamp this ailing economy.

  • 11:26:01

    BILBASSYBut there is no doubt, this -- a big chunk of it will go to the Revolutionary Guards and to Khomeini and the supreme leader, who has been a very strong -- not opponent of the deal -- but he's been saying a very unfortunate statement, which is one of the things that attracted attention in my interview with Secretary Kerry when he said Khomeini came and said, like, "We are in a war with the United States. And we will continue to be in a war with the United States." And he said, "I just don't understand his comment. Why would he say such a thing, unless this is his policy. And I'll take it at face value." So it is definitely -- there is a mixed reaction in the Iran, but mainly from the people who are celebrating in the streets.

  • 11:26:39

    BILBASSYThey are celebrating because they really wanted to be -- to have a chance to be open to the West and to break this isolation.

  • 11:26:45

    PAGEHere's an email from Alex. He writes us, "My question is about Turkey and its response to ISIS. How will Turkey's new stance change the conflict in Syria and Iraq?" Nathan, let's go back one step. Turkey's announcement yesterday caused a big splash, a major change in their policy. What did they say?

  • 11:27:04

    GUTTMANWell, basically they said that after refusing for the longest time to allow the United States and its allies to use the Air Force Base Incirlik to launch attacks against ISIS in Syria, they're not opening it, which would make a very significant military difference on the ground, experts say. Because it's much closer to the Syrian border. It will allow the United States to launch many attacks against the ISIS stronghold. And basically could, some even say, it's a game changer. It could increase the volume of the attacks and somehow really make ISIS feel the American strength.

  • 11:27:44

    PAGESo why has Turkey been reluctant to allow this before?

  • 11:27:47

    GUTTMANWell, there are many reasons. Some would say that President Erdogan feels that -- was kind of playing a double game. On the one hand, it was of course against ISIS. But he was also concerned about the power of the Kurds that might be gaining more ground in Syria and strengthening Kurds maybe in Turkey, and that's why he was reluctant to go full force against ISIS. But now, following this latest attack this week, in which 32 Turkish people were killed, that changed. There was a lot of public-opinion pressure against Erdogan. There were demonstrations in the streets. So that was the tipping point that made him change his mind.

  • 11:28:32

    PAGEThat suicide bomb attack on Monday, killed 32 people, blamed on ISIS. You know, that was -- you mentioned the Kurds. That's actually the second part of Alex's email. He says, "Why is Turkey still fighting with the YPG?" First, tell us what the YPG stands for.

  • 11:28:47

    BILBASSYThey're a Kurdish separatist force who has been -- they are Syrian basically, Syrian Kurds. And they are the opposite side -- or the other side, if you wish, of the PKK, which is operates, the Kurdish fighters who operate in Iraq. And, of course, Turkey has forever had this problem with the Kurds. They are very worried. They have a huge Kurdish minority in their country. And actually, recently, they managed to get themselves represented in the parliament, in a huge victory ever. So for him, it was -- they always feared that this will be, if you wish, the nucleus for establishing a separate Kurdish state that will include part of Syria, part of Turkey and part of Iraq. And this is -- Turkey does not want that to happen.

  • 11:29:30

    BILBASSYBut now, ever since that this policy of, if you want, that the Erdogan has been criticized for, which is allowing jihadists to cross the border into Syria. Because he saw that ISIS fighters are the strongest against President Assad. And he wanted him to go. Now that they're conducting this campaign against his own people, in this youth center, in the cultural center where everybody was killed, mainly was a university student. And it is -- it's happening on Turkish territory. So this is, for him, that's it. He -- it was a catalyst for him. And some will say, although I agree with Nathan that the negotiation for use of military bases in Incirlik and Diyarbakir has been going on for months.

  • 11:30:14

    BILBASSYAnd I think probably General Allen, who visited Ankara recently, managed to pull this deal. And President Obama spoke with Erdogan last Friday and I think they sealed it. But I think the attack has pushed him to realize now, you cannot have and allow ISIS to operate the way they did. And many people believe that the sleeper cells in Gaziantep, which is a southern city which is only 60 kilometer from Aleppo, inside Syria.

  • 11:30:37

    PAGEShane.

  • 11:30:37

    HARRISYeah, I think she -- that's exactly right. I mean, Erdogan tried to play this delicate balancing act with, you know, a pit of vipers. And now he's been bit. I mean it's -- there -- he has no choice but to respond to this. The public pressure is mounting. President Obama has been explicit in criticizing Turkey for not doing enough to patrol and to stop the flow of ISIS fighters across the border into Syria. They're recruiting and killing people in the refugee camps in Turkey. But this is a big deal, strategically and tactically both, for the U.S. campaign to be able to fly many more reconnaissance and importantly armed missions out of those bases is going to increase what the military calls the "operational tempo" of the campaign.

  • 11:31:15

    HARRISSo it will allow us to hit many more ISIS fighters than we had before. But, again, this is not necessarily, you know -- I'm skeptical of some administration officials' claims about the game-changer aspect. Because you can't just beat ISIS from the air. You have to have an effective ground force. And we don't have that in Iraq and we certainly don't have it in Syria.

  • 11:31:34

    PAGESo you think they may be overstating the importance of this change in policy.

  • 11:31:37

    HARRISYeah. But, I mean, I think maybe there's a little bit of exuberance there because they've been hoping for this for so long and they finally got this. So, yeah, it could be overstated a little bit.

  • 11:31:46

    PAGELet's talk to Lelani, calling us from St. Louis. Hi.

  • 11:31:50

    LELANIHey, this Montez Lelani from St. Louis. How are you?

  • 11:31:53

    PAGEGood.

  • 11:31:55

    LELANII'll -- different topics you are talking today, but I'll go back to the topic about Iran and America deal. Mr. Netanyahu, he will never be satisfied. He wants Iran to go back to the stone age. And his puppets, all these Republican here shouting, "No good deal, no good deal." But like president said, "Come up with your deal." They don't have any suggestion. All they want is to derail the situation. And if it happens, Iran -- you are forcing Iran in a corner where they have no other choice than a war.

  • 11:32:28

    PAGELelani, thanks so much for your call. Is that a fair characterization, do you think, Nathan, of the Israeli position? Would -- is there no deal that would have been acceptable?

  • 11:32:36

    GUTTMANWell, that's what the -- you're hearing lately from the White House. There is no deal that would be good enough for Netanyahu. If you ask the Israelis, they'll say, "There is a deal. The starting point should be zero enrichment, zero nuclear activity in Iran. Because Iran proved throughout the past years that it was cheating about its nuclear program and therefore it's not entitled to have a nuclear plan." Now, clearly, I think, Israelis understand that that was a non-starter for negotiations. But that would still be the preferred plan for Israelis.

  • 11:33:09

    GUTTMANGiven the situation right now, Netanyahu believes that if you just step back and increase sanctions, you could actually pressure the Iranians more and force them to take a deal that would be better for Israel and probably for the West and a longer period of time before they can take on a nuclear program, more inspections and tougher restrictions on conventional weapons. So they believe that there is a plan.

  • 11:33:39

    PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, let me ask you, is there a really significant rift at this point between the United States and Israel, such long-time allies?

  • 11:33:52

    GUTTMANWell, yes and no. There is a significant rift, but it started awhile ago really. And maybe the only good news about this is that the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama is so bad, in following Netanyahu's visit and speech to Congress, that it can't really get much worse. So we're in a position now in which the personal relationship between the two leaders is probably non-existent. But, still, you have the foundation of the strategic and the military relationship still as strong as it was. So probably -- it's probably too late to salvage this relationship between the leaders but not necessarily between the countries.

  • 11:34:31

    BILBASSYJust, I mean, it's an interesting point and correct me if I'm wrong, Nathan, but I think, when Netanyahu came and that press conference that everybody was anticipating and he was talking about the first reaction about this, as he called, the bad historical deal, he actually did not mention anything about enrichment, centrifuges, the inspectors. He focused on the money that Iran is going to get and is going to support the terrorist organizations in the region. And he talks about this demonstration that Rouhani attended where they burned Israeli and American flag. So for him, even the issue of nuclear fall was not even there altogether. And some people said he will reject it before he was reading the details of 100 page that came out et cetera.

  • 11:35:14

    BILBASSYAnd some people will say, as you said, Israel, that has 250 nuclear bombs, why Iran cannot have a civilian access to it. So the zero enrichment is not on the table. Because the Iranians always claimed that their program -- and I'm not defending the Iranians by any means -- but I'm just saying that their point of view that basically they always say that we need it for civilian purposes. And the United States has said, this is the best deal, at least from the administration point of view, that this is the best deal that we can have with Iran.

  • 11:35:42

    GUTTMANWell, there has been somewhat of a shift in the Israeli position from focusing exclusively on the nuclear aspect of the deal to shifting away and talking about Iran as a regional trouble-maker.

  • 11:35:55

    BILBASSYRight.

  • 11:35:55

    GUTTMANAnd that's -- that is something that irritated many people here in Washington. Because basically, and you probably heard it yourself from Secretary Kerry, saying the Israelis were talking all the time about the nuclear problem and now all of a sudden they're focusing on the conventional part of it. But Israelis still have concerns also about the nuclear aspects of it.

  • 11:36:13

    BILBASSYRight.

  • 11:36:14

    PAGEShane, what's your perspective on the seriousness of this rift between the United States and Israel.

  • 11:36:19

    HARRISI mean, I think Nathan put his finger on it when he said that the -- at the level of the military and the intelligence services, the relationship is very strong. I mean, I was in Israel in December when, you know, the relationship was no better than it is now, and it's rock-bottom. And this was the point that people kept emphasizing when we would meet with government officials, particularly in the national security apparatus, is that that commitment is still there. And I think it's not an accident that the Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, was the one that we sent over to meet with the prime minister -- not only, I mean, obviously they were not going to send Secretary Kerry.

  • 11:36:51

    HARRISSo Carter went over both as a little bit of a punching bag, I think, and to absorb this anxiety. But as a demonstration also that, look, you know, when it comes down to the fundamental issues of our mutual security agreement, that's inviolate and that is not jeopardized from our perspective by this agreement.

  • 11:37:06

    PAGEShane Harris with The Daily Beast. And we're also talking this hour with Nadia Bilbassy from Al Arabiya and Nathan Guttman from The Forward. We're going to take another short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about President Obama's groundbreaking trip to Africa. He left yesterday. He's there now. And we'll take your calls and questions. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    PAGEPresident Obama left yesterday on his trip to Africa. It's the first time he'll visit Kenya as President. A homecoming, of sorts. Shane, it's where his father is from.

  • 11:40:12

    HARRISYeah, absolutely. And he is -- I mean, he is viewed like a rock star there. You know, last time he was there was when he was a Senator in 2006. People lined the streets to get a view of him. There's a popular beer called Senator Beer that's been renamed Obama Beer in Kenya. I mean, this is really a trip that the Kenyan people have been waiting for for a long time. And there was a, you know, a sense of disappointment that he didn't make the visit in his first term. But now he's doing it, and yeah, it will be seen very much as a, kind of a homecoming for him.

  • 11:40:41

    PAGEHe's talking about global entrepreneurship. There's a summit there to talk about trade links to Africa. Nadia.

  • 11:40:47

    BILBASSYSure. And just to comment on that as well. Actually, I used to live in Nairobi for six years. And my friends are telling me, they've never seen Nairobi as clean as it is now because in anticipation of President Obama's visit. But look, I mean, yes, it's important. This trip is important on many levels. Number one, as Shane just said, it's connection to his father home that, you know, he talked about it eloquently in his book, "Dreams For My Father." So I'm sure it's an emotional trip for him to visit for the first time as a President and not just as a Senator when he visited in 2006.

  • 11:41:21

    BILBASSYOr just as Obama, as Barack Obama in 1988. But Africa is very important, especially Kenya now. It's emerging as the new economic power in the East of Africa. It's the high tech, it's the home for high tech industry. Apparently now, in Nairobi, restaurants, you can pay by bar code in restaurants, which is completely alien to me in the time that I lived in 2003. But also, so yes, he's looking for some kind of trade. He talks about health issues. He talks about security, which is paramount, especially with the threat that posed by Shabaab in Somalia.

  • 11:41:56

    BILBASSYBut taking all of these issues into consideration, which as President Uhuru Kenyatta talked about as well, there is serious issues that need to be discussed and talked about, which is the human rights situation in Kenya. President Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court recently for the killing of -- or the violence that preceded the election in 2007, 2008, where almost a thousand people were killed from the Luo tribes, especially in (word?).

  • 11:42:23

    BILBASSYAnd then, the case was dropped only because he was intimidated, according to many people in Kenya, the witnesses. While his deputy, William Ruto, is also still indicted that the President is going to shake hands with. So he is going to have a serious problem with that. Also, Kenya has been, I mean, they have been known for rampant corruption. President Kenyatta himself has been clamming on civil societies, on journalists, on minorities. So, it's not really a good record for the President to ignore or to face there. Of course, alongside the gay issues has been, I'm sure we will talk about it in a minute.

  • 11:42:59

    PAGEYeah, there have been some attention paid to whether President Obama will focus on the issue of gay rights when he visited Senegal in 2013, he talked about gay rights. That caused some pushback. Do you think he'll talk about it this time, Nathan?

  • 11:43:14

    GUTTMANWell, the White House is promising that he will definitely raise the issue of gay rights in Africa, in general, and in Kenya specifically. And that he will entitle the broader issue of human and civil rights, women's rights and minority rights. But the question is, how forceful will he be about it? Clearly, this is not a message that will be well received by the Kenyan government and by his hosts over there. And what the President will need to find is a way of raising the issue of relaying to the Kenyan people and to the world that this is something that America cares about.

  • 11:43:51

    GUTTMANAnd this will be part of its future relationship with Africa. But doing so in a way that will still keep a working relationship with the government.

  • 11:43:59

    PAGEWhy does the United States think it's important to raise this issue? What is the situation now when it comes to treatment of gay men and lesbians in Africa?

  • 11:44:06

    BILBASSYWell, it's pretty bad, because most of the African countries have Draconian laws against gays and lesbians in Africa. Take Uganda, for example, you know, where they sentence people to life imprisonment. Take Nigeria, Gambia, more or less all of the African countries because they look at it in a different way. They see it as a cultural thing more than a human rights issue, which is the administration looks at it. And it should be looked at. So, for example, I think all of Africa has the same attitude, except for South Africa, which legalized same sex marriage in 2006.

  • 11:44:41

    BILBASSYSo, for him to raise this issue as a human rights issue I think is very important. It's vital, but many people will dismiss it. I mean, we're talking about this infamous guy that -- the Deputy to President Uhuru Kenyatta, William Rotu, who's a devout Christian, and he was publicly talking about it. And because people anticipated that the President would raise this issue, as Nathan just said. And he said, look, this is not starter. This is no issue for us. So, the President's not going to talk about it.

  • 11:45:07

    BILBASSYThis is a Christian country and we're not going to talk about the human, we're not going to talk about same sex marriage or gay rights, whatever. So, this is a continent who prides itself on, you know, I don't know how to say it without being politically incorrect of multi-relationship with women, and, you know, of having mistresses. And et cetera. So, they look at gay issues as completely separate than the West or Western Europe or the United States look at it. It's very similar to what the Middle East really look at it.

  • 11:45:38

    HARRISI think you should view this too, through a domestic US lens. I mean, President Obama is not going over to try and kick off a campaign for marriage equality in Kenya. I mean, you know, this is a President who invokes stonewall in his second inaugural. He said that he had evolved on the issue of marriage equality. And now, as President, when the Supreme Court just found a constitutional right to same sex marriage. I think he wants to be seen going over there and raising this issue in a country and in a region, as Nadia said, where it is profoundly repressive to LGBT people.

  • 11:46:04

    HARRISSo, I think that is very much a message that he wants to convey, I think that is sort of harkening back to people in this country who want to see him say it.

  • 11:46:11

    PAGEMeanwhile, just briefly, he'll also stop in Ethiopia. The first US President to visit that country. Human rights also an issue there.

  • 11:46:18

    GUTTMANYeah. And definitely one of the main issues there is corruption and freedom of the press. Ethiopia has a very bad record of jailing journalists and bloggers. And limiting free press. And again, just as in Kenya with the issue of gay rights, the question is how forcefully can Obama raise this issue when visiting Ethiopia. It's part of his talking points, but does he raise it in closed rooms? Does he expect something to be done before? Some kind of a gesture of releasing imprisoned journalists? That we'll have to wait and see.

  • 11:46:55

    PAGELet's go to the phones and talk to David. He's calling us from here in Washington, D.C. David, thanks for holding on.

  • 11:47:01

    DAVIDHello, yes, good morning. It's not afternoon yet. Hello, and I want to thank your program. And I know there is only limited time, so I will try to be as concise as I can. And I'm calling as an Iranian-American. And of course, I'm also of the Shia faith. And I just want to mention that the humanitarian approach of Mr. Obama and the administration, that right now, about this deal with Iran. I think, at the end of the day, it should be suspect. The regime in Tehran should be denied any type of access to any type of nuclear technology, because they cannot be trusted at all.

  • 11:47:50

    DAVIDAnd why do I say that? It is because, first of all...

  • 11:47:53

    PAGEDavid, before you go there, I wanted to just ask you a quick question. You're Iranian-American. Do you have friends and relatives in Iran, and if so, do you have a sense of how they view this deal? Are they very enthusiastic about it? Do they have questions? What's the reaction there?

  • 11:48:07

    DAVIDWell, the bottom line issue is that the Iranian people are fed up with this regime. And we -- yes, it is our pride to have technology, like everyone in the world and everything. And advanced in every which way. And that was, in the beginning, that revolution that people, the generation that brought about that revolution, I know from far left to the far right and the Shia people who were involved in that. They thought that they were going to bring heaven to Iran.

  • 11:48:38

    DAVIDBut that didn't happen. We lost everything.

  • 11:48:42

    PAGEAll right, David. Thanks so much for your call. Any response from the panel?

  • 11:48:44

    BILBASSYPrecisely the administration is saying, they do not trust the regime. They're saying, we're doing this because we don't trust them. I mean, we want to verify everything. We want to put a mechanism whereby we know what Iranians are doing. And with that disagreement, Iran would have been on the brink of three month of having a bomb. Without this agreement, we wouldn't know what the heck they've been up to. And hence, this agreement will do the opposite, which is they will keep an eye on the regime that they don't trust.

  • 11:49:11

    BILBASSYAnd everything else to do with the regime's activities was supporting terrorism. I mean, after all, Iran is on the State Department's state sponsor of terror. So, they're not lifting any sanctions to do with human rights abuses. Of supporting terrorist organizations around the world. So, this is all stay in place. And the administration, and again, their line is basically, Iran without a nuclear weapon is less dangerous on the world than Iran with a nuclear weapon.

  • 11:49:39

    GUTTMANBut there is a certain point to make about the -- this deal providing the regime in Iran a lifeline, because there was mounting pressure in Iran, because of the sanctions, because of the economic situation was so dire. It did help the opposition in a certain way. And now, some, especially Iranian Americans sitting over here can look at it and say, well, this just bought Khamenei and Rouhani and other -- decade or two or who knows how long in power. Because the pressure will be released.

  • 11:50:13

    BILBASSYSure, but if you agree if Khamenei and Rouhani are not in the same camp, then this deal is good for Rouhani and for Zarif because it's seen as strengthening the hands of the moderates. And not the hard liners.

  • 11:50:25

    PAGESo, all politics is local? You might conclude? That from here in the United States and Tehran. You know, it seems like every week, we have some new twist and turn in the Greek financial crisis. On this Thursday, just yesterday, the Greek parliament approved some policy changes. Tell us about it, Shane. Are we out of the woods here with Greece?

  • 11:50:46

    HARRISNot quite. That would be too much to hope for, wouldn't it? So, they've adopted a couple of measures. One on streamlining court procedures in Greece, which could save billions of Euros. And also some new EU banking regulations, which were supposed to have been passed months ago. Basically, these are the steps that the international community is requiring Greece to take before we start talking about a new lifeline of some 86 billion Euros to help Greece. It's become extremely divisive within the Greek parliament.

  • 11:51:15

    HARRISIt is, you know, jeopardizing the Greek leader, Mr. Tsipras. What I find astounding about this story, though, is if you just look at the math, the raw numbers of this, you're talking about a 339 billion dollar debt. It is 175 percent of the gross domestic product of Greece. So, I was bad at math, but I think that means, essentially, that if Greece did nothing but put every dollar, every Euro of its output for a year and nine months, that's what it would take to pay off the debt. It will never be repaid. I mean, it's -- I think most politicians are speaking quite frankly about this.

  • 11:51:48

    HARRISIncluding, of all people, the President of Latvia. Recently said, it's ridiculous to think that this will ever actually be repaid in full. The question is now is it one of debt forgiveness? And that's where the IMF and Germany are parting ways over how much of this debt do we basically just write off?

  • 11:52:03

    PAGEMeanwhile, you have some Greeks worrying that these austerity measures are going to push them into a recession with some disastrous consequences for the people who live there.

  • 11:52:11

    BILBASSYYeah, I mean, but all was actually talking about it before we went on air, and I think it is like a Greek tragedy that she's turning into an ever-ending saga. And I mean, yes, in a way, that to fundamentally change the Greek culture is almost impossible. Because many people believe there is two cultures. There is a north -- northern European culture and the Mediterranean culture. And in addition to that, you have very strong trade unionists. You have the concept of not collecting taxes.

  • 11:52:39

    BILBASSYYou know, you have the pension, the early retirement. All this money that the state failed to collect from its citizens. And so they wanted all the perks without having -- being a participant in the state in terms of paying their duties. So, now the Europeans, the bailers, basically, the Germans and the French saying to them, well, look, if you wanted to stay in the EU, because many people talk about divorce, and I think it's premature.

  • 11:53:03

    BILBASSYBecause that would be not just the end for Greece, but also we're talking about very weak economies like in Spain and even Italy to a certain extent, and Portugal. So, that would affect all these countries. So, basically, I mean, yes, the Prime Minister now has to have a compromise whereby they will meet this 86 billion dollar bailout if they manage to implement these measures.

  • 11:53:23

    PAGEI suspect we'll be talking about this situation for many news roundups to come. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. You know, we had a front page story in the New York Times Wednesday that said, "Obama's Plan for Guantanamo Seen Faltering." And the next day, 24 hours later, the White House announced they were in the final stages of drafting a plan to close Gitmo. Who do you believe, Shane?

  • 11:53:47

    HARRISOh, I think this is like the Greece story. This is the never ending tragedy. It will never end.

  • 11:53:52

    BILBASSYSeven years later.

  • 11:53:52

    HARRISYou know, yeah, I'm skeptical, frankly, of, you know, whether or not they are on the cusp of getting this plan. I mean, it's going to require the administration to concede to some elements in Congress that they don't want to. And, you know, they're saying executive power and we should have authorities to, you know, to decide the who comes and who goes from Gitmo. This has been such a long saga, and it's important to remember that this is one of the sort of the signal issues that Obama ran on.

  • 11:54:16

    HARRISAnd said from day one, you know, I'm going to close Guantanamo. And very quickly realized that senior members of the Bush administration had also been trying to close Guantanamo, and it is an exceptionally hard problem. I think what they're looking for now is some way to sort of make a deal with this in Congress to see if they can get it done. I don't think that President Obama wants to depart Washington in 2017 having not closed it. But I just, as somebody who's been watching this for a long time, I'm pretty skeptical of the chances.

  • 11:54:40

    PAGENathan, how many prisoners are left there? And who are they?

  • 11:54:44

    GUTTMANThat's an interesting part about it, because we remember Gitmo in its glory days, with 800 prisoners and all deemed to be the heads of the terror organizations that were fighting America. Now, you have 52 prisoners who are considered low level prisoners, which the United States itself has said it doesn't want to hold them anymore. They just have to figure out a way to transfer them to their own country and to find someone who will take them. And then you have another 64 high level prisoners, which America would like to keep in prison.

  • 11:55:14

    GUTTMANAnd 10 of them have been convicted in military tribunals. The rest didn't stand trial yet. But it's a very small number. Still, the fact that they're there and that Guantanamo still exists is a problem for the President, and he just has to figure out how to resolve this problem of the 100 and so prisoners that are still there.

  • 11:55:34

    PAGEI'd like to close the hour with a more upbeat kind of story. And that was a find this week, important for those who follow the Islam faith, from some -- what may be the world's oldest copy of the Koran.

  • 11:55:50

    BILBASSYIsn't that amazing? And it's been sitting in the library in Birmingham University for a century. And they just discovered it. Because this scholar came and he looked at this old manuscript and he said, well, this might be really old. So, they got this radio carbon expert from Oxford University and they found that it is 1,370 years old. And that indicates something really interesting, in Islam, which is many people believe that the Koran was written after the prophet died.

  • 11:56:21

    BILBASSYAnd that will show that it might be written, actually, when he was still alive. And one of his closest friends might have started writing it at the time. And it was written on the skin of a goat or a sheep and it was -- they used like palm leaves or they used stone. And it was written in what they call the Hejazi script.

  • 11:56:44

    HARRISScript.

  • 11:56:44

    BILBASSYScript. It was written by the Hejazi script, which is a very particular writing of Arabic. It's very, very beautiful, and many people are really, really, really happy to find out something that can go back to the years when the Koran was kind of relayed to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over 22 years of his life. And it is something to look at it. It is magnificent and it's beautiful and I think everybody should go and look at it at Birmingham University library.

  • 11:57:16

    PAGEAn amazing thing to imagine. Well, let me thank our panel for joining us this hour. Nadia Bilbassy, Shane Harris and Nathan Guttman. Thank you so much for being with us this hour.

  • 11:57:23

    HARRISThank you.

  • 11:57:24

    GUTTMANThank you.

  • 11:57:24

    BILBASSYThank you.

  • 11:57:25

    PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm who's on vacation. Thanks for listening.

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