As many as 200 people drown off the Libyan coast while trying to reach Europe in an overloaded boat. That brings the death toll in Europe’s migrant crisis to more than 300 this week alone. China’s stock market sell-off creates turmoil in global markets. Britain reopens its embassy in the capital of Iran. The new U.S. envoy for Syria begins a diplomatic tour to push for political solutions to end the Syrian civil war. And French prosecutors say the armed man who was tackled by passengers on a train intended to commit terrorism. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Demetri Sevastopulo Washington bureau chief, Financial Times
- Nancy Youssef Senior defense and national security correspondent, The Daily Beast
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Authorities discover the bodies of more 70 migrants in a truck in Austria. Volatility in China continues to roil world markets and a new U.S. envoy launches a diplomatic push to end the conflict in Syria. Here for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Demetri Sevastopulos of the Financial Times, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Mark Landler of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMWe'll be happy to include your comments, questions throughout the hour. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, there's not much good news out there, but I'm happy to have you all here.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFThank you.
MR. DEMETRI SEVASTOPULOThank you, Diane.
MR. MARK LANDLERThank you. Good morning.
REHMGood to see you all. This latest story of 71 migrants found in a truck near Vienna, what happened, Mark?
LANDLERWell, Diane, there's a ring of human trafficking that's sort of taken shape in eastern Europe that is a response to all the people that have been displaced by wars in the Arab world. In this case, we're talking about people principally displaced in Syria in the civil war there who make their way up through the Balkans through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and then ultimately into the European Union.
LANDLERAnd where they're trying to get, for the most part, is Germany, Norway, Sweden, northern Europe. And there is this sort of new and very chilling trend of human trafficking to transport these people across land through all these countries. And what happened in this case was a truck that had a refrigerated storage compartment in the back, but was not ventilated. It was not getting adequate air supply, was carrying 71 people and it was abandoned on a highway south of Vienna in Austria.
LANDLERA motorist called it in. The police opened the back of it and discovered 71 bodies. There were 59 men, 8 women, 3 boys aged between 7 and 10 and one girl. The Austrian and Hungarian authorities working together have made four arrests in this case already. It seems to be a Hungarian/Bulgarian trafficking ring that, for large amounts of money, takes people and tries to spirit them across all these borders. So this is sort of an even more horrifying twist on what we've seen for the past six or eight months in the Mediterranean where you've seen ships, small boats, dingeys and then larger ship capsizing, killing, I think by now the death toll is up to 2500.
LANDLERThose are largely refugees crossing from Libya and trying to get into Italy or Greece. What we're seeing here is a trend of refugees, migrants coming from Syria overland via Greece and the Balkans. So it's an enormous political problem for the Europeans in addition to being a terrible humanitarian tragedy and we're seeing that.
YOUSSEFJust to give you a sense of the numbers that we're talking about in Hungary alone, 38,000, nearly 39,000 just this month alone. On Tuesday was the record high, 2300 until Wednesday when another 700 -- we're up to 3200 and so the numbers that we're talking about are literally growing by the day and you're finding a European community that had sort of thought that it was -- could be unified in its approach is increasingly divided.
YOUSSEFThere was a conference this week to talk about the Balkans and you could see the divisions among the European states, one pointing at the other saying who should be doing more and what should be done, that this idea of a unified Europe to confront problems like this is cracking right before our eyes.
REHMHow is the EU reacting here?
SEVASTOPULOWell, the difficulty is this year, there's been a quarter of a million asylum seekers have come into Europe. Half of those have come through Greece, which is already reeling from its own financial and economic crisis. The Greek government can't cope. A huge number are coming through Italy. Italy has also got its own problems. It's government is struggling to cope, too. Under EU rules, the country where the asylums first land are supposed to process their asylum application.
SEVASTOPULOBut most of these migrants or displaced people from war zones want to get to Germany or Scandinavia and so it's very difficult. There is a lot of resentment growing. The European economy in general is not doing brilliantly and so people are trying to balance, how do you give humanitarian relief to these people who badly need it, at the same time not cause greater economic problems in your own country.
REHMAnd one has to wonder, I mean, with this outflow of humanity, where are they going to be able to go?
LANDLERWell, the Germans, last week, increased their projections for asylum seekers for this year from 400,000 to 800,000 so they doubled them in the space of one week, which gives you an idea of the magnitude of numbers that we're looking at. And in Germany, which has done a relatively good job of keeping a lid on sort of far right political sentiment, you're really beginning to see this boil over. There have been riots outside of some of these processing centers for asylum seekers, particularly in Eastern Germany, which historically is where you see some of this nativeist ideology rise up.
LANDLERAnd Chancellor Merkel has spoken out against this. So even in a country that is politically quite stable, like Germany, to say nothing of Greece and Italy, you're beginning to see political fissure forming because of this issue. And I guess one could predict, with the numbers we're talking about, these types of xenophobic and very far right sentiments are probably likely to grow and be more of a theme in Europe over the next year or so.
REHMAnd we should say that on Thursday, two boats carrying migrants bound for Italy capsized off the coast of Libya. One carried 50, the other 400. Officials said up to 200 many have died.
YOUSSEFThat's right. Those are the numbers that we're getting today. And those who survived were primarily from Nigeria and Ghana said that they believed the boats capsized because of bad weather. And, again, this is getting to this problem of the means of controlling the migration issue. What's interesting is remember, in Libya, they have no means to really even deal with people leaving from there or taking care of when these boats capsize.
YOUSSEFI mean, the Libyan Red Crescent said they didn't have enough body bags to deal with all those who were washing up ashore who had died on these boats. And so here's a country, Libya, that has two competing governments. It simply doesn't even have the wherewithal to confront people leaving their borders let alone when these crises emerge off their shores.
SEVASTOPULOOne of the big complications in Europe is that the way the migrants get from Greece up to Germany, they're going through a number of countries which are part of what's called a Schengen Agreement, which allows someone within that block to travel without a passport and it's, you know, a European arrangement to facilitate travel, trade, et cetera. There's now a growing debate about whether the Schengen Agreement needs to be changed and there needs to be some way of stopping some of the migrants moving from one country to another so that you have a more even flow of where they're going.
SEVASTOPULOThere's also a growing debate about how you share the number of migrants across the European Union. The Germans and the French are trying to lead a charge on that. But again, there's large division in terms of who bears the burden.
REHMMark, you mentioned Angela Merkel. The question becomes is her leadership at all in question.
LANDLERWell, her leadership has been in question on another very compelling issue in the past few months, the financial crisis in Greece where she's had to walk this balance between fierce anti-bailout sentiment in Germany with her duty to try to keep the European monetary union together and to prevent Greece from spinning out of it. So she's already been in a very tough spot on that. Now, you layer on top of that how she's going to deal with potentially a fairly historic influx of asylum seekers to a society that is now showing that it has trouble accepting.
LANDLERNow, I should say before we take that line too far, in most polling, a majority of Germans still say they believe Germany can cope with this kind of influx. Germany's a very big country. It, traditionally, has had less of an issue with immigration than say France or the UK. But I think now she's facing kind of a double threat. One is on the financial side with Greece economically and now the issue, which also involves Greece, which is the humanitarian influx and the impact that those migrants have on German society and on domestic politics inside Germany.
YOUSSEFI would just add, frankly, there's no other country who can do it, that financially Germany's in the only position that could really step up to the plate politically. So for Angela Merkel, the pressure is enormous and one that she is filling a gap that the rest of Europe, there is no leader that this -- again, this idea of a unified Europe has really come -- put Angela Merkel in a position where she is the leader in the absence of any other.
SEVASTOPULOI'll just add to what Mark and Nancy said. I mean, Angela Merkel's poll ratings are also very high. She is the undisputed most competent political leader in Europe. And while you see reports of violent attacks on some of the migrants, neo-Nazi groups in Germany, you know, we see those because they stand out, but the truth is whether it's in the islands of Greece or in the parks of Germany there's a huge outpouring of sympathy from the average people who are going there and actually giving relief personally to the migrants.
REHMDemetri Sevastopulos, Washington bureau chief for The Financial Times, Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast and Mark Landler, White House correspondent for the New York Times. Short break here. Your calls, your email when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup," this week, with Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Mark Landler of The New York Times, Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times. A number of you are asking whether, in fact, those fleeing conflicts should be called migrants or refugees. Mark Landler.
LANDLERIt's a very good question and one that's likely to become politically charged over the next few weeks. Under the United Nations High Commission of Refugees definition, a refugee is someone who is displaced as a result of a conflict, which would suggest that the majority of the people we've been talking about, either from Libya or Syria, would fit the definition of refugee. In both countries, there were civil wars. These are people that are fleeing to Europe because their homelands are simply too dangerous to stay in.
LANDLEROf that large number of people, there are some that come from further afield, from places like Afghanistan, where the debate becomes a little murkier. Yes, Afghanistan has been in a state of war for a long time. But in some cases, people do leave and move to Europe because they want a better life, they want more prosperity, they want to have a better place for their children to grow up and it's not directly related to conflict. So when the U.N. looks at the situation, they would argue most of these people are refugees. And if you're a refugee, it gives you the legal right to apply for asylum, which is critical in terms of staying in the country that you arrive in.
LANDLERIf you arrive in a European country as a migrant, your status is that you're an undocumented alien, as you would be in this country.
REHMSo how are these countries like Germany, like Greece, like the U.K. going to be able to decide who is what?
LANDLERWell, in Germany, for example, they talk about having 800 asylum applicants this year, which implies that they've decided that if you come from Libya, Syria, any of these areas, that you would be considered to have been displaced by war. My assumption would be that all of these countries will, you know, go through the documentation process with people and ask them where they come from...
LANDLER...and what were the circumstances of their departure. And if you come from a country untouched by war, even if it's poor, they might say, well, you know, you're not actually a refugee. You just want to come here for a better life. And that's a different story in terms of whether you would have the legal right to stay.
YOUSSEFAnd the challenge is countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Eritrea, Iraq even, where what constitutes having to flee? And now you're going to have a whole European community having to define that in sort of real time. And I think that'll be the big challenge going forward for those, as Angela Merkel said, 800,000 estimated asylum seekers coming to Germany alone this year.
SEVASTOPULOYou know, I think that's exactly right. I mean, at the end of the day, the key thing that has to be decided among the countries of the European Union is how do you share the numbers? Do you have a quota-based system? Because, again, as I said earlier, technically you're supposed to apply for asylum in the country where you landed. Well, Greece cannot afford to give asylum to, you know, 100,000 refugees a year, nor can Italy. So there has to be a burden-sharing agreement and that is the most difficult thing to arrive at.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the gunman in last week's foiled train attack. He's facing terrorism charges. He is a Moroccan. He was on a high-speed train to France. And how was he thwarted, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, of course, we know he was thwarted by the brave actions of several Americans, Brits, and literally jumped on. His name is Ayoub El-Khazzani. And we learned a lot about his story this week. At first, he was found with an assault rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, a water bottle containing gasoline, a cutting -- a box-cutting knife. And his claim was that he was there just to rob people. But...
REHMAnd that he was just going to shoot out one of the train windows.
YOUSSEFSure. Yeah. And then there are things like the phone that was found on him that had no phone numbers on it. But yet he was able to watch a video in the bathroom before he carried this out, calling for violence in the name of Prophet -- of the Prophet -- Prophet Muhammad. The presumption is that he was -- actually had that phone to take photos of a presumed attack. And so he traveled to Turkey, to Antakya, which is near the border of Syria. So the presumption is, at the minimum, he had contact with those who are affiliated with jihadi groups in that region. And so all these details emerge that suggested that he was involved in some kind of terrorist activity, but the reality is they're still working out the details of what that association was.
YOUSSEFWhat's interesting is that he seems to come from a family that have all been radicalized. He spent time in southern Spain going to a radical mosque. His brother was a treasurer there. They searched his sister's home in Brussels where he'd spent some time because there were suspicions that she had been radicalized. They talked to his father in Morocco who said he was a good boy. But he, too, had traveled to this mosque that was known to have radical ties. He is seen as having associations with radical thoughts, if you will, or radical ideologies. But there hasn't been a tie to a specific group. And so, again, we enter this sort of gray area of what constitutes being affiliated with a terrorist organization if you're inspired or if you're a member.
YOUSSEFBut the charges suggest that his affiliation, his inspiration from these groups led to him being charged with attempted murder with terrorist intent.
LANDLERI think it's, you know, it's interesting. His lawyer makes the argument that he only wanted to rob people. That when he was taken into custody, he looked ill and malnourished. She's sort of making an economic case. You know, my client had no economic future, was desperate and was looking, you know, who resorted to these measures. I mean, it is, in fact, true that many of the people who are radicalized in Europe proceed down that path, in part, because they do feel a sense of economic hopelessness.
REHMHe did, by the way, buy a first-class ticket on that train.
LANDLERHe did. And that's why the whole -- also, someone who has no money, it's difficult to contemplate how they find themselves with, you know, an East German assault rifle and nine cartridges of bullets. So, you know, the story doesn't necessarily hang together. But the lawyer is definitely making the case that this somehow grows out of economic hopelessness. And, in fact, it is true that some radicalization, in fact, in many cases, radicalization grows out of young people who don't see themselves having much of an opportunity.
LANDLERIn this case, it appears -- it may be true that that's where it began. But clearly, along the way, he found his way to organizations and resources that would not be, you know, one would expect to see in the hands of someone who's simply hungry and penniless.
REHMWe have an email from Matthew in New Hampshire, wanting to understand who exactly was involved in thwarting that terror attack. We've heard about three American friends, the British citizen. But I have heard reports, says Matthew, of as many as two other individuals -- one described as either an American or a French-American, who may have received a gunshot wound, and a sixth individual whom I've not yet seen described. Why the gaps and innuendos in the coverage of this story? I'm not sure about the word, innuendos, Demetri.
SEVASTOPULOI'm not sure about some of those details. I mean, there was a French person involved in trying to thwart the attack. And in terms of innuendo, I mean, when these kinds of attacks or thwarted attacks happen, it's always very difficult in the beginning to work out what happened. I mean, it takes an amount of time to sort through the evidence, to talk to the witnesses, to interview, in this case, the shooter. So I think it'll be some time before we have the full picture of what happened.
YOUSSEFYeah. Remember, he came -- he comes out of the bathroom and one person jumps on him. He moves a little forward and other people jump onto him. So the exact -- the number of people who were involved we don't know. I think, at the end, though, that the -- there was an attitude among those that they were not going to take this sitting down, that they had to react immediately, was sort of the takeaway for me. That there was a feeling that when these threats emerge, because they can emerge anywhere, because you have this...
YOUSSEF...you have this growing jihadi threat that can come from anywhere, on a train, on a bus, anywhere, that people have this sense that, if they see something, that they react collectively and quickly. And that was my takeaway from this.
SEVASTOPULOIt also raises some broader points which are -- we talked earlier about the Schengen Agreement and how it is easy to travel within Europe, if a country is a member of that block. This man was known to some of the counter-terror authorities and he moved around Europe -- Spain, France, other places. When you're traveling in those countries, it becomes harder to track people. You don't have to cross borders and show a passport. So that's one thing.
SEVASTOPULOThe second thing it's doing is raising a new question about whether European countries need to do something to tighten up security on their trains. At the moment, Spain is really the only major European country where there are some kind of checks. Aside from that, in German and France -- I just took a high-speed train in Germany myself about three weeks ago -- there are no checks at all. You get on the train and you get off the train. It's true to a certain extent with Amtrak in the U.S. So train travel is something people have looked at for a long time and worried that it would become the next form of 9/11.
LANDLERYou know, to go back to what the listener asked about the reporting of the story and who was involved. I think we all need to acknowledge that there's a certain attractiveness, in this country in particular, to a story about American servicemen interceding and thwarting a terrorist attack in Europe. And I think for those us who've covered these types of stories, it's always murkier when the full details come out. But, you know, the immediate symbolism of these American soldiers stepping in was irresistible. I mean, I felt, in the first day or two, that the poor British businessman wasn't maybe getting his fair share either, at least in the coverage in this country.
LANDLERAnd so, you know, it is probably true that, as the forensics are done and the case is really taken apart, we'll find out that there may have been other people involved. It strikes me that that's, in the end, a lot less important than figuring out the background, the history of the young man who was going to perpetrate the crime. Because that's the important point.
REHMWasn't there one person who wanted to remain anonymous and said so?
LANDLERI think that's right. Yeah. I think that's right.
REHMBecause you had the three receiving the French Legion of Honor. You did not have a fourth person there.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to China. Demetri, global markets in a tailspin this week. How much had to do with China?
SEVASTOPULOIt had, I think, a fair amount to do with China, but it had less to do with the Chinese stock market than it did the view of the Chinese economy and, more importantly, the view of the way the Chinese leaders are handling this crisis politically. If you step back and look at Chinese economic growth and its stock market in recent years, the stock market is a casino. It's basically detached from economic reality. About 7 percent of Chinese people own Chinese shares.
SEVASTOPULOBut the fundamentals are very different from the way the markets work in the U.S. When Chinese economy has grown well in the past, the market hasn't necessarily soared. What you've had over the last year is a stock market bubble driven by leverage where people could borrow money and invest. And from about June, you then had a crash. The government built up the market on the way up. They said that this was the Chinese dream, that Chinese people should invest. It would help them...
SEVASTOPULOIt encouraged them.
SEVASTOPULOAnd in fact, at one point -- a story came out yesterday from Australia, from a very respected journalist who said that Xi Jinping had actually said to a Chinese journalist that the Shanghai market was at 4,000 but could go to 10,000. So what's happened here is that the Chinese government is facing a crisis of confidence. It's not that this is really affecting the economy, per se. It's more that they went out and said, this is the future. This can't go down. And all of a sudden, when it started to go down, they tried to contain it, they spent a lot of money doing so and failed.
LANDLERIt's also happening at a time when the Chinese government and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is engaged in a number of risky things all at the same time. He's in the middle of an anti-corruption drive, which has resulted in the purge of some very powerful people in the party and in the government. He's trying to undertake a structural reform of the Chinese economy, as Demetri alluded to, which is also very risky, which also gores many people's oxen. It goes after vested interests. And so to have this deep uncertainty and the sudden questioning of their ability to manage the economy, on top of all the other difficult things that Xi Jinping was already doing, is putting him in a very, very dangerous position.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nancy.
YOUSSEFI thought there were a couple of interesting developments from it. Number one, that emerging markets had a harder time recovering from this than the U.S. market for example, and the German market. And also, there are some takeaways, that China will not dominate in terms of industry, commodities, and as it did before. So that is something worth noting because it does potentially affect the entire world economy, it's so intermixed. A couple of things, we'll see those prices dropping and also this could affect the interest rates here in the sense that there will be deflationary pressures now with this uncertainty that's come out of China.
YOUSSEFI think one of the things to remember is that, up until this, China was never -- could not fall. And this week we got definitive proof that actually it could fall -- 20 percent in one week. We've started to see it come back a little bit, but not at the same pace of the U.S. We saw a couple of days of panic in the U.S. and then all of a sudden we were back on course, by Wednesday or Thursday.
REHMAnd of course, the question about the U.S. Fed and whether what's happened this week is affecting their thinking at all about raising interest rates.
SEVASTOPULOWell, I think they're looking at it extremely closely. I mean, right now, in Jackson Hole in Wyoming, you have a huge number of central bankers and their staff meeting for a multi-day symposium. They're looking at China. The key question will be to try and establish to what extent what's happened there in recent weeks is connected to the real economy. They're also looking at China's move recently to devalue the renminbi and asking what that means.
SEVASTOPULOSo there's a number of things happening in a very short period -- excuse me -- space of time, that people need to analyze, stand back and say what does it mean for the future of China? And I think, until those answers are a little bit clearer, it's going to be very difficult for the Fed to come to any kind of a concrete conclusion as to what this means for, do they raise interest rates sooner rather than later?
REHMAnd of course, there had been a lot of talk or speculation that the Fed was going to raise rates in September. Do you see that now perhaps being debated a little more strongly?
LANDLERWell, I think trying to figure out where the Fed is going to go is a bit of a fools error, so I'm not sure I'd make a prediction. But I would point out that amid all this uncertainty and market jitters, the GDP growth in the United States was up -- the numbers were upgraded. So the U.S. economy is showing some momentum at this moment, which may be a countervailing element for the Fed to take into account that would suggest you might go ahead and raise rates.
LANDLERI wanted to make one quick point about China, which is interesting to me. If you accept the fact that Chinese growth has sort of settled into what Xi Jinping is calling the new normal, a somewhat lower growth rate, it may not affect the United States as much as it affects some of our fairly important countries and even rivals around the world. The Russians announced plans to build a huge natural gas pipeline to China. That may no longer be economically feasible. And the Brazilians, in particular, depend heavily on exporting minerals to China. They may be in big trouble.
REHMMark Landler of The New York Times. Short break here. Your calls, your comments, when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just to clarify, what I stated earlier about the French Legion of Honor recipients, there were three Americans and one British citizen who all received it at the same time. One Frenchman who was also involved was injured in the melee and is in the hospital. He will receive it when he gets out. I hope that's clarification.
REHMLet's talk about the newly appointed U.S. special envoy to Syria. He's on the road this week, Nancy.
YOUSSEFHe is. His name is Michael Ratney, and he's, this week and the next four days, going to Geneva, Riyadh and Moscow in an effort to negotiate some kind of political settlement in Syria. Now how that can be done I'm not quite sure, but a little background. The reality is people are starting to see that Assad is in trouble. You've seen his forces move out in the north, and there's increased concern about what happens.
REHMHaven't I heard this before?
YOUSSEFYou have heard it before, but we're on a trajectory where it is happening such that it's raising international concern about what is left behind because if it falls, the biggest forces on the ground are al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and ISIS, the Islamic State. And so there is an effort now to reach a political solution. John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said that among the things Mr. Ratney will be looking for are political opponents to negotiate with. Who those would be, it remains unclear because again, the most potent ones on the ground are al-Nusra and ISIS.
YOUSSEFAnd so there has been an effort by the U.N., starting earlier this month, to start a talk about a negotiated settlement. There is a U.N. Security Council resolution passed, which included Russia, calling for a political settlement. And we heard from Assad this week himself about this. He gave an interview to Al-Manar Television about an hour long, and he basically said I'm willing to negotiate, but there's no one to negotiate with and suggested that he wouldn't deal with Turkey, he wouldn't deal with Saudi Arabia, who would presumably be a part of the negotiation process. And so Mr. Ratney has quite a task before him.
REHMI've heard say.
YOUSSEFAnd when you look at the challenges before him and what he has to try to negotiate, it really is as overwhelming as the conflict itself.
SEVASTOPULOWell, the White House announced this morning that next Friday, I believe, the Saudi Arabian king, the new king, is going to come to Washington and meet President Obama. A big topic of that conversation is going to be how President Obama gets societies to give strong support for the Iran deal. The flip side is that the Saudis want the Americans to do more on Syria. So I think we're going to see a conversation there about what more the Americans can do and want to do to try and solve the situation.
LANDLERBut, you know, we have to keep in mind that we have to -- the Russians are a key part of any equation. And what's interesting there is after a period when the U.S. and Russia weren't talking much at all, the Russians and the U.S. have begun talking now, a bit, and the Russians have sort of proposed a political settlement built around the idea of putting a coalition together to fight ISIS.
LANDLERThe problem is that coalition and the settlement they have in mind doesn't involve removing Assad, and the U.S. is still holding firmly to the idea that in any transition, Assad must go. So I think the meeting with King Salman next week will be very interesting to see where the Saudis can play in all this, but at the end of the day, the Russians have been a key roadblock all along, and it doesn't sound like there's been much progress in resolving the baseline difference between the U.S. and Russia, which is the ultimate disposition of Assad.
LANDLERNow military developments could change that if Assad is as imperiled as some people are now saying, but as long as he holds firm and digs in, I think that this Russia-U.S. split over Assad is a key part of the story.
REHMAll right, let's take a call on exactly that issue from Michael in Durham, North Carolina. Hi, you're on the air.
MICHAELHi Diane, I just want to say I'm a longtime fan, but my wife Lauren is an even bigger fan. My question is about the refugees in Europe, and why isn't -- I mean, Europe is -- I really the issue in Syria is a big problem, but Europe is huge. Why isn't Europe talking more about committing troops to resolve the issue in Syria? Is it because Russia is a big supporter of Syria, and Europe and Germany specifically doesn't want to jeopardize their economic ties with Russia?
MICHAELAnd I'll take my...
SEVASTOPULOI think it's mostly because there is very little appetite among people in European communion -- excuse, Union, to send troops to places. There's a very different stance towards the military in Europe than there is in the United States, and the bar for sending troops overseas, into conflicts or into crisis areas, is much higher in Europe than it is or has been in the last decade or so in America.
LANDLERI guess what I'd add to that is that Europe, until now with the refugee crisis, has not viewed Syria as as big a strategic as it did, for example, with Libya. In the case of Libya, the French and the Italians did view Libya as having a direct strategic implication for Europe, and hence they were a big part, along with the British, in pushing for a NATO intervention in Libya.
LANDLERThere wasn't ever that perception of a strategic interest in Syria. I would argue perhaps that's now changed. If you're going to have hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees swamping your asylum centers, suddenly Syria is an issue in a way that it wasn't in the past. But I also completely back up Demetri's point. The bar is so high for military entanglement in Europe that it's just very hard to see how this event leads to a serious discussion of a military element to this.
YOUSSEFBut remember one of the reasons Libya was so key is that there was concern about Libyan migration coming into Europe, and now Libya's become a port for migration from around the world. And so one could argue that the lesson of the Libya intervention is that military intervention did not stop the potential of migration or refugee flow, and therefore given the high bars Demetri explained, is a military intervention in Syria going to lead to a different result, particularly at this stage of the conflict?
REHMNancy, you were talking about the envoy. Tell us about his background. What -- what does he bring to the table?
YOUSSEFWell, he's a longtime diplomat who spent quite a bit of time in Middle East, in Lebanon, in Qatar, in Israel. And so he clearly knows the region and the dynamics of the region and the complications of the region. I mean, I would note, though, but -- that his time in the region was when it was a very different Middle East, and we're now at a time when because of the refugee crisis, because of the war in Syria, the war in Iraq, the instability in Libya, the instability in Egypt, that the region, the map, the way he knows it is different.
YOUSSEFAnd so he's confronting a Middle East he knows and a Middle East he doesn't know. And I think that's an interesting dynamic. That said, I don't know anybody who could be more qualified or less qualified given the complications of the task before him to negotiate a settlement on what has been a challenge unlike any we've ever seen, particularly, as Mark pointed out, that line about Assad must go, that as long as the United States sticks to that position, the ability to negotiate, the ability to talk to the Russians becomes much, much more complicated.
REHMBut look at how Libya fell apart when Kaddafi was taken out.
REHMMaybe the same holds true for Syria.
YOUSSEFWell, that's the argument that a lot of people make about the U.S.' decision to hold to the line. And some people wonder if privately there is some regret about President Obama coming out, as he did so forcibly, on that position because it locked the United States into that. And again, who do you negotiate with if we're at the table? Who's at the table? Who's the political opponent who you can deal with?
LANDLERI just want to make one point about the Syrian envoy. He's obviously a distinguished foreign service officer, but if you think about the history of special envoys in this administration, this is not a man with a household name, he's not a major figure. He's not Richard Holbrook. He's not General John Allen. He's not George Mitchell. This, to me, suggests an administration that wants to manage a problem and get through the rest of the administration without having it blow up again. It does not suggest to me an administration that's looking to change the equation.
LANDLERThey've picked someone who, frankly before last week, none of us had ever heard of, and that to me suggests that the kind of weight they're putting into this -- Syria for this administration has been largely a containment issue for the past year, and I don't see any evidence that's going to change before the president leaves office.
YOUSSEFI think that's an important point, but as we've seen time and time again with Syria, this effort to manage problems has sometimes led to new problems and new complications. And my only concern would be that starting a dialogue and opening up the wounds about saying things like Assad must go and the relationship with Russia and the relationship with Saudi Arabia could create new complications for the administration.
SEVASTOPULOWell, if President Obama really wanted to shake things up, he could've appointed Donald Trump.
REHMDemetri. To negotiate for peace in Syria, well, that's one suggestion. Here's an email from Douglas, who says the Paris airport has a train station right in the middle. There is absolutely no checkpoint. Imagine if a bomb went off. All Europe would be shut down due to airport train stoppage. It's crazy to think the French do not want to have a checkpoint in a train station. Just from a legal standpoint, it's almost negligence. Demetri?
SEVASTOPULOWell, the French have very good police, and they have a very good record, so to me it's less about the station being in the airport. They do try and monitor things very carefully, and they do a pretty good track record. The problem is that where you have a lot of people in one space, if someone is able to detonate a bomb, you can have a big impact. That could happen on the train. It could happen in a train station nowhere near an airport. It can happen anywhere.
SEVASTOPULOAnd frankly, I think it's sometimes underestimated in this country that it is a new fact of life that these things can happen quite easily.
REHMOne begins to wonder whether those lines for security are going to begin to start at the front door rather than inside the airport.
LANDLERWell, you know, it's interesting. I happened to hear the former police commissioner of New York, Ray Kelly, talking about this issue of security on trains a few days ago, and he made the point that the way train stations are designed and the way trains are designed, with so many multiple doors going up and down the platform, that it's a very difficult issue to police trains the way you do even the, you know, the security checkpoints we go through in airports.
LANDLERSo if you want to -- if we want to think about that future, it rapidly becomes extremely cumbersome and inconvenient.
YOUSSEFI would just add that at some point, one could argue that this is an effort to keep addressing symptoms rather than the illness.
YOUSSEFAnd that the migration issue, the way immigrants are treated in these countries, all of those issues, the problems and places in the Middle East, all of that has to be because as you point out, Mark, how many -- do you put security points at every building? I mean, at what point are we -- you -- are you prisoners of the inability to address a core problem?
REHMI want to go back just for a moment to the point that the Obama administration won't negotiate or stands firm on removal of Assad. Do you see room for compromise there?
LANDLERWell, you know, it's -- people have long looked for any sign that the administration was sort of softening on that position. And, you know, people have reported from time to time that there's an active debate internally. When senior officials testify on Capitol Hill, they're always watched very carefully to see if there's any sort of fissure showing. But I must say it's been remarkably uniform through the last year, year and a half, the administration's position that they're sticking to and against the advice of some very distinguished former officials, who think that it's time to rethink this.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. One last topic for our international Friday news roundup, word came this week that the British would reopen their embassy in Tehran. Has it actually happened yet?
SEVASTOPULOYes, they've opened the embassy. The British foreign minister, Philip Hammond, has gone there, only the second time a foreign minister has gone to Iran from the U.K. since I think the revolution in 1979. And it's a direct result of the Iran deal that the Obama administration and its international allies and Russia have reached with the Iranian regime.
REHMSo an attempt to support that deal.
YOUSSEFAnd also an acknowledgement by the U.K. that Iran cannot be ignored, that it is too important despite its, some would argue, many would argue, the problems that it creates in places like Iraq and Syria. Despite those positions, it is too important economically, it is too important for the future of the region, and the fact that the foreign secretary traveled there, the fact that the embassy opened in London, the fact that they didn't -- the Iranians didn't have to in any way apologize for the attack on their compound from November 2011 that led to the closing, it all points to -- and frankly the U.K. secretary settled this, that isolating a state makes it belligerent and that this is an effort to move away from that. All of this points to a renegotiation, if you will, of the relationship.
LANDLERI'd only add one thing to what Nancy said, which is that it also points out, for opponents of the nuclear deal in the United States, how difficult it would be for the U.S. to preserve the coalition that negotiated this deal were it to reject the deal. You see countries making their own arrangements, in effect, the British, the Germans, the French. The vice chancellor of Germany has already been to Iran with a huge delegation of businesspeople.
LANDLERAnd so for those who argue, well, we can turn down, we can disapprove this version of the deal and keep everyone together and renegotiate it, I think reality is already moving on. You see it symbolically, and you see it in tangible ways, and it would be very hard to keep this grouping of major powers together were the U.S. not to approve the deal. Now it must -- I must also add, based on the latest whip count on Capitol Hill, it looks like the administration is going to be able to do it, and they may not only be able to do it by sustaining a presidential veto, they may be able to do it by filibustering against a vote.
SEVASTOPULOI mean, there's one other thing, which is the British government was also looking for an excuse or an opportunity to boost trade with Iran. There's a real irony, which is between 2006 and 2013, the U.S. were putting pressure on British companies not to do business in Iran. During that period, trade fell from 450 million pounds to 65 million pounds. At the same time, U.S. exports to Iran rose from 55 million pounds to 200 million pounds. So there was a lot of pointy fingers and accusations of hypocrisy coming out of London.
REHMAll right, and on that note, we'll end our international hour of the Friday news roundup with Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Mark Landler of The New York Times. Thank you all.
LANDLERThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.