Guest Host: Susan Page

Migrants cross the border Sept. 10 between Hungary and Austria  near Nickelsdorf, Austria.

Migrants cross the border Sept. 10 between Hungary and Austria near Nickelsdorf, Austria.

President Barack Obama directs his administration to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. The European Union considers a plan to settle 160,000 asylum seekers, on the one-year anniversary of the creation of the international coalition to fight the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Russia defends the presence of military advisers in Syria. China cracks down on investment firms. And a report criticizes a Mexican government’s investigation of 43 missing students. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.


  • Tom Bowman Pentagon correspondent, NPR
  • David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power"
  • Ishaan Tharoor Foreign affairs writer, The Washington Post


  • 11:06:54

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. The Obama administration announces it will accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. China cracks down on investment firms in the wake of market turbulence. And Russia defends an increased military presence in Syria.

  • 11:07:17

    MS. SUSAN PAGEHere to discuss this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Tom Bowman of NPR. Welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:07:25

    MR. TOM BOWMANGood to be here.

  • 11:07:25

    PAGEDavid Sangor of the New York Times. Good to see you.

  • 11:07:28

    MR. DAVID SANGERGood to be back, Susan.

  • 11:07:30

    PAGEAnd joining us for the first time on "The Diane Rehm Show" is Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post. Welcome.

  • 11:07:36

    MR. ISHAAN THAROORThanks for having me.

  • 11:07:37

    PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, it's been a week of heartbreaking pictures out of Europe, Tom, of these desperate migrants fleeing their homelands. And the United States had been mostly on the sidelines. This week, the Obama administration announced that the United States would get more involved in taking some of the refugees fleeing Syria.

  • 11:08:15

    PAGEWhat did the president announce?

  • 11:08:16

    BOWMANWell, they said they'll take 10,000 refugees from Syria. I think, initially, they were going to take 1500 so this is quite an increase. But clearly, it's not enough. If you think look at how many are heading into Europe, I think 160,000 are going to be spread around the EU. Germany is going to take hundreds of thousands. And the bottom line is, this is not stopping. There are millions more heading out of Syria into Turkey and then once they see these countries accepting refugees, they're going to keep moving on.

  • 11:08:44

    BOWMANThey're gonna vote with their feet. So it's a huge problem and it's not ending any time soon.

  • 11:08:50

    PAGEYou know, David, one thing you see with this -- there's now all these efforts by the European Union, by the United States to address the refugee problem. You don't see much talk about what to do about the root problem, which is the situation in Syria.

  • 11:09:05

    SANGERThat's absolutely right, Susan. And that's, in part, because the president came to a determination three years ago when Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and David Petraeus and the head of the CIA were arguing for much more activity to support what were then called the moderate rebels, if you could find them within Syria and also to create either a no-fly zone or a safe zone inside Syria where some of these refugees could come and be near the Turkish border.

  • 11:09:41

    SANGERThe president was very cautious at that time and I think one of the big historical debates about this era is going to be whether the president was too cautious in that moment, that in his concern about not getting us reengaged in the Middle East, he created or helped contribute to -- obviously it was Assad himself who created this situation, this problem. And I think there will be a second debate and it comes out of those numbers that you were just discussing with Tom, which is once this started, did we do enough to bring in refugees.

  • 11:10:14

    SANGERYou heard Secretary Clinton in the speech that she gave largely on Iran, that the Brookings Institution call for taking in more of the refugees, by that time it was clear the administration would do more, but the 10,000 number is, as you pointed out, a sort of drop in the bucket. And I went back with a couple colleagues of mine yesterday as we were writing about this just to look at some comparative numbers. So think about this. In 1979, when we had the boat people coming from Vietnam, these refugees out of Vietnam, we took in 111,000.

  • 11:10:48

    SANGERAnd then, in the next year, we took in another 200,000. And, of course, when you go to American universities these days, and all of us are privileged to, every once in a while, get out to some campus in autumn, you meet the children of these -- and they're incredibly an accomplished group. Around the same time, we took in 120,000 Cuban refugees. So if you add those numbers up, you know, in the 1979, 1980, '81 era, we were taking in more than 400,000 people. The Germans are taking in 800,000 Syrians. That's about 1 percent of the German population.

  • 11:11:27

    PAGEAnd Ishaan, of course, there is a tradition in the United States of providing a safe place for refugees around the world. Do you think this number is just a starting point and that we're going to see vastly increased numbers of Syrian refugees in the United States or is the political situation here in the United States going to make that hard?

  • 11:11:46

    THAROORI think it will make it hard. You're seeing arguments both here and across the pond in Europe that are very similar, that among these refugees are potential infiltrators. There's this specter of Islamist terrorism coming with these masses of people coming across various borders. So it's hard to tell whether there's political capital here to increase the numbers. Europe, itself, is really struggling to even -- I mean, they were supposed to have an agreement about what to do with these -- this number of 160,000 refugees to be settled across 22 European nations.

  • 11:12:21

    THAROORThat has been now kicked -- finalizing that agreement has been kicked down the road to next month because there's, you know, a lot of eastern European nations are deeply opposed to any kind of quota mandating them to take refugees. And so it's an incredibly hot potato.

  • 11:12:36

    SANGERAnd left unsaid here is what's happening with the Arab states, right? So...

  • 11:12:40

    PAGEBecause they are not actually doing much of anything.

  • 11:12:43

    SANGERThey're not taking very many refugees at all and you've got some extraordinarily wealthy states, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others, and so there is some pressure, I think, on the president to sort of gather a big conference that basically makes people sign up and do commitments here.

  • 11:13:00

    PAGEWill he do that?

  • 11:13:02

    SANGERGood question. I don't know. I mean, there's certainly a big debate within the White House about whether you can do that when you're asking them to do so many other things on Iran containment after the deal, on dealing with the war and the root causes in Syria.

  • 11:13:20

    PAGEBut you know, you don’t always get to choose the problems you're going to deal with. Sometimes the problem...

  • 11:13:24

    SANGERUsually, you don't. Yeah.

  • 11:13:25

    PAGE...forces itself on your plate.

  • 11:13:26

    BOWMANAnd, again, this will likely get worse. People I talk with at the Pentagon say the situation in Syria, bad now, will likely get much worse. So that means more refugees heading into Turkey. It's the only place they can go, really, or Lebanon. And Jordan is already, you know, saturated with refugees so, again, this is going to be a problem that goes on for years and years. And getting back to the United States taking in 10,000 and this talk about vetting them, how do you know who these people are?

  • 11:13:51

    BOWMANAre the jihadis and potential terrorists within this group? Well, if you're a refugee and you're leaving, let's say, with the clothes on your back and maybe one suitcase, you're not gonna have a lot of documentation. You're not gonna be able to tell exactly who these people are and the United States is having that same problem now trying to come up with moderate Syrian rebels, who is this person I'm going to train and arm? I don't really know. So you can, you know, you really can't vet them. You can screen them perhaps, but not properly vet them.

  • 11:14:20

    THAROORI think, you know, it's worth really highlighting the kind of various unique moral leadership that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken on this one. She's really been front and center and sort of speaking about the deep moral responsibility of Western nations to accommodate these refugees and, you know, on a larger level, to separate their actual need from the problems of the Syrian conflict.

  • 11:14:45

    PAGEThere's a picture on the front page of The Wall Street Journal this morning that shows Angela Merkel having a selfie taken with a Syrian refugee at a refugee reception center and she has provided leadership and yet, I wonder, David, if this situation actually threatens European Union, the whole concept of open borders and shared responsibility because the countries in the European Union are really divided about what their role ought to be.

  • 11:15:10

    SANGERThey are. They're torn by a couple of different forces and the one hand is this moral leadership that Ishaan points out on the part of Ms. Merkel who, remember, grew up in what was East Germany and, you know, understands deeply the yearning of people to get to a place where their kids and then they would have significant opportunities. On the other hand, you're seeing the European Union pulled by several things, the migrant crisis, the Greek crisis.

  • 11:15:42

    SANGERSo that -- those two together are calling into question both the open border issue and the economic linkage issue. And I don't think that since the creation of the European community we've ever seen a period where we've been under such both economic strain and human strain in the fundamental concepts of linkage.

  • 11:16:06

    BOWMANAnd you're already seeing the more conservative politicians, both in Germany and the Netherlands, coming out against having these refugees coming into the countries, calling it a Muslim invasion, Islamic invasion. That's only gonna get worse as more and more people come into these countries, as you're struggling with where to house them, how to pay for it, it's going to be a serious issue.

  • 11:16:26

    SANGERYou see it in the ugly scenes in Hungary.

  • 11:16:28


  • 11:16:28

    PAGEAnd really police brutality against refugees, including little children, mothers trying to handle their families.

  • 11:16:34

    SANGERAnd how many have they arrested? Several thousand, I guess, already.

  • 11:16:37

    THAROORAnd also, mobs of actual far-right neo-fascist hooligans confronting these crowds of migrants. It really exposes one of the really big -- of the past couple years, the underlying tension of the whole European project, as you've seen this rise of -- across many countries in eastern Europe and northern Europe as well, of far-right populist groups and parties. And this has really exposed that scene that you've seen in the European conversation and to the point that it's also playing a huge role in UK politics and we're looking now at Britain potentially having a vote on whether it remains in the European Union next year. And this is all part of that larger conversation.

  • 11:17:13

    PAGEAnd the EU announcement got a lot of attention this week that they were gonna settle 160,000 of these Syrian refugees. Is that gonna happen, David, or is it in trouble?

  • 11:17:23

    SANGERI suspect it will happen. I mean, 160,000 is not that big a push and you could argue that in Germany where the number is obviously a lot larger than Merkel has set, you've got an aging population that may actually get something of an economic boost by having a young and, you know, at least initially relatively low pay workforce out here.

  • 11:17:48

    PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on the news of the week across the world, including the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-lead air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. We'll continue our conversation. We'll take your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for our news roundup: Ishaan Tharoor, foreign policy writer for The Washington Post, Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent for NPR, and David Sanger, national security correspondent for The New York Times. He's the author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." Well, let's take a caller. Sam is calling us from here in Washington, D.C., I think to talk about the subject we were just talking about, which is this exodus of refugees from Syria. Hi, Sam.

  • 11:20:36

    SAMHi, Susan. I'm calling just to inquire. I don't know if any of your guests has heard about Saudi Arabia probably taking around -- taking 500,000 refugees. I saw the -- I saw it on TV two days ago and I wasn't sure how accurate that was or if it was just for propaganda purposes.

  • 11:20:56

    PAGEAnd, Sam, are you from Syria yourself?

  • 11:20:59

    SAMThat is correct. Yes.

  • 11:21:00

    PAGEAnd how long have you been here? Because you have no accent, so have you been here a long time?

  • 11:21:04

    SAMI've been here -- I've been here, yeah, long enough. Five years.

  • 11:21:06

    PAGEAnd do you still have family in Syria?

  • 11:21:09

    SAMThat is correct. Yes.

  • 11:21:10

    PAGEYeah. And how are they doing?

  • 11:21:12

    SAMThey're doing okay. You know, they're just trying to adjust to the new norm, which is the bombing, the everyday bombing and trying to dodge, you know, places that are dangerous, and just, basically just trying to survive.

  • 11:21:28

    PAGEAnd I'm sure that's very difficult for them and hard for you as well. Are they giving any thought to leaving, the way so many Syrians have done?

  • 11:21:37

    SAMWell, it's very interesting that you mention that. The young generation are talking about leaving. The older generation are not, just because there's a plan to change demographics in Syria. They're not allowing anybody at the moment to sell or rent houses unless they get approval from the government. And the government isn't giving any approval for people that are Sunnis that plan to rent or buy in the capital. But they are giving approvals for those that are not from the Sunni sect, basically.

  • 11:22:16

    PAGEWell, I'm sure that's very tough. We hope things go okay for your family still in Syria. Well, what about Sam's question, which is Saudi Arabia's role. What have we seen?

  • 11:22:25

    THAROORWell, on the statistic that Sam mentioned of 500,000 Syrians, that statistic is actually 500,000 Syrian nationals are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and the other wealthy Gulf states are not signatories of the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees, and thereby they don't really have any data or recognition of refugees. And so that's why a lot of people have said they've taken nobody. That's not true. They've taken thousands of Syrians in. But a lot of that number has to do with economic migrants who've been there before. And it's very difficult for a lot of Syrians to get visas to go to these countries in the first place.

  • 11:23:01

    PAGETom, today is the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. How has that campaign gone?

  • 11:23:10

    BOWMANWell, if you listen to the Pentagon, they say it's going well, that they're degrading ISIS, they've taken away, I think, a third of the land they initially grabbed. But if you look at the facts on the ground, that Ramadi has still not been retaken -- we were told in July that it would be taken any week now or any day now. One of our reporters, Alice Fordham in Baghdad, was told maybe October 1 for the operation in Ramadi. There was talk, of course, about taking Mosul months ago. They -- no one even talks about that anymore. Clearly, they're kicking it into next year.

  • 11:23:46

    BOWMANAnd then you look at next door in Syria, Palmyra, of course, was, you know, some of the antiquities were destroyed there. They moved onto an oil field, which is critical to them to get money. So the bottom line is, it's not going well, despite what the administration is saying. Their strategy is to create a local ground force and to provide air cover for it. There really is very little local ground force in Syria. The Kurds are doing most of the fighting. They're creating this moderate rebel force. Fifty-four are the initial ones who went in. Half of them were either captured, killed or headed -- took off for the exits. There's another couple of groups of 200, which we expect the next couple of weeks.

  • 11:24:29

    BOWMANThey're still holding to the number of 5,400 trained and armed rebels by the year's end. Nobody believes that is true but they're still publicly holding to it. Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, said this week, we'll adjust that if we have to. Now, with the air side, a lot of people you talk with who are experts on bombing campaigns -- retired Lieutenant General Dave Deptula is one -- he'll tell you that it's very light, the bombing they're doing. It's very targeted. They'll hit an excavator. They'll hit a mortar tube. They'll hit some other areas of troop concentrations, but it's very, very limited and it's not really doing much at all.

  • 11:25:11

    PAGEDavid, any signs that ISIS is getting weaker? Because you look at what seems to be happening and they seem to be getting stronger.

  • 11:25:19

    SANGERIt's very to measure, because strength and weakness you can measure in part by territory, as Tom said -- in part by recruiting attraction, and it looks like their recruiting levels have stayed up and, if not, they've even gotten stronger in that regard. But there's also the big question of at what point do they begin to create such resentment on the ground, as al-Qaida did during, you know, in Anbar in Iraq, that there's something of a rejection of the system.

  • 11:25:54

    SANGERAnd then there's an additional complexity which the Times wrote about earlier this week, in which one of my colleagues wrote about a inspector-general investigation that's underway now into reports from analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency that negative reporting about how well we're doing versus ISIS and what's happening to ISIS strength is getting filtered out of the system. And it sort of had echoes of what we remember from Vietnam days when, you know, the best spin was put on events. And you certainly have to hope that we've learned a lesson. We seem to need to keep relearning that you don't help your cause any by putting your thumb on the scale.

  • 11:26:44

    BOWMANThat may be overstating it a bit, I think. Because most people you talk with -- people on the ground, analysts, Syrian refugees, executives of their groups in Washington -- all are saying the same thing: this isn't working. And you're right about the numbers. They're saying 20,000 ISIS members and that number hasn't changed. They'll say we've killed 1,000, 2,000 in our bombing runs over the past x-number of months. And you'll say, well, how many are there now? Roughly 20,000. Because there's continuing to leak across the border from Turkey, they're getting money in and out, weapons as well.

  • 11:27:17

    BOWMANThe key will be in the coming months, if they can close that 63-mile gap along the Turkish-Syrian border. If they can do that, it could be significant because then it will -- they'll wither on the vine. They won't be able to get more fighters in, won't be able to make any money, won't be able to get any weapons in. That is going to be key, I think.

  • 11:27:37

    PAGEWell, Ishaan, we had this week the -- al-Qaida's leader criticizing the Islamic State. Was that significant?

  • 11:27:43

    THAROORNot really. They've had a long-running feud since, when was it, sometime 2014 when they officially split. The Islamic State in its own propagandistic magazine which came out -- the latest edition came out this week -- spent a lot of its pages attacking al-Qaida and Zawahiri. So this is just part of a long-running conversation. You do see a resurgent Islamist, somewhat Islamist front in -- rebel front in Syria having some significant gains of late. And they're sort of one of the more potent forces there that may be capable of dislodging ISIS in certain parts of Syria.

  • 11:28:20

    THAROORThere's just a tragic -- one footnote, I think, to the question of whether the U.S.'s air war has succeeded -- one thing we should pay attention to and we, unfortunately, have no official data on it yet, are reports -- there are quite a few reports now -- of dozens if not hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi civilian casualties as a result of some of these airstrikes. I know the Pentagon is investigating some of -- some incidents.

  • 11:28:41

    BOWMANWell, they're saying that only two have been killed so far, two civilians. They have several investigations underway. But, right, they're sticking to that two figure and they're saying that the hundreds, they just don't have any information on that.

  • 11:28:53

    PAGEHere's an email from R.S., who writes, President Obama was cautious about engagement in Syria because of Russia. Syria is Russia's ally. There was news that Russia is sending war ships to the Mediterranean as Obama threatened to engage early on. Today, Russia continues to arm Assad. Why does the American media continue to downplay this aspect of the conflict? If Syria wasn't backed by Russia, it would be a totally different game. So let's not ignore that aspect of the conflict. David, in fact, there was news this week that Russia might be massing troops in Syria. Do we know what's happening there?

  • 11:29:27

    SANGERWell, we've got a rough sense. We certainly know that the Russians are becoming more involved. But what I think our listener is not putting into the equation is, it's not just the Russians. Of course, the Iranians are there in a significant way. And I think there's reason to believe that they are also bolstering their presence. And one of the big critiques you heard this week in the debate about the Iran deal is that, once the sanctions get lifted, there will be more money around to go do that now -- questions about whether or not the Iranians already spent as much in Syria as they can get away with.

  • 11:30:06

    SANGERBut Russia is a significant issue. And here's the heart of the dilemma. For a while, the State Department thought that they could have some quiet conversations with the Russians and maybe even with the Iranians about a soft regime change in Syria, in which one would get rid of Assad but replace him with somebody else or some group that comes out of the same Shia organization. The concept being that if you just topple the entire government -- and, remember, it was President Obama who said three years ago, Assad had to go -- that you would create a vacuum that ISIS would then fill. And nobody wants to go do that right now.

  • 11:30:49

    SANGERNow, the question is, are the Iranians and the Russians betting that they can actually preserve Assad himself? Or do they believe that he's damaged goods and they're putting these folks in place so that they can manage the succession.

  • 11:31:04

    PAGETom, what do you think?

  • 11:31:05

    BOWMANThat's right. People you talk with, they're not sure what the Russian intentions are now. They are moving in a lot of Conex boxes that would be used for housing, pre-fab housing for hundreds of personnel. They're also moving in dozens of vehicles -- armored vehicles among them. There's no evidence of any, you know, fighter aircraft, anything that would be of serious concern. But clearly they are setting up some sort of a forward operating base for some reason but they don't know exactly why yet. Is it to hold onto their port and their interests in Syria? Is it to shore-up Assad's regime or someone who will come after?

  • 11:31:42

    BOWMANBut what's interesting, today, as I was coming in here, I saw that Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister in Russia, said that the Western nations should all help Assad, because he's the only one that can beat ISIS. So it's an interesting twist. Don't criticize what we're doing. You should come and help us as well. Come help Assad because he's the strongest one there. And it's also sticking it to the Americans, who clearly can't create a local ground force in Syria.

  • 11:32:09


  • 11:32:10

    THAROORI mean, that's exactly right. The Russians, actually, have been relatively consistent with their messaging over the past four years of this conflict. They've always, in various ways, backed Assad, always pushed for a solution that would keep Assad in power. And Lavrov over the past couple of days has said -- basically said that, yeah, this is, Assad is the key to defeating the Islamic State. Don't you want to defeat the Islamic State?

  • 11:32:34

    SANGERCome join us.

  • 11:32:34

    THAROORThis is what we're helping shore up. And I guess the other question is, you know, the Russians have been in Syria for 40 years. They've had this base in Tartus since 1971. And this is just -- this is their footprint.

  • 11:32:46

    PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. In fact, let's take another caller. We'll go to Portland, Conn., and talk to Stephanie. Stephanie, thanks for joining us.

  • 11:32:59

    STEPHANIEYes. Thank you. You know, Winston Churchill and FDR must be turning over in their graves. Great Britain, along with the United States, fought and defeated Hitler and Nazism, the greatest threat the world had ever known, yet Republicans treat Great Britain and other major allies like they are naive and uninformed regarding the Iran nuclear agreement. The real bad deal was George W. Bush and Cheney, who by attacking Iraq, a country who did not attack us, resulted in blowing up the Middle East and leaving with us with the destabilization that we have now, today, around the globe.

  • 11:33:35

    PAGEAll right, Stephanie. Thanks for your call. David, talk to us about what's happening next, now that it seems clear with the Senate vote yesterday that the Iran deal will go into effect. What happens next? What should we look for?

  • 11:33:47

    SANGERWell, you've got to look, you know, this is all three-dimensional chess in dealing with the Iranians and the Middle East. So the first dimension is, what happens on the nuclear deal itself? And we're going to hit a deadline in about, oh, a week or so, where you'll have the first day that the agreement technically goes into effect. And, of course, the Iranians still have to get this through their parliament as well, although I don't think there's a whole lot of doubt that's going to happen. Then, the next deadline is up to the Iranians, because they have to do a series of steps before the president signs the sanctions relief that they are -- been looking for -- a temporary lifting of the sanctions.

  • 11:34:31

    SANGERThey have to ship 98 percent of their fuel out of the country. They have to put 13,000 of their 19,000 centrifuges into moth balls. They have to pull out the core of a plutonium reactor they've been building at a place called -- it's called Arak, A-R-A-K, not the country. And that would keep them from being able to produce bomb-grade plutonium. When they meet those steps and some others related to inspection, then the sanctions get lifted. Not permanently lifted, only Congress can do that.

  • 11:35:09

    SANGERThen there's the second level of the chess, which is what happens in the region. And that's why it was interesting to hear Secretary Clinton, in her speech this week, call for a broader containment strategy for Iran's power, something that you have not heard President Obama talk very much about.

  • 11:35:27

    SANGERThen the third element of this is, is there a larger next step with the Iranians? Either cooperation over ISIS, the beginning of a grander bargain. You've heard Ayatollah Khomeini say many times in recent times, he doesn't plan that. He doesn't want to get sucked into something that gives away the revolution.

  • 11:35:51


  • 11:35:52

    THAROORThe other thing, just on top -- just tacking onto that, a lot of Iran watchers as well as Iranian exiles that you speak to have told me, at least, that you should really pay attention to these elections that Iran are going to hold in February of next year. Obviously our initial reaction to any Iranian election is cynicism. But these are elections that will -- that are for the Iranian Majles or the Parliament as well as for another important political body -- and a test, perhaps, for whether this deal is going to moderate the countries to see, you know, what political camps come away with victories there.

  • 11:36:30

    PAGESo what would you look for there? And what -- is -- do we accept this would be a legitimate election that might actually reflect the attitude of voters?

  • 11:36:39

    THAROORWell, especially if considerable -- the hardliner camp suffers in the upcoming elections. And one of the major issues is the economy. And if this -- if there are tangible signs of relief and if the deal's kind of aura, and it's in a bit of a glow right now, if it carries through.

  • 11:36:57

    BOWMANOn the other hand, if there are no tangible signs of relief or fairly small ones, either because the Iranians take longer to go about the kind of nuclear dismantlement that we're discussing or because it simply turns out that releasing the money isn't all that easy -- you can't just turn this stuff on and off -- then there could be a reaction against Iran.

  • 11:37:17

    PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about some encouraging news from Yemen of all places. And we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. You can always send an email to Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page with USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With us this hour, David Sanger of The New York Times, Tom Bowman of NPR and Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post. And let's go to the phones and let another listener join our conversation. Joe is calling us from South Bend, Indiana. Joe, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:40:26

    JOEHi, my question was with regard to the U.N.'s role in Syria. Now, the U.N. has kind of morphed into a posh international exclusive club of people that are shuttled around in limousines and, you know, situations like Syria that they're -- you know, they're not doing anything.

  • 11:40:51

    PAGEIs -- thanks very much for your call, Joe. Is the U.N. doing anything in this crisis?

  • 11:40:56

    THAROORWell, the U.N. is -- its actions are dictated by its member states. On Security Council and specifically there, you have a huge impasse already between Russia and other countries in the West. The U.N. envoy is one of the most beleaguered men in the world right now, Staffan de Mistura. He's -- I think he's also quietly admitted that the whole process of negotiating some kind of peace in Syria is stuck.

  • 11:41:21

    PAGEHere's an email from Ed, who writes us from Phoenix, Arizona. He writes, are there any efforts by the United States or relief organizations to allow adoption of orphaned Syrian children into the United States? Anybody know?

  • 11:41:31

    BOWMANI haven't heard anything about that.

  • 11:41:33

    PAGEYeah, me either.

  • 11:41:33

    BOWMANMostly families are moving. So I can't imagine you would find many orphans along there.

  • 11:41:39

    PAGEOrphans? Yeah. I'm sorry, Ed, we aren't able to answer that question. Here's an email from Jake. He writes, the conflict in Syria isn't exactly new. Why such a delay in this mass migration? Is it that much worse right now?

  • 11:41:52

    SANGERWell, I think one reason you can argue for that is we saw this coming. The question was when would it burst. And this is -- migrations, like earthquakes, don't happen in a smooth, natural progression. They happen in a big, sudden burst. And in this case, we hit a moment where the camps were essentially full in Jordan, Lebanon, other places. And people are seeking a place to go other than get stuck in a camp from which they thought they would never emerge.

  • 11:42:31

    BOWMANYou know, I wonder, too, there's been a lot of talk about a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syrian border. The U.S. has been resistant to that because you have to fly aircraft and, you know, put it into effect, and you might have to take out some of Assad's air defenses. But with all this pressure on Europe, with all these refugees moving up, you wonder if there'll be renewed talk of some sort of a real safe zone where people can either stay put or move back into Syria. I would watch for that in the coming months.

  • 11:43:01

    SANGERAnd you're already hearing some reconsideration within the Obama administration...

  • 11:43:06

    BOWMANBut it's very tough.

  • 11:43:08

    SANGERBut, you know, and then to do it and explain why you didn't do it three years ago, that's hard.

  • 11:43:15

    BOWMANAnd the other problem is this, that if you have no force on the ground to protect these people, who will protect them?

  • 11:43:23

    PAGEAnd another -- and I think it seems to me another factor is that once it started, and there was perhaps belatedly a move by Germany and other countries to try to address the situation, surely it included -- it encouraged desperate people in Syria to say, hey, maybe I can make it, maybe it's worth the risk of this journey.

  • 11:43:41

    THAROORI mean, it's really important to stress that the real burden of the refugee crisis is not on Europe or the West, it's on Syria's neighbors. It's on Lebanon, where the refugees, Syrian refugees make up more than a quarter of the entire country's population. It's on Jordan, which is facing massive water shortages. It's on Turkey, which has up to two million Syrian refugees within its borders. And the ones who we're seeing make it Europe are often the most -- they're the more educated, some are wealthier, more connected, the ones who sadly have more means to make this trip.

  • 11:44:13

    THAROORSo you're seeing really a crisis that's always been there, and the ones who are making it out are the ones who are almost the luckier ones.

  • 11:44:22

    PAGEYou know, I said we had some good news in Yemen. Fighters in Yemen agreed to talks mediated by the United Nations. But my panel informs me that things are not so rosy in Yemen. So Tom, tell us what's up.

  • 11:44:32

    BOWMANThat's right. It seems like there's a push by Saudi Arabia to move toward, with the UAE, as well, and others, to move toward Sana'a, the capital, and push out the Houthi rebels. So you could see even more bloodshed, even more turmoil in Yemen than we've seen so far.

  • 11:44:48

    PAGEIshaan, I know you've written about the conflict in Yemen. It's not exactly the same kind of sectarian proxy war we've seen in other places. Tell us what you mean.

  • 11:44:57

    THAROORThat's correct. You know, the way it's often cast now is this conflict between Shiite, Houthi rebels and a set of forces who are backed by Sunni states. The conflict began a couple years ago. It was your classic turf war. It was a classic battle for political influence in a somewhat lawless, failing state. The Saudi intervention since earlier this year has raised the stakes a bit and has turned it into a bit more of a regional sectarian confederation.

  • 11:45:29

    THAROORYou've seen dozens of soldiers from the United Arab Emirates die recently in attacks. You've seen troop deployments from Qatar. And perhaps we're seeing, and maybe David knows more about this, more Iranian involvement on the side of the Houthis, as well.

  • 11:45:41

    PAGEWhat do you think, David?

  • 11:45:42

    SANGERWell, we are seeing an escalation all around, and the question is, is that an escalation that's going to break what's been basically a stalemate of years now, or is that an escalation that's simply going to bring the bloodshed closer into Sana'a?

  • 11:45:57

    PAGELet's go to China. You know, the economy there has had some trouble. It's rattled global markets. It's affected the stock market here in the United States. Now we see the government doing what I think a lot of investors in the United States would like to do with their brokers when things go bad. They've been trying to -- they've been cracking down in a way that seems a little non-capitalistic. Tom, tell us what's happening.

  • 11:46:19

    BOWMANThat's right. They're arresting investors. They're also arresting journalists for spreading rumors, that awful crime in China.

  • 11:46:22

    PAGEWhich is what we do, yes.

  • 11:46:24

    BOWMANThat's right.

  • 11:46:24

    SANGEROne of the rumors being that the stock market dropped, which didn't show up in the official media.

  • 11:46:30

    BOWMANThat's right, this just in, the stock market isn't doing well in China. So it's -- and they're putting money in to try and shore it up, and, you know, I think the journalists wrote a story about how one of the state-owned companies actually pulled their -- sold their stock before the whole thing went down through the floor. So there's, you know, concerns about corruption, insider trading, and the Chinese are ham-handedly trying to get a -- deal with this.

  • 11:46:54

    PAGEWell, they had the journalist on TV apologizing for it. He looked like he had had some tough times with -- in the hands of the Chinese authorities.

  • 11:47:01

    THAROORYeah, and it's a journalist. This is not a journalist for some kind of, you know, B-list tabloid. It's a journalist for this magazine, Caijing, which is one of the most respected publications in China and which, for the past decade, has been given latitude to do real investigative work on corruption and other issues. And so the fact that they're very publicly denouncing this guy and forcing these publications to make these very embarrassing steps shows that there's a kind of scary, growing censorship, as well.

  • 11:47:34

    PAGEI think you have to admire journalists all around the world, who don't have all the protections we have in the United States and who continue to do their jobs. David?

  • 11:47:42

    SANGERYeah, I just wanted to just go up another 10,000 feet about what we're seeing here happen with the Chinese. So it's one thing to cover your stock market and to talk about it as Chinese officials or journalists when you're on a 20-year ride that is essentially upward bound with a few bumps along the road. It's another thing when you're discovering that you have not -- have a market that is not fully in freefall but which the communist party cannot control.

  • 11:48:15

    SANGERAnd so they're reaching for all the levers, the familiar control, the Internet, the press and so forth. One of their biggest concerns is that because the party's ideology these days does not have a lot of attraction for Chinese, particularly young Chinese, the unspoken deal has been continued economic growth. And if there is some suggestion that suddenly the country has reached a size where you can't assure that seven or eight percent growth that you've had in the past, they're not going to have the job creation and so forth.

  • 11:48:52

    SANGERAnd layer on top of that that Xi Jinping is coming to the United States in just two weeks, and he has to convey a sense here and back home that he is completely and totally in control. And we think he's, in fact, one of the most powerful Chinese leaders we've probably seen in 20 years. So how he navigates a visit where the concern suddenly isn't just a rising China, but the concern is a weakened China is going to be a really interesting trip.

  • 11:49:25

    PAGEWell, this crackdown that they've done on investors, on the markets, on the journalist, does it -- is it working, Tom? Has it done anything to stabilize the economic situation there?

  • 11:49:35

    BOWMANI'm not sure if it has or not. Has it?

  • 11:49:39

    PAGEWhat do you think?

  • 11:49:40

    THAROORI mean, I think the whole past month of upheaval has exposed -- first of all, it exposed a genuine level of internal confusion within the Chinese leadership and political elites over what to do. I mean, they kind of had -- they sort of behaved rather erratically when the stock market was crashing and then rallying, and they didn't really know how to own it or in what way to message around it.

  • 11:50:04

    THAROORAnd then it also just revealed, as David pointed out, the particular style of -- and Xi Jinping is considered to be one of the more authoritarian figures in recent years to come out of China, and he is -- and his style, since he came to power a couple years ago, has been this one of total control.

  • 11:50:24

    PAGEWell, let's take a call from Jeff, and Jeff, I have to tell you that the reason I'm taking your call is because you're calling from Mustang, Oklahoma. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:50:32

    JEFFYou're correct. Thank you very much. My point is this. The last -- which comprises virtually 100 percent of your show's guests continually, is very condescending about the fact that China's manipulated the currency for year, and it's totally dismissive of that. And, you know, they kind of dismiss the conservatives to that point. Now Barry's going to do whatever he's going to do to appease Xi, but, you know, it's a shame that we don't have someone from Heritage Foundation or Cato or something like that.

  • 11:51:11

    JEFFBy the way, I'm not a Republican. I'm a registered independent. But I am conservative. And I also wonder if you're going to have a caller call in and explain George W. Bush, Cheney, sort of the Chinese stock crisis. Now...

  • 11:51:23

    PAGEAnd Jeff, just get back to your point. You're saying that we should be paying more attention to Chinese manipulation of its currency?

  • 11:51:33

    JEFFThat's correct.

  • 11:51:35

    PAGEWell, thanks very much for your call.

  • 11:51:37

    SANGERI'll be happy to take that up. I'm not sure that currency manipulation is a Democratic or Republican or conservative or liberal subject. The question of how you go deal with the Chinese over their years of manipulation of the currency has been a subject for both politicians and economists. The fact of the matter is that the Chinese were, until this latest crisis happened, they were doing what the United States has been urging them for years to do, which is in a controlled way begin to let their currency float more freely and reflect market realities.

  • 11:52:18

    SANGERAnd it wasn't until this big crisis, and they did a sudden devaluation of the currency, which I suspect they're going to come to regret at some point relatively soon, that they were back playing those games in a very obvious way.

  • 11:52:32

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's talk about this report in Mexico into the disappearance of those 43 students. The government had come out with a report on what happened. This is an international agency that said the government's report raised real questions about what the government had concluded. Ishaan, tell us about that.

  • 11:52:53

    THAROORRight, well, it's come out, this is a report by a group of international experts who are allowed to, in -- by the Mexican authorities to conduct their own internal investigation into this horrible incident of 43 students who disappeared. And basically they've issued a really damning report of the Mexican government, pointing to places where the Mexican government either bungled the investigation or deliberately obscured elements of it, and their conclusion, which is that these students accidentally commandeered a bus that had -- that was related to a drug gang and that led to their deaths, contradicts earlier statements by the Mexican government.

  • 11:53:31

    THAROORSo it's really -- you know, it reinforced once again a lot of popular, you know, a lot of the popular cynicism that you see right now in Mexico towards its own government, as well as cultural impunity that you see in parts of the country.

  • 11:53:43

    PAGEAnd we've seen the parents of these students refuse to give up in trying to pursue answers for what happened to their kids. Does this have an impact on the Mexican government and its stability, its situation, David?

  • 11:53:53

    SANGERI'm not sure it has an impact on their stability, but it certainly has an impact on their credibility. And, you know, you have seen in the past few years a Mexican government that has talked a lot about becoming significantly more transparent, and they have had, in this incident and in many others, including the escape of a significant drug lord, some real problems in explaining whether Mexico has changed as much as they would like to advertise.

  • 11:54:23

    PAGEWe had an enormous discovery in South Africa this week. Now, this isn't the kind of topic we usually put on the news roundup, but it's so amazing because it's a -- somebody new in our human, our pre-human family. Who can tell us about what it was these scientists have discovered?

  • 11:54:38

    THAROORWell, I can attempt. It was these spelunkers a couple of years ago, sort of found...

  • 11:54:42

    PAGEThose would be people who go into caves, yes.

  • 11:54:46

    THAROORYes, people who dive into caves, found deep inside a cave, not far from Johannesburg in South Africa, they found all these fossils of human remains. This is a part of the world that's I think been called sort of mystically the Cradle of Humankind. It's where a lot of paleontologists in the first -- in this century, in the past century, have, you know, discovered traces of early ancestors.

  • 11:55:11

    THAROORAnd so this specimen that's -- and they found, I think, 15, or at least remains that relate to 15 different individuals, is apparently a totally new link in our evolutionary chain, somewhere between Australopithecus and the Homo erectus. And beyond that, I really -- I mean, from the descriptions I've read and the reports, as a layman, it sounds a bit like the Gollum creature in "Lord of the Rings."

  • 11:55:40

    THAROORIt's this sort of -- has a big brain, is very sinewy, can climb really well, has tiny little teeth, something like that.

  • 11:55:47

    BOWMANOur science correspondent, Nell Greenfieldboyce, did a nice piece on this, and apparently to get to this cave you have to crawl up this rock wall and then kind of shimmy into this cave entrance that's seven-and-a-half inches wide. And apparently one of the scientists had his son go in there because he's very thin and come out, and the first thing the dad says to the son is not are you okay, it's, you know, did you find them. And it's right. It is -- there's questions about is this some sort of long lost ancestor of man. There was a scientist also quoted in this story, basically saying, well, hang on a second, let's -- you know, we don't know yet, and we're going to have to take a lot more work and a lot more study before we determine that.

  • 11:56:31

    SANGERI love the phraseology in the Times story. They have an amazing photograph of the skeleton sort of laid out in this bone vault. But they called the scientists who went into this underground astronauts, and Marina Elliott of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia said the collection involves some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions ever encountered in the search for human origin. So it was not easy doing this recovery.

  • 11:56:58

    PAGEAmazing. Congratulations to them. And also our congratulations to Queen Elizabeth II. On Wednesday she became the longest-serving reigning monarch in British history. She surpassed the record of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, truly a rock of stability through some very turbulent decades.

  • 11:57:15

    PAGEWell, I want to thank our panelists for being with us, Tom Bowman, David Sanger and Ishaan Tharoor. Thanks so much for joining us on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 11:57:23

    BOWMANThank you.

  • 11:57:23

    SANGERThank you.

  • 11:57:23

    THAROORThank you.

  • 11:57:24

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

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