The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Iran’s foreign ministry and the Obama administration say the missile tests Iran conducted this week do not violate the nuclear agreement reached last summer. Israel takes a different view. Vice President Joe Biden concludes a two-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The European Union reaches a deal with Turkey in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. Four Balkan nations shut their borders to new migrants. And in Somalia U.S. special operations forces along with Somali troops conduct raids against al-Shabab. This comes after American aircraft hit a training camp run by the militants. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius Columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest novel is "The Director."
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN
- Matthew Lee Diplomatic writer, Associated Press.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm this week. Iran conducts multiple ballistic missile tests. One of the missiles tested reportedly can reach Israel or could reach Israel. Four Balkan countries close their borders. Thousands of migrants were left stranded in Greece and U.S. airstrikes hit a militant training camp in Somalia killing 150 al-Shabaab fighters.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio to talk about these and the other top international stories this week, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Elise Labott of CNN and Matthew Lee of the Associated Press. Good to see you folks.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood to be here.
MR. MATTHEW LEEThanks.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
GJELTENAnd we want to leave time to hear your thoughts on all these stories. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also, of course, reach us on Facebook or reach us on Twitter. Lots of international news this week. Let's begin with these missile tests. It's interesting because Iran carries out some ballistic missile tests. One of them, as I say, is theoretically designed that it could actually reach Israel.
GJELTENAnd yet, the Obama administration agrees with Iran, David, that these missile tests did not violate last summer's agreement. Israel has another view, but that's the view that the -- what's your view on that? How does the Obama administration make that argument?
IGNATIUSThe way that they justify that is that the agreement bans ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear weapons and Iran says, well, we're not making any nuclear weapons. We've promised in this agreement not to make an nuclear weapons so, by definition, the missiles that we are testing do not fit that definition. A lot of people, including many in Congress, say baloney. These may be capable, as the Iranians down the road begin to think about building weapons and miniaturizing them so they can fit on top of missiles, it's an example of two things.
IGNATIUSThe issues, allegations of violation of the Iran nuclear agreement that I think are going to be a recurring feature of life for the next few years, and second, of the Cold War, if you will, of the battle of testing, of provocative statements that also is going to continue between Iran and Israel, you could argue that what they're doing here is trying to establish the rules of deterrence, which is the last thing the Israelis wanted to be in a game doing.
IGNATIUSThese missiles, I should note, show Iran's increasing tactical sophistication. The missiles, themselves, they tested them on two successive days, actually went 850 miles, far enough to hit Israel, but there range is said by Iran to be even larger so that they're capable of traveling 1200 miles so they're sophisticated, advanced ballistic missiles and precisely the kind of thing that the U.S. had hoped it would be able to constrain and clearly is not constraining.
GJELTENMight that not be a third point, which is that these tests indicate something about what's going on inside Iran and the -- you talk about the Cold War between Iran and the West, but there's quite a conflict going on inside Iran as well, isn't there?
IGNATIUSYes. I think that the hard-liners, if you will, Iranian military Revolutionary Guards want to continue to assert their capabilities, but I think the headline there in the last month, clearly, is the election victory of forces allied with President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. I mean, they won big in the February 28 elections in the parliamentary part and perhaps more significantly in the elections for the council, the Assembly of Experts that will pick the next supreme leader after Khamenei, so...
GJELTENBut that might've angered some of the...
IGNATIUSSo I think that's exactly right, Tom, that the hard-liners will want to show, we're here. We're armed. We're dangerous. But, you know, on the ground, politically, you have interesting counter indication.
GJELTENElise Labott, there was a report by the Fars News Agency, which, I guess, is semi-official, claiming that one of the missiles was inscribed with the phrase, "Israel should be wiped off the earth." Now, I understand that there's actually been no evidence to back that up. And nevertheless, I think that's the way Israel took it, isn't it?
LABOTTActually, if you look at the -- there were some stills of the missile that was launched and there is some Hebrew writing on it. So I mean, I don’t think it's a stretch to indicate that there was some Hebrew writing on it and it did say "Israel could be wiped off the map." That's a reference to some of the things that the supreme leader has said, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president has said, and I mean, I think it's clearly a message aimed at, you know, both Israel and the United States, that even though they're not going to violate, in a overt way right now, the nuclear deal, that Iran is still developing its missile capability.
LABOTTYou know, look, the U.S. and its allies did try to get, you know, constraints on the missile program in the nuclear deal. The Iranians would not have it at all. And so they have this delicate dance that they're playing right now. Technically it's not violating the letter of the nuclear agreement. It is violating a UN Security Council resolution, as David said, that calls for Iran to refrain from any testing of ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. And so I think you will see the United States maybe move to impose some sanctions along the lines of the way they did in October for the missile test in October.
LABOTTThey just did that last January. And you heard Vice President Biden was just in Israel the other day when this happened, you know, making reference to this, saying, look, it may not violate the nuclear deal, per se, but we're still very concerned about Iran's conventional weapons program and if they violate the nuclear deal, we're going to act. So he was putting them on notice. I'm not sure how much they'll be able to do outside of some small sanctions 'cause clearly, even if they take it to the UN Security Council, take up the issue, there's very little appetite to do anything against Iran that's not in major violation of the nuclear deal.
GJELTENExcept for in the U.S. Congress.
LEERight. And what the administration has got to do is determine how it's going to respond to this because while it is correct that the missile test, whether or not they are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead or not, does not violate the terms of nuclear deal, they certainly do violate the terms of the new UN resolution, which replaced all of the previous resolutions, including the one having to do with ballistic missile tests. So this...
LABOTTThey're not going to be able to get them in the council, though.
LEESo the argument that is made by critics of the deal and Iran foes is that you violated one part of the resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal so therefore, you violated the whole resolution, which includes the nuclear deal. So that's the argument on one side and then there's the argument that the Russians make that this is not a -- capable of carrying a nuclear weapon because the Iranians have agreed not to build one and that's the case the Iranians make as well.
LEESo, you know, the administration's really going to have to find out how they want to come down on this and how hard they're prepared to push it at the Security Council.
GJELTENYeah. Well, David, as Elise mentioned, the Israelis have their own view of this and, of course, the prime minister, Israeli prime minister cancelled the trip, Benjamin Netanyahu, to meet with President Obama later this month. What has the Israeli government been saying about, one, about the cancellation of this visit and, two, sort of more broadly about where things stand between the United States and Israel right now?
IGNATIUSWell, the official line is that Prime Minister Netanyahu decided that he didn't want to intervene and interfere in the American political campaign season, which, as we know, is raging hot and heavy, by coming at this time. And there may be some truth in that. There are a lot of people in APEC, the group -- the pro-Israel lobbying group that he was going to address, who worry that support for Israel became too partisan over the last several years, that it became too much a GOP issue and they'd love to pull it back more toward the center.
IGNATIUSSo the more interesting explanations have to do with what the Obama administration is, in fact, thinking of doing, which is laying down a resolution in the UN Security Council which would replace the framework resolutions on the Palestinian issue 242 and 338 and essentially would codify in the form of a UN proposal the framework that Secretary Kerry reached in his lengthy negotiations, lengthy unsuccessful negotiations on the Palestinian issue.
IGNATIUSThe Israelis really don't want to see that. The administration and Kerry have been talking about it quietly for a year. So that's one thing. A second thing, also interesting, is that in these waning months of the Obama administration, the effort to complete negotiations on the future memorandum of understanding about maintaining Israel's technological edge in weaponry has been stalled. I can't say. Maybe one of the other panelists knows that the hang up is.
IGNATIUSWhat I do know is that the Israelis thought it would be done by now and they're anxious that it isn't.
GJELTENElise, very quickly, this must've been the backdrop to Vice President Biden's trip there, both the request for military aide and what's happening in the UN.
LABOTTWell, he's making a swing through the region and so, obviously, Israel's an important part of that and those negotiations, as David said, have stalled. I understand there may be a couple of months away and it doesn't look like Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to leave the U.S. empty-handed without that agreement. So clearly, you know, Biden's trip, in a sense, is to talk about that, but I think, also, the larger context of what you have in the region, Iran and ISIS and the civil war in Syria.
GJELTENElise Labott is global affairs correspondent for CNN. My other two panelists for this hour of the Friday News Roundup where we talk about international news are Matthew Lee is the diplomatic writer at AP and David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post. We're going to take a short break. Meanwhile, remember our phone number, 1-800-433-8850. We'd love to hear from you. We have a lot of stories to cover, but we are going to leave time to talk to you and hear your comments and questions as well.
GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten. We're going to take a short break. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. And this is the international news discussion of the Friday News Roundup. My panelists are David Ignatius, who's a columnist for The Washington Post, Elise Labott, global affairs correspondent for CNN, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer for the Associated Press.
GJELTENWe were talking about Iran just before the break. From our website, we have a listener saying, I believe the odds of Iran ever nuking Israel are small, but not zero. I'm sure the Iranians know the Israelis would retaliate in kind. The question is, how can we prevent an exchange from occurring in the first place? Are we supposed to stay on the sidelines and let Iran continue to develop their nuclear weapons capability and delivery systems? Well, I'm going to let that stand as a comment. That's exactly what this whole topic is about.
GJELTENLet's move to Syria. Lots of important development, potentially important developments from -- in Syria this week. Matt Lee, first of all, there are reports that an Islamic State specialist in chemical weapons, who is in U.S. custody in Iraq, gave information that led to some U.S. airstrikes. Do you know anything more about that?
LEEA little bit. I think actually he has been now transferred to Iraqi custody.
LEEHe was certainly in U.S. custody for some time, for a period of at least several weeks, and did -- at least according to what U.S. officials are telling people -- but did provide some actionable information, useful information that allowed the U.S. to conduct airstrikes and other operations against chemical weapons facilities. This is a guy who worked for Saddam Hussein, when he was in power in Iraq, and was involved in the same kind of things that he was doing for the Islamic State. I think that it is significant that he was captured and significant that these -- that they were able to degrade, at least, if not destroy, but at least degrade some of the potential chemical weapons capability. But I'm not sure that it's a game changer in this whole -- in the whole scenario.
GJELTENWell, speaking of game changers, there's -- and we've heard this many, many times over the years -- but there allegedly is an Islamic State commander, he was known as Omar the Chechen, killed in one of these U.S. airstrikes.
LEECorrect. And there's a mixed reporting about this too. There's some reports that he was killed, some reports that he was badly injured but survived. And we, you know, we just don't know. But, clearly, they are making an effort to go after the ISIL leadership...
LEE...with some success.
LEEAlthough it's still a very, very mixed picture.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius, a story that really caught my attention just in the last 24 hours is this report that some digital files from the Islamic State have fallen into the hands either the United States or its allies, Germany perhaps, that has details -- that had details on hundreds or perhaps thousands of recruits to the Islamic State. If that is true -- and I understand there are some questions about the, you know, whether that they might have been forged or not -- but if that's true, that could be a real treasure load of information, couldn't it?
IGNATIUSThat could be very useful intelligence. The basic background is that an Islamic State fighter who became disillusioned, named Abu-Hammad, is supposed to have fled, taking with him...
GJELTENMm-hmm. Thumb drive.
IGNATIUS...memory stick, thumb drive, from a computer that had all this information on it. And the information was very rich. It had names, addresses. It is even supposed to have listed the contacts that these people were in effect recruited by back home. So if you were a European intelligence security officer, this would be just the kind of thing that would be most valuable.
GJELTENWell, you know a lot about intelligence. Tell -- how would this information be used by intelligence agencies?
IGNATIUSWell, the only thing that makes me dubious that it's true is that, if you had it, the last thing you'd do is want it to get out. Because you'd want to run down every lead, knock on every door.
IGNATIUSThere are 22,000 names alleged to be on this thumb drive of which, you know, it's said maybe 1,700 could be real. The latest reports are that this does appear to be a legit document. But this kind of security and intelligence work really is an awful lot like police work. It's following leads. You get the names, then you get their phone numbers, then you get where they visited, then you set up ways of seeing who might have passed through that phone connection, that café, that Internet site. And that's how they build their dossiers.
IGNATIUSThis is a moment in which the number of Islamic State plots in motion in Europe is said, by people I talked to in the government, to be extremely large. And Europeans are genuinely worried about it and from what little I know, should be. So getting intelligence like this or getting intelligence from the capture operation that grabbed this chemical weapons planner...
IGNATIUS...and we should note, there are other capture operations that are underway. The U.S. has now 200 people in Iraq who are part of what's called a capture-kill team. But the capture side is obviously the most valuable. And they're trying to -- looking for targets every day. And we just don't know -- these are big secretes. We know they may have others that we just haven't heard about.
LEECan I just say that this whole key...
LEE...key thumb drive thing sounds like a part of a plot ripped from a David Ignatius novel.
IGNATIUSThank you. See, I'm not...
LABOTTYeah, but I mean, look, there was a...
IGNATIUSIn my novel, it wouldn't work.
LABOTTThere was a treasure trove of information that the U.S. found about ISIS -- finances, about other, you know, contacts that they had -- last year. And the U.S. called it -- U.S. officials called it a game changer in terms of their understanding on how to go after ISIS financing, ISIS money depots. And there was some success. So I think we have to look and see about how ISIS recruitment, how -- what plots are actually thwarted over the next couple of months, before we know whether this was legitimate and whether it was helpful.
GJELTENBut, you know, Elise, David mentioned the danger of attacks being carried out in Europe. And one of the things that really jumped out at me was, you know, if these files are genuine, it gives kind of a profile of the foreign fighters, you know, involved in Islamic State. And, you know, the number one country sending recruits, not surprisingly, was Turkey, in terms of foreign countries outside Syria. But the number two country was France.
LABOTTThat's right. I mean, look, France, you know, and we saw what happened with those deadly Paris attacks. And, I mean, France has a very big militant Islam program -- and problem. And it's not only about the problem about getting these guys and going after them and thwarting plots. I mean, France is really grappling with right now how, how do they stop recruitment? How do they stop the radicalization of Muslims in France? You know, a lot of them live in very poor areas. They're marginalized from society. So it's not only about, you know, finding them. It's about stopping recruitment.
LABOTTAnd that's one area, I think, you know, the U.S. had these five lines of effort with the coalition. And one of them was kind of stopping recruitment and the spread of ideology of ISIS fighters. And that's one area that they have not been able to tackle very well. So I think a lot of these people, you know, you saw one of these guys was disillusioned and handed over this information. What are they going to do with these ISIS fighters coming back? Are there going to be some kind of programs to, you know, stop them from radicalizing others in their area?
GJELTENWell, Matt, you know, when you start tracing these fighters back to the countries where they came from, what you see is how extensive the network is of terrorism in the Middle East. And, you know, one of the places that we're certain it will reach to is Libya. The Pentagon is now apparently considering a plan to really carry out some pretty extensive airstrikes in Libya, going after Islamic State connections there.
LEEThat is -- yes. Absolutely. And, you know, Libya is the new front, although it's not so new. But it is the latest front, rather, than the -- in the ISIS campaign to establish their caliphate. And Libya is just a basket case right now. And they're talking about -- the EU is talking about putting sanctions on members of the two recalcitrant Libyan governments who, you know, there's a plan out there for there to be a transitional government. But the two governments -- one in Tripoli and one in the east -- just can't get together.
LEEAnd it seems like it's a clash of personalities. So, into that vacuum, yes, the Europeans -- particularly Italians -- are talking about doing -- going in with military force and, as you mentioned, the Pentagon as well, to back that up, to try and stunt or blunt the rise of ISIS.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius, I don't know if you watched the Republican debate last night, but if you didn't, I'll bring you the news that Donald Trump says that he's hearing that 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops might be needed to defeat ISIS in Syria. When asked about that this morning, he said, don't worry. It's going to be very quick. I recall a column of yours a couple of months ago, based on your conversations at Sun Com (sp?) and elsewhere, where you were told by the people who actually would have to carry that out that it's not going to be very quick. If we do something, it's not going to be very quick.
IGNATIUSI think the point that the military commanders would make, if they could be on this show with us, is that the American people, but most of all the people who are running for president, have to understand and level of the country that this is going to take a long time.
IGNATIUSThat this is the work of decades, not months. I think there's nobody more skeptical about the wisdom of putting in tens of thousands of U.S. ground troops than American generals, at least the ones I talk to. You know, they've been through this in Iraq. They've seen the limits of U.S. military power. They're finally beginning to get what I think is a viable campaign strategy in eastern Syria. And we've talked a little bit about it. But they -- we now have 50 U.S. special operations forces inside Syria on the ground, accompanied by British, French, maybe a few Jordanian special forces also. The U.S. commanders would like to increase that to 300.
IGNATIUSThey have a plan for taking down the Islamic State capital in Raqqa that's systematic.
IGNATIUSThey're coming at it from three sides. They're moving, every day, a little bit closer to it. It's not going to be quick. It's not Donald Trump-esque, in that, you know, you sort of -- but it's something that the military, I think, is comfortable with. And the situation in western Syria, where the Russians are, is a mess. That's a much harder problem. But in the east, I think, people should note, this campaign's actually going pretty much the way they want it to.
LABOTTI think that you have the problem though -- and we're seeing it in Libya, you know, we saw it in Iraq -- that if, you know, you could have a -- and you know this David -- you could have a military plan for defeating a group, for defeating an insurgency, but until you have a government that's able to assume control of the people and rebuild society and help deliver services, you're going to continue to have that vacuum. And then there'll be another ISIS.
LABOTTAnd we saw what happened in Libya. There's a reluctance to put so many troops in. Once Gadhafi was overthrown, the U.S. kind of did not follow that up with a hands-on, diplomatic and political engagement that we're now seeing is a problem in Libya. And that's giving ISIS an opportunity to thrive there. And that's why the U.S. really wants to see -- and its allies -- to see this government take hold in Libya, so it can invite in the international community to work with them.
GJELTENElise Labott is global affairs correspondent for CNN. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Meanwhile, Matt Lee, speaking of military action, we had these -- this airstrike or strikes in Somalia this week, directed against what is -- what was said to be a training camp or a graduation ceremony for...
LEEYou are correct.
GJELTEN…Al-Shabaab fighters, 150 militants allegedly killed. Tell us a little bit more about that.
LEEWell, this is part of the, you know, the broader U.S. strategy that we're seeing play out in -- with the Pentagon planning for Libya, also the -- what David was just talking about in Syria. So these attacks on this Al-Shabaab training camp were designed to eliminate what they believed to be an imminent threat of a major attack that these guys were going to launch against the African Union troops in Somalia and which could have done significant damage. And I think that the fact that they did this and then were relatively open about doing it, shows that the military and the administration, through its military, is going to be taking a more active role in dealing with this kind of thing.
LEEBecause you look Somalia, which is a situation that was very much like the situation in Libya, minus the Islamic State group, but we're seeing the same thing play out all over the place -- Yemen is another problematic area.
GJELTENI have an email here from Bonnie that you may know the answer to, Matt, or one of the other -- anyone who knows the answer to this. Someone should discuss that the so-called Somalian terrorists are recruited in kidnappings of young men from schools. And they are recruited by offering food to them and their population that's often starving. And Bonnie wonders if the 150 young Somalis who were killed in this act, in this airstrike, really were terrorists, or were they -- might they have been people who were recruited under some pressure to Al-Shabaab. I guess there's no way of knowing that, is there?
IGNATIUSNo. The reports we get about how they died are poignant. They were lined up on a parade ground for graduation day in their training camp…
IGNATIUS...120 miles or so from Mogadishu, standing there in the sun. And out of the clouds come drones and U.S. war planes. And I've been told the number of dead is actually 167.
IGNATIUSHow were they recruited? What were the conditions like? I mean, Somalia is just such a disaster area, like so much of the Middle East. But I can't speak to the specifics of the caller.
LEEAnd we're also seeing, you know, this is kind of interesting, that question, because it goes to the humanitarian situation on the ground, which is a -- which can be a breeding ground. And we're seeing this with Boko Haram...
LEE...in West Africa where, as a result of what they're doing, there's serious hunger, serious threat of famine, which are driving -- you know, we had the situation in Nigeria just a while ago, maybe last week, where a whole bunch of Boko Haram, you know...
LEE...the al-Qaida affiliate there, basically surrendered because they'd had no food. And so I think that there is a -- Bonnie makes a good point. But I agree with David, there's just no way to tell what happened or exactly who and how the people who were killed in Somalia were recruited.
GJELTENElisa, there's another report that Kenya had airstrikes of its own and that they claim that they killed Al-Shabaab's intelligence chief. Do we know about that? Do we know if that’s -- if there's anything to that?
LABOTTI don't think we know whether the intelligence chief was actually killed. But I think it shows that the United States, Kenya -- working, again, you know, when the African Union left Somalia, Shabaab had kind of filled the vacuum once again, after the African Union pushed it out of a lot of areas of Somalia -- is really concerned...
LABOTT...about the growing Islamic extremism in Africa. And I think that there's a concerted effort to not take the eye off the ball this time and make sure. You know, look, Al-Shabaab is now competing with ISIS for recruits. There are some ISIS fighters that are talking about showing allegiance to ISIS. And so I think that this is -- you're going to see a lot more action in Africa against ISIS and Shabaab and other militants.
GJELTENElise Labott is global affairs correspondent for CNN. My other panelists are Matthew Lee, he's the diplomatic writer for AP, and David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to take your calls. 1-800-433-8850 is our number. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
GJELTENHello again. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. This is the discussion of international news, part of the Friday News Roundup, and my guests are Matt Lee, he's a diplomatic writer at the AP, Elise Labott, global affairs correspondent for CNN, and David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post.
GJELTENI've got some calls, but before we go to those calls, I want to go to a story. I'm going to put this to our resident spy novelist, David Ignatius. I'm sure, given your interest in intrigue, David, you read this story about the former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was found dead in a Washington hotel last year. The initial reports last year were that he had died of a heart attack. Pretty stunning development this week, where the medical examiner says he was actually bludgeoned to death. What actually happened there, David?
IGNATIUSWell, we don't know except the medical examiner has said that contrary to the initial report, which I would note was carried around the world by Russian news media, contrary to that initial report of the heart attack, he, the examiner says, died of blunt force trauma. This spawns every imaginable conspiracy theory, given that this is a person who had been in Putin's inner circle, is thought to have quarreled with some other members of that circle recently. He's amassed a large fortune outside of Russia, some of it in the United States. You know, he's just a classic kind of Putin's shadowy elite, and now he ends up dead.
IGNATIUSAnd the reason that the spy novelists, but also the journalists, should pay attention to this is there is a growing list of people who have been Vladimir Putin's enemies who are dead.
GJELTENRight, in other countries.
IGNATIUSIn other countries, outside of Russia. And this is causing, I think, growing concern internationally. The British did something very unusual, which was to state that men -- and Litvinenko, who had also been a Putin crony and then enemy, had been poisoned by radioactive poison and that they believed it was likely that Putin had known about this, coming as close as you can to accusing the head of a significant foreign country of murder.
IGNATIUSSo it's -- Tom Gjelten, call your agent, get your...
LABOTTI think there's another David Ignatius going on.
IGNATIUSI think, you know, the journalistic side of this is the part that we should focus on. If Russian lawlessness is now spreading outside its borders, that should worry everybody.
LEEThis is, to quote Lewis Carroll, you know, becoming curiouser and curiouser. And David's absolutely right, there is this growing list of people, not just Litvinenko and Lesin, this guy, but, you know, Nemtsov, who was gunned down outside the Kremlin. And the conspiracy theories are just wild on this one, and it really is -- does have the making of a great novel.
GJELTENWell, one of the things that strikes me, Elise, is that what happened, what did U.S. law enforcement find out just now? I mean, because apparently they weren't all that concerned about it in the beginning. Something clearly -- they found out something, apparently, right?
LABOTTWell, they weren't all that concerned, and it's kind of interesting because they kind of dismissed it at first as, you know, he was drunk, he was coming into his hotel room, and they kind of, you know, reduced it to alcohol-induced heart attack of sorts and didn't follow up...
GJELTENAnd then all of a sudden...
LABOTTDidn't really follow up at all and didn't raise any suspicion. And so I remember yesterday when the police sent out the autopsy, and, you know, and I looked at it, and I said, wait a minute, blunt force trauma to the head, torso, other areas? This is not -- you know, he didn't get drunk and, you know, fall on a chest or something. This guy was probably beaten to death. And so I think, you know, David is exactly right. I mean, yesterday my curiosity just peaked up even more, and this is a long list of people who have died under curious circumstances after having incurred the wrath.
GJELTENBut you don't reopen, you don't reopen a medical examination, you know, a year and a half later without having some reason to do that. I mean, that's what's strange, right?
IGNATIUSI think that's -- one interesting question with both the British -- unusual British allegation that Putin was likely aware of the murder of Litvinenko, and then this reopening of the case, it makes you wonder, it makes the spy novelist wonder, whether there is somebody inside the Kremlin talking. You get reasons to be suspicious about things, not -- just saying that's what I would think of.
GJELTENYour imagination is very active. Let's go to Donna.
LEEBut this is real life, though.
GJELTENIt is real life.
GJELTENIt is real life, but, you know, David's point is that you can go in many different directions with this. And all right, let's go to Brattleboro, Vermont, where Donna is calling us from. Hello, Donna, you're on the Diane Rehm Show.
DONNAGood morning. I'm wondering if any of your guests know where we stand in the trade with Iran. It was supposed to be, as I understand it, a gradual relaxation of trade over a period of time. And I don't know where we stand in that. And also in order to re-establish trade, you have to have rails and systems for exchanging money. And I wonder if those have been fully implemented. I've read about France running in to create trade with Iran, but I don't know in Europe either if the actual vehicle for transferring money between countries has been established, and I think that plays into what is going on with Iran because technically you could be reducing the sanctions, but if there's no way to transfer money, then it's the same as having the sanctions, but yet the world who made the agreement with Iran is living up to their part of the bargain.
LEEMost of the banks that had been under sanction, the Iranian banks that had been under sanctions, have been reconnected, excuse me, have been reconnected with the swift -- the international...
GJELTENIt's the network, communications network within banks.
LEEExactly. So that is not a huge issue in way. It is still -- there are still some concerns, particularly in European companies, because American sanctions still remain in place, and they are concerned about their access to the U.S. financial markets. In terms of U.S. trade with Iran, it's miniscule. I mean, it's very minor, and it is not likely to increase significantly because of the sanctions release.
GJELTENWell at least Donald Trump has made this complaint, that Iran, now that it's got a little bit more flexibility to purchase abroad, is buying aircraft from France, Airbuses, as opposed to U.S. aircraft. But could France actually -- I mean, could Iran actually buy aircraft from the United States?
LABOTTNo, I mean, maybe he would be able to make a better deal, but the deal would have to be with Congress. As he says, he likes to make big deals, the deal would have to be to Congress to lift all the U.S. sanctions against Iran. So that's not possible right now. It is -- you know, some people that are more interested in a better relationship with Iran do see -- you know, look at France and other countries, Canada, that will be doing, you know, big deals with Iran.
LABOTTThere are some U.S. companies that foreign subsidiaries will be able to do business with Iran, but I think we're a ways off from any type of, you know, what we would consider trade with Iran.
GJELTENYeah, let's go now to Lazaro, who's on the line from North Carolina. Hello, Lazaro.
LAZAROHey, how are you?
GJELTENI'm good. How are you?
LAZAROI have a question. I'm listening about IS popping out in different places in Africa and the Middle East, and I was wondering, what is the likelihood that some IS activity would come up somewhere like in Latin America?
GJELTENWell, you know, that prospect has certainly been raised, and it's actually one of the reasons why concerns about terrorism and concerns about immigration often dovetail. Do any of you have any information on, you know, what U.S. intelligence or diplomats are saying about that?
LEEWell, I don't think it's a top -- a front-burner concern right at the moment, at least as it relates to Latin America. What -- the concern in Latin America is much more Iranian proxies than it is, you know, radical Sunni. It's much more Shiite-based. But yeah, I mean, it is a big concern.
GJELTENAnd as David said, the big -- the bigger concern is Europe, of course.
LABOTTWell, and the concern is that some -- not necessarily that ISIS is setting up cells in Latin or South America but that you could have members of ISIS fly to, you know, those types of countries and make the trek up through, you know, Mexico or Canada or -- and then enter the U.S. that way. I think that's the big concern in terms of ISIS operatives making their way from those countries to the United States.
GJELTENAnother story that we should touch on before we run out of time is the situation with migrants on the Greek border, and of course there was a tentative deal between the EU and Turkey this week to deal with this situation. And under the proposals, migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey would be sent back, and for each Syrian sent back by -- from Turkey, a Syrian in Turkey would be resettled in the European Union. David, how likely is this accord going to -- how likely is it that this accord will actually alleviate that horrible situation with the migrants?
IGNATIUSWell, first the accord is not final. The final price tag of three billion euros hasn't been paid, and it's going to be negotiated later this month. I think we can say with some confidence that whatever deal is negotiated, it's not going to stop this flow of migrants. It will reduce the strain. But what will stop the flow is some kind of end or stabilization of the war in Syria. What's been fascinating is that migrants from so many other countries, Afghanistan most notably, have been flowing through these routes.
IGNATIUSYou see Europe really at the point of I want to say desperation for Balkan countries closing their borders.
GJELTENAnd that was a main crossing route, wasn't it, yeah?
IGNATIUSAnd that was -- it is said that a million migrants have passed through that Balkan route, going to Germany, Sweden, et cetera. Greece has become the principle repository, and Greece is just saying we can't bear this, we are ourselves a bankrupt country, just struggling desperately with our own problems. And so they're trying to, you know, get the Europeans to pay Turkey enough to take these migrants, I think there are roughly 20,000 in camps now in Turkey, but it's probably more than that, take them back into Turkey.
IGNATIUSTurkey itself is in a period of increasing internal stability, not caused so much by Syrian refugees as Turkey's own internal problems. The government shut down one of the largest newspapers this last week. Kurds say that they're facing increasing government pressure. So sadly the problems of that part of the world just keep spreading into other countries.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius is a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is the Diane Rehm Show. Meanwhile, Elise, we -- some people are even suggesting that this deal may not be entirely legal, I mean, you know, because there are international laws about the obligations of countries to accept refugees, at least those seeking asylum.
LABOTTNot only that, the U.N. Refugee Agency has voiced concern about, you know, the blanket return of these people without clarity of their legal status. And what about those that are still in Turkey? What about -- what is their -- going to be status of those remaining? So there are a lot of concerns about whether it's legal, what their status will be, whether they'll be granted asylum if they truly deserve it.
LABOTTAnd I thought David brought up an interesting point about the kind of, you know, some would call it a devil's bargain that the EU is making with Turkey right now. They have serious concerns about the growing authoritarian nature of the last several years of President Erdogan, but yet they need Turkey's help so desperately. So the question is are they going to be willing to look the other way when the Turkish government takes over an opposition newspaper, when they crack down on opposition.
LABOTTThere is talk about speeding up discussions about Turkey's membership into the European Union, which under the kind of conditions against, you know, political opponents and humans rights violations, clearly they would not meet that very high criteria. So you...
GJELTENBut Turkey has a lot of leverage in this thing.
LABOTTIt has a lot of leverage, but, you know, a lot of people are speaking out about this. In fact former British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote a really interesting op-ed about whether there needs to be, you know, re-examination of these deals with Turkey and whether Turkey really meets the criteria for a European Union membership.
LEETurkey is certainly in convulsions right now. One wonders what would the situation would be had they got -- actually gotten into the European Union several years ago, when they didn't, and how Europe would be dealing with this situation now, this similar situation now, if Turkey was in fact an EU member. But, you know, everyone is right. This migrant crisis is at -- the EU is like a balloon, and it's very, very close to its bursting point, a lot of people feel like, and there are many in Europe who think that what Turkey is doing in terms of demanding three billion euro is pretty much just extortion.
LEESo is it -- we don't know. I mean, Turkey is in serious trouble, but Greece is in just as much trouble, and it's an actual EU member.
GJELTENDavid, I was living in Europe in the early '90s, at a time of such confidence and optimism about the future of Europe as a united place. And that was the theme for a long time. But, you know, what has happened to that?
IGNATIUSWell, Tom, you and I remember the phrase Europe, ever wider, ever deeper. And that was a passion, and it represented Europe's desire after the nightmare of World War II to find a way to get past these national boundaries, the ancient conflicts, and it was one of the positive trends in the world, and what we've seen is that there simply isn't sufficient structure underneath this big idea to support it.
IGNATIUSYou're having a union where you don't have uniform fiscal policy to keep everybody on tract, having a common currency without similar common rules, having open borders, where people can go from country to country when you have thousands, tens of thousands, of undocumented migrants flowing in, and you have great fear of terrorist attacks.
IGNATIUSA lot of people say that the European project that you and I watched in its early days has crested and is now on the way down. I actually think I actually share that view. The British demand that they will stay in the EU only if they have special status to me marks the cresting that Europe is now going to be in a period of diminishing.
GJELTENWell, Elise, before too long, we're going to be talking about Britain's future with respect to Europe because of the big referendum coming up there.
LABOTTThat's right, and I mean, these are the questions that the Europeans are asking themselves. I mean, is the European Union the kind of panacea that, you know, it once promised? And the answer right now is no. I mean, Britain has looked for, you know, more, you know, looser regulations on how many refugees it could take in, you know, all of the obligations that European Union members are having to face right now to a lot of Britons are not worth the cost, you know, the benefit is not worth the cost.
LABOTTAnd so I think it will be really interesting. I think in the end we might -- they might skirt, they might skirt by and stay in, but I don't think it's by any means a lock on whether Britain becomes -- leave the European Union, and I think that will fundamentally change the landscape of Europe for generations to come.
GJELTENWell, and then we're going to see what happens in Germany, where Angela Merkel is in some trouble as well. Matthew Lee from the Associated Press, Elise Labott from CNN and David Ignatius from The Washington Post have been my panelists this morning. I'd like to thank you all for coming up.
LABOTTThanks for having us.
GJELTENThanks for all the calls from listeners. Thanks for listening. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
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