Guest Host: Susan Page

Pakistani journalists and civil society activists place candles during a vigil to pay tribute to victims of an August 8 suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital in Quetta on August 10.

Pakistani journalists and civil society activists place candles during a vigil to pay tribute to victims of an August 8 suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital in Quetta on August 10.

A top UN diplomat says the alleged use of chlorine gas against civilians in Syria should be investigated as a war crime. Tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. Fifty Republican national security experts sign an open letter declaring Donald Trump puts the U.S. at risk. In Australia, leaked documents offer new details on alleged abuses of asylum seekers housed on the remote Pacific island of Nauru. Japanese Emperor Akihito indicates he wants to abdicate because of health issues. And the geopolitics of the Rio Olympics. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.


  • Matthew Lee Diplomatic writer, Associated Press
  • Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN
  • Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent, Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward
  • Ben Doherty Reporter, Guardian Australia


  • 11:06:54

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. The UN says fighting in Aleppo, Syria leaves 2 million without water. A suicide bomber in Pakistan targets lawyers, killing more than 70 people. And 50 Republican national security experts say Donald Trump puts the U.S. at risk. Joining me for the international hours of our Friday News Roundup, Matthew Lee of the Associated Press, Elise Labott of CNN and Nathan Guttman with Channel One Israeli News and The Forward. Welcome.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. ELISE LABOTTNice to be here.

  • 11:07:28

    MR. MATTHEW LEEThank you for having me.

  • 11:07:29

    PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Matt, let's start with the news out of Thailand just this morning. Southern Thailand struck by a series of bomb blasts, apparently directed at tourists. We know at least four people have been killed, dozens wounded. Do we know who's behind the attacks?

  • 11:07:57

    LEEWell, not yet. The mostly likely culprits in this case are these southern insurgents, this Muslim insurgency, separatists who have been fighting for a low level -- at a very low level with the kind of random bombings and that kind of thing for decades now. The fear, of course, is that these people may have become even further radicalized. What they've been pushing for, some of them, is to seed these states that are close to Malaysia with -- to become part of Malaysia.

  • 11:08:37

    LEEOthers want just flat out independence. But, of course, the fear is that it could be somehow linked to a broader Islamic State type of motive and it's really, you know, it hits the Thai economy -- the tourism industry, which is a mainstay of their economy and has been resilient, even after all the political unrest that they have had with a coup -- many coups, actually, over the past decades. So the fear is that this is really going to hit the tourism industry hard.

  • 11:09:13

    PAGEElise, how significant do you think? How closely should we be watching this?

  • 11:09:17

    LABOTTWell, right now, police are ruling out any links to terrorism, but as Matt said, there is a concern that, you know, a lot of times when some of these Muslim groups that have more local grievances, this is what, you know, groups like ISIS have been able to prey upon to give them resources, to give them strength and to have some, you know, kind of larger bona fides. The concern, obviously, is that they become further radicalized and they get some support.

  • 11:09:45

    LABOTTSo, I think, right now, it's more of a local thing, but, you know, if you look at, you know, most of the targets, you know, this is far from the usual conflict zone. The targets are usually aimed at security and government forces. So the fact that they're going after tourists is very concerning.

  • 11:10:03

    PAGENathan, here's a question from a listener, Beverly from Barboursville, Virginia. She writes, "I have heard unsubstantiated reports of barrel bombs full of chlorine gas being dropped in Aleppo, Syria. Have those reports been substantiated and who's dropping the bombs?"

  • 11:10:20

    MR. NATHAN GUTTMANWell, we've seen reports in the recent week. If anyone is dropping these barrel bombs, it's Syrian government that is trying to defeat the opposition forces in Aleppo and we've seen conflicting reports. People on the ground spoke about symptoms that seem to be very similar to those of a chlorine bomb. People having difficulty breathing, several people died from these bombings. International bodies have yet to confirm that this was actually this type of a bomb.

  • 11:10:54

    MR. NATHAN GUTTMANAnd, of course, if it is, it is significant because, of course, using chemical weapons in this war theater would be a war crime.

  • 11:11:03

    PAGEThe UN envoy for Syria said exactly that, that it would constitute a war crime. But we have both sides of the conflict, Matt, accusing the other of using chlorine gas. Do they both have credibility? Who do we believe?

  • 11:11:14

    LEEIt's very difficult to know who to believe in this kind of situation. Certainly, when this conflict began, the opposition, the rebel forces, did not have access to this kind of thing, but it is possible, it is not beyond the realm of the unthinkable that they could have captured some and started to use it. That said, if, in fact, it was chlorine and these barrel bombs were dropped, it's almost certainly the government, which has the air power.

  • 11:11:43

    LABOTTThat's right. The rebels, you know, you talk to the U.S. about whether, you know, the Russians are claiming that it's the opposition. The regime is claiming it's the opposition. And, you know, the Obama administration kind of laughs and says, well, you know, with what air power. So if they are barrel bombs -- and let's just be honest. It's also against rebel-held areas so some of these areas in Aleppo have been targeting, you know, civilians in rebel-held areas and this is the larger issue about, you know, the siege of Aleppo that's been going on for more than a month.

  • 11:12:16

    LABOTTAnd these air strikes, whether it's Russian or the regime, are targeting hospitals. Just in the last month alone, you had this letter by some of Aleppo's remaining doctors that are on the ground saying, 42 attacks in the last month on hospitals. That's one every 17 hours. And they're really saying, you know, enough dithering by the international community. We don’t need your sympathy. We don't need your tears. We need your help.

  • 11:12:43

    PAGESo will they get help, Nathan? Is anything gonna happen?

  • 11:12:46

    GUTTMANWell, yeah, I think that letter was very powerful, the letter that was sent to the White House basically saying, we don't want your prayers. We need help on the ground. And the response from that administration which seemed to be almost dismissive saying, yes, we condemn the siege. We condemn the Syrian forces, but basically, we're going to do nothing about it. In recent days, we have seen a breach of the siege so potentially there is an opportunity to get humanitarian aid into Aleppo. The problem is that no one can sure right now that there really is a safe corridor because even though there is an opening right now, Syrian forces and Russian forces can bomb whenever they want and there is no promise that convoys can come in safely.

  • 11:13:32

    GUTTMANAnd there is a Russian proposal on the table for this daily break in bombing for a few hours to allow this help, but no one seems to take that right now as a credible offer.

  • 11:13:43

    PAGEWhat do you think the Russians are up to, Matt?

  • 11:13:45

    LEEWell, I think they're trying to deflect, as much as they can, criticism that's being directed their way by saying, hey, look, well, we can't -- it's the rebels fault that this is going on and that this is not over. They're continuing to fight. But we do have -- we, the Russians, do have sympathy for the civilians who are there. That said, you know, three hours a day? The UN says that is not nearly enough. The Americans say, well, you know, anything is better than the situation is right now and we would welcome it, but for it to truly work and for there to truly -- for the people, the civilians, who are left in Aleppo to get the aid that they so desperately need, it's gonna have to be more than just three hours a day.

  • 11:14:33

    PAGEElise, even absent the issue of chlorine gas, the situation for folks who live in Aleppo is increasingly desperate.

  • 11:14:41

    LABOTTIt is so bad, Susan. And, you know, these doctors in this letter warn that if you don't get some help, some aid in right now, if you don't break the siege, all the medical supplies, all the food will be out in about a month. The medical care will be completely gone. 300, 000 people, they're warning, could be left to die. Doctors do not have diesel fuel to run generators. They don't have medicine. They don't have, you know, anesthetic. This situation is so dire, these people do not have clean water. They don't have food. They don't have medical care and this is what the rebels are trying to do to just at least break the siege to get some aid in.

  • 11:15:20

    LABOTTForget about beating back the regime. They just want to, right now, at least break the siege to get some aid in. And this is what, you know, the internet -- these doctors and the international community are looking at right now about how to break the siege. These people are saying, listen, the inaction of the international community really -- they bear responsibility for what's happening right now.

  • 11:15:40

    LEEAnd let's remember that the mere threat of this kind of siege in Libya on Benghazi when Gadhafi threatened to do something like this was what propelled the UN to pass a resolution that lead to the NATO bombing. And now, in Syria, we're seeing that threat happen. It's come to reality and nothing.

  • 11:16:04

    PAGEWhy the difference in the response?

  • 11:16:06

    LEEWell, I think there's a big fear from the United States, from its allies, that they would get drawn into a broader land conflict, eventually, against the Islamic State, which is what the Islamic State wants.

  • 11:16:24

    PAGEYou know, we have been talking about the Syrian civil war for several years now on the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. So Nathan, what's the status of peace talks aimed at ending the civil war itself?

  • 11:16:36

    GUTTMANWell, there is no status right now for these peace talks and there doesn't seem to be any horizon for that currently because, if anything, the rebels feel that they may have a chance of making some headway in Aleppo further down the road. There is some success in the battle against the Islamic State in the Raqqa area. But, in general, the forces on the ground are now dictating the situation and the diplomatic efforts are pretty much on hold.

  • 11:17:10

    PAGEDoes John Kerry, the secretary of state, plan to do anything, Elise? Is there anything he could do?

  • 11:17:14

    LABOTTWell, he's trying to get this, you know, kind of agreement going with the Russians, where if they can team up, share intelligence on targets to go after ISIS, that would be something that the Russians are looking for, that would be in exchange for the Russians not only halting their own bombing, but halting the Syrian air force. And, you know, they haven't been able to come to agreement and the administration says that it's not gonna make an agreement with the Russians while the siege of Aleppo is going on so that is even stalled.

  • 11:17:43

    PAGEWe're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850 or shoot us an email at Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And now we're joined by phone from Sydney, journalist Ben Doherty of Guardian Australia. He's been reporting for more than a year on the plight of asylum seekers housed by the Australian government on the remote Pacific island of Nauru. Ben, thanks for joining us.

  • 11:20:22

    MR. BEN DOHERTYGood morning, Susan.

  • 11:20:23

    PAGEYou were given documents detailing the conditions at this detention center on this island. Tell us what you've learned.

  • 11:20:31

    DOHERTYThe Nauru files have been particularly revelatory around the nature, I suppose, of the conditions of this detention center, where there's at the moment about 1,200 asylum seekers and refugees, I suppose, held -- warehoused by Australia on this tiny Pacific island. We've been hearing for quite a while, for a couple of years now, about the conditions in detention. We've had whistleblowers from inside. We've had doctors and psychiatrists and people who've worked in it detailing levels of abuse, levels of sexual abuse of children, physical abuse of children, women and men, the deprivation of living there. Widespread self harm and suicide attempts.

  • 11:21:19

    DOHERTYAnd I suppose what's been truly dramatic about these documents -- and we're talking about a very large cache of documents, about 2,000 separate incident reports, about 8,000 pages detailing about 18 months on this island -- it just shows a huge range of problems of those problems I was talking about, the sexual and physical abuse of people, basic facilities not working, no toilets, an absence of food, inadequate medical care, serious mental health problems, endemic almost self harm and suicide by people on the island.

  • 11:22:01

    DOHERTYAnd I think the thing that's most powerful about these documents is that these are not the words of advocates or refugees or journalists, but these are the words of the regime itself. These are the incident reports compiled by security guards and other people inside these detention centers.

  • 11:22:17

    PAGEReports of parent trying to kill themselves in hopes that, if their children were orphaned, they would be allowed to go to Australia. Why is Australia keeping these asylum seekers at this remote island?

  • 11:22:29

    DOHERTYThis is part of Australia's sort of suite of asylum policies and they have been very, very controversial, which include intercepting boats full of asylum seekers who are trying to get to Australia and pushing them back to other countries. And people who do reach Australia by boat to claim asylum, even if they are found to be genuine refugees in legal entitlement to protection, they are sent to remote islands, to detention camps for in, what many cases and has been described by the United Nations as arbitrary detention, as indefinite detention.

  • 11:23:03

    DOHERTYPeople can be warehoused there -- there are people who have been there more than three years on Nauru, which is a tiny, remote Pacific island that's -- was a former protectorate of Australia and is very beholden to Australia for aid money and is basically serving as a detention center. And the Australian government is -- has a very firm and loudly proclaimed policy that people -- these people will never reach Australia.

  • 11:23:28

    PAGESo they -- it's not like they can get processed there and move on to Australia even if they're found to be refugees that meet the international standard.

  • 11:23:36

    DOHERTYNo. About 98 percent of the people that Australia has sent to Nauru have been found to be refugees, to meet that international refugee -- that standard of a well-founded fear of prosecution, but they are never moved to Australia and that's a policy the government's very adamant about. The government talks about resettlement in a third country somewhere else. But that, at this stage, has not eventuated. They've managed to resettle one person in Cambodia in Southeast Asia, but there is no sort of pathway for resettlement for these people.

  • 11:24:10

    PAGEAnd where have they come from?

  • 11:24:12

    DOHERTYThese people are a pretty broad cohort. There are -- there is a significant Tamil population from the north of Sri Lanka. There are Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, Burma (word?) , Rohingyan people from Myanmar, from the Rakhine State of Myanmar. So these are people who've come from all over almost and exclusively have traveled by boat, usually through Indonesia to reach Australia and fall within, I suppose, Australia's custody. They've either reached Australia or have been intercepted by the Australian Navy or the Australian Border Force, which is the agency which patrols Australia's borders.

  • 11:24:54

    PAGEAnd, Ben, just one last question. These leaked documents that document...

  • 11:24:59


  • 11:24:59

    PAGE...the horrific conditions there, what's been the reaction in Australia? Is it going to prompt any kind of furor or a change in policy?

  • 11:25:07

    DOHERTYLook, there is a growing and pressing public call for a royal commission and an independent inquiry into those circumstances. Certainly the parliament, on the basis of evidence of whistleblowers who have come forward before has investigated the detentions here. But really nothing has yet sort of sparked a change in policy. However, the reaction to the publication of the Nauru files has brought, I suppose, a groundswell of broader public support.

  • 11:25:37

    DOHERTYAnd it will be interesting there, as a newly reelected government here in Australia, and indeed this will be one of the first great tests I expect of this government, how it manages this situation. Because there is growing public unrest, particularly with very noticeable acts of self harm and suicide. There was an incident recently where an Iranian refugee doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire and he ultimately died on Nauru. But that was a very graphic incident that, again, sparked headlines in Australia. So this is an issue of growing concern in this country.

  • 11:26:16

    PAGEBen Doherty, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:26:21

    DOHERTYThanks very much, Susan.

  • 11:26:22

    PAGEBen Doherty, he's a reporter with the Guardian Australia. He joined us by phone from Sydney. You know, talking about the reaction in Australia, let's talk about the reaction here in this country to our presidential campaign. We had 50 Republican national security experts signing an open letter this week that -- saying the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, would put the U.S. security at risk. Elise, this is -- I can't think of another political occasion like this before, that -- where we've had the -- some of the best known national security experts of a party saying the election of their party's nominee would be a dangerous thing.

  • 11:27:00

    LABOTTThat's right. And you have some, you know, cabinet-level officials -- among the most prominent, Michael Hayden, who was a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, John Negroponte, who was the DNI, Bob Zoellick, who has held several positions. Now, this is kind of built on a letter that came out in March talking about -- by a lot, about 100 national security officials that voiced opposition to Trump at the time. And that was more about his policies and some of the things you were talking about.

  • 11:27:32

    LABOTTBut I spoke to one of the people that drafted the letter -- this was John Bellinger, the former chief legal advisor to Condoleezza Rice -- and he said that, you know, ever since Trump's comments about abandoning NATO, the -- his criticism of the Khans and Gold Star families during the convention, that this is more now about his temperament. That this is kind of echoing what Hillary Clinton in fact said, that Donald Trump doesn't necessarily have the temperament to be the commander in chief. And they basically say that he would in fact be dangerous for U.S. national security.

  • 11:28:09

    LEEI think one of the most interesting things about this letter is that, despite the fact that none of the former, living Republican secretaries of state have signed it or did sign it, virtually the entire inner circle of Condoleezza Rice's, you know, her inner circle, who, when she was at the State Department and also at the NSC before, you know, has signed it. Her chief of staff, Elise just mentioned Bob Zoellick, and John Bellinger, her chief of staff Brian Gunderson has signed this letter. And, you know, looking at the tea leaves here, one wonders if Condoleezza Rice herself is not, you know, what she thinks. Will she sign on? And if she does, as all of her inner circle has, when will it be?

  • 11:29:00

    PAGEDo you think she will?

  • 11:29:01

    LEEI think that...

  • 11:29:02

    LABOTTI don't.

  • 11:29:03

    PAGEYou don't. How come, Elise?

  • 11:29:05

    LEEI think that, you know, I think reading the tea leaves is what, you know, Washington...

  • 11:29:09

    LABOTTI think you've seen Colin Powell, he came out for President Obama, but I think you've -- you know, at the time. You know, Condoleezza Rice has been very kind of measured about, you know, over the years, what she's willing to speak out on. And you've seen like, yes, these are some people that, you know, were part of the Bush, you know, foreign policy kind of brain trust. I think she's -- I could be wrong and I'll eat my words if I do -- but I think she's going to keep her own counsel and not say anything.

  • 11:29:40

    LABOTTBecause a lot of conservatives of that level feel that it could actually help Donald Trump if they come out. Because, don't forget, Donald Trump has, you know, come to -- his rise is fueled by this whole anti-establishment, you know, affection. And so for a Condoleezza Rice or a James Baker, a real beloved secretary of state, to come out and say something negative against Donald Trump, I think that they might feel that that could actually fuel his rise.

  • 11:30:13

    LABOTTBut I think what's really interesting here and we've seen over the last week, about Donald Trump's comments about whether it's Obama founding -- President Obama being the founder of ISIS or the fact that this Iranian nuclear scientist was killed because of Hillary Clinton's hacked emails, I think what the Trump campaign and Donald Trump in particular is missing is an opportunity to, you know, talk about legitimate criticisms of the Obama administration's foreign policy. Secretary Clinton has, you know, campaigned on being the keeper of that policy. And by some of this rhetoric and by some of this, you know, outrageous statements, I think they're missing a real opportunity to gain the upper hand on foreign policy.

  • 11:30:57

    LABOTTWe don't see any substantive talk from the Trump campaign on foreign policy. It's just more, you know, kind of hitting them with really -- killing them with their fiery rhetoric I guess is what I'm saying.

  • 11:31:08

    PAGENathan Guttman, what do you hear from national security experts outside the United States when it comes to looking at this American presidential campaign?

  • 11:31:17

    GUTTMANWell, they're fascinated by the American presidential campaign. They're fascinated by Donald Trump. And they really find it very difficult to understand. And that's why we hear concern from all over the globe regarding Donald Trump, the possibility that Donald Trump would become president, especially from European circles of course, because of his positions regarding NATO, because his views seem to be unclear on so many issues, and of course his chumminess with Vladimir Putin that also raised some eyebrows in Europe and of course in the Middle East as well.

  • 11:31:55

    PAGEWhat's a question you hear most when you talk to diplomats or officials from outside the United States?

  • 11:32:02

    GUTTMANWell, two things. First of all, can it really happen? Is this really serious? The other thing is that they're really trying to understand who is the circle that surrounds Donald Trump in terms of foreign policy. And this goes back to this letter as well. If all these Republican, foreign policy, establishment people are turning their back on Donald Trump, who will be his closest circle of advisers?

  • 11:32:25

    PAGEAnd how do you answer that? Who do you say it would be?

  • 11:32:27

    GUTTMANThat right now he doesn't have -- that right now he's not taking advice from too many people.

  • 11:32:32

    LABOTTAnd some of the advisers that have, you know, he's pointed to -- a lot of people he says that he's talked to, you know, Kissinger, for instance, I mean someone like Henry Kissinger is not advising him. Some of the advisers are not even terribly well known. You know, some of them we've seen have had, you know, previously dealings with Russia, are very cozy with Russia. So there's been a lot of talk about that. But there are not -- again, he's not -- he's running on an anti-establishment campaign. And so the people in the foreign -- the keepers of that information are not advising him. And that's concerning to a lot of people.

  • 11:33:07

    PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Mark, he's calling us from Jacksonville, Fla. Hi, Mark.

  • 11:33:19


  • 11:33:21

    PAGEDo you have a comment or a question?

  • 11:33:23

    MARKOh, yes. Again, back to what was mentioned a few minutes ago about Trump's accusing President Obama of being a founder of ISIS. Under the Iraqi parliamentary system of government set up during the U.S. occupation, the Shiite caucus in the parliament elects the head of the government because they're the largest religious group by population. The Sunni caucus selects the number two man. And the Kurdish caucus elects the number three man. Now the head of the government met with President Obama in the White House and, when he got back to Iraq, he charged the number two man with murder. He's the number two man, the head -- the senior Sunni in the government then fled the country to avoid being executed.

  • 11:34:12

    MARKAnd at that point, I said to my wife that the president and the secretary of state should publicly and repeatedly state that unless the -- he is replaced by the Sunni caucus in the parliament within 30 days, there won't be any way to hold the country together and we're going to cut off support to the national government. The White House and the State Department and our ambassador over there, they were kept quiet while the head of the government purged the senior officials not only from the military as well...

  • 11:34:45

    PAGEAnd so, Mark...

  • 11:34:46

    MARK...leaving it open for ISIL to take over. And the Sunnis just gave them the keys to the tanks and the ammunition dumps and everything. Because at that point it was no longer a national government.

  • 11:34:56

    PAGEAll right. And Matt wants to weigh in here.

  • 11:34:57

    LEEYeah, well, that's not an invalid comment. But let's remember that that was just one part -- that's just one piece of the puzzle. The De-Baathification that took place during the Bush administration, after the invasion and the takeover, had essentially the same effect and led to the origin of what became ISIL. So there is plenty of blame to go around here. But saying that someone is the founder is not factual.

  • 11:35:36

    LABOTTWell, certainly some of the sectarianism that you saw under former Prime Minister al-Maliki gave rise to a lot of extremist attacks. And that certainly helps, you know, those seedlings of ISIS to kind of grow. As did, you know, look, the Bush administration did not negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government at the time. President Obama came in and said, oh, well we don't have a Status of Forces Agreement. That administration did not try very hard to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. And so, as Matt said, there's plenty of blame to go around. However, I think, yes, there are people that want to blame Bush and there are people that want to blame Obama.

  • 11:36:15

    LABOTTBut, you know, at some point, the statute of limitations on the Bush policy and in the policies that President Obama pick up are also contributing to it. But I think, again, what I was saying before is these are legitimate criticisms about the Obama administration's policies in Iraq, that by just saying, oh, Obama is the founder of ISIS, you know, do not really, you know, give credence to the legitimate arguments of the problems of the policy. And I think that the Trump campaign is really missing an opportunity here.

  • 11:36:46

    GUTTMANAnd I'll tell you, Trump had an opportunity yesterday in an interview to try to put this comment in a broader context of the political void that was created, the vacuum that was in Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces. But he insisted, no, that he means literally, that President Obama is ISIS's MVP and that he is the founder of ISIS. But just maybe one quick comment, how does this come out in the Middle East? The Middle East is fighting against ISIS and now America is being accused of founding this organization.

  • 11:37:17

    PAGEAnd of course Trump, this morning, tweeted that we was being sarcastic in talking about President Obama as a founder of ISIS. Well, Mark, I know you had to stay on the line a long time before you got on the air. Thanks for your patience. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the situation with Ukraine and Russia, increasingly alarming to some analysts. And we'll take your calls and questions. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the international hour of our Friday news roundup, and I'm joined in the studio by Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward, and Elise Labott, she's the global affairs correspondent for CNN, and Matthew Lee diplomatic writer with the Associated Press. Well, Nathan, Ukraine's troops are on high alert this week. Russia accused the country of launching an attack on Crimea. What is happening there?

  • 11:40:32

    GUTTMANWell, what we're seeing in Crimea in the past week or so is what seems to be like a manufactured conflict on behalf of Moscow. Moscow is ramping up tension in Crimea after a couple of years of relative quiet there because we've seen after the annexation of Crimea that the battleground basically shifted to Eastern Ukraine. And now they're shifting it back to Ukraine with claims that Ukraine forces killed an agent of the FSB, of the Russian secret service or the intelligence forces, and another soldier there. Basically they're accusing the Ukrainian government of terrorism.

  • 11:41:17

    GUTTMANEach one of the sides is ramping up their forces, having these military exercises, calling in urgent consultations of -- with the military. So definitely we see the tension growing there, and the trigger is this -- these reports of the killing of two Russians there, but it seems to be that someone at least in Moscow has an interest in increasing the tension there.

  • 11:41:41

    PAGEThe U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, among others, has disputed Russia's claims. Elise, why would Russia want to foment a crisis here?

  • 11:41:47

    LABOTTWell, the Ukrainians believe it's to -- as a pretext to increase escalation, and others believe, including the United States, that he's trying to get, you know, the kind of upper hand on, you know, peace negotiations. Already peace talks that were scheduled for the sideline of the upcoming G20 meeting have been scrapped, and now Putin is saying that, you know, talks would be pointless. So clearly he's trying to get an upper hand in some way. Whether that's a pretext for, you know, further military incursions or just trying to, you know, gain more of a strategic advantage in terms of any kind of outcome I think remains to be seen.

  • 11:42:24

    PAGEThat's NATO's reaction, Matt?

  • 11:42:26

    LEENATO's reaction is to look on very, very nervously. You know, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it may potentially have aspirations to join. If it were to move that route, then there would be a serious -- it would be a serious thing because NATO, along with the rest of the West, has not recognized Russia's annexation of Crimea. And so threats against Ukraine and its territory post the Crimea annexation are viewed with great alarm in Brussels by NATO, and that's despite the fact that it's not a member. It borders NATO countries, and it has expressed a desire to lean in the direction of the West.

  • 11:43:18

    LEESo, you know, it's a game of brinkmanship, I think, at this point.

  • 11:43:22

    PAGEWhat would the West likely do if Russia made additional moves into Ukraine?

  • 11:43:27

    LEEIt's very hard to -- very hard to say. I mean, there would be no -- there's no treaty obligation to come to Ukraine's defense because it is not a member of NATO. It's -- you know, I think that the west is basically stuck between a rock and a hard place her if there were to be such a move. Look at what they did with Crimea, nothing. They imposed sanctions, which have not shown any sign of changing President Putin's behavior.

  • 11:43:58

    PAGEIt may show Russia's increasing confidence that it can push the edge of the envelope. We also say, Nathan, Vladimir Putin meet with the president of Turkey. They've had a bad relationship in the past. A better one now?

  • 11:44:08

    GUTTMANWell it seems so. Yeah, the relationship went sour after the Turkish forces shot down a Russian war plane that was on a mission in Syria and entered Turkish airspace, and that led to a very harsh response from -- on behalf of the Russians, cutting the also important tourism packages of Russian tourists to Turkey, economic sanctions, putting on hold the joint energy project. And now basically Erdogan, after this process of recovering and healing, and he got this very warm phone call from Putin after the attempted coup, and he travels, and he meets with Putin, and they seem to try to paper over the differences and kind of open a new page even though there are clearly differences regarding their policy towards Syria.

  • 11:45:04

    GUTTMANAn Putin would like to see Assad maintain power in some way, and of course Erdogan is against that. But still this, when you look at this in the context of also of what Putin is doing in Crimea and in Ukraine right now, these are all attempts basically by Putin to increase his realm of influence. And sometimes we do it by military force or hints of military force in Ukraine to make sure that they stay closer to Russia and further from the West, and sometimes you do it by negotiating and having these diplomatic overtures with Turkey to make sure that they're in your circle, as well. But this is what Putin is doing.

  • 11:45:45

    LABOTTWell, and also, you know, look. Erdogan is feeling increasingly lonely right now after this coup. He's -- you know, the administration and the West in Europe is very concerned about this increasing authoritarian crackdown. There's a lot of anti-American sentiment right now. So who does he turn to? Vladimir Putin, that understands his frustrations with the West. And now, you know, he's trying to bring Erdogan into the fold. You already heard the Turks maybe now suggesting that they would agree on Russia's request to close the border with Syria, that they're going to share intelligence on Syria.

  • 11:46:22

    LABOTTThis is very concerning, and you saw NATO come out this week with a very interesting statement, calling Turkey a very valued ally, talking about how important Turkey is to the alliance, and that shows and reflects the concern they have with this cozying, this new bromance, between Erdogan and Putin.

  • 11:46:41

    LEEI think this rapprochement, if in fact it progresses, and I think that there's some degree of skepticism about whether or not Putin is playing Erdogan, as he has with so many other people, but it is extraordinary. Let's not forget that after the Russian plane was shot down by the Turks, the Russian government and media went on a huge campaign against Erdogan, accusing his son of buying oil from -- and his government of buying oil from ISIS and making, you know, supporting terrorism, the very things that now they say they're both doing.

  • 11:47:16

    LEEAnd so I think that there is this degree of skepticism that I mentioned that, you know, cooperating -- the Russians will -- may agree to cooperate with the Turks, but what does that actually mean when it comes down to it. Do they in fact share the same goals? The U.S. has been trying to increase its cooperation with Russia for some time, and Russia has said yes, but we haven't seen it.

  • 11:47:41

    PAGEWe've heard a lot about Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail here in the United States this year. Does that have any effect, you know, Donald Trump has said that -- cited Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, talked about him with some favorable language. Does that have an effect, do you think, internationally on what Russia figures its -- it can do?

  • 11:48:00

    LABOTTWell, you saw this very interesting op-ed by the former CIA director Mike Morell saying that he believes that -- and there are others in the intelligence community, believe that Putin is kind of playing Trump as, you know, as a kind of intelligence operation because he sees, you know, that this talk about, you know, how important Russia and how he wants to be best friends is kind of working, and he's using it as propaganda in his media to kind of incur favor as he is other right-wing parties across Europe.

  • 11:48:33

    LABOTTAnd so, you know, I think Putin is able to read the tea leaves, and he's very smart in terms of trying to target people that he feels he can manipulate and at the same time that are amenable to his positions.

  • 11:48:47

    LEELet's also remember that what -- the policy that Trump says he would pursue towards Russia was, well, why can't -- wouldn't it be a good thing if we were friends with Russia. Well, that's exactly what the Obama administration tried to do in its first term.

  • 11:49:00

    LABOTTYeah, but...

  • 11:49:02

    LEESo I think you have to look at the return on the investment of the first term reset with Russia has not been very -- has not been a very good one.

  • 11:49:13

    PAGELet's go to St. Petersburg, Florida, and talk to Shadi. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:49:16

    SHADIHi, thanks for having me. My inquiry is basically with the Russians' behavior lately, and you know, I -- recently the Russians had sent a drone into Northern Israel pretty provocatively, several miles into Israel. The Israelis made several attempts to try to shoot it down and were unsuccessful, and it made its way back to Syria. But it seems as though the Russians are playing a really interesting game, not just in Ukraine but in the Middle East, as well, almost as if to test American technology in Israel, to some degree, and in the Ukraine itself.

  • 11:49:51

    SHADIMy question is, do you see that this is going to be getting worse with the political future the way we are -- whether it's Trump or whether it's Hillary, do you think it's going to get possibly even worse than it is now?

  • 11:50:05


  • 11:50:06

    LEEMy short answer to that is yes.

  • 11:50:06

    PAGEBefore we talk about your larger question, Nathan, tell us more about this incident with Israel.

  • 11:50:13

    GUTTMANWell basically Israel is seeing the spillover of the Syrian civil war into the Golan Heights and into its territory for a while already, and most of it is inadvertent. Most of it is just having fighting so close to the border means that some things are going to fly by, and this is mostly how Israelis view this drone incident, although it is very unusual for Russian drones to appear in the theater that close to the Israeli border.

  • 11:50:46

    GUTTMANDefinitely there is a concern among Israelis that on the one hand there is a pretty good working relationship between Netanyahu and Putin, and they seem to be able to have an understanding on the tactical level. On the other hand, the presence of -- the actions of Russian and Syria are supporting the Hezbollah, which is on Assad's side and is Israel's major concern in its northern border.

  • 11:51:13

    PAGEShadi, thanks so much for your call. It's terrible news out of Pakistan this week, where there was a targeted killing of lawyers. Of course lawyers a fundamental part of a successful civil society. Elise, tell us about this attack.

  • 11:51:31

    LABOTTWell this was in Baluchistan, which is really one of Pakistan's largest and porous regions, and there was a suicide bomber that killed 70 people, wounded 100 more on Monday, and these -- you know, an attack on mourners gathered in a hospital for another attack. And a large number of lawyers had traveled to the area. Now, you know, this is seen as a very corrupt area. Lawyers are constantly the targets of assassination attempts because they're the ones that are trying to fight against some of this corruption. They're the ones trying to help bring light to it, and they're involved in a lot of suits.

  • 11:52:09

    LABOTTAnd so what, you know, some of the human rights activists have said that a whole generation of kind of lawyers working on this -- on these corruption issues in Pakistan were wiped out, and it's very unclear the kind of ties that the group has to larger extremist groups like ISIS. This is a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, and it's unclear -- they've kind of flirted with ISIS here and there.

  • 11:52:37

    LABOTTSo it -- we know that it's this one group, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, but we don't know what their current allegiance is. Is it to the Taliban, or is it to ISIS?

  • 11:52:46

    LEEIt's a devastating attack, and it's -- you know, it's really hard to underestimate the impact not just on the current generation, as Elise noted, of lawyers who have been killed but for more coming up through the ranks in law schools. It's -- it's a bad situation.

  • 11:53:07

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We've got a pair of emails. Let me -- let me read them. The first one is a comment that was posted on our website. This person writes, the international community and the Syrians need to quite putting off doing something productive. Each delay puts international security at risk because the international terrorism this conflict is breeding is beyond horrific for the Syrians, horrible for the region and for the world at large.

  • 11:53:32

    PAGEAnd we got an email from William, who writes us from Webster Groves, Missouri. He writes, I'm a big fan of President Obama's, but I could not help wondering, far back in time, before Russia escalated its role in the Syrian conflict, that the U.S. could have made surgical strikes, destroying only Assad's helicopters without boots on the ground, thus preventing him from using these barrel bombs against his own people. Nathan?

  • 11:53:53

    GUTTMANI think many people would probably share this criticism now in hindsight. This extra caution that Obama demonstrated when dealing with Syria eventually didn't pay off. And there are those who say, well, nothing else worked, either, you know, we tried being active in Libya, look where Libya is now. We tried staying outside of it all together in Egypt, look where Egypt -- look what happened there in terms of democracy.

  • 11:54:20

    GUTTMANSo there is no good solution or easy solution, although just given the magnitude of the Syrian tragedy, it seems that even on a moral level, even if it wouldn't work out well, it was worth a try, and I think this is probably one of the things that Obama will have to deal with as part of his legacy after he leaves the White House.

  • 11:54:40

    PAGEYou know, you look at the moral level, at what's going on now, and it just seems as though the world isn't responding in the way that -- that history will judge harshly the way the world is responding now.

  • 11:54:50

    LABOTTWell, a lot of people say that Syria will be President Obama's Rwanda to President -- that was for President Clinton. I mean, I don't think it's for lack of discussing what the options were, but President Obama kind of came into office very against getting the U.S. entangled into wars. He's done a lot more militarily than he wanted to, but, you know, the thing is all the things that President Obama had said he feared would happen if the U.S. got more militarily involved, additional humanitarian catastrophe, rise of extremism, has happened.

  • 11:55:22

    LABOTTAnd so it's hard to say what would've happened had he got more involved, but it certainly can't be worse than it is now.

  • 11:55:29

    PAGELet's go on a less tragic note and talk about the Olympics. I'm sure we've all been watching the gold medals pile up for Americans, no offense, Nathan, I'm sure Israel is doing fine, too.

  • 11:55:38

    GUTTMANNot really, but...

  • 11:55:42

    LEEWell, I think you got at least one, no?

  • 11:55:42

    GUTTMANOne bronze.

  • 11:55:45

    LEEThere you go.

  • 11:55:45

    PAGEOne bronze, well, okay. So you're on the board, yeah.

  • 11:55:48

    LEEYou're 1/20th of Michael Phelps.

  • 11:55:51

    PAGEIs there a geopolitical aspect, Matt, to the Olympic?

  • 11:55:56

    LEEYes, of course there is, and we saw that spill over into the swimming competition and the allegations of Russian doping.

  • 11:56:02

    PAGEBooing of one of the -- one of the Russians.

  • 11:56:04

    LEEYes, exactly and the criticism of her launched by an American swimmer, which, you know, people have been kind of shying away from this, but that really brought it out into the spotlight. And of course the Olympics, although they are supposed to be non-political, always end up having some kind of a political aspect to them.

  • 11:56:25

    LABOTTBut on the opposite end of that, I think one of the kind of moments that kind of reverberated on Twitter was this selfie between the North Korean and South Korean gymnasts. I mean, obviously those countries are at war, but that kind of one moment of sportsmanship and, you know, I think really reflected what the games are supposed to be about. And so that was really one moment where geopolitics was put aside in the absence of just being more sportsmanlike.

  • 11:56:56

    PAGEI always wonder if the North Korean gymnasts could get in trouble back in home for posing for that selfie.

  • 11:57:01

    GUTTMANProbably, yeah.

  • 11:57:02

    LABOTTThey could, they could, but I mean, I think the kind of, you know, this epitomizes what the goodwill of the games is all about, and I think -- I don't think they'll get into trouble. I don't know.

  • 11:57:14

    PAGELet's hope not. Elise Labott from CNN, Matthew Lee from the Associated Press, Nathan Guttman from Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward, Thank you all for being with us this hour on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 11:57:25

    LEEThank you.

  • 11:57:25

    LABOTTThank you.

  • 11:57:25

    GUTTMANThank you.

  • 11:57:25

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

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