A fragile truce in Syria appears to be crumbling after new airstrikes in Aleppo. More than 100 migrants are reported drowned after a boat capsizes off the Egyptian coast. And the U.S. allows Boeing to sell passenger planes to Iran. A panel of journalists joins guest host Amy Walter for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Katty Kay
President Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly. Iranian president Ahmadinejad expresses interest in renewing nuclear talks with the U-S and its allies. And Afghan officials release the first results from last week’s parliamentary election. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katty Kay for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Kevin Whitelaw defense and foreign policy editor, Congressional Quarterly.
- Daniel Dombey U.S. diplomatic correspondent, Financial Times.
- Anne Gearan national security correspondent, Associated Press.
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. President Obama addresses the United Nation's General Assembly defending his record on pursuing peace and improving the global economy. Results begin to come in for Afghanistan's Parliamentary elections. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speech at the U.N. prompts dozens of delegates to walk out. Joining us for the international hour of our Friday news roundup are Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times, Anne Gearan of the Associated Press and Kevin Whitelaw, defense and foreign policy editor with Congressional Quarterly. Thank you so much for joining me all of you.
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYThank you.
MR. KEVIN WHITELAWThank you.
MS. ANNE GEARANThank you.
KAYWe will be opening the phones. The phones are working again now. You can call us on 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a question on Facebook or a Tweet will get to us as well. And let me start with you, all the action was in New York this week and the president was there. He gave his address to the U.N. General Assembly. There was a lot of talk about human rights and democracy. Sounded kind of like his predecessor.
GEARANYes he was unrolling the Obama doctrine, as some people are calling it and it's a refocusing of a lot of themes that the administration has already been pushing, but he framed it all in one go, which was a bit new. It is essentially an acknowledgement of the importance of dealing with some of the less, perhaps, practical issues that or transactional issues between countries and more of the sort of, in some respects, second tier issues, at least they have been second tier at times for the Obama administration, human rights and things that aren't necessarily going to get the United States some particular outcome and that was a subtle shift, not a huge shift for the president.
KAYBut of course he also, Dan, spoke about the two wars that the U.S. is fighting. He spoke about specific national security interests. Saying that from South Asia to the point of Africa we are moving toward a more targeted approach, one that strengthens our partners and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American army's. What's he talking about there?
DOMBEYYeah that's particularly interesting, that phrase. This is a president who is very keen to get out of Iraq with a minimum fuss. And as a new book detailed this week has real reservations about a long standing U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The place that he's clearing talking about there, more than any other is Yemen, where the U.S. seas, Al-Qaeda activities which it regards as much more threatening than anything happening in Afghanistan and where it has been quite astonishingly aggressive. It's been launching missiles from ships. There's discussion of drone strikes also in Yemen. And really a big debate also about whether to step up U.S.A. to be in Yemen army, which is very controversial because it seen not authoritarian, corrupt and chaotic state, nevertheless this is actually perhaps the real Obama doctrine, which is you are utterly cool, cold and calculating, I think in terms of trying to kill Al-Qaeda or suspected Al-Qaeda people, but you really don't want to put a lot of U.S. troops on the ground. That gets very controversial in terms of civilian causalities, in terms of popping up governments, but this is a president that doesn't want to invade any more countries, that isn't worried about big arms deals and letting off predator missiles.
KAYKevin Whitelaw I heard on the news this morning that there are actually big gun battles going on in southern areas of Yemen at the moment. Again looking at the government trying to take on some of, what they say are Al-Qaeda forces there, this emerging now as a very significant, as Dan was saying, more significant perhaps threat than Afghanistan is at the moment.
WHITELAWWell you know and it's something that's been building for awhile, I mean the U.S. has been involved in quiet ways in Yemen for a number of years. And under the Bush administration there was really a lot of sort of quiet but serious counter terrorism training and other programs going on. I mean I've been to Yemen and watched the U.S. elite forces train some of these Yemeni counter terrorist forces working also with the Yemeni navy so this has been going on for a while. But what you've really started to see now is a real stepping up of some of these unilateral actions, obviously with some level of coordination with the Yemini's. That's were it because really a little unclear, but given you're not hearing howls of protest from the Yemeni government, there's obviously some level of working together against these because the government there is under threat from a number of different elements including Al-Qaeda but also a number of different rebel forces. And it is not clear, you know, how strong their going to be down the line given that their not a very popular regime. They rule through fear and have really not been able to do much for their own people with the economy or anything else. It's on it's way to being a failed state and unclear whether all of these hard edged U.S. actions are going to do much to actually deal with those root problems in Yemen.
DOMBEYJust one very quick thing to add, the other place outside Pakistan the U.S. sees as a real Al-Qaeda subsidiary threat is Somalia. You can see Obama's language referring to there. It would take a really, very, very good set of rose glinted spectacles to see Somalia as a good news story. You have even more intensive battles in the streets of Mogadishu these days between the so called government, which would probably in command of a couple of blocks, if that and the Al-Shabaab the Al-Qaeda linked militants there.
KAYAnd absolutely no desire of course to have American boots, once again on the ground in Somalia after the fiasco of the Clinton years.
WHITELAWBut U.S. arm shipments, a big U.S. armed shipment did go to Somalia this year and the question is where will those guns end up.
KAYAnd let's get back to President Obama's speech at the U.N. this week and the other threat of course that he talked about was Iran. He said, the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through. He also said, however that Iran must be held accountable. What was new in his words about Iran?
GEARANNothing particularly, it's just the timing, what's new is that we haven't heard him say it in awhile. The administration, parts of the administration had all but written off the extended hand earlier this year. And then you started to hear more, not conciliatory but more open ended language from the administration when talking about Iran in the last few months. There are some people in the administration who believe that the time is getting closer if not really ripe, but getting closer to ripe to really start engaging Iran again or at least making the offer.
KAYBut very mixed signals this week from Ahmadinejad, who was also up in New York taking a lot of the lime light, never want to miss a chance to have a performance. He was on a lot of American networks earlier in the week suggesting that he was open to some sort of negotiations or to resuming some sort of talks over the nuclear program, but then we had this dramatic speech that he gave the U.N. General Assembly, you know, which clearly got a lot of administrations backs up and we had half the delegates walking out, which is sort of standard procedure.
GEARANIt is, I mean that's become a bit of a kabuki dance at the U.N. Every year, you know, the American president says something...
KAYStarts up and says something to the U.N. and then...
GEARAN… right it is. It is actually. I mean everyone waits for it. It's, you know, you get to hear, you know, the Americans do their thing and then you get to see the Iranians do their thing and then a bunch of people walk out and, you know, it really is actually more interesting than a lot of the speeches. But anyway, I mean, yes he spent 40 minutes or whatever it was spewing conspiracy theories about 9/11 and so forth that, you know, really have nothing to do with the question on the table, which is, you know, is it in Iran's interest and is in the United States interest to come to some accommodation with one another in which they are no longer considered the, you know, the primary threat an organizing principle for, you know, a militarized Middle East and that really is something that you could see on some balance sheets as in both countries interest, but they haven't been able to do it.
KAYKevin I'm not sure what the kind of Tehran equivalent of kremlinology is but is there anything we can learn from Ahmadinejad's speech. I mean when you sift through you kind of skim off some of the diatribe and the fairly predictable slams against America, okay, the one about suggesting that perhaps Islamic terrorists were not behind 9/11, but American inclusion was, was pretty radical and that did catch people's attention. But is there anything we can learn about his nuclear ambitions and Iran's nuclear ambitions from what he's said this week?
WHITELAWI'm not sure that's what people are reading his speech for in particular. I mean, I think we could probably spend an entire show analyzing his psychology if we wanted to, but putting that aside…
KAYPolicy you're not hearing?
WHITELAW…putting that aside, you know, he comes to the U.S. in a some what vulnerable position, domestically. You know, he's under pressure from conservatives in Iran. He's been trying to expand the powers of his own office and he's meeting a lot of opposition to that because it's obviously the clerics who are the real power, power base in Iran. So, you know, he's by no means the most important figure, he's just the most visible and sort of the loudest. So we tend to focus on him a lot, but he is, you know, he has his own set of political gains that he's playing and I think his speech to certain degree has to been seen in that light as well. I mean he's playing to his domestic audience and to a certain constituency there. Obviously a lot of Iranians don't like him, but he remains very popular particularly in more rural parts of Iran and this is one way of sort of re-cementing himself as this sort of figure that's standing up to the United States.
KAYDan aren't we suggesting that there's some speculation that the administration might be open to some resuming of extending the hand of at least talks, if not friendship towards Iran at the moment. Did you get any insight from Ahmadinejad's visit to New York this week about whether Iran is open to reentering nuclear talks really?
DOMBEYWell I think the, we're in a very funny situation right because the U.S. and Iran find themselves in a corner. Iran finds itself in a corner because there have been more impacts, there have been more reverberations to the set of sanctions that the U.S. really pushed through in June, July this year than many people expected. We've got U.N. sanctions, we have here in the natural U.S. sanctions, we have E.U. sanctions, South Korea and Japan have followed through, it's a real pain for Iran. On the other hand the U.S. has to show that there's some result from sanctions other than Iran feeling pain. It has to get Iran around the negotiating table, convince Iran to give up its nuclear weapons, nuclear programs or rein it in. And so there's a real pressure here. The biggest problem for the U.S. in many ways is the person who's been most in favor of dialogue in Iran has been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the last year or so. He's been the one who's been more interested than others and his anti-U.S. diatribe this week shows how weak his position is and how he has to cater to anti-American freely.
KAYVery interesting. Dan Dombey of the Financial Times, Anne Gearan is also here. She's with the Associated Press. Kevin Whitelaw is with me in the studio. We're gonna take a quick break. We'll have more after this. Stay listening.
KAYWelcome back, I'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've joined the international hour of our Friday news roundup. I'm joined in the studio by Anne Gearan of the Associated Press, Dan Dombey is here. He's with The Financial Times. Kevin Whitelaw is also with us. He is with the Congressional Quarterly. We were talking before the break a lot about the U.N. There's been an awful lot of action in New York and gridlock I suspect up in New York as well with the U.N. General Assembly.
KAYThe other issue that the President spoke about was the Middle East peace process. Anne, what did he say on that?
GEARANWell he repeated a couple of things that he said during a news conference in Washington recently, mostly an exhortation to both sides to keep at it and a, he referred to the, sort of the larger imperative for doing so and glided over the near-term problem which is that a partial ban on, a moratorium I guess is a better word, on Israeli settlement building that will expire this weekend. And the Palestinians have gone back and forth about whether they would walk out of talks if that moratorium is lifted. The assumption is that the United States is trying to make sure that the Palestinians don't walk out and is coming up with some sort of compromise which would keep the talks going.
GEARANAnd Obama was very clear about the goals, well I mean I guess the larger need just to keep the process going than I think he has been before and that's a bit new for him. I mean this sort of talking for talking sake, process for process sake is exactly the kind of diplomatic mumbo jumbo that a lot of people in the Obama administration have rolled their eyes at and certainly the Bush administration rolled its eyes at it for years before actually starting to do it and a lot of that languish was very familiar. It was interesting.
KAYKevin the rolling of eyes is pretty understandable and when you look at the, you know we only started this process what a month ago and we're already at the stage where it could fall off the rails. I mean how, you know, are we in any closer to getting some kind of meaningful talks going? Are the issues just the same because I feel like we could have written exactly this same story 10, 15 years ago?
WHITELAWWell I think you know the problem with this situation has always been that the broad contours of a deal sort of everyone understands the problem is how do you get all the sides there and then iron out the really, really hard details of it. So this process is about keeping them at the table and it comes to a fundamental question about whether both sides, but in this case really particularly the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu have really made the decision that they want to actually you know take some of these hard steps.
KAYWhat do you think?
WHITELAWWell you know the fact that he's there, the fact that he stood up next to Mahmoud Abbas and called him a partner for peace. That is meaningful. It was something that we hadn't seen. It was something unexpected and does signal a shift in tone. Now you know when they started these peace talks they knew that this deadline was coming so the settlement thing is not unexpected, it's kind of surprising...
KAYThis is the deadline this Sunday?
WHITELAWThis is the deadline for the moratorium.
KAYThe Israelis have had a moratorium on building settlements on the West Bank. The moratorium expires this Sunday...
KAYThe Palestinians had said they would not talk unless the moratorium is extended.
KAYThe Israelis say they're not going to extend the moratorium.
WHITELAWAnd this was known ahead of time. It was, it was known that they were going to have to get to this crunch point and past it quickly and Netanyahu cannot really extend this moratorium formally for a long time without risking his entire government collapsing. He has too many conservative coalition partners who would oppose that but obviously the Palestinians need some sign that there will be some level of restraint in the settlement building. And you know there are again broad contours of a deal that seem plausible here. There is probably a way to get there and you know I think most people looking at this say these parties wouldn't have started this process if they knew, if they didn't think there was some way to avoid having it fall apart a few weeks in.
KAYMy goodness, some optimism on the Middle East peace process, Kevin that's fantastic you've made my Friday. Mahmoud Abbas, Dan, was quoted this week as saying, "I cannot say I will leave the negotiations but it's very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem". What is the compromise deal that the Americans are trying to work out?
DOMBEYWell the formal opposition to the Americans is to extend the moratorium. That's something that President Obama has declared in the White House and so it's not something that they can walk away from. What people really hope to be honest is that there is some kind of in between. There won't be necessarily, there won't be an extension of the moratorium as is. The Israelis offered to proceed with only limited settlement growth perhaps in areas which they think worth certain to become part of Israel. That obviously is something that may, obviously may pre-judge as a result of the negotiations.
DOMBEYI think to be honest if you look at this there's two things that we think are pretty likely, first of all last minute drama and missed deadlines. That always happens and secondly I think the Abbas comments show that the Palestinians can have their arm twisted, can be convinced as they were to sit down initially, to keep on sitting down. But longer term, there are two basic problems here.
DOMBEYThe Obama administration is pretty clear that it reserves the right to come out with what it calls bridging proposals, a basic way forward to kind of narrow the gap between the two parties. No one expects that before the mid-term elections in the U.S. because of the, there would be...
KAYSo we're looking more towards the end of the year?
DOMBEY...or the beginning of the year.
KAYIf the President is going to way in on this.
DOMBEYBut fundamentally there's a long-term problem here which is the Israelis think that unless the Palestinians are in a position to deliver, that is to provide some reassurances about Gaza which is not under Mahmoud Abbas' control you can't, you can agree on something but you can't enforce it. But why would the Palestinians want to give up long-standing demands for what's called a shelf agreement, a piece of paper that doesn't take immediate effect? That is really one of the most fundamental problems and I'm afraid that's a little note of pessimism I add to Kevin's glimmer of optimism.
GEARANWell I was going to say that the U.S. willingness to insert itself is new and that is something that the Obama administration had indicated in going into this process that it was willing to do and it would mark a return to an extent to the old U.S. peace-broker role.
KAYAnd when would you expect that to happen?
GEARANI would expect it perhaps in the new year. There wouldn't really be anything from stopping them from doing it as Dan notes after the election, before the new year but it probably would be you know a new round of negotiations with some sort of U.S. either document or set of principles or something like that going into the new year.
KAYMeanwhile Kevin on the more immediate issues, are we looking at clashes this weekend? I know that local authorities are braced for another outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
WHITELAWRight well we did see this series of incidents in east Jerusalem where you had an Israeli security guard, a private security guard in a neighborhood that was, it's largely an Arab neighborhood with a smattering of Israelis and so the Israelis there hire these private security firms with, using state money to pay for them. And this security guard ended up shooting and killing a Palestinian and there've been, obviously that triggered a whole set of protests and violence and clashes and I think everyone's sort of braced for more.
WHITELAWWe've seen various incidents like this before but this points up to what we were talking about with the settlement moratorium. This is a neighborhood that has been traditionally Arab and you have seen more and more Israelis moving in and sort of you know carving out little areas for themselves and that's provoking an incredible backlash and it just goes to the heart of the problem that Palestinians say which is the more they keep talking and the more Israel keeps expanding settlements and expanding into areas that have been traditionally Arab it sort of changes the facts on the ground before they get anywhere with the dialogue. And I think that's why you know you've seen this issue crop up right now.
KAYOkay there are other issues we want to get to, relations between China and Japan but we have a lot of phone calls coming in on this particular issue. So let's go to Andy in Annandale, Va. Andy, thanks for calling into "The Diane Rehm Show".
ANDYHello, I you know, I see the same old thing happening between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States always fails to put enough pressure on Israel. The Palestinians are always forced to compromise away their rights, their land, their water, their peace, you know so I see the only choice for the Palestinians is to you know, renew the violence or to engage in massive passive resistance according to their own individual consciences. I wonder if your panelists have any advice for the Palestinians since the United States will not help them.
KAYWell I'm not sure the panelists are actually strategic advisors on this issue but Anne, what do you make of Andy's remarks there?
GEARANWell I don't know what he'd have them do, I mean it, the Palestinians are operating as they have for, for three decades and more from a position of relative weakness. I mean you know they don't control all their own territory. They don't control their own streets in many respects. So it, the Palestinian leadership has to be able to, as Dan mentioned, deliver on any agreement it makes but the willingness to go into negotiations to get to that agreement doesn't seem to me to have much to do with the caller's point.
KAYAnd in fact the split now in the Palestinian leadership with Hamas being in control of Gaza and Hamas not even being part of these talks complicates the situation for the Palestinians considerably doesn't it?
GEARANIt does but I mean that, that's now a, I forget, a three-year-old, four-year-old split and that I mean negotiations have continued even with that glaring problem and the expectation going into this set of talks is that Hamas will remain on the sidelines. They're not going to all of a sudden decide that they want to come and you know hash it out with the United States.
KAYOkay, let's go to Rita in Cleveland, Ohio. Rita, you have a question for my panel?
RITAHello I'm wondering Israel was granted 7,992 square miles of land in 1948 by the United Nations. Why, I can't understand why they have to build on somebody else's territory. What, you know, where's their mind?
WHITELAWWell you know this has been obviously an issue that's gone over very, very emotional for both sides and these are lands that are claimed by Israelis, claimed by Palestinians, claimed by others and I don't know that...
WHITELAW...I don't know that what the, I don't know that everyone agreed to what the U.N. might have said in 1948 or not so you get to a situation where they see these, both sides see these lands as holy and theirs, that have been given to them by God. It's pretty hard to argue with that.
KAYI'm Katty Kay, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" and if you'd like to join us please do call 1-800-433-8850 or send an e-mail to email@example.com. I want to pick up on one thing Kevin was saying there in reference to the call about the 1948 agreement but does it seem to you Dan that this week if the Palestinians and Abbas has suggested he's open to it, are going to negotiate on this moratorium that the moratorium is not extended in full but that there will still be some building. Is that a reflection of Palestinian weakness or is a cause of future Palestinian weakness?
DOMBEYAh, yes I think to be honest I wouldn't even really describe them as negotiations with the Palestinians. I think the Israelis are coming up with an idea and at some point in response to U.S. entreaties it's going to be the Palestinians' decision whether to accept it or not with the U.S. pushing the Palestinians to accept it. I think Abbas made clear that there is a possibility that the Palestinians will accept it. I think that's a) a reflection of Palestinian weakness and b) will clearly diminish his stock of not particularly huge political capital for any concessions further down the line. I can't really see any answer other than yes to both your questions.
KAYOkay, let's go to a different topic now to China and Japan and tensions have been building between these two countries really for the last few weeks. Explain what's going on and what the news is today?
GEARANWell this started with the collision of a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese vessels and the seizure of the Chinese boat. And this all happened in an area of disputed open water near some islands which you can tell the depth of the dispute by the fact that they have a completely different set of names, one in Japanese and one in Mandarin. But anyway the, what's happened today is that Japan has agreed to release this ship captain and there's considerable public feeling in Japan that this is caving and rolling over to the Chinese. But the wider questions here are really fascinating.
GEARANI mean Japan has been a more important economically and to a degree a political player in that part of the Pacific than China. China is expanding its military as well as its economic reach and getting into scuffles and scrapes everywhere on the open, certainly there are plenty of them on the economic front but on the sort of more military and diplomatic front they're getting into them as well.
GEARANWe had a confrontation between a Chinese fishing vessel and a U.S. navy vessel about a year ago and there's likely to be more of it to come.
KAYAnd Kevin we also have a situation in which there are economic tensions between China and Japan as well. There was the news recently that China was on the verge of overtaking Japan as the second largest economy in the world. We now have currency disputes between the two countries. We have export disputes between the two countries. To what extent is that playing into because it seems to me that a fishing captain getting arrested over some disputed islands is actually a symptom of a deeper problem between the two nations?
WHITELAWWell that's, I mean it clearly is. I mean you know this has been a long-running dispute over this islands so you know I suppose something like this could have happened at any point but what perhaps the most interesting element of this crisis, well crisis might be overstating it but this dispute at least, was an apparent threat by the Chinese to cut off the export of these rare earth metals to Japan and this came out through industry publications. The providence of these threats was very strange but these are very serious, very, crucial materials that are used to make everything from hybrid car batteries to I-phones to computer chips and you know all kinds of things that are obviously a huge part of Japan's economy not to mention part of our nation's consumer economy.
WHITELAWAnd China has sort of made itself through very aggressive pricing almost the sole provider of these metals, almost the only country left that really mines them. And so the threat to cut these off was actually, potentially quite significant to the Japanese economy. Now the Chinese officials came out and said no, we never threatened, we never said anything, no one really knows but they obviously let it be known in some fashion that at least something was out there that you know they had one or two tools that could be quite powerful.
KAYAnd Dan what's the U.S. interest in this because we had U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urging the Japanese just yesterday to resume talks over this to try and dampen down some of these bad feelings?
DOMBEYWell I think the U.S. sees a rising tide of fear of China as in some senses a diplomatic possibility and in some way the Chinese activity behind it as a huge diplomatic challenge. That is it does see this as an ability to project its presence in South East Asia, an area where it's actually pulled forces out of over the last ten years because of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So you're seeing President Obama this lunchtime seeing the Asian nations and there's going to be a fairly clear statement which the Chinese see as an attack against the use of force and threats of force in that area.
DOMBEYSo you're trying the see the U.S. position itself as part of some kind of collective body whereas China is trying to influence the place, the area in its own way.
KAYDon Dombey with The Financial Times, Anne Gearan is here, Kevin Whitelaw as well. We're going to take a quick break.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined our Friday News Roundup. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet or a question on Facebook for this international hour. Let's talk a little bit about the Afghan election results. Kevin, we're starting to see some of the results from last weekend's parliamentary elections come in. What are we hearing?
WHITELAWWell, right now the results are so preliminary that it's a little hard to draw many conclusions from it. Although incumbents seem to be doing suspiciously well so far, which has certainly -- or at least in one or two districts and that certainly has continued to raise these questions of fraud and corruption in this election cycle. We obviously saw all kinds of fraud and allegations in last year's presidential election and...
KAYAnd there had been hopes that the process was going to be cleaner this time.
WHITELAWThere have been promises. There have been pledges. And it's not really clear that at least Afghans feel it's been any better this time. And I think it's gonna be a little while 'til we really understand that. But -- 'til we understand, you know, exactly what's going on. One of the reasons we don't have a more complete count is they're going back and reviewing a lot of these ballots and theoretically throwing some out. But the process is pretty opaque and the election commission is basically largely controlled at this point by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and so it's sort of no one really has a lot of faith in the process right now. So there's some interesting questions about whether this is only gonna sort of, you know, create even less legitimacy in the aftermath than, you know, we have now.
KAYAnd it seems to some extent with these parliamentary elections that it was the process that mattered more than the results. And as Kevin was suggesting the allegations of fraud don't seem to say that the situation on that respect has improved any. We also had violence. This was what the lowest turnout of any of the four national elections since 2001. It really doesn't look like at least politically there's much optimism calls for optimism at all in Afghanistan does it at the moment?
GEARANWell, one of the best things you could possibly say, perhaps the best face you could put on the elections, is that they took place at all. And they weren't massively disrupted. There wasn't some gigantic, you know, explosion of violence. And in places they were very well attended. The -- and you've seen some of the U.S. post gaming of this pointing to, you know, that as a bright spot and also the fact that there were more women candidates and more women voters. But as a larger statement about the legitimacy or future power and prospects of the Afghan government, it didn't tell us much more than we knew from a year ago. They were -- yes, they were able to hold an election. It wasn't, you know, a complete disaster and it wasn't completely stolen. So, okay, there you have a baseline. But it isn't -- it didn't mark a major improvement from last year.
KAYDoes it give us any further indication of what happens for U.S. and NATO forces next year?
GEARANNo. I mean, it didn't affect -- doesn't really affect Karzai's position and it doesn't affect in any kind of direct way which districts might possibly be turned over to Afghan control or any of the other things that the NATO and U.S. military operation is looking to start doing in the new year.
KAYThe other thing, Dan, that we should talk about within respect to Afghanistan is of course Bob Woodward's book and a lot in that about the process that lead to the Afghan surge and the amount of disagreement that there was within the White House about exactly what to do on Afghan policy. What surprised you most about Woodward's book when it came to Afghanistan?
DOMBEYWell, there are some astonishing revelations or at least some things that you were surprised people said. I mean, people had been talking about whether Karzai is a depressive character. The book says that he's being treated for manic depression. And the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan no less says he's on his meds, he's off his meds, which is -- it'd be interesting to see the next audience between those two. There's also clearer and more information than before about a 3,000 strong CIA created Afghan army that has militia that makes incursions into Pakistan. That's already had a lot of Pakistanis up in arms. And U.S. governments don't really deny that. Although they say these incursions if they do occur are for surveillance rather than attacks.
DOMBEYBut I think the broad picture is you see an administration but was divided on this. And it's not clear that those divisions are actually healed to any large extent, even today. And we're at the halfway point between when president came out with his speech and outlining the strategy last December and the beginning of a withdrawal in July. And so far we still see divisions and we still don't see much progress on the ground. There were U.N. figures that just came out this week that said that roadside bombs had gone up 82 percent compared with the year before. And this was supposed to be also the year where President Karzai delivered on governance, corruption, fraud, things like that, in return to the -- for the 30,000 troops. That was a message we heard at the beginning of this year. What have we seen? We've seen these elections which seem to be more fraud prone. And we've seen really no progress on corruption. Quite the opposite. Those aren't very good signs.
KAYKevin, what was your reading of Woodward's book?
WHITELAWYeah, I think to the degree that, you know, he offered some interesting details and, you know, Karzai salacious details about what divisions there might've been. I mean, it makes for entertaining reading. I'm not really sure that comes as any real shock to anybody. I mean, this was an incredibly difficult policy deliberation for this president and for this administration.
KAYAnd the fact the White House made a point of saying, we are not going to be like the previous administration, we are going to have a deliberate open process...
KAY...in terms of policy on this.
WHITELAWThat's very much what they said they wanted. And so to a certain degree I think, you know, that was -- that's why this process became open. That's why they're -- you're able to draw some of these divisions. People really knew where everyone stood. They weren't -- they weren't all trying to arrive at a predetermined outcome. I think this was a very emotional, difficult thing. I think it -- to the degree that it's instructive, you do see a little bit of a split between the military itself, the generals and then some of the civilians and retired generals and other parts of the government. And I think in some ways that's probably the most interesting thing to understand how this administration is sort of, you know, caught between, you know, trying to make sure it listens to its military advisors and takes all that advice. But is also trying to lay out its own set of aims and objectives for what it wants to accomplish strategically.
KAYAnther sign of the tensions and the problems that we have in Afghanistan I think was a disturbing report that came this week about rogue U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Anne, can you tell us what happened?
GEARANThere had been allegations for some time that a group of U.S. soldiers based out of Washington state had engaged in some really horrific behavior in Afghanistan. And at least in one case one of the soldiers had -- may have had some previous similar behavior in Iraq. At least he indicated to some of his buddies that he'd gotten away with things there. This came to light because the father of one of the soldiers in this unit was corresponding with his son and got wind of -- well, the son told him, you know, there are people in my unit committing murder. And the...
KAYMurder of Afghan civilians?
GEARANPrecisely. That they picked out a -- in one case a farmer who approached them and decided to kill him and made it look like he had thrown a grenade, which according to this one tipster was a complete fabrication. One of the other soldiers in fact tossed a grenade to -- in order to make it look that way. It -- these soldiers are facing army prosecution. And the larger concern in addition to the idea that something like this as awful of this -- as this could take place and be known within the unit and not be stopped, is that, you know, it's obviously just exactly what the U.S. military says it is not doing. I mean, we are not there to, you know, hurt people. We are not there to take over land and so forth. And there -- and the persistent sense that the U.S. has an ulterior motive in Afghanistan is one of the major problems facing the military there.
KAYThere's news the president this morning did an interview with the BBC Persian Service in which he said that Afghanistan would not be abandoned even if the U.S. began cutting its forces there next year. That's the president just speaking this morning. But that's precisely the problem that America faces at the moment, isn't it, Dan, in Afghanistan is that Afghans now believe they are going to be abandoned...
KAY...if there is a deadline for withdrawing American troops? And that's makes them much less willing to cooperate with NATO and U.S. forces and much more likely to cooperate with the Taliban because they believe the Taliban are gonna be there after the U.S. leaves.
DOMBEYWell, exactly. One of the problems that the administration has had ever since the president came out with his strategy in December last year is spinning this July date for beginning the withdrawal. Now, they say though if the timing and the pace of withdrawal will be determined by the events on the ground, but it has given an impression that the U.S. is not there to stay, that it can be out waited. And it's more than just in Afghanistan. Traveling with Bob Gates to Indian Pakistan in January, less than a month after the president gave his speech, you could already see people in both those countries maneuvering for the end game and really just jostling each other for influence in Afghanistan. So it reinforced an impression that the U.S. is not there to stay. And indeed when we went to VFT and we spoke to Adm. Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs last month, sorry, last week, we asked him about those sense -- those impressions in Pakistan, perhaps the single most important country in all of this equation. And he said the only way we can convince them that we're gonna stay beyond July is to stay beyond July.
DOMBEYWell, that doesn't say a lot for U.S. credibility I'm afraid.
KAYWhich is why the president though stressing that Afghan people would not be abandoned even if the U.S. began cutting its forces, but of course that begs the question of how they won't be abandoned. Let's go to the phone again. To Sala in Burke, Va. Sala, you have a question for my panel on something we were talking about just a short while ago.
SALAYes. My name is Sala. And I'm interested in what is happening between the United -- between China and Japan, especially between the arrest of the fisherman -- the capturing of the fisherman. And as we know from history that after the second World War the very island that they are fighting for was in possession of the United States. And after, you know, having that possession for awhile, it eventually give it back to Japan. And now China is taking a claim over it. Japan is taking a claim over it. And as we know that we are already economy tied up with China because we have loaned from them trillions and trillions of dollars in order to feed our war.
KAYAnd, Sala, do you...
KAY...have a question for the panel?
SALAYeah, the question is what would be the United States role if it happens that China and Japan happens to go to war? And we know that there's a treaty between United States and Japan that in the case of where, you know, war breaks out, they will be siding Japan.
GEARANWell, actually Bob Gates got that question pretty much exactly yesterday, which is would the United States adhere to its treaty obligations to defend Japan if it came under attack as part of this escalation of tension with China, and Gates said, yes.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, please do call 1-800-433-8850. You can also send us an e-mail to email@example.com. Dan, you wanted to jump in there.
DOMBEYNo. I simply just wanted to say that actually the U.S. says that it will -- it would defend Japan even though it doesn't necessarily recognize that Japan has sovereignty over these islands. So it's -- it goes even further than Anne said. The U.S. doesn't even have to say these islands are Japanese to defend Japan in the case of conflict over them.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Mark in East Dartmouth, Mass. Mark, thanks for joining "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARKHello. Yes. I was -- I had two quick questions. One was whatever happened to the Northern Alliance that was our original Afghanistan partner in toppling the Taliban? And secondly I was wondering if Ahmadinejad's charged nuclear ambitions were really for tactical nuclear weapons to use against the Taliban because they're seeing that the United States can't oust them from Afghanistan, that they're getting stronger and that they don't wanna have a 10 year war with Afghanistan draining their country the way they did with Iraq.
KAYI'm looking at my panel and they're looking at me. And, Dan, why don't you take the first part of that question.
DOMBEYOkay. I can have a shot at the -- at both parts if you want. I mean, on the Northern Alliance, what happened to the Northern Alliance, well, like on revolutionary movements, once they're in power, you start -- you start fragmenting. But there is still one of the problems in Afghanistan is there is still a suspicion in the Pashtun south that the government is still far too influenced by the Tajik north. I mean, one of the problems is, is that many people in Afghanistan don't even see the idea of a central government representing all of Afghanistan as a coherent idea. And therefore the image of a Northern Alliance sweeping in is perhaps one that is being stated too much rather than not enough. On the second question, without kind of saying that Afghanistan is gonna fall into the Taliban control and the Iranians are thinking about this, I think it's fairly clear that there have been long standing Iranian interest in a nuclear program going back to the days of the Shaw. And many people think that Iran just having even the ability to create a bond at fairly short notice helps its position in the Gulf where it sees itself ringed by enemies. You don't even need to get into Afghanistan.
KAYYeah, I mean, and aren't they looking more at this -- at Israel, the Sinai Arabs, rather than looking at Afghanistan? I mean, that seems a stretch to me.
GEARANYeah, yes. The countries most directly affected by the -- should Iran be on the verge of being able to build a weapon would be those you named. And they are those most exercised about it now and doing something about it. The assumption has long been that if Iran is not telling the truth and its nuclear program is indeed in pursuit of a bomb, that that would be attached to some sort of missile that could reach possibly as far as the middle belt of Europe.
KAYAnd that's why also getting back to the Sinai countries in the Middle East, we've seen a big arms race in those countries recently, haven't we, Kevin?
WHITELAWWell, we have seen a lot of -- a lot of arming of -- a lot of arms deals including a huge U.S. deal with Saudi Arabia for $60 billion in weapons. Congress still has to theoretically weigh in on that one at some point. But you're seeing a number of the Sinai Arab countries trying to sorta counterbalance what they see as what Iran's trying to do. Obviously a certain amount of it with Israel in mind. But, you know, and this is also what's fueling questions about missile defense programs, both in Europe and also in the United States.
KAYOkay. Kevin Whitelaw is defense and foreign policy editor with Congressional Quarterly. Anne Gearan has been with me as well. She's the national security correspondent for the Associated Press. Dan Dombey has been here. He's the U.S. diplomatic correspondent with the Financial Times. Thank you all so much for joining me.
WHITELAWYeah, thank you.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. This has been the Friday News Roundup. Have a great weekend. Thanks so much for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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