Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Katty Kay
A White House emissary tries to salvage Mideast peace negotiations; the U.S. adds more sanctions against Iran for alleged human rights abuses; and Europe investigates a potential “Mumbai-style” terror plot. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katty Kay for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, author of "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power."
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of BBC World News America sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back on Monday. A coalition of Iraq's Shiite parties has chosen incumbent Nuri al-Maliki as its nominee for prime minister. This paves the way for Iraq to form a new government. Osama bin Laden is reportedly involved in a plot to launch Mumbai-style terror attacks in European cities. The U.S. imposes sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses.
MS. KATTY KAYAnd North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appoints his youngest son and heir-apparent to high positions in the Worker's Party, but little is known about Kim Jong Un. Joining me in the studio to discuss all of this in the week's top international stories on the Friday news roundup, Nadia Bilbassy of NBC TV, David Sanger of The New York Times and Courtney Kube of NBC News. Thank you all for joining me.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERThank you. Good morning.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
KAYThe phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a question as well on Twitter or on Facebook and we will be opening the phones in just a short while. A very busy week and a very busy morning, we have a lot of breaking news stories coming in. Nadia Bilbassy, we may have an end to the political stalemate in Iraq finally. How many months has it been since those elections?
BILBASSYIt's been almost seven months. And I always remember every time I come on this show, the question was, when do you think the Iraqis are gonna form their government. And actually, they entered a record in terms of the country without a government after election. So the fact that we have seen so many political moves in the last few days with Ayad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya a party going to Damascus trying to see what he can do. It seems that finally it's the Shiites block that call the shot.
BILBASSYAnd Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been very well known here, obviously has been anti-American in his stand, it seems that he is the one who give the final okay for this government, for Nuri al-Maliki. Which, in the beginning, they objected to him as -- if you remember, Katty, in the old days, he led a campaign against the Shiites in the south and specifically against Moqtada al-Sadr. So it looks like now that he is gonna be the prime minister and all the Shiites coalition will be behind him.
KAYCourtney Kube, one of the concerns as American troops started to withdraw from Iraq at the end of August was, of course,, the fact that there was still political uncertainty in the country. To what extent does the news, this morning, that Nuri al-Maliki is not going to be just the caretaker prime minister, but actually looks like he is going to be the prime minister and there is a political solution, to what extent does that mean the security situation in Iraq is going to improve?
KUBEWell, U.S. military officials in Iraq and back here in the United States have been increasingly concerned about a growing power vacuum that's existed in Baghdad ever since the elections. We've seen an increase in violence, despite the fact that U.S. combat operations officially ended a month ago today, actually. So I think that people can breathe a somewhat of a sigh of relief here, but there's still more steps that need to be taken before we know that there's going to be a solid government established in Iraq.
KUBEThe next step will be, will the current leaders throw their support behind al-Maliki. There hasn't been any indication yet, but this is all still breaking this morning. So hopefully, this will indicate to end to this power vacuum. Security can begin to stabilize again. Civilian leaders can start to build up the institutions, the infrastructure in Iraq and they can continue to draw down U.S. troops next year.
KAYOkay. The other breaking news coming in this morning, David Sanger, we have reports that Osama Bin Laden has released a new audio tape. It hasn't been totally authenticated yet, but this would be his first tape since March. What's he saying?
SANGERWell, we haven't heard from him in quite a while and the news here may simply be that we heard his voice. The picture that was released along with it was an old still photograph of him. And for those trying to figure out the state of his health, that may also be interesting. The message itself, at least in the first reports we've got -- and I have not heard this or read a full translation 'cause it's just out, indicates that it's mostly a call to help those in Pakistan who have been afflicted by the floods.
KAYThe significance of that, of course, is that it does place in time this audio tape as being fairly recent.
SANGERAbsolutely. And, you know, tells you he's still alive. It does not tell you very much about how much he's in command. And, of course, in the intelligence community, there's always a concern that what he says is less important than the fact that he went on the air. You know, just in the past few days, we've had a lot of reports in Europe of suspicions of Mumbai-style attacks that are being planned.
SANGERYou may remember the attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which, basically, several hotels were taken over and many killed. And if that's the case, and there have been a number of suspects including some who are living in Britain, either picked up or being pursued, could indicate that the very broadcast might be a signal to start some kind of event. And that's going to be the concern in the intel community.
KAYNadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcast Centre, what do we know about where European governments are getting their intelligence on this Mumbai- style plot? NPR has been reporting that Osama Bin Laden may have well been involved in these plots.
BILBASSYThat is true, but let me just comment very briefly on what David said. I think the other relevant point here is Osama Bin Laden is injecting himself as a relevant person here. And he's not talking about killing Americans, but he's talking about helping the victims of a flood. And I think the success of this Jihad's organization always been with the infrastructure of the poor.
BILBASSYWe've seen it with many organizations of how they offer this Islamic relief to people on the ground. So here he comes. He's talking about from a higher ground, the Pakistani government failed to help these people and here I am. I'm appealing to the masses come and help them.
BILBASSYRegarding the intelligence, I think there has been so many interception of chattering that -- going backwards and forwards, although they're saying this plot is active, but not imminent. We don't know exactly how far are they in the plot, but to the degree that European cities in Britain and France and in Germany has been taking precautions. Prime Minister Cameron has done some kind of dummy run into what if a Mumbai-style commando attack happens on major cities and on hotels and on railways, et cetera.
BILBASSYSome saying that this intensification of the joint attacks in Pakistan actually maybe is not justification for what's happening in Europe. We don't know because as you know, it's a record high in terms of the joint attacks that has eliminated so many civilians. And the Pakistani government, although publicly they denounce it -- the public maybe agreed with it, but it has killed so many innocent -- so many civilians, rather, to the degree that we don't know if these two things are linked.
KAYCourtney Kube, do you have anything more to add on the intelligence and specifically whether the fact that these plots have now been talked about in the press and are now public knowledge may have the effect of triggering some of these teams to act earlier, if they're starting to feel, well, we know now that the police are on to us or the intelligence service's is on to us? There must be a concern, right?
KUBERight. On the Pakistan drone attacks, too, I just want to point out that some intelligence officials are saying that it's more than just these attacks in Europe that were being thwarted, but there was also a target of opportunity after the flooding. Roads were wiped out. Bridges were wiped out so some of these insurgents were kind of stuck in these areas. I heard one person this week describe it as some of them were sort of fish in a barrel and so they were able to go in as target of opportunity.
KUBEOn the attacks in Europe, I think there are two sides of this story. Right now, you know, on the positive side for the intelligence services, they caught this at what seems to be a pretty early stage of the planning of the attacks. It doesn't seem that they knew yet who was going to be carrying them out, even where they were going to get the weapons from. It seems like it was relatively...
KAYDo they know whether -- if any of the teams were actually already in Europe or not even that much?
KUBEThere's been reporting that some of the plotting was to use locals that were in Europe and that some of them were to bring people in from Pakistan, which, of course, would add another layer of the ability for them to be caught, trying to bring in teams of people from Pakistan into Europe, western Europe. But on the plus side, this was caught pretty early. It was a combination of intelligence intercepts. Anwar Siddiqui, the German who has been held in Afghanistan since this summer, there's been a lot of reporting that he was one of the people who first tipped off authorities to this attack.
KAYHe's a German citizen being held at Bigram Air Force Base, just outside Kabul. Right?
KUBECorrect. Yes, he's been held since about July. And he's, apparently, been talking. He warned of this attack. So the U.S. and western officials have known about this possibility for several weeks, if not months now. On the other flip side, though, of just the larger scale picture of this Mumbai-style attack, which was a highly coordinated, multiple location, small teams going in and targeting various locations at the same time, this is a real departure from Al-Qaeda's general M-O of how they attack.
KUBENumber one, they don’t generally travel in this kind of way. Highly coordinated perhaps, but not in small attackers who are shooting individuals like they did in Mumbai. And the other idea that's sort of terrifying on its surface is the notion that Hakani network and the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan may have been involved in this. They've never been known to attack outside the region, outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the idea that they may now be moving to attacking western targets in Europe and perhaps even in the United States is really terrifying.
SANGERYou know, it's worth remembering two things. First, Mumbai was not done by Al-Qaeda.
SANGERIt was done by LAT, which is a group that was -- has been more associated with the battles between Pakistan and India. And the second thing to remember is the Times Square bombing, the one that fizzled thanks to the fact that the car was discovered by our last line of defense, which was a hot dog vendor, turns out to have been, in fact, traced back to Taliban, not to Al-Qaeda. And so that was the first case where we saw, you know, a fairly small scale attack being designed by the Taliban.
SANGERIn Al-Qaeda's case, what does it tell you that they may be headed to these Mumbai-style attacks, if, in fact, that's what's going on? First, it tells you they probably have not been able to obtain the weapons of mass destruction that they were looking for. There interests in nuclear has been well known. And the second thing it may tell you is, they're somewhat frustrated by the fact that they have not really been able to pull much off in recent years and need these small teams because they're not obvious.
KAYDavid Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. He's also author of "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges of American Power." Nadia Bilbassy is senior U.S. correspondent for MBC, that's the Middle East Broadcast Centre. Courtney Kube is with me as well. She's national producer for NBC news. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address is email@example.com. You can send us a Tweet. You can find us on Facebook as well.
KAYAfter this short break, we're going to be looking at Pakistan. The latest from Ecuador where there has apparently been a coup d'état or an attempted coup d'état,, I should say. Strikes in Europe, Iran and Afghanistan, much more to discuss. It's been a very busy week around the world. We're gonna take a quick break. Stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in today for Diane Rehm. You've joined the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. David Sanger, let's talk about Pakistan. Pakistan has shut off a U.S. and NATO supply link between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Why did they do it and how important is it?
SANGERWell, this is a very important link. It's the link over the Khyber Pass that comes down into Peshawar. It's usually where the supplies that are not arms are brought in, trucks and all kinds of food supplies and so forth. And it was done in anger after a U.S. NATO attack in which, if you believe NATO's version of events, they were trying to preempt a rocket attack that was going to start from over the border in Pakistan, but into Afghanistan.
SANGERAnd there was an exchange of fire that included a frontier corps -- Pakistani Frontier Corps stand that was right on the border. And when the NATO forces believed that they were being fired on from the -- from that post, they ended up sending several rockets into the post and killing at least three. What does this get to in a larger sense? The fraying nature of our on-again off-again relationship and alliance with Pakistan. I think I've said on this show before that the Pakistanis are sort of allies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but have frequently been with the Taliban on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the weekends are up for grabs.
SANGERAnd, in fact, we're seeing a little bit of that now. If you're cutting off out of -- in a fit of pique, understandable fit of pique after Pakistani soldiers are killed, the supply line -- you are saying to the Americans, we're not sure how stable this alliance is. You want to add a level of complexity to this, it all happened while Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, was in Pakistan trying to shore up, once again, the support from General Kayani and from the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. And add one more layer of support, there's all kinds of evidence that the military is getting ready to dump the civilian government in Pakistan as well.
KAYRight. Well, Courtney Kube, let's talk a little bit about that because, of course, the role of President Zardari is fundamental to whether it is Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or the weekend, in terms of our relationship with the Pakistanis. How tenuous is his position at the moment?
KUBEWell, I mean, I think, adding to what David said, the overall notion that the Pakistanis have closed this transit point -- which U.S. military officials and U.S. MBC officials in Afghanistan are saying is going to be a brief closure.
KAYAnd the other transit point has remained open we should point out.
KUBECorrect, yeah. But that being said, I think that this shows, overall, the Pakistanis need to show that they still have leverage over the United States. They want to prove that they can stop -- like David was saying, this is non-lethal equipment. It's fuel, it's clothes, water, food that's coming in, but it is a major transit point. The vast majority of the supplies that go through Pakistan come through the Khyber Pass. And the majority of all NATO supplies go through Pakistan. It's the cheapest and fastest way in.
KUBESo Pakistan is showing here that they want to be able to prove to the Americans they still have leverage. And I think it was more than just the tragedy with the three Frontier Corpsmen, but the idea that there were three cross-border incursions this week that were not unmanned drones. They were manned helicopters. And Pakistan wants to show the U.S. and the NATO coalition that, we may turn the other way with these unmanned drones from the CIA or maybe even be complicit in helping with intelligence, but...
KAYWe are still a sovereign country.
KUBEWe are a sovereign nation and you're sending your manned helicopters in.
KAYNadia Bilbassy, what more do you know about how much trouble President Zardari is in?
BILBASSYWell, I think, in general, if you look at the relationship, to start with, I think it's a very complex relationship and it's been on and off. It depends on, of course, the interest of the day. I think he's in a very tight spot at the moment because they already -- I mean, administration officials are talking about different scenarios, what we can do. He mishandled the flood issues, which became as the last straw basically. But they're talking even maybe the Supreme Court might interfere here and dissolve the whole government and charge him with some kind of corruption on some kind of Swiss bank account. So there's all kinds of things.
BILBASSYOr maybe the military will take over, although this is not the favorable option. But the fact that he is very weak -- he's perceived very weak is already the opposition making some noise we're talking about. Now with Sharif, although there is some dismission (sic) that he will come back to the government, but the old faces keep on surfacing again in Pakistan because you only have a few players who come to the scene all the time.
BILBASSYSo I think if you look in the bigger picture, it's the writing on the wall for the time being that something might happen. We don't know, but I think the Army's keeping a watchful eye, the U.S. intelligence is keeping a very, very close tight (sic) on what's happening in Pakistan. As you said during -- Panetta was there and he was talking to Yusuf Gilani, he's talking to the ISI and this situation is very complex.
BILBASSYBut the one issue as well that if you look at it, the people in Pakistan -- if you look at public opinion, it's the highest number of anti-American feelings in the Muslim world is in Pakistan. And that by itself poses a serious problem for the government because in one hand, they have to show that they are cooperating with the Americans. On the other hand, they have to appeal to the public opinion and to the extremists in (unintelligible)
KAYAnd a serious problem, of course, for American officials trying to deal with Pakistan when they see those high levels of anti-American sentiment. Meanwhile, across the border, another problem for the Americans, the latest corruption inquiry into one of President Karzai's brothers. David Sanger, what do we all know about that?
SANGERWell, President Karzai's brother is part of a group of Karzais who many regard as sort of the textbook cases for corruption in Afghanistan. What's central about this, though, is that President Karzai views the American effort to go after corruption as yet another way in which the United States may be plotting to weaken or oust him. He believes that process started with last year's election and this is one of the reasons that he has really interfered with the corruption investigations in Afghanistan in the past two months.
KAYWhy a federal court in New York?
SANGERA federal court in New York because a lot of this goes back to American-provided money.
KAYLet's go to the phones now to Scanda who is calling us from Dummerston, Vermont. Scanda, you are on the program.
SCANDAHi. Nice to talk to you. Thank you for having me on.
KAYYou're very welcome.
SCANDAI wanted to -- I've been following this very closely. I've been here since 1969 and am an American citizen and an educator. And it seems to me -- I called because of Osama bin Laden's statement where he's showing concern for the flood victims. And New York Times just recently ran a story where Kayani's putting pressure on the elected government because of their performance in helping the millions who have been affected by the floods.
SCANDANow, I feel that what we have done wrong is not validated a strong Pakistani army who -- I'm impressed by Kayani, that he hasn't just taken over. Because it is a known fact -- you know, my mom who is 80-something said about Zardari that he's just like any other who come in and all their relatives have Mercedes in their driveways by the time two weeks pass. And that's true. Pakistani's are sick of the corruption that's there. It's not a small thing, it's a huge thing.
SCANDABut sticking to the point, where we have failed, when Pakistan's sovereignty is attacked, such as when manned helicopters cross Pakistani territory, army takes it very personally. Because what it does is it plays on their psyche for the big enemy that they have on their right. Whether it's true or not, I feel as close to India as I do to Pakistan because it was all the same at one point, and I find partition to be totally a ridiculous thing (unintelligible)
KAYScanda, sorry to interrupt you. Do you have a question for the panel?
SCANDAI have a point. And the point is that we really do need to validate the Pakistani army. We really do need to go after the elected officials who are so corrupt that they're doing nothing for the country if we want to win this war against terrorism.
KAYOkay. Courtney Kube.
KUBEWell, I take your point. But just to show what the U.S. is doing to help the Pakistani army, they've provided -- I want to say it's more than $6 billion in military aid and reimbursements for what the Pakistani military is doing to counter the cross-border incursions and for the border posts along the Pakistan/Afghan border. The U.S., at this time, has about 200, maybe a little bit more than that, trainers who are in Afghanistan helping out the Pakistani military and the Frontier Corps. So I'm not sure how beyond helping to train and support the Pakistani army the U.S. could necessarily validate them, as the caller is saying.
SANGERYou know, the U.S. army military that's there and the NATO forces make two points. One is they have a hot pursuit rule, an agreement with the Pakistanis that if you're attacked by Taliban or Al Qaeda from the Pakistani side and then they retreat back to the safe haven, that the NATO forces are going to follow them back. Just as if you had a car chase that ran from the District of Columbia where we are now, a few blocks over into Maryland. Police aren't going to stop at the border.
SANGERThe second point they make is that for many years now, the U.S. has been trying to encourage Pakistan to make a significant inroad into this part of Pakistan. And clearly, the Obama administration is running out of patience. That's what these 20 drone attacks in the past month are all about.
KAYOkay. I want to get on to the Middle East peace talks. That's a big subject. Nadia Bilbassy has just interviewed President Abbas. But before we go to the Middle East, I want to swing through Ecuador, where the police chief in Ecuador resigned today after an uprising by officers who had held President Rafael Correa captive for more than 10 hours. President Correa, of course, saying that this was an attempted coup d'état. We saw his picture on the front page of the newspapers wearing gas masks. A good old fashioned coup d'état in Latin America, David Sanger. I thought we were more stable than this now with democracies in Latin America.
SANGERWell, you know, it is a little bit like, you know, the '70s live on. And you have to wonder whether or not, in fact, a government that we relied on to be a quite stable one in Ecuador is as stable as we thought. You know, we went through a period of time, just really during the Bush administration, where President Bush would step out and celebrate the fact that Latin America was all democracies, except one, Cuba. You can't say that anymore because of a number of places, including Venezuela. But this may be more sign that an area that I would have to say the Obama administration has not devoted an enormous amount of attention to is still getting a little bit rocky.
KAYNadia, was it a coup d'état?
BILBASSYWell, I don't know, to be honest. I mean, the bottom line is the president has introduced this austerity measure and he was cutting down benefits for the police and the military. And therefore, they took it into their hands, basically going in the streets and holding him hostage, basically, and then attacking him in the hospital. But I think the significance of that, whether it was or it wasn't, is it's coming after what happened in Honduras.
BILBASSYAnd it's just some kind of instability in Latin America. And, of course, administration immediately condemned it and now probably business is back as usual. But it shows that the situation is very fragile and at any moment the police can take over a head of state and hold him hostage in a hospital, on the street. And basically, there's nothing you can do. Whether the president will come back like we seen in Honduras or not or whether he's been assaulted like Ecuador.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a question on Twitter and, of course, on Facebook as well. Courtney Kube, I want to pick up on something Nadia mentioned there, which was the fact that there had been these austerity measures in Ecuador.
KAYWe saw throughout Europe this week people taking to the streets in protest at austerity measures. A lot of anger as those government cuts come into play. And of course, we see unemployment levels not coming down in Europe. Very different situation from here in America where we have high unemployment, but we don't have people out on the streets.
KUBEYeah, we're not going to encourage it here on the show today, of course, but, well, yeah, we haven't seen those kinds of protests. You do see smaller scale protests. You know, one that came to mind when I was watching some of these protests -- probably just because I cover the Pentagon -- but one that came to mind this week was the military's closing down joint forces command in Norfolk. It's going to mean several thousand jobs are closed next year -- I'm sorry, are lost next year. And how are they handling it?
KUBEWell, members of Congress are protesting. So I was sort of comparing the two in my head as I was reading about this last night. And that seems to me the way that the United States seems to take these sort of issues, is members on the hill start yelling. It's a political year, but also adds to it. But we haven't seen any protests in the United States, not to say that we won't.
KAYBut, David Sanger, all those people who turned out in Madrid waving red flags and protesting against the government cuts, it's not actually going to make much different, is it, because the Spanish government has recommitted itself to these austerity measures.
SANGERIt's not going to make any difference because there are two constituencies out here and there's only one of them that the European government's right now concluded they have to pay attention to. Constituency one is the one you saw out in the streets, people who don't want to see their pensions cut, people who have gotten accustomed to very considerable social services.
SANGERThe second is the bond market, which the Spanish, the Portuguese, Ireland, many others, Greece for sure, needs to reassure. And the only way they're going to get lent money to continue running their government is if they show that they are on a way down to reducing these deficits. And so the choice, although people on the street may not like hearing it, is between having reduced services and having the lent money from abroad cut off entirely.
KAYOkay. Let's get to the Middle East and it does seem this week, Nadia Bilbassy, that U.S. Envoy George Mitchell has managed, at least for the time being, to salvage the peace talks. What's the latest?
BILBASSYWell, the frenzy of diplomacy, you know. Mitchell is meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. There is talk that the administration waited for the last minute, which is the start of the process of September 2, and only to see it collapse on September 26. So obviously they're trying to do something significant here to hold both parties. We heard all kinds of stories. I mean, President Abbas, to me, he was open to an extension of three months. But he wants a guarantee that after the three months that Netanyahu was not going to come and say, we haven't agreed on any points and therefore nothing I can offer you.
BILBASSYSo it seems now we are in a position where some leaked. Some saying the White House did it on purpose, that President Obama has given a letter of guarantee to President -- to Prime Minister Netanyahu similar to the one that President Bush gave to the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Whereby he's saying I'm giving Israel all kinds of security guarantees and make sure that the Arab Leagues are not going to bring the Palestinian issue into the security council if you agree to extend the moratorium for another 60 days.
BILBASSYAnd apparently, Netanyahu refused that. And it seems that Ehud Barack was a defense minister and the chief negotiator for Netanyahu, who is Yitzhak Molcho, were in Washington. And it seems like they're the one who wrote this letter. Now, the administration's saying that if this doesn't work, they have another plan B, which is to pressure the Israelis by saying that we're going to accept the (sounds like) six or seven borders as the border for a Palestinian state would swap here and there.
BILBASSYAnd the thing is if you look at the bigger picture, I think the whole situation was manhandled or mishandled from the beginning. We wasted the year with administration demanding a complete freeze on Israeli settlements. They didn't get anything so the pressure of the weaker party, which is the Palestinian, it leaves President Abbas very vulnerable and in the corner. So basically, if you are in negotiation, you have to have some room for maneuvering.
BILBASSYHe doesn't have any strategic or tactical points to allow him -- to give him some leverage. And the winner in the whole thing, if Netanyahu agreed or didn't agree, it will be Prime Minister of Israel because he chose he didn't give into the pressure by the Americans. His stand among the settlers will go higher. And also, if you get this kind of carrots from the Americans, it's also good for him.
KAYNadia Bilbassy is senior U.S. correspondent with the Middle East Broadcast Centre. And we're also joined by David Sanger from the New York Times. Courtney Kube from NBC News is here. You have been listening to the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. We will be taking more of your calls and questions on the Middle East peace process and anything else that we have been discussing. The number here is 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You're listening to the international hour of the Friday News Roundup. We'll be taking more of your calls, questions and comments. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Courtney Kube, it does still seem that the major sticking point, at least right now, on the Middle East is the settlement freeze. If Israel won't agree to extending the moratorium on building settlements, what happens then? President Abbas said, again, as Nadia heard, that he's not prepared to carry on talking or at least that seems to be his official position.
KUBEWell, we all had been looking toward last Sunday, September 26, which was the official end of the moratorium to see if it was extended. Obviously, it was not. The negotiations did not break down, in part because of George Mitchell's frantic continuing shuttle diplomacy. He's over in the region now. He's met with both leaders. But there is another looming impending deadline and that's this Wednesday, October 6, when the Arab League meets. And President Abbas is gonna go and talk to other foreign ministers from the area -- from the region and they're gonna decide if he's gonna continue with negotiations.
KUBEAnd there's a lot of conventional wisdom that points to he will not continue negotiations if Israel has not extended some sort of an olive branch, either extending the moratorium for two months, perhaps another three months. But, in part, that's gonna be what George Mitchell can work with or can work out the next couple days, today, over the weekend. And another sense of the urgency -- another show of urgency is the EU's high representative, Catherine Ashton, literally rushed to the region earlier this week. And she's been meeting with the leaders this week, the -- yesterday and today as well.
KAYDavid Sanger, what have you heard on whether a deal is possible by Wednesday's meeting of the Arab League?
SANGERYou know, I think the Obama administration, in some degree, misjudged how much they would be able to push Prime Minister Netanyahu on this. You know, Prime Minster Netanyahu is by no means the most right wing member of his cabinet. And he kept making the point to them, long before the expiration of this moratorium, that he did not have the political room, even within his own cabinet, much less within his own party, to be able to cut this deal.
SANGERAnd I can't imagine that that is going to change a whole lot, unless he comes to the conclusion that he could reform a different government, a different cabinet with Kadima, the more left leaning group. And so I think the best they can hope for, at this point, is a de facto moratorium, in which the moratorium isn't formally on, but building doesn’t happen.
KAYLet's go to Ann in Washington, D.C. Ann, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANNOh, hello. I just wanted to raise the issue, which I haven't seen in the press at all, about the Jewish boat that went to Gaza, which included Holocaust survivors, Jews from all over Europe and Israel and reporters that was violently boarded this week by the Israeli navy. And I just hope that you all would discuss what went on.
KAYGood point, Ann. And thanks for reminding us to talk about that.
BILBASSYWell, traditionally you have seen the support from the left side of the peace now movement in Israel supporting Palestinians in general against closure, against collective punishment measures, against the siege in Gaza now. So they wanted to make a symbolic gesture, basically, of taking aboard, again, after what we had seen with the navy Mavi Marmara, going to Gaza and bringing some goods or even just saying that we are Israeli, we are Jewish, we are holocaust survivor and we sympathize with your plight and we wanted to lift the siege on Gaza.
BILBASSYSo I think it's more of a symbolic support, more than any materialistic support. And the fact that it was the -- of course, as you know it, in cooperation with the Israeli navy, so they knew exactly when they gonna arrive and they intercepted the boat. And it happened peacefully, nobody was hurt, et cetera. So, I mean, you know, the move itself, obviously, is a good thing because it shows that people across both sides of the political spectrum can actually get together. And if you look at the majority of the polling, 80 percent wanted a peaceful solution to the conflict. So to have somebody like this, it really adds into the goodwill, I think.
KAYLet's go to Frank in Charlotte, N.C. Frank, thank you for calling in to "The Diane Rehm Show."
FRANKOh, hi. Okay. Well, what I wanted to say was that I read a report at the Library of Congress. It's called "The Colonization of the West Bank Territory by Israel," and it was done in June the 27th, 1978. And a lot of the stuff that it said inside there is, no matter what, the government of Israel will not give up the land of the West Bank and Gaza and they plan on taking it over. Tomorrow, we're gonna be having a protest in Washington on jobs and I'll be over there standing on Conference and 17th Street. I'm like 6'2". You can't miss me. I got a 3 foot by 4 foot sign. And if anybody wants to read it, I'll give it to them.
KAYOkay. Frank, thank you very much for calling in to "The Diane Rehm Show" with that. We've got an e-mail from Donald here, who asks us, "could you comment on the likelihood of the Obama administration agreeing to the release of Jonathan Pollard in order to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze?" What's the latest on Mr. Pollard, Courtney?
KUBEWell, that's been one of the points of negotiation for quite awhile now. I haven't seen -- last week, that was in the press again. And State Department officials were saying that, well, it's sort of a continued idea out there. There's not been any movement on it. So I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility, but I don't see that being a real point of contention.
BILBASSYI mean, Pollard is very -- it's very popular among the settlers. And obviously if their Prime Minister is able to release him, that will go mileage for him and give him some kind of clout in terms of negotiation.
KAYOkay. Let's talk about Iran because there's been movement on that as well, David Sanger. On Wednesday, the Obama administration sanctioned eight senior Iranian officials for alleged human rights violations. Who are they and what's the impact?
SANGERThey are all members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which of course is the group that is essentially running most of what's going on in Iran these days. What's significant about it is that almost all of the previous sanctions against Iran have been related to nuclear activities. They've not been related to human rights. And in fact, during the uprisings in June of 2009, right after the elections in Iran that re-elected President Ahmadinejad, the administration was very reluctant to get out behind the protestors.
SANGERSo what this indicates is that, in a little more than a year's time, the administration has now come out very strongly on making human rights the centerpiece of, at least, part of the public effort. Now, the public effort is different from the real effort. Their real concern is the nuclear program. And that's what's made, you know, so fascinating to me and many others this week, the mystery of this computer worm that has been found overwhelmingly in Iran, but not only in Iran.
KAYThis is Stuxnet that you wrote about this week, David.
SANGERStuxnet, right. I've written about it. Many others have. It is a worm that gets into a very specialized kind of industrial controller. And those kind of controllers are frequently used in nuclear power plants, enrichment plants and so forth. We don't know yet that Iran was the target, but we do know that the United States and Israel have both had very active programs to undermine the progress that Iran has made. And this may or may not be part of it.
KAYAnd actually in some ways that's been one of the more successful elements, hasn't it, of the West's strategy against Iran has been sabotaged, if you could call it that, or the intelligence side certainly?
SANGERIt has certainly had a long history and it may be responsible for slowing the Iranians down. The Iranians are no place close to where they'd like to be in their production of enriched uranium at this point. It's got a long history. There was sabotage of individual power supplies that were going into the big enrichment plant in Natanz a few years ago.
SANGERThere have been sabotaged designs that the Iranians have gotten and other components. Of course, nobody would take responsibility, as you would expect, for this computer virus. And it could turn out that it wasn't done by a state. But given how complex it is, the suspicion really has fallen that it's a state-created worm.
KAYCourtney, one other point on Iran. The Obama administration took another step yesterday to pressure Iran directly on its nuclear program, not looking at the human rights issues, but through this Swiss-based Iranian company. Tell us about that.
KUBEExactly. Yesterday the State Department announced that they were instituting sanctions against a Swiss-based subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. They also announced that four international energy companies had agreed to end their business dealings with Iran. So this is more of the -- of the more classic, in a sense, Iranian sanctions that are targeting energy and the banking sector of Iran, supposed to specifically target the ability for Iran to do business with outside international companies.
KUBEThe questions now remains, there were sanctions enacted in June, also in July by the UN Security Council and then by the United States, has there been any tangible result from them? Someone who was outside yesterday at the State Department, the Deputy Secretary -- and he couldn’t really point to anything specific. They continue to say, well, you know, it's making it harder for Iran to do business. And we can't really point a metric on it -- any kinda specific metric on it, but it is having an impact.
SANGERThere are two metrics we've seen. One is that the import of refined gasoline into Iran, and they actually are quite dependant on imports of gasoline, are down considerably. Now, they also have stockpiles. And the second thing is we know that a number of Iranian ships can't go into foreign ports 'cause they can't get insurance.
KAYBut we still don't know what the administration, indeed what western countries would do, if sanctions are not deemed to have worked, say sometime next spring, next summer. The president gave an interview to the BBC Persian Service just at the end of last week and in which he didn't clarify that. Nadia Bilbassy, what happens -- what happens if by next March everyone decides, actually, you know what, it's business as usual, sanctions still haven't made much difference to the nuclear program?
BILBASSYAnd, Katty, that's a dilemma always. We look at other examples across the world. We've seen how the regime of Saddam Hussein survived under so many years of these sanctions. We have seen South Africa. And if you do the math, I mean, Secretary Gates talks about one to two years, probably, we're away from Iran developing enriched uranium enough to develop nuclear weapons.
BILBASSYAnd yet, if they can survive under the sanctions for another ten years, then the math doesn't add up. And they're talking about military options, it's always on the table, but everybody said that's not gonna happen, et cetera. So, you know (unintelligible)
KUBEAnd just one more quick point also on the sanctions, this also comes the same week -- Turan is angry. As, you know, as David was saying, Turan is angry about these sanctions. They called the Swiss ambassador in Turan in to talk to them about it. This comes...
BILBASSYThe human rights sanctions.
KUBE...yeah, this comes at the same time when Oman and the Swiss are still trying to negotiate for the release of two Americans who continue to be held. So it also remains to be seen if that's gonna impact, especially, the notion that the United States is calling out Iran on human rights abuses, if that's gonna have any impact on getting those two American released.
KAYOkay. Let's go to the phones again. To Linda in Princeton, N.J. Linda, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
LINDAThere have been so many topics discussed since I originally called.
KAYIt's been a busy week.
LINDABut my main thing was I wish that the press would do due diligence when it reports. According to the BBC, Newsweek and the Sydney Morning Herald as reported by the BBC -- I'm going back to 2005, 2006. I'm interested in Ayad Allawi. The United States invaded Iraq. And now Mr. Allawi it seems wields significant power there. My question to your panel is, number one, are they aware? And number two, if they are, through BBC press coverage, Mr. Allawi was a physician to Saddam Hussein. He fled Iraq in a power struggle with Hussein in the '70s, early '80s.
LINDAHe worked with British MI6 and supplied the information about the 45 minute threat to Britain by Iraq, which was the piece used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He is the brother-in-law of Ahmad Chalabi who continues to be a figurehead in the oil industry in Iraq. And according to Mike Isikoff in Newsweek, while he was Prime Minister last time around, Mr. Allawi allowed his interior minister to extra judicially execute a Belgium -- a Baghdad prison, eight Iraqi prisoners.
KAYOkay. Nadia Bilbassy, how much of this is hearsay? How much of it is true? What do we know about Ayad Allawi?
BILBASSYWell, I don't know if you can say there is good guys and bad guys. Look, at the time of Saddam Hussein was leashing -- unleashing his forces against all the opposition, it's true that so many people were a part of the Ba'aths party at one stage in their life because that was the kind of life that you have in Baghdad. You have to be part of it, whether you're bureau officials or whether you're a teacher or a doctor or whatever.
BILBASSYBut ultimately, Ayad Allawi had had a huge disagreement with the Ba'aths party to the degree that his life was threatened, in other words, attempt of assassination on his life that he left and he fled to England. And he came back now. And the thing is, he's favorable because he leads a secular coalition with the Sunis, which is needed to create some kind of civility in Iraq. And this is why he -- but saying that, obviously ultimately he wasn't supported because now it seems like Nouri al-Maliki is the one who's gonna be the Prime Minister with the support of the Iranians and it seems with the support of the Americans as well.
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 us an e-mail to email@example.com. And we have an e-mail that's come to us from Ken in Concord, N.H. Ken asks, "Are the settlements in Israel illegal in terms of how the U.S. is concerned?" David Sanger?
SANGERThe U.S. has not, to my mind, issued a judgment of their legality. They have issued judgments on their wisdom because they have said to build up these settlements in areas that are still being negotiated over and contested, is to, in the end, try to prejudge where these negotiations are going to come out. And so that's why they have sought the freeze. Not even natural growth, but no more construction in areas which ultimately have gotta be negotiated.
KAYBut they are in defiance of U.N. law?
BILBASSYOf course. And it depends what settlements we're talking about. I mean, all settlements built after Israel seize in 1967, after the war, it's illegal by any international standard, whether it's the U.N. or the U.S. And any American administration said that it's clearly illegal. Now, there is an agreement that they might keep some blocks, the four measure blocks. But if you're talking about the one we're disputing now, this -- they don't want to jeopardize (unintelligible) issues.
KAYThere is one story we haven't yet touched on, which we have to touch on. We've just a minute left on the program. David Sanger, news from North Korea...
SANGEROh, you know...
KAY...where there is...
SANGER...gotta love it.
KAY...there is now a brilliant comrade to follow the dear leader.
SANGERYou know, Katty, you and I have been reporting on North Korea since the brilliant comrade's grandfather was ruling the country, Kim Il-sung, who died 16 years ago. This is back when we...
KAYThe great leader.
SANGERThe great leader. Back when we were young reporters in Tokyo. We're...
KAYYou were young.
SANGERWell, you know, we must both still be young. But the North Koreans have now moved on to the third generation of Kim dynasty. And that's the big question here. The question here is, will the North Korean military put up with another generation of the Kims having run the country right into the ground? I mean, it's a place of starvation and gulags and we all know the story.
SANGERWhat was remarkable about the Korean workers' party was, it was a great effort to try to show that there is unity. In fact, the delays around putting the party together have made you wonder whether the North Korean leadership is really comfortable with the selection of Kim Jong-un.
KAYDavid Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcast Centre, Courtney Kube of NBC News, thank you all so much for joining me.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've been listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks so much for listening and have a great weekend.
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