The U.N. suspends Syrian peace talks until late this month. The U.S. plans to quadruple military spending in Europe as a signal to Russia. And American officials express concern about ISIS in Libya. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Terence Smith
Syrian forces killed at least 70 people this week in its crackdown on demonstrators. The U.S. urged China, Russia and the Arab world to join in condemning the violence. Dozens died in Yemen in clashes between forces loyal to the government and tribal fighters allied with protesters. NATO extended its mission in Libya. The Taliban waged battles along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Germany announced plans to shut down its nuclear power program. And a serious outbreak of E. coli throughout Europe claimed the lives of 18 and sickened more than 1,600. A panel of journalists joins guest host Terence Smith for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Elise Labott senior State Department producer for CNN.
- Tom Gjelten correspondent, NPR, and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
MR. TERENCE SMITHThanks for joining us. I'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm. A rare strain of E. coli has killed dozens and sickened thousands across Europe. NATO, excuse me, extended its mission in Libya by 90 days. The Syrian protest movement intensified after a video of a tortured and murdered 13 year-old boy, prompted international outrage and clashes between the Yemeni regime and tribal forces seem to move that nation closer to civil war. Joining me in the studio for the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup" are Tom Gjelten of NPR, Elise Labott of CNN and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic.
MR. TERENCE SMITHWelcome to all of you. The news from Yemen is quite something this morning. The President -- President Saleh was wounded when opposition tribesmen hammered his palace with rockets. And he may in fact be -- he is alive -- wounded but alive and he may in fact be issuing a statement of some sort in the hour that we have to talk about international things. So if so, obviously we'll bring that up. But Tom Gjelten, what's your read on this situation?
MR. TOM GJELTENWell, we've seen an escalation of the violence in Yemen over the past several weeks, but this is certainly a climax. I mean, this is the first time the rebels have actually targeted the presidential palace. And you're right that President Saleh was wounded, although it appears he was wounded only slightly and treated right there in the presidential palace.
MR. TOM GJELTENBut very serious injuries to the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi was Saleh's National Security advisor. He said to be in critical condition and unconscious as a result of these attacks. Also the prime minister, the parliament speaker were also wounded in this attack. So this was a real barrage -- an artillery barrage on the presidential palace. Certainly the most serious violence we've seen in what was already a very dramatic situation.
SMITHElise Labott, the -- you follow this as State Department producer for CNN. Is this still going on? Is this an actual crisis moment for the regime?
MS. ELISE LABOTTI think it's a crisis moment for the regime because originally what you had in Yemen was what we've seen throughout the Arab world. These peaceful protests, these students, youth, people fighting for economic opportunity, jobs reform. Now, what's happened is these heavily armed tribesmen have kind of hijacked this process and it's no longer a peaceful protest movement against President Saleh himself, but it's really an arms conflict that's tipping the country towards civil war.
SMITHCivil war, Abderrahim?
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAWell, I think Colonel Gaddafi in Libya has definitely set the tone for what's going on in Syria and certainly in Yemen. I think Ali Abdullah Saleh must have been watching what Gaddafi has been doing over the last three months because a few months ago he did seem to teeter on the brink and then Libya happened and all the determination on the part of Gaddafi to stay in power.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARASo my sense is that his calculation is that he can do it and as Elise said for several months it was a peaceful protest. It's an extraordinary situation because Yemen is awash in weapons but protesters have actually made a point of putting their weapons away before getting into the squares to protest peacefully. But that's no longer the case now.
SMITHSo you see him as fighting back but with an intention to keep his seat?
FOUKARAI, you know, judging from other cases in the region, but certainly from his past behavior, he's not a man who will see this as the writing on the wall for him to go. He will probably see it more as of a galvanization of his will to actually fight on.
SMITHElise, where does this put the United States?
LABOTTWell, over the last few weeks the U.S. has really been working intensively with the Gulf countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council really led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to get him out. You know, there was a lot of concentration about him possibly leaving because of the militant presence, al Qaida in the Arab Peninsula that was in the country and there was a fear about what would happen if he left.
LABOTTBut the longer this went on the United States said, you know what, it really is time for him to get out. This chaos is really giving more of a climate for militants to thrive and so they've really been trying over the last several weeks. You've seen now, President Obama, Secretary Clinton say, "President Saleh, it's time for you to get out."
LABOTTThere were several instances where President Saleh was willing too. He said he was willing to sign a deal with the opposition that would give him immunity, that would pave the way for him to step down and elections to be held and as this armed conflict has gone on he's, as Abderrahim said, he's sticking in, he's sticking to his guns and now he's saying this is your choice, between chaos and armed conflict and me.
SMITHSo are we beyond the point, Tom Gjelten, where the Gulf Cooperation Council or any other outside group can come in and mediate something here?
GJELTENWell, we've already seen Saudi rulers sort of hold -- I mean, Saudi rulers had been kind of bankrolling to some extent the Saleh government and they've already backed off from doing that. So it certainly indicate that they've lost faith in this government and I think that Elise is also right.
GJELTENThat the United States no longer sees Saleh as the strategic ally in the fight against al Qaida that it did previously. We've seen reports that some of these so-called crack-counterterrorism troops that Saleh had at his disposal are now focusing their guns on the protests.
GJELTENAnd, you know, Terry, if there is one of the lessons that we have learned over the last 10 or 15 years is that al Qaida flourishes in the context of a failed state. And what we're seeing right now in Yemen is the emergence of a failed state, where the government no longer is able to control its own territory, where, as Abderrahim said, everybody has guns.
GJELTENDesperation on the part of the population, I mean, you couldn't put together an environment that is more conducive to al-Qaida than what we now see emerging in Yemen.
SMITHAnd Abderrahim, you drew the parallel to what's going on in Libya and Syria. Talk about Syria for a moment. The video that came out this past week of the alleged torture and killing of a 13-year-old boy seems to have galvanized the protest movement in Syria and yet the government there is certainly not backing down.
FOUKARAAbsolutely. And if I may just quickly just add a couple more things on Yemen before I move onto Syria. The two main lifelines, as we've heard, now for Ali Abdullah Saleh have been Saudi Arabia and the United States. And despite the change of tone in the -- what both governments have been telling Ali Abdullah Saleh, he's always had a third lifeline and that is his cunning way of manipulating the tribal system in Yemen.
FOUKARAHe still has some degree of support within Yemen. He's not without support, still has some support within the army although part of -- a big chunk of it has actually splintered and joined the opposition. So he's going play that card right until the end I would assume.
FOUKARAThe other thing that is really alarming for Yemeni's especially for young people protesting in Yemen is that, as Elise said, we seem now to have moved from protests against one family and the other family positioning itself to take over is Al-Ahmar family, the leader of this tribal confederation.
FOUKARASo the scenario is not entirely different many Yemenis would argue. Now, Syria certainly, that video -- the video of the 13-year-old Hamza, who was tortured, his genitalia cut off. He was swollen when the pictures of him were put on video. Certainly it has galvanized opposition to the Assad regime.
FOUKARANot just in Syria, but even in the wider region and certainly in the international community. I think the fact that he -- soon after that announced that he is willing to hold some sort of dialogue with the opposition, whether you believe him or not. But the fact that he announced that he's willing to conduct dialogue soon after those -- that video is certainly an indication of how powerful it has been in galvanizing public opinion against his regime.
SMITHAnd Elise, you have questioned Secretary Clinton about this situation. Where is the U.S. influence if any and how's it being applied?
LABOTTWell, I would say Secretary Clinton was pretty clear yesterday at a press conference where we talked to her, saying, the U.S. doesn't have a whole lot of influence because the rest of the world is not really united. You don't have the kind of support that you did for instance in Libya, where the Arab League itself called on the international community to take action against one of its members.
LABOTTYou don't have that even though a lot of the Arab diplomats that we talked to say, you know what, once you've opened fire on your people, pretty much your contact with the people is over and it's time for you to go. You're not going to hear Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, some of these countries that are privately criticizing the Assad regime say that.
LABOTTAnd so the United States is really a little -- doesn't have a lot of leverage. The U.S. has so many sanctions against Syria as it is, they want to work with Europe, they want to work with the U.N. Security Council to pass some kind of resolution. But the question is, what is it going to do?
LABOTTThis resolution that they're working on at the U.N. is only even a condemnation and no sanctions and they can't even get Russia and china to sign onto this. The administration initially was a little bit reluctant to call for Assad to go because of the same reason in Yemen.
LABOTTThat they were afraid of what happens next. They look to one of their borders is on Lebanon, they see the chaos there. They look to the Iraq other border, they see sectarian intentions. They don't want the same thing to happen in Syria possibly effect Israel, but now you see gradually the administration ramping up its rhetoric against President Assad.
LABOTTYesterday Secretary Clinton, I think, came the furthest that anybody has in saying that if he hasn't lost all legitimacy by now he's very close to losing it and if he's not going to stop the violence and reform, he needs to move out of the way. I don't think they're quite there yet but they're getting there.
SMITHAll right. Thank you. Coming up, more about the situation in Syria, in Libya and Yemen and other international stories as the "Friday Roundup" continues.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined in the Friday News Roundup in the International Hour by Tom Gjelten, a correspondent of NPR, by Elise Labott from CNN and by Abderrahim Foukara who is the chief of the Al Jazeera Arabic Bureau here in Washington.
SMITHWe were talking -- the situation in Syria, it's very hard, Tom Gjelten, to see given the limited U.S. influence that Elise was just talking about, that Secretary Clinton has talked about. Project this forward for us as what might happen since that influence is so limited.
GJELTENI think that probably – my guess, Terry, would be that Syria is probably the least likely place to see -- of these countries that are really torn apart by uprisings and maybe among the least likely to see regime change. Because the military in Syria is so powerful and there's been no indication so far of the military changing its allegiance to the Assad regime. And unlike the situation in Yemen and unlike the situation in Libya where there really was some military power on the side of the rebels, the protestors in Syria do not have weapons. And there is, as I say, no split evident in the security forces. I think it's, therefore, hard to imagine how this regime is going to be toppled.
GJELTENYou know, one of the sad and unique aspects of the uprising in Syria is the extent to which it's been identified with children of all people. Some 25 children have been killed in these demonstrations. And, in fact, in March the most recent round of uprisings was actually triggered by a little protest by school kids writing graffiti on the walls of their school. So, I mean, that just sort of symbolizes the kind of the weakness, the vulnerability, almost the innocence of the protestors in Syria, but also reveals how difficult it's going to be to really challenge this regime in a serious way.
SMITHAbderrahim, do you concur?
FOUKARATo the extent that the armies in these so called revolutions have played a crucial role, whether the transition has been peaceful as in Tunisia and Egypt or it's been violent as in Libya, yes. I mean, in the case of Tunisia, it's the army that finally nudged the president out. In Egypt, the army could have turned violent, really violent on the protestors, but it didn't. It held the fort for the protestors so that they could continue to protest peacefully. And in Libya we know what the armed rebels have been up to.
FOUKARASo, yes, to that extent it is true. But remember that the Syrians started off saying, this will never happen in Syria. And yet it has happened in Syria and initially the government was saying these are terrorist infiltrators. They're not really Syrians. And -- but the fact that they've said that they're willing to have a dialogue is a tacit admission that this is a homegrown revolution which they certainly had not thought it would happen on Syrian soil. It has happened.
FOUKARAThe fact that you had the opposition meeting in Turkey recently coalescing...
SMITHThis week in fact.
FOUKARA-- just -- yes, coalescing round a certain positions visa vie dialogue with the regime or regime change and giving some face and some direction to what's going on inside Syria. I think my sense is that these new developments that put it not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the regime could topple. We don't know but it certainly -- the configuration of power in Syria is definitely different from Egypt and Tunisia. And for the regime in Syria to go there are wider regional implications, which I'm not sure the United States would even contemplate.
FOUKARABut the United States is not the controller of what's going on inside Syria now. It is the opposition and it is the protestors, even the children, as Tom has said.
LABOTTI think that a couple of other things we need to look at right now is whether the regime maybe not -- might not be toppled from outside, but that'll collapse from within. And we've seen reports that some soldiers that refused to shoot the open protestors were shot themselves by other members of the military. And as the violence continues and as the brutality continues, the disaffection for President Assad is increasing.
LABOTTI think that one of the things that U.S. officials say they're looking at is they're not really sure how large the opposition to President Assad in the country is. He's still -- even though we see these protests, even though they're getting larger and they're spreading to other cities, he still does enjoy a large amount of support in the country. And so you -- the international community doesn't want to be seen calling for him to leave and then he stays and they have even less influence.
LABOTTBut what they're trying -- what they're hoping is between the sanctions that we all kind of laugh and say, oh sanctions, what are they going to do? But Syria is not Iran. They don't have -- their economy is very bad, they really do rely on the outside world for exports, for imports, for those types of things. I think they're thinking the combination of the sanctions, the disaffection for Assad because of these -- the brutality against his people is going to spread. And even if they don't overthrow him, from within the regime might collapse.
SMITHAnd certainly there was a rebuff basically to the government's suggestion of negotiations this week. And they did release political prisoners. So you have some steps forward, some steps back.
GJELTENWell, that's right, Terry. And, I mean, it is a very changing political situation and one that we have not seen before. I mean, the -- you know, another group that we haven't talked about that could emerge in Syria's playing an important role is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been very important obviously for decades across the Arab world and brutally repressed in many places and repressed also in Syria. And to the extent that President Assad, like other Arab leaders, is now forced to deal with the opposition, it means he's forced to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. And that will be a group that is likely to play a more important role here.
GJELTENAnd, you know, it all adds up to be a very unpredictable situation.
SMITHAnd not to forget the other player in the region, Israel, watching all of this with some apprehension just across the border. And I'm sure prepared to take steps if necessary.
GJELTENWell, you know, one of the -- and Elise has alluded to this -- I mean, in all these countries the United States at one point or another had hopes for some of these regimes. And President Assad there -- for years there has been hopes that there might be some kind of treaty between Israel and Syria, and certainly indications from both sides that there was interest in that. And I think that, you know, has got to be yet another big disappointment in the developments there.
LABOTTI think even Israeli officials, as much as they didn't want to see Assad go, because again the devil that you know is better than the devil that you don't know. Now you kind of hear them say, well, is it worth the risk that we could face a little more instability because a weak Assad is very vulnerable to Iran. Right now Iran is his closest ally. The weaker he gets the more help he looks to from Iran, makes him even more in Iran's pocket. I think Israel is starting to recalculate how important he is to their future.
FOUKARAAnd I think that the point that Tom made about the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremely important one, especially in light of what's going on in Egypt. Because the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt currently is obviously being watched by the Muslim Brotherhood outside of Egypt in Syria, in Jordan, and other parts of the region. And to the extent that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt seems to have consolidated its position with regard to the referendum that took place a few weeks ago with regard to the upcoming elections, both parliamentary and presidential. They seem to have really consolidated their position.
FOUKARASo in Syria whatever openings the regime may make, if it doesn't topple, certainly the Muslim Brotherhood will have a lot to gain from it.
LABOTTThese people smell blood the minute that they start to compromise. Who would've thought that President Mubarak would be overthrown after he made those concessions, after he said I'm willing to have a dialogue? And this is, as Abderrahim said earlier, with Moammar Gadhafi, once you start saying yes I will open up a dialogue with the people, they say, why should we open up a dialogue. He's weak. We're going to overthrow him eventually.
GJELTENI think that -- you know, with each passing week, I think what becomes more clear is that we're looking at an era here in Middle East in history that is comparable in recent years only to 1989 in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of communist power in that region. I mean, we are still dealing with the reverberations from that event. And I think it's becoming increasingly clear now that this cataclysm across the Arab world is of the same dimension and significance.
SMITHAbderrahim, you enjoy a unique perspective reporting for Al Jazeera, which is enormously influential throughout that part of the world, and yet based here in Washington and seeing what's happening. In Libya, NATO has announced that its extending its military campaign for another 90 days into late September. What's the message in that for the Gadhafi regime and what are the prospects that that message will be listened to?
FOUKARAI think if you remember the Libyan rebels started off as weak, at least in the eyes of the West and in terms of what the West could actually do together with them in Libya in trying to bring an end to the rule of Moammar Gadhafi. But I think over the last few weeks, the last few months we've seen them make gains not just operationally in terms of military action on the ground, but also in terms of convincing their partners outside of Libya, particularly in NATO that, you know, they've got to stick with the fight until the end. I think the message has become very clear to Colonel Gadhafi from NATO that, you know, the fight against him to dislodge him from power is going to continue.
FOUKARAAnd we've certainly seen military escalation focusing more and more on his base in Tripoli. I think he'll also be watching, as most leaders in that part of the world do, what happens here in the United States, these resolutions in Congress, some members of Congress wanting President Obama to end U.S. participation in the military effort in Libya, and some others like (sounds like) Bana who are not quite so sure.
FOUKARABut I think ultimately Colonel Gadhafi and those advising him know that this has become a domestic issue in the United States, in France and in the United Kingdom. And that NATO is not going to stop despite all its protestations. That it's not trying to kill Moammar Gadhafi. That it's only trying to put pressure on him. But I think he knows what the end game in the eyes of NATO is.
SMITHI'm Terence Smith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Elise, everything that Abderrahim says, you know, makes absolute sense and yet it's pointing to an end that seems impossible to predict or bring about or even to know at this point what it would take to bring that about.
LABOTTWell, I think in the short term the policy is hoping that we get lucky one night with one of these airstrikes. Even though they say that the policy is to protect civilians, they are taking this very -- as a very broad interpretation of what it means to protect civilians. And so as these airstrikes are increasing I think the likelihood that one of them is going to hit Moammar Gadhafi, and I think that what U.S. officials at least hope is it's going to kind of be like the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch gets killed and all of a sudden it's ding-dong the witch is dead. And everybody just as happy and goes on with this wonderful life.
LABOTTBut in the meantime, I think it -- the fact that they haven't gotten him, the fact that this has gone on for so long, it does show the resiliency of the regime as we saw it in Syria. Even though there's wide spread opposition to Moammar Gadhafi, he does still enjoy some support from the tribes. He's paying mercenaries a hell of a lot of money. And the thing about the rebels is they're kind of at the mercy of NATO. They started this campaign against Moammar Gadhafi, but they're really dependent on what NATO intelligence is going to share with them, where they're going to take their strikes.
LABOTTAnd so the rebels really aren’t in control over their war against Moammar Gadhafi. So there's a lot of problems in terms of, you know, how the Libyans can chart their own future when they're not in charge of it. In the meantime, this Libyan Transitional National Council is -- I think what they're doing is trying to eventually prepare for the day that Moammar Gadhafi is out.
SMITHAnd while the regime, Tom Gjelten, has, as Elise says, some obvious strengths, it's still there much longer than many people expected, they suffered another defection this week of the oil minister, quite a significant figure in the government. So in one sense the ground keeps eroding from beneath Gadhafi.
GJELTENOh, absolutely. I mean, basically every single political development of late has actually weakened the Gadhafi regime. I mean, as Abderrahim said, the rebels are, you know, fitfully but making some progress. The oil minister, the head of the national oil company defected in Rome, along with a number of senior army officers including five generals. These are really important defections.
GJELTENThe oil minister, there were -- there had been rumors that he was going to defect the last couple weeks and the regime continually denied them. And now there's an OPEC meeting coming up in Vienna next week. The regime couldn't deny it anymore and he came out actually in Rome and said he was defecting.
GJELTENBut it's not only the defections. There's a very important meeting that took place in Benghazi today between the Chinese -- a Chinese diplomat and the head of the Rebel Transitional Council. Now, if you recall, China abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing the NATO operation. And now we have the Chinese reaching out to the rebels. I mean, they are clearly reading the writing on the wall and thinking that it's important for them to have some contact with the rebel movement. That would certainly suggest they think there's a likely possibility the rebels will come to power.
GJELTENWe saw also last week the Russians volunteering their services to try to persuade Gadhafi to step down from power. So if you look at the most important allies that Gadhafi has had, they seem to be peeling away one by one.
SMITHAll right. Coming up, we'll take your calls and questions for our panel on the subjects already addressed and a few more that we will bring up. We'll be right back.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined by Tom Gjelten, correspondent for NPR, Elise Labott, who is the senior State Department producer for CNN and Abderrahim Foukara, who is the Washington Bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
SMITHI gather that later today, Tom Gjelten, the House may pass a resolution opposing U.S. ground forces in Libya and demanding specifics on the operation and its cost. From Air Force One this morning, a statement comes from President Obama describing such resolutions as unnecessary and unhelpful. So he's feeling some pressure on this, perhaps for a fuller report, or maybe more than that.
GJELTENWell, Terry, it's in the context of the discontent in the U.S. Congress and across the country with the idea of the United States military being engaged in so many wars. We've seen a real erosion of support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan, and of course, there's tremendous impatience with getting out of Iraq and then now we have this third engagement in Libya. I think that, you know, the White House says this was unnecessary. One of the reasons it's unnecessary is because there is no appetite at the White House for escalating the operation in Libya whatsoever.
GJELTENIf anything, the desire is to wind it down as quickly as possible. There's no prospect of U.S. ground troops being sent to Libya. The United States, the White House, the Obama administration is very anxious for other NATO countries to really continue to be out in front on this. And the truth is that France and Italy and the United Kingdom have been the lead players. So in that sense, it's not surprising that the White House feels that -- I mean, I think the objection that the White House has to this above all is just that it's an intrusion into what has normally been the prerogative of the presidency, and that is to conduct foreign policy.
GJELTENYet another example of intrusions on the authority. But you know, not a real huge disagreement with the substance of the concerns.
SMITHWe have a number of callers who have been waiting, and are waiting, to question and comment on this. Sheryl (sp?) in Catonsville, Md., are you there?
SHERYLYes, I am. Good afternoon.
SMITHGood afternoon, go ahead.
SHERYLFirst of all, I just wanted to say that I appreciate Abderrahim Foukara's voice in the discussion, it's really phenomenal to have somebody who understands the region from an internal perspective as well as an external perspective. So, welcome. And then my question really has to do with the administration's policy in evenhandedness. It seems to me that there's something funny going on, because while there's sort of a public pressure on Syria, which is definitely warranted, and obviously on Libya, with the activity there, I'm wondering what's going on with Bahrain.
SHERYLSeems to be a kind of quiet sort of -- just a lack of noise on that situation. There was a very telling report this morning on NPR about the medical personnel that have been rounded up and are missing in Bahrain (laugh) from, you know, because they were treating any wounded that came into the hospital, which is what they're supposed to do, by virtue of their Hippocratic oath. And it seems to me like the administration is using a very funny sleight of hand to focus the attention on these other regimes, which certainly, they warrant attention.
SHERYLAnd I know it cannot be, you know...
SHERYL...consistency across, but we need some kind of evenhandedness and we need to understand what is going on in Bahrain, especially since the Fifth Fleet is there. And I mean, are our weapons being used to sort of round up doctors and hide them from their families?
SMITHLet me ask Elise Labott of CNN to comment on that. Of course, every country is different, every situation is different, but so is the U.S. approach and perspective.
LABOTTThat's exactly right. And Sheryl said it quite clearly. The Fifth Fleet is there. Bahrain is a key ally of the United States, the Khalifa family has been a long term ally of the United States, and the U.S. has certain interests in Bahrain. I mean, President Obama said in his speech a few weeks ago that the U.S. is going to adhere by these general principles. You need to reform, you need to have the right to assembly, you need to stop violence against your people, and not have human rights violations.
LABOTTBut certainly in the case of Bahrain, even though he had some very tough words, that I think a lot of people were waiting to hear about Bahrain, they really kind of have given the Bahrainis a pass, not only because of this Fifth Fleet, but because there is this whole issue of Iran and the fact that the Shi'a in the country, this is really the fault line right now between the Shi'a of Iran and the rest of the Sunni region, and the U.S. is kowtowing to concerns of Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf countries, that Iran is going to exploit this.
LABOTTAnd so the Bahraini foreign minister is here this week. He is now trying to say, listen, we know we had a problem, we are now having a dialogue with the people, we are going to reform. The crown prince is coming next week, he's expected to meet with President Obama. It does seem as if this is going to be pushed under the rug, the Bahrainis will try to institute some kind of dialogue with the people, but as we said earlier, once you've opened up fire on your own people, once you've been accused of torture, the question as to whether you can now have a compact with the people, and institute reforms, your credibility on this is really low.
SMITHAbderrahim Foukara, what is the credibility? And what are the prospects that unlike these other countries and situations, that some sort of relatively peaceful accommodation, if you like, can be reached?
FOUKARAI mean, I agree that Bahrain perhaps much more than Tunisia or Egypt or any other country has been a bigger test, by far a bigger test of credibility, the credibility of the United States in terms of going around the region, saying yes, we do support the changes, and we want to see democracy. And yet, when Secretary Gates went to Bahrain and just a few days after that visit, we saw the Saudis lead a force from outside of Bahrain into Bahrain, that was obviously a big, it must have been a big embarrassment for the United States throughout the region.
FOUKARABut you also have to look at Yemen, because my sense is that if I were Saudi Arabia, I would obviously be extremely concerned about chaos in Yemen, because of al-Qaida and so on and so forth. But on the other hand, if Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen goes, then the focus will become again Bahrain. And the Saudis, we know what the Saudis will say in Bahrain, at least as far as the Americans, they're trying to convince the Americans, they've been telling them, Bahrain to us is what Cuba was to you. And there's no way we would allow a change of regime in Bahrain.
SMITHWell, certainly that interest and perspective has been clear from the beginning. I noticed one thing that the Bahrainis are trying to recreate a sense of normalcy. They've even, they're trying to reschedule a Formula One auto race, that was postponed during the protests and riots earlier. I mean, call it symbolic, but I get the point.
LABOTTI think part of the thing that we haven't really talked about is this is just one instance in Bahrain, but if you look at the tourist season as coming up in the Arab world, countries like Syria, countries like Tunisia, Egypt, this is really their tourist season where they make so much money, the economies of these countries are gonna be devastated, not only now, but for several years to come. And this type of chaos isn't good for the growth of the region as a whole. I mean, these people are looking for economic opportunity, for jobs, for a future for their people, and this is only making it worse for them.
SMITHIn fact, Tom Gjelten, there was a piece in the New York Times today about the economic collapse in Yemen, quite apart from the political or military situation, the economic collapse.
GJELTENYeah, I mean, you talk about the military problems, you talk about the political challenges with the Houthi rebellion in the north and the separatist movement in the south -- as daunting as those political challenges are, the economic challenges are even greater. And they're a -- I mean, some of them are long standing, a real serious shortage of water, which is kind of one of the resource issues of the future in that part of the world. And compounded now by kind of a shutdown of oil supplies, which means you don't have the power to run the drills, the pumps that are needed to bring what little oil, little water is available out.
GJELTENYou've got a shortage of cooking oil. Already, Yemen is the poorest, by far, country in the Arab world. So yeah, you're looking at...
SMITHSo it's very difficult.
SMITHLet's take another call. Jamal (sp?) is calling from East Lansing, Mich.. Jamal, are you there?
SMITHYou're on the air.
JAMALThank you. I was reading David Brooks today, in the New York Times, who is also writing about Syria. And I was reading him sympathetically, actually, until he got to the point where he asked the question, you know, who would want to be on top of whom, as far as Israel and Syria are concerned, vis-à-vis the Golan Heights. The question I wanted to make here, I have one brief comment, and that's the fact that the Golan Heights has been an object of desire, shall we say, by Israel since before the mandate was given over Palestine.
JAMALThe British have revealed their document that the (unintelligible) the British Jews have been asking for, the Golan Heights to be included in the borders of Palestine, long, long before there was (unintelligible) regime or anything like that.
SMITHWell that's true, but the Israeli interests there are more strategic and military than they would be biblical or ancestral.
JAMALBut the question is that, you know, this shouldn't be slipped in as a point of discussion at this point, because this is separate from what's happening since then, that it was in Damascus, was in Syria.
FOUKARAI'm not sure to what extent it is actually entirely removed from what's going on inside Syria. I mean, if anything, the fact that you have Israelis still controlling the Golan Heights, in light of the Syrian security forces shooting their own people, it has been a source of great embarrassment. I mean, you remember that iconic picture a few weeks ago, when protestors tried to cross the border from the Golan into Israel, and you had Israelis shooting at Syrian civilians, and inside Syria, the army that's actually in theory supposed to protect Syrian civilians, was actually shooting them.
FOUKARAI don't think that irony was lost on Syrians, and it certainly added fire to fuel inside Syria among the critics of the regime.
SMITHI'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm. All right, there's so many subjects that we should talk about, that I really want to get to. For example, this incredible outbreak of the E. coli bacteria in Europe is causing both health concerns and economic concerns, Tom Gjelten?
GJELTENYeah, and I'm really looking at the economic concerns, because one of the important aspects of this is that the outbreak seems to stem from vegetables, fruits and vegetables. And there's not, unlike meat, for example, fruits and vegetables are not nearly as well inspected. I mean, we just sort of don’t assume that our -- eating salad is a bag thing. And what this indicates is real trouble for those countries for whom agriculture, in particular fruits and vegetables, are real important source of economic activity.
GJELTENI mean, Spain, which is struggling right now with extremely high unemployment, and a very difficult debt and financial crisis now has to deal with this, a further blow. But Germany as well, I mean, Germany produces a lot of vegetables. And so we're really seeing the economic repercussions from this right now, at a time when Europe is already in a deep economic crisis because of the sovereign debt issue. So, yeah, it's -- without even getting into the scary health aspects of it, the economic aspects are scary enough.
LABOTTBut the health aspects are pretty scary. I mean, this is, I think reports have said this is the third largest E. coli outbreak ever, could be the deadliest. About 1600 people have been killed and it's really spreading, not just throughout Europe, but now, as Tom said, we're seeing kind of banning of exports in Russia, in the United Arab Emirates, and it's really engulfing all of Europe, and it's very resistant strain. So it's causing kidney failure among people. This isn't a little bit of food poisoning where you get sick, I mean, this is a really deadly thing that can cause a lot of other health complications.
LABOTTAnd to not scare anybody even more (laugh) there was a report yesterday that now they're looking at another staph infection strain in people, and perhaps cows, that could be even deadlier. So in the middle of this economic turmoil, this is the last thing that people need, in terms of not only the economic devastation, but the health impacts.
SMITHI'd be remiss, Abderrahim, if I didn't ask you, before we go today, of your reaction to this really quite extraordinary battle with the Taliban at a border checkpoint with Pakistan, in which hundreds of heavily armed Taliban besieged a Pakistani checkpoint on the Afghan border for over the course of two days, with a lot of casualties. So is there an escalation there, and a tension that's being played out between the Taliban and the Pakistanis?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, it has so far been traditionally the case that the Taliban military campaign picks up around this time of the year, known as the spring campaign. So it's not entirely strange that you have this kind of incident that happened. Except that it obviously comes in the aftermath of the announcement of the killing of bin Laden, it comes in the aftermath of all the questions that have been raised yet again about the connections between the Pakistan security forces and the Taliban, both inside Pakistan and inside Afghanistan.
FOUKARAAnd I guess the lesson from that is that if the Obama administration thought that by announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden, it's gonna have an easier time dealing with that part of the world, at least in the short term, that's not necessarily gonna be the case. And this particular incident that you're referring to is a very good case in point.
SMITHYeah, that illusion certainly was shattered very quickly, Elise?
LABOTTI was with Secretary Clinton last week when she went to Pakistan, and it really kind of emphasized the tension between the U.S. and Pakistan right now, in the wake of bin Laden, that he was found there, in the sight of the military, and they did it without him. But I think now they're trying to use it as an opportunity to share intelligence, to go after even more high level targets.
SMITHAll right, so many questions, so little time. Tom Gjelten, Elise, Abderrahim Foukara, thank you all three very much. I'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Toby 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 email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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