An update on the plane crash in the French Alps. Saudi Arabia launches air strikes against Yemen rebel bases. And President Barack Obama slows U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Diane and her guests will discuss the week’s top international stories. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is folding its 168-year-old British tabloid, News of the World. The surprise announcement comes as London police arrested former editors of the paper amid a phone hacking scandal. Paris prosecutors have opened an investigation into accusations by a French women that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her eight years ago. Venezuala’s president Hugo Chavez makes an unexpected return to office after news that he is battling cancer. And new revelations that al Qaida may be preparing to surgically conceal body bombs.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent for the BBC.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Ethnic and political violence claims 70 lives in Pakistan's largest cities. Bombings in Iraq kills scores. Libyan rebels move closer to Tripoli. And a phone hacking scandal topples Britain's most popular tabloid. Joining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Kim Ghattas of the BBC and David Sanger of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And, Kim, welcome to you.
MS. KIM GHATTASThank you for having me.
REHMIndeed. I'm going to turn to you, David Sanger, on the story about Admiral Mike Mullen accusing Pakistan's government of sanctioning the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad.
MR. DAVID SANGERWell, this has been a fascinating story. Mr. Shahzad, who worked for Asia online, was killed a few days after the raid that insurgents mounted on a Pakistani naval base. And that came not long after the killing of Osama bin Laden and contributed to the sense that the Pakistani military, the most revered institution in the country, was really rolling out of control.
MR. DAVID SANGERAnd so the concern that the ISI, which is Pakistan's intelligence agency, and the military had was that they were getting consistently critical coverage, not only abroad, but at home. And this reporter, who had written something about that raid and written many pieces before that, turned up dead a few days later, very badly beaten. Earlier this week, Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt, my colleagues at the time, reported that there was intelligence that the U.S. had received which indicated that this killing had been ordered within the top ranks of the intelligence agencies.
MR. DAVID SANGERAnd the White House never commented on that. And then Admiral Mullen, yesterday at a public event, in response to a question, came out and basically confirmed the entire story and said he was shocked by this intelligence. Interesting coming from Admiral Mullen because more than any other member of the administration, he has been the one nurturing the relationship with the Pakistani militaries. Probably gone there 20 times. And he was clearly shocked by this. The White House was clearly shocked he said it in public.
GHATTASI have to agree with David. It is a little bit shocking to hear Admiral Mullen say it the way he did yesterday. He certainly did not mince his words. He said that he saw nothing to disabuse the theory that the government knew about it. He didn't make any direct links with anything -- with anyone specific in the Pakistani government, but he certainly laid the responsibility at their doorstep.
REHMAnd what was the Pakistani government's response?
GHATTASWell, that's -- this is part of the increasing tension between Pakistan and the United States. It's certainly not getting any better with this latest development. They said it was irresponsible for him to make those comments and there are also those who say that this is part of an international conspiracy to undermine the law enforcement agency and security forces of Pakistan.
GHATTASI was in Pakistan with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, last month. Admiral Mullen was there as well. And they've really been trying very hard to keep this relationship on the right track. But every day brings worse news for Pakistan. And every day it becomes even more difficult to keep that relationship on the right track.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDBy the way, saying that it's...
KITFIELD...irresponsible is a different thing than saying that it's wrong.
KITFIELDAnd usually, the Pakistani response to these kind of charges is to say they're out right false.
KITFIELDAnd let's be clear what he said. He said that they -- they did not just know about this murder and assassination of this journalist, they ordered it. It was a operation ordered by the military intelligence services. To put this in context, you know, this relationship has been cratering. And he made the comment, Admiral Mullen, also...
REHMThe relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan...
KITFIELD...between the U.S. and Pakistan is spiraling out of control. And it continues to spiral out of control. And the reasons are, is that the, you know -- and coming from Mullen, who is getting very short in his job so he's becoming more frank, which is what happens a lot with officials.
REHMTends to happen.
KITFIELDAnd he -- but he has been the person who's reached out most directly to General Kayani, whose the head of the Pakistani military. You know, Pakistan had Osama bin Laden right next door in a military garrison town for six years. Their reaction to us going and killing him was to put all the blame on us for, you know, invading their country. They arrested all of the informants that helped us find Osama bin Laden.
KITFIELDThey have kicked a lot of our trainers and CIA guys out of the country. Now, we've learned that the head of their nuclear weapons program is confirming that the top military leadership was accepting bribes for nuclear weapon secrets. And this really abhorrent murder and torture of this journalist, they knew that he -- that ISI did this. And I've talked to some senior military guys recently who say we have got to start admitting this relationship is really with a state sponsor of terror of Pakistan and calling a spade, a spade in that regard.
KITFIELDBecause when you're not getting anywhere using the soft behind the scenes approach -- it's not getting them anywhere. They gave them the information on two bomb-making factories and said go get these guys, they're killing Americans in Afghanistan. And they allowed those guys to escape. You know, time and again when we share intelligence with them, they compromise it. When we don't share intelligence, like Osama bin Laden, they kick up a big fuss. So I think this relationship really is becoming adversarial.
GHATTASI think it raises a lot of questions indeed about the relationship and how to take this forward. What you hear a lot from American officials, particularly over the last few months, is what kind of Pakistan do Pakistani's want? What kind of country do they want to live in? Are they going to stand up against what their army seems to be doing, what their officials seem to be doing or not doing?
GHATTASThose are crucial questions. And there seems to be some doubt still as to whether Pakistani's are indeed ready to take on those questions and make a decision about how -- in which direction they want their country to go. And there has been a lot of effort put in from this side in terms of connecting with the people of Pakistan. We've seen the secretary of state go there repeatedly. But in fact, opinions of the United States and Pakistan are only going down and certainly not going up.
REHMAnd at the same time this week, the creator of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, A.Q. Khan, boasted in a television interview about sharing with Iran the wherewithal, the equipment, to develop a nuclear program. David Sanger.
SANGERWell, no news here. We revealed in the Times and others have as well in as far back as 2003 that A.Q. Khan had sold nuclear designs and (unintelligible) ...
REHMHe's sort of boasting about it at this point.
SANGERAnd he is boasting about it. He's boasting about it because he's been let out of house arrest. He's sort of on restricted travel. But I think there's something else that's going on here, too. A.Q. Khan even at his somewhat advanced age and somewhat ill health sees himself as a potential future leader of Pakistan, to this day. Not many others do, but he does and he's revered as a hero in many places, you know.
SANGERI get into taxi cabs in Islamabad and every once in a while, you see a photo of him hanging from the back of somebody's rearview mirror, okay. Because he's the man who brought Pakistan the nuclear weapon and thus respect. That said, he has some strong interests at work here. By beginning to reveal the degree to which the Pakistani establishment helped him, he further undercuts the military and the current government.
SANGERSo this is not a completely un-self interested set of revelations or at least the timing. Now, it was inconceivable to anybody in the United States that he operated alone. His deliveries to North Korea took place on Pakistani airforce jets. It's probably difficult to borrow one of those unless somebody in the military has signed off on it.
SANGERThere was a document released this week that came from Khan, who's authenticity is still somewhat in doubt, from North Korea describing a $3 million bribe paid to then head of the Pakistani military who denies that he ever received this in return for what North Korea got. So that was the way this operated.
REHMIn the meantime, you've got a lot of violence going on in Karachi, Kim.
GHATTASYes, it certainly looks like a war zone from all the reports that we're seeing coming out of there. This is Pakistan's largest city, 18 million people. Ethnic feuds going back decades between Urdu-speaking majority and Pashto-speaking part of the population there. It's a turf war between the two political parties. And what is interesting about this is the potential this has of further taking Pakistan down the wrong track.
GHATTASIn fact, it worries people to some extent more than the violence that emanates from the tribal areas because Karachi is a commercial hub. It produces 68 percent of the government's total revenue. It contributes 25 percent of the country's GDP and Pakistan's economy certainly cannot afford to lose that revenue.
KITFIELDI'm just, you know, with tying a couple of these threads together, I mean, this journalist who was assassinated, you know, was writing about the fact that al-Qaida had infiltrated a naval base. And this is something that the ISI did not want him to keep writing about. And they attacked this base when some of their guys were arrested. So if al-Qaida can infiltrate naval bases and they have -- and Pakistan is on a real terror creating more nuclear weapons.
KITFIELDIt does call into serious question of, are those nuclear weapons safe? And whenever you see the largest city in the country devolve into sort of a war zone, it just makes you very, very nervous about the level of stability in Pakistan, whether it can do those things that states do, i.e., secure its weapons and keep control of its security.
REHMJames Kitfield, he's senior correspondent for National Journal Magazine. Kim Ghattas, she's state department correspondent for the BBC. David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. When we come back, we'll talk about the UK hacking scandal and take your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. And in our International Roundup of the week's top stories, one of them is the UK phone hacking scandal. What is going on, Kim?
GHATTASWell, this is the story that keeps on giving and it would be a riveting scandal that we would all be reveling and reading about if it weren't also for the sadness and distress it has caused for the people on the receiving end of it. And those are the parents of Milly Dowler, the teenager who was killed a few years ago and the parents of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
GHATTASIt is a scandal that brings together politics, debates about the media, the future of the media newspapers versus television. And of course, at the heart of all that is the empire of Rupert Murdoch and the ties that he, through Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, has with the government of David Cameron. David Cameron hired Andy Coulson, former news editor of News of the World, as his communications strategist during the campaign and at the beginning of his term. So there's a lot there coming together.
REHMKim, what I don't understand -- I mean, I get the top figures involved, but what in the world were they after in the way of information?
GHATTASBig headlines, big sales figures. This is an institution -- a British institution in the UK --
REHMBut from a dead girl's cell phone?
GHATTASIt's a little bit hard to understand...
GHATTAS...if you're not part of the tabloid culture. And that is what is so painful about it, that they were so desperate for news nuggets, for bits of scandal that would increase their sales figure, that they were willing to go this far. And that raises a lot of questions about what exactly was going on in the newsroom. Who knew what? And what does that say about the management style and the management's ability to keep their reporters on the right track, if you will?
REHMHere's an e-mail from Bud who asks, "What's the distinction between the current phone hacking and phone tapping we've heard about for years?" James.
KITFIELDWell, it's against the law to tap people's phones, too. Our government does that and there's all kinds of, you know, firewalls you put there to make them sort of make the case they should be allowed to tap. But phone hacking is basically private investigators going into your voicemail -- your private voicemails and being able to listen to your voicemails.
KITFIELDAnd they've done this in the middle of investigations, like was said, with a 13-year-old girl who was abducted, later killed. They were erasing some of those messages so they could get the most up-to-date ones 'cause her voicemail was full, which might have impeded the investigation. It certainly created the impression in her family's eyes that she might still be alive and deleting those herself.
KITFIELDSo, I mean, this was real -- what strikes me -- and, you know, a lot of American journalists, you know, have always kind of scratched our heads over the feeding frenzy of the British tabloid culture. But what really strikes me about -- as pernicious about this is the fact that how cozy the relationship was between the tabloid reporters, the police, who they were paying off and who were refusing to investigate these charges, and the politicians who were giving them cover because they wanted good press in these tabloids. So really -- I mean, that -- for a free society, you know, the press is supposed to be sort of the referee and the -- you know, speaking truth to power. That is a very pernicious sort of relationship.
REHMAnd now, police say they're searching the newsroom of a second British tabloid, part of the widening investigation, David.
SANGERYou know, Kim referred to the culture of News Corporation and also the culture of the tabloid world in Britain. And for those of us who occupy what we'd like to think is a somewhat different kind of journalistic world here in the United States, it's a reminder really of what American journalism was like in sort of the 1880s and 1890s when, you know, New York had 17 or 18 different newspapers. And each one was trying to get one additional sensational detail on whatever the murder story or, you know, huge story of the week was.
SANGERBut in Britain, there was a sense that News Corporation took this not only to new heights, but also that people who had been hired by Rupert Murdoch and were very close to him, including the editor at the time, the -- of the News of the World, were in the awful position of either having ordered this or not knowing what their -- how their reporters were getting their information. And I'm not sure which is worse. Now, there is the sense that Mr. Murdoch may have closed the News of the World, which is a 160-year-old newspaper, in part to deflect -- in an effort to deflect the attention away from calling for the resignation of some of his own top aides. And that he may reconstitute...
SANGER...in a different form...
SANGER...with one of his other properties.
REHMWith a daily newspaper, Kim.
GHATTASYes. I mean, what a lot of people in the UK are saying, including, of course, members of parliament and the opposition labor leader, Ed Miliband, is that closing News of the World isn't the answer that people are looking for. In fact, it hurts the 200 or so staffers of the newspaper who say that, you know, we've been doing a good job. We weren't involved in this hacking. We're being punished for the actions of our predecessors.
GHATTASAnd it is very interesting to look at that relationship, as David was saying, between the politicians and the media and the police. You have David Cameron admitting that this is a (word?) moment for both the media and the politicians and the relationship between the two had become too cozy. And you have Ed Miliband questioning David Cameron's judgment in hiring Andy Coulson. A lot of friction there.
REHMWell, and, you know, we talk about the British tabloids. Every time I walk into the supermarket, I mean, the tabloids in this country aren't too great either, James.
REHMOutrageous with their...
KITFIELD...it's like a feeding frenzy here as well...
KITFIELD...for a lot of this hellacious news.
KITFIELDAnd they have whole newsrooms devoted to getting that. But there is a line that you don't cross. And this clearly crossed the line of, you know, illegally hacking into people's private voicemails.
KITFIELDYou know, if that was found in this country, I think they would be in jail pretty quickly.
REHMDavid Sanger, what's the latest in the battle for control of Libya?
SANGERWell, if you had told anybody who gathered in the White House situation room on March 15 when they made the critical decisions to have the U.S. enter the war, although they thought at the time somewhat briefly and without ground troops, if you had told them then that Moammar Gadhafi would be around to have watched by TV the 4th of July fireworks, I think they would have been astounded. He is holding on. It does look now like the rebel forces are gaining some ground.
SANGERBut the huge irony here is that just at the moment that the rebel forces are gaining some ground, you're seeing many in the U.S. Congress, who were criticizing President Obama in March for being halfhearted in support of a democratic revolution, for now having gone into this for too long. And yesterday the House voted -- not likely to pass the Senate -- the House voted to cut off funds not for the bombing, but for support of the rebel groups, which left some people shaking their heads. Because if you don't want to be bombing, supporting the rebel group would be the only other way one could think of to get rid of Gadhafi.
REHMJames Kitfield, are U.S. drones being used in Libya and Somalia?
KITFIELDYes, they are, and as well as in Yemen and as well as in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan. I mean, the drones have become the way -- when you are -- when there are ungoverned spaces for you to reach into and survey and in some places -- times kill people when you can't put boots on the ground. So we have contributed drones to Libya.
KITFIELDOn Libya, I mean, the Obama Administration handled this poorly. If you're gonna go into a military engagement that's the time of maximum leverage with Congress 'cause you're averting a humanitarian disaster. You know, the Arab League requested this, the United Nations supported this. NATO was itching at the bridle 'cause Britain and France were very keen to do this. That's when he should've gone to Congress.
KITFIELDYou know, once the thing is dragged out for months and it's not looking so easy, now he's got a sort of a fractious Congress that says, you never -- you know, invoking the war powers act and saying, basically, you never consulted us like you're required to do in the war powers act. Even someone as moderate as Senator Luger standing up and saying, this is an outrage. So I think the administration has badly handled this.
KITFIELDHaving said that, it looks clearer to me every day that Gadhafi's days are numbered. They are -- you know, the rebels from the mountains coming from a different direction are about to take a town that's only 60 miles from Tripoli would cut off a lot of his supply routes. His sons are apparently reportedly floating ideas of a deal where he might step down if he could be allowed to live in the country.
KITFIELDSo it's -- I get a sense that he is -- he's losing and NATO's winning. But as these things happen, they take longer and they're a lot messier than you plan when you go in.
GHATTASTaking a step back from just looking at Libya and the possibility that drones are being used there is, if you take this into the larger context of the Arab world, a lot of people across the region are also watching. And I think that the length that it is taking this campaign in Libya has an impact on how this administration and how countries like Russia and China look at international involvement in other countries in the region. And particularly, I have in mind countries like Syria where because it's taking so long to, in essence, get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, there is a lot of hesitance really to move onto the next battle, which is to deal in one way or another with President Assad of Syria.
GHATTASI'm not saying that anybody's thinking about a military campaign, but you really cannot expect the American administration to call on President Assad to leave office if they think that this is what he should do when it's taken them four months to deal with Mr. Gadhafi.
SANGERThat has lead -- Kim's absolutely right, that has led to some interesting contradictions. There have probably been as many people killed or close to it in Syria as there were in Libya. There is a humanitarian crisis in many Syrian cities, and yet you do not hear President Obama, who justified the Libya invasion to stopping a catastrophe in Benghazi, from stepping up and saying very much about Syria. And, in fact, he's never called for President Assad to step down.
SANGERSo where is the White House right now? They're in the position of supporting an investigation into declaring Assad a war criminal, but not supporting saying that he should -- he's lost all the legitimacy to leave his country. And that's because they don't want to have the president of Libya used to push them into Syria.
KITFIELDI mean, you have to be somewhat sympathetic with the president in the sense that he called for Gadhafi to go and he's been roundly criticized from all sides for not then using the means to make that happen. So if he calls for Assad to go and doesn't do it, he'll be setting himself up for another huge round of criticisms. And, by the way, the Arab League is not going to ask us to dispose Assad. The United Nations is not going to approve 'cause Russia would veto an intervention -- a military intervention in Syria.
KITFIELDSo anyone who thinks that our policy can be black and white and we can stand forever on one side and it won't get muddled between our interests and how hard these things are and our humanitarian concerns is just not realistic.
REHMAnd, Kim, yesterday, Yemen's President Saleh spoke on Saudi TV. What was his message? What did he look like?
GHATTASIt was quite a shock to me to watch those pictures. I mean, we've all seen him on television. I was in Yemen at the beginning of the year when Hillary Clinton visited Yemen. The first time a secretary of state had visited the country in years. And I still have a picture of the both of them standing outside that presidential palace, which then came under attack where he was hurt in such a fashion. He clearly had burns to his face, he had his hands, arms bandaged. He couldn't...
REHMMove. He didn't move.
GHATTAS...he couldn't really move. No. He was wearing a white -- the traditional white flowing robe. He didn't say anything about quitting. He didn't say anything about coming back. And there's been a mixed reaction to, you know, what he -- his appearance on television from the opposition. Some people said that it was a positive step forward, that perhaps there could be some negotiations. And others have said, you know, there is no going back. There is no negotiating. You know, he simply has to go.
REHMAnd the U.S. is in a difficult position there. Some want him to step down and the U.S. to urge him to do so.
KITFIELDThe gray area that I just talked about where we are behind these democratic movements, which means he should go 'cause he is certainly everything but. But he was a very close ally on the counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. So we're kind of stuck in between.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal Magazine and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Kim, I want to ask you about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and will charges here in the United States be dropped against him at the same time new charges in France are coming up against him?
GHATTASYeah, it takes us back a little bit to the tabloid culture. I mean...
GHATTAS...but yeah, the headlines in the New York Post were quite something and there was a lot of swinging back and forth. I mean, to extremes from, you know, making him the culprit at the beginning to making the housemaid a prostitute at the end of it. It's been interesting to watch that. We'll have to see, you know, what the course of action's going to be up in New York, whether the charges will be dropped.
GHATTASBut he still does have to worry about charges that are possibly going to be brought against him in France by Tristane Banon, this French writer, reporter, 32 years old. She claims that there was an attempted rape in 2003. She, at the time, didn't mention who the politician was, but it became clear over the course of several years that she intend -- that she meant that it was Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Her mother, who was a politician in the Socialist Party, had dissuaded her from pressing charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And this is coming back now to the fore.
GHATTASAnd just as we saw in New York with Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers trying to, in essence, discredit the credibility of the housemaid, I think that if the case goes forward in France, you're going to see the same thing happen there because Tristan Banon is an interesting character. She's written a lot of books that are sort of part fiction, part autobiography where she talks about that alleged rape, but she also alludes to the fact that she had a lover. There will be a lot of attention paid to her character.
GHATTASShe didn't have a father growing up. She is not on good terms with her mother. Her personality will be key in this.
REHMWhat is the deadline for a contestant in the French election for the Socialist Party?
GHATTASWell, it's coming up. I don't have the date...
REHMI think it's the 17th...
GHATTAS...off the top of my head.
GHATTASThe 17th of July, you're absolutely correct. Will Dominique Strauss-Kahn try to run? It's possible. Who knows? But...
REHMYou're shaking your head, James.
GHATTAS...I would shake my head as well. I mean, I think...
GHATTASYes. I think that 59 percent of French people were polled after the last episode last week and said that they would welcome him back into French politics. But whether they want to see a man like him represent them on the international stage is something different. James.
KITFIELDYeah, I have a hard time imagining that the Socialist Party really wants the baggage this guy brings right now. And this author is not the only other woman out there who's claimed that he has groped them, roughed them up. There is a whole series of women out there, shoes yet to drop. And I think that is probably the most significant thing about this case being filed in France. It probably puts an end to the idea that he's a viable candidate.
SANGERYeah, it's hard for me to imagine him running for president. But there's a political issue that is also underway here in New York that The Times has been covering pretty aggressively, which is what happened to the New York prosecutors, the district attorney's office that...
REHMCyrus Vance, Junior.
SANGER...Cyrus Vance, Junior who stepped out basically a day or two after the arrest and said this was a completely solid case, and has now had to be in very steady retreat. And it's not been the only case where that's happened.
REHMDavid Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. We'll open the phones when we come back.
REHMWelcome back and it's time to go to the phones talking about the international issues that have come up this week. Lydia, in Woodstock, Ill., good morning, you're on the air.
LYDIAGood morning. Thank you. I think this is an epic situation with Rupert Murdoch. He has, for a long time, been looking to control the fourth estate, which is journalism and now that, like so many things, is just entrepreneurship. I watched C-SPAN yesterday. Chris Brian (sic) said no other country would allow one man to control four major newspapers and the second largest broadcaster. He said in the United States the aggressive entrepreneur would not allow this to happen.
LYDIAWell I'm going to take up that challenge. I have an international trademark in printing, publishing and I'm going to take one page at a time and through my Woodstock women's political pumpkin fest, I will have Mr. Murdoch as one of the pumpkin heads and I will do it through art, parody, visuals and writing.
REHMLydia is certainly correct that Mr. Murdoch owns a great deal of the news media, including Fox News...
KITFIELDThe Wall Street Journal...
REHM...The Wall Street Journal, what else?
KITFIELDI'm not sure, does he have any -- I'm not sure if he has any other stations here.
SANGERHe's got The New York Post.
REHMHe's got The New York Post? So is he after establishing a media empire? Is that his goal and does that make good sense, James?
KITFIELDWell, he has established a media empire. I mean, he's probably got the biggest media empire in the world. He's got interests in China, I believe. He's got...
KITFIELD…Australia. You know, he was going to -- he famously tried to put The New York Times out of business with The Wall Street Journal so he's a very ambitious guy, which is -- nothing wrong with that. The problem that people have with Rupert Murdoch is he has stood for a certain kind of journalism in a lot of the cases, one that very much harkens back to when some media outlets were used as sort of a bullhorn for certain political views. I think that has upset people in the past.
KITFIELDBut -- and he's also -- and there's a lot of speculation that the reason he kind of threw The News of the World under the bus, if you will, is because he's about to buy Sky Broadcasting, which is a huge broadcasting network in Britain so I don't think that he's given up his ambitions.
GHATTASWell, I think absolutely, as James points out, he was trying to deflect attention or try to assuage some of the anger about the phone hacking, the phone tapping scandal in an effort to salvage his bid to take over BSkyB, British Sky Broadcasting. But I think it's become clear this morning that Ofcom, which regulates the media in the U.K., and the cultural secretary have gotten such a flurry of last-minute bids for BSkyB that it is going to delay the decision probably until the autumn.
GHATTASAnd there is going to be -- there are going to be a lot of questions asked about whether, you know, News Corp and News International are fit and proper, as they say, to take over BSkyB. If they didn't know what was going on in the newsroom of News of the World, can they be trusted to, you know, run BSkyB? I think those questions will come to the fore very much now.
SANGERWell, those were real and very important questions, but I think it is worth it that Lydia and others recall that the United States is hardly immune from the era in which big personalities owned large numbers of newspapers.
SANGERHearst, Pulitzer. I mean, the great newspaper wars of a little more than a century ago were built around people on whom Rupert Murdoch has sort of modeled much of what he is doing. One of the differences with Mr. Murdoch is that he has spread across electronic properties as well and that he's still international, that he began in Australia, moved on to Britain, moved on to the United States.
SANGERBut the concept of many newspapers being owned by significant chains is hardly...
GHATTASI think what it also raises is this debate that we're all having these days about, you know, television versus newspapers. Was Rupert Murdoch trying to salvage his growing -- or to protect and help flourish his growing television empire by saying, well, I can close this one newspaper, you know. It was very popular, it was an institution, but it was losing some advertisers. It was probably going to get worse and what he is really concerned about now is expanding his television empire.
REHMAll right. To Brick, New Jersey, good morning, Jim.
JIMGood morning. I just wanted to say the other remarkable event I heard on the BBC this morning was that Ambassador Ford in Syria went to the Syrian headquarters, if you will, of their Arab Spring and the disingenuousness of the republicans in criticizing the president in Libya is highlighted here because, like, it reported that Ambassador Ford went there unauthorized.
JIMAnd I had said to the screener, any whiff of American support for the Arab Spring is taken, as it was this morning, the Syrian government denouncing the whole process as outsider intervention when the Ambassador was to be commended in really laying his life on the line to prevent the further advance of the tanks and the repeat in Hamas.
SANGERYou know, it falls on a fault line of an argument that the administration has had of whether you send an ambassador to a place like Syria. A lot of the republicans in the Bush administration certainly didn't do it. They kind of held the view that Syria was in this group of rogues that just were not worth talking to.
SANGERThe Obama administration has made the point that if you don't talk to people, if you don't have, like, eyes and ears on the ground, then you're sort of flying with blinders on. And I think they would make the point that, you know, here's a chance for an American ambassador to go to Hamas, which is the center, it's the place where Assad's father killed 10,000 plus people during an earlier insurrection a decade or two ago, and I think he might actually do some good.
SANGERI think the Syrian army will be much less likely, with an American ambassador right on the front lines, to use the sort of brutal repression that they've become known for in recent weeks. So I think if the Obama administration makes a point that this is probably -- it's good to have an American there.
GHATTASI think it was a remarkable move by Ambassador Ford in Damascus because it is pretty much unprecedented and unheard of that an ambassador should simply move to or travel to a city like Hamas and be there at the height of the protests. Today, Friday is a big protest day. As James was saying, it was probably intended as a way to dissuade the authorities of launching a full-scale assault against the city.
GHATTASAnd he has been received warmly. He has been welcomed by the protestors, as far as we understand.
REHMBut he left quickly.
GHATTASI'm not sure. I think he's still there today, but what is interesting is...
REHMHe left, he left. Go ahead.
SANGERI was just going to just add in to what Kim and Jim said, that remember Syria has blocked all reporters from coming in so we've had no images. We've had nothing that you got in Libya. And so by putting an American ambassador there, you sort of remind the Syrians that there are other ways of watching and keeping track.
REHMAnd Amar in Toledo, Ohio, comments that he wants to commend the ambassador for going to Syria. He believes that this did prevent people from being killed. We had a report just before we went on the air that he had left Hamas because the violence had grown so terrifically.
GHATTASI think it also highlights the fine line that American administrations are always trying to walk when it comes to events like the Arab uprising. Do you show support and then risk being accused for fomenting the dissent or do you step back and let the people take the lead?
GHATTASBecause the Syrian government has come out and said this shows that, you know, the Americans are trying to egg on the protestors and that's a difficult -- that puts the protestors in a difficult position.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Keith in Boston. "Will Pakistan's bad behavior paradoxically drive the U.S. closer to India?" David Sanger?
SANGERWell, the U.S. has been putting itself much closer to India over the past ten years. It was an outright effort by the Bush administration and one that I think has yielded some good results. It also resulted in the U.S./India civil nuclear deal, which outraged the Pakistanis.
SANGERI think that the other way that one could ask Keith's question is, is the perception in Pakistan that the U.S. has tilted so much toward India, to use the Henry Kissinger phrase, is that further poisoning the well of American influence in Pakistan?
SANGERBecause India is used as the excuse for almost everything the Pakistanis do, from building up their nuclear weapons stockpile, which, as Jim pointed out, is now headed toward being the fastest-growing in the world, to the way they deploy their troops, to the way they've been operating in Afghanistan, which is to say that they are determined not to let India increase its influence in Afghanistan and thus surround Pakistan.
SANGERSo there is a close balancing act. There are some in the Obama administration who have argued, and Richard Holbrook made this argument before his death last year, that the only way for the U.S. to get to a lasting stability in Pakistan is to be involved in the India/Pakistan dispute. The Indians don’t want us there.
KITFIELDOver Kashmir, which is disputed. But you know, I think everyone -- frustration is such with Pakistan now that, as I said, we're starting to take on some of the aspects of a more adversarial relationship, calling them out on things like the ISI support for that assassination. The problem is, is their weakness. It's not their strength it's their weakness. If we pressed Pakistan so hard that its civilian government falls, then we're in really deep trouble. So you're constantly having to balance, you know, our rapprochement with India over the last decade with the fact that we don't want Pakistan to increase its already significant paranoia about what India is doing in Afghanistan, what we're doing with India.
KITFIELDSo it is the confounding strategic relationship we have with any country in the world and it figures to remain so for the foreseeable future.
REHMAll right. I want to ask you about the concerns raised about Yemen sending individuals here to this country on planes with surgically-injected body bombs. How realistic do you consider that threat to be, James, and does the equipment that the U.S. has now detect such internally-injected weapons?
KITFIELDI'm not a -- I'm not an expert on body bombs, but the U.S. government did send out warnings to airlines so the U.S. government takes it seriously so I guess we all have to take it seriously. The short answer to your second question is most of the screening that we do now would not detect something like that.
KITFIELDNow, a lot of us who travel a lot would notice that they're starting to take swabs of your hand and then going through a sort of bomb-sniffer machine. That would catch something like that probably, but...
REHMHave you experienced that?
REHMAnd you -- and you have as well?
SANGEROh, yeah, but, you know...
KITFIELDThey're treating you nicely when you go through, clearly...
REHMI haven't traveled internationally since last year so maybe that's why.
GHATTASIt sounded almost like a science fiction story, I have to say, but it is -- it is an interesting reminder of how, you know, intelligence officials here and militants are constantly trying to outsmart each other. It's constantly about who is going to find the next thing that the other -- that their counterpart isn't going to be able to find out about.
REHMKim Ghattas, she is the State Department correspondent for the BBC and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Falls Church, Va., good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane, just a quick question. This transatlantic issue of News Corp actually has resonance in something that occurred in the last couple of years. As someone who has lived on both sides of the pond, it's interesting to see right now this morning, as we speak, the big story is the erasure of records.
MICHAELAnd if you recall, when News Corp took over MySpace, some parent advocates began noticing that children were interacting with individuals that had the names of registered sex offenders, not to mention potentially many other adults that weren't children at all. They denied it. They stalled it. Eventually, it was proven that over 90,000 registered sex offenders were actually on the site. And what was shocking is that as the inquiry built up, they dismissed it as saying, well, the records are gone or, you know, there's really nothing to discuss.
MICHAELAnd they were asked to reveal to parents whose children might have been contacted what had occurred and they have continued to decline to do so. So the erasure of the records and the other thing they were doing regarding children in the U.K. -- and this current story, the murdered child, does have that echo, but most especially the U.S. press has never really followed up on it. They've never really given it a lot of serious attention. It remains hanging out there largely uninvestigated, although, you know, ripples of it have appeared in the press.
REHMThanks for calling.
MICHAELI would just ask the American reporters at what point do they look seriously at our own version of News Corp's behavior regarding children?
REHMThanks for calling, Michael, Kim?
GHATTASIndeed. I mean, it is an interesting aspect of that story. As I was coming into the studios, I was reading my Twitter feed and there was one tweet which caught my attention which said, usually when you walk past newspapers, you hear the sounds of the presses and now all you can hear is the sound of shredders, you know, people shredding information, people not allowed to access their e-mails anymore. I think this is a story that is going to continue to evolve over the next few days. We certainly haven't seen the end of it.
KITFIELDAnd maybe there's a reason that Rupert Murdoch decided to close this thing that we don’t yet know. I mean, like Kim says, there may be parts of this we haven't seen yet that really show that it was kind of a rogue operation.
REHMFinally, to you, David Sanger, Hugo Chavez made a surprise return to Venezuela showing, what, that he's still in charge?
SANGERHe had been in Cuba for, what he revealed later on, was a cancer treatment. He came back just before a big anniversary of Venezuelan independence. He did not attend many of those ceremonies, but clearly he wanted to establish that he is back and recovering and in charge. And he may well be, but it certainly has raised a lot of questions about who his successor would be.
SANGERHe is certainly not somebody who has ever nurtured a viable successor before, inevitably the vice-president or his son or anybody else. And I think it's now raised that question in a way that he's going to find very difficult to sort of put back.
REHMHow did he look?
GHATTASHe looked reasonably okay, I thought, for somebody who had undergone...
GHATTAS...cancer treatment. The speculation was that it was colon -- that is colon cancer. He said, we will win and we will live, that he sounded quite defiant when he spoke just recently. He is the man who keeps everything together, both his movement, but also the opposition.
REHMKim Ghattas, state department correspondent for the BBC. David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, thank you all so much.
REHMHave a great weekend everybody, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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