President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Susan Page
European leaders reached a deal on saving the Euro, but not before britain bowed out; in a rare interview with the western media, the Syrian President denied ordering a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters; elections in Russia gave a less than ringing endorsement to Vladimir Putin’s party, amid concern of widespread voter fraud; Iran said it had a downed American drone, increasing speculation that the CIA was conducting a covert war there; and a bomb at a shrine in Kabul killed scores and raised concern about a return to sectarian violence. Moises Naim of El Pais, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Indira Lakshmanan senior reporter, Bloomberg News.
- Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.
- Karen DeYoung senior diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the second day of a two-day summit on the Eurozone crisis. To the surprise of many, the Europeans seem to have reached a deal in which members would accept greater central control over their budgets. Russian Prime Minister Putin accuses the United States of fomenting election protests. Syrian President Assad denies ordering a crackdown on protestors. And Iran showcases a U.S. intelligence drone it says it captured.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on our "Friday News Roundup," Moises Naim of El Pais, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MOISES NAIMThank you, Susan.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGThanks.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Moises, a deal in Brussels, what is it?
NAIMIt's a surprise. As late as last night, the general expectation was that a deal was not going to be reached. This is a deal that tries to correct several imbalances. It also tries to adjust or repair the original sin, so to call it, in the creation of the system in which you had money, a currency, that was for everyone, the euro, and a central bank that was for everyone, but then each country individually could borrow and spend on its own.
NAIMSo now the new deal puts limits on the deficits, on the fiscal deficits, of the countries, on the borrowing, tries to impose financial discipline. It imposes penalties to countries that break the rules and it also brings money. They are -- it is a new fund for almost 500 billion euros that tries to contain the fall of the European countries debt.
NAIMAnd what's interesting here is who's in and who's out. The in is IMF, the International Monetary Fund based here in Washington, a multilateral organization that will be in charge of monitoring and deciding which of the countries are breaking the rules or not. And who is out, the UK, the United Kingdom decided not to be part of this and that will have consequences, huge consequences, both for Europe and for the UK.
PAGEIndira, do you think that this deal is enough to stable and improve the economic situation, the crisis that we've been seeing in Europe?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANWell, let's look at what the markets are saying. As of this morning, the S&P is up, stocks, Europe index is up. So, you know, clearly, the markets have shown some confidence in the deal. I don't think it was everything that everyone was hoping for. I mean, let's face it, this was the fifth save the euro gathering in about 19 months and so the European leaders could not have set the stakes higher. French President Sarkozy on Thursday night said, you know, never has Europe been in more danger. The diagnosis is that the euro, which had inspired confidence, is not inspiring confidence and if we don't get a deal on Friday, we're not going to have another chance.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANSo he set the bar and the expectations very high. I don't think that what came out of this, which is mainly the adding of 200 billion euros, which is $267 billion, to the war chest for fighting the crisis and tightening the anti-deficit rules is what everyone had hoped for. As Moises points out, Britain did not want to go with a new treaty and that's significant but the market is reacting in a way saying perhaps this is better than -- it's better than the worst possible outcome, that's for sure.
PAGEWell, Moises, you said this was a surprise. Why a surprise?
NAIMUntil last night there was no deal and, in fact, many leading newspapers today opened in front page saying that the deal and the negotiations had failed again. And an important part of this was the role of David Cameron and the UK. He was not willing to do it, among other reasons, because the deal forces to unify financial regulations. Each one of these countries had a different way of regulating the banks.
NAIMAnd the UK and the financial system -- the financial system is more important for the British economy than it is for the rest of the -- each single European economy. And so they didn't want this very important of their economy to be regulated or to be part of the regulation of wider Europe. They wanted to retain autonomy and sovereignty on the financial system regulations.
PAGEYou know, we read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about contingency plans being made by some nations to begin putting their own currency again. Clearly, some feared that nothing was going to come together.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, look, there are countries like Spain and Portugal and Ireland that are barely keeping it together. They're barely afloat financially. There was a lot of concern that if there was going to be too much budget strictures, too many budget strictures, that Ireland would balk because they were already facing a lot of austerity in that country. Of course, Angela Merkel, in Germany has called for really tight budgetary control over the entire union, so it's not each country deciding its own thing.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think the fact is that every country that's in the Eurozone right now is facing a drop in its credit rating because this contagion has spread across the continent and it's also hitting some countries with much more responsible records, such as Finland and the Netherlands, Austria.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, there were some comments by the new head of the central -- the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, that had suggested that maybe the ECB would be willing to buy of billions of dollars in euro bonds, which is essentially the same as buying a EU debt or European debt and he now said that he's not going to do that. So, you know, we haven't seen the end of this. This is one chapter.
PAGEKaren DeYoung, we saw Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party losing its two-thirds majority in parliament after elections there last Sunday. What does this mean, do you think? How significant are these results?
DEYOUNGWell, I think they're significant both to the government and the party and obviously they're significant to the Russian people, who have come out into the street to protest that even though United Russia maintained its majority, it's far lower than it was before. Big shock to that party, big shock to Prime Minister and presumptive, again, President Vladimir Putin, who hopes to retake that office. There were monitors from the -- from Europe, there were monitors inside Russia, all of whom talked about ballot box stuffing, buying votes, people prevented from voting.
DEYOUNGThere was interference on the internet and so, again, even though they maintained a very small majority, it is a pretty cataclysmic event for the party that has ruled Russia for the past 12 years. People came out in the street, they've scheduled a huge demonstration for this Saturday and Putin, who hadn't spoken about this until yesterday came out and essentially accused Hilary Clinton of inciting this unrest. He said that she had sent, what he called the signal, to people on the street that now is the time to go out and protest.
PAGEWho knew that Hilary Clinton was so influential with Russian voters? Did Hilary Clinton, the Secretary of State, do anything that might be seen as a signal for protests there?
DEYOUNGWell, she said on Sunday -- he says she said on Sunday that the elections weren't free and fair. She actually said that on Monday, there's some dispute about the time difference. The OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections put out their report early Monday, she was actually responding to their criticism of the election and said that, that there had been irregularities and that everyone owed the Russia people a free voice. A lot of other people said that too but it's indicative of the strain in relations between the United States and Russia and also of Putin's kind of desperation to blame this on somebody else.
NAIMIt's very revealing how hard it has become to rig elections and how hard it has become to steal and how hard it has become to keeping the world from knowing that that happened. The Russian state and the Russian government, the Kremlin, has an infinite amount of money, resources, power, control over the Internet, control over the television. They call the shots on almost every level of power in Russia. And here we have a situation where despite all of that, despite all of their abusive ways of trying to control the election, the election wins against them and they couldn't hide it and that, I think, is very indicative of a global trend. This is happening everywhere.
LAKSHMANANThere have been widespread reports throughout Russia of people being trucked to polling stations with pre-stuffed ballot boxes, with everything already folded with the vote for United Russia and what's striking, as Karen was eluding to, was that even despite all this alleged fiddling, they only got 49.3 percent of the vote, which is almost 15 percentage points lower than they got in 2007. So that's stunning.
LAKSHMANANIf they were trying to steal it and they weren't even able to steal the majority that's pretty revealing. I mean, I also think, it's interesting, the point you made about Hilary Clinton. This, in a way, he's playing to domestic politics. I mean, and this is not just Russia, this is all over the world. The U.S. is a great whipping boy to blame the U.S. for interference in anyone's election. Moises will know this from Venezuela, of course, that whenever Chavez has a problem he blames it on the U.S. spending on U.S. NGOs interfering in elections there.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, this is something that happens all over the world. It's not new and I don't think that it means that even if Putin, you know, retains power that the U.S. and Russia won't be able to cooperate on things. But right now, he has to hang now.
PAGEWe have -- we know that presidential elections in Russia are set for next March and Vladimir Putin wants to be reelected president. Karen, do the setbacks in parliament indicate he might have some trouble winning that election?
DEYOUNGI think the betting now is that he probably won't, but I think that...
PAGEThat he probably won't?
DEYOUNGWill not have trouble, but I think that the change in the balance of power in the Duma, the Russian parliament, will cause him some trouble. And it also -- it's a massive chink in his armor. He has been the power figure in Russia for the last decade. He put President Medvedev in power. He is taking President Medvedev out of power so that he can retake that office. And so I think that it's kind of an emperor has no clothes kind of thing. I think the betting right now is that he'll probably win the presidential election, although we don't know. You know, if these demonstrations continue, if they really crack down even more than they already have you could see an explosion that I think is not necessarily anticipated right now.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll go to the phones. Our phone lines now are open, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio this hour, Karen DeYoung, she's senior diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post and Indira Lakshmanan, senior reporter for Bloomberg News and Moises Naim, chief international columnist for El Pais. We're talking about the week's foreign news.
PAGEThere's a picture on the front of the New York Times this morning showing a U.S. -- showing what Iran says is a U.S. drone they captured. Moises, this doesn't look like what I thought a drone looked like. It's very UFO looking. It's quite exotic looking. Do we know if this is actually a U.S. drone that was captured?
NAIMWe don't. And Indira and Karen and I were talking about this before the show. There are plenty of images of drones that you can download from the internet. So you don't really know if that's the real thing, if that was a mockup created by the Iranians or it was the real thing. And then there is the other question that Indira was raising what -- if this thing fell from 50,000 feet, why wasn't it completely destroyed?
PAGEWell, why wouldn't it have been, Indira? Is it possible that this is real or do we know pretty for sure it's not, because there's no damage apparent?
LAKSHMANANWell, I think we in this room don't know that and I think even some CIA officials, who we've all been talking to, don't know that for sure. I mean, this is a Lockheed RQ170, this particular drone. And it's the same model that was used in May to feed back the live footage of the U.S. Navy Seal raid on Osama bin Laden's complex. So this is an important piece of surveillance equipment. It can fly at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. It doesn't carry missiles so it's not like the Predator or the Reaper, but it's a very valuable surveillance tool.
LAKSHMANANNow, the question is it's supposed to have this failsafe backup system that automatically steers it back to base if contact is lost with the controller. And these drones also usually have, you know, backup systems that would self destruct essentially. So the question is, we know that the U.S. lost a drone, they've admitted that, that was flying, they said, initially in Western Afghanistan. But it's now believed that they were actually spying inside the Iranian border.
LAKSHMANANThe Iranian's took several days to present this, to bring this forward. It is so perfect. Except for the bottom part covered by this skirt, it almost looks like a parade float. So what's unclear is did they have several days to go through the wreckage, look through pictures on the internet, mockup some kind of a dummy copy of it, or is this actually what they were able to retrieve? We don't know. I mean, the larger question behind that is, of course, what kind of intelligence could they get from this. What kind of reverse engineering could they do? And also...
PAGENow, reverse engineering is -- how does that work?
PAGEKaren, how does reverse engineering work?
DEYOUNGYou wouldn't see what it is. I mean, this is the so-called stealth drone which is impervious to radar. You're not supposed to be able to see it from the ground electronically, obviously, or visually. You would take it and you would see what it is and then you would try to do the engineering steps backwards to figure out how to make it yourself.
DEYOUNGAnd again, as Indira said, this was -- this started out as a report from Iran that they had downed a U.S. drone. The Pentagon immediately said, well you know, we have had a drone missing, a surveillance drone over Western Afghanistan, of which they have many. And it was lost and we're trying to reestablish contact with it. Next thing we know the Iranian's say, not only did we bring it down electronically, not shoot it down, but they interfered technologically with the signal that was going to it and essentially forced it to land.
PAGEWell, and that would explain why there was no damage, if they're telling the truth.
LAKSHMANANBut they told different stories about this.
DEYOUNGRight. And now the Americans insist that they do not believe that Iran has the technology to be able to do this.
PAGEWell, Iran could let Western reporters in to look at this and maybe solve this question, Moises.
NAIMSo the surprise would have been that the United States is not spying on Iran. And that the United States does not have all sorts of technological capabilities -- of its technological capabilities aimed at listening and trying, in fact, to spy over Iran. The other point is how in recent months, every week there's -- something happens in the relationship between Iran and the United States.
NAIMEither the Iranians accuse the United States and all their enemies, typically Israel and others, of assassinating their physicists or there are strange explosions happening in some facilities. Or there are all sorts of events that simply show that there is a lot going on under the surface that we don't know. But every week there's something -- there's an accident often of a violent nature that takes place that is related to this muted stealthy conflict between Iran and the United States.
DEYOUNGWell, and remember this is also in the context of the concern over Iran's nuclear program. You have something, again, coming out every week from the IEA, something in the United Nations, criticism. The United States has been very clear, the Obama Administration, saying that they -- their choice for now to bring pressure against Iran to stop this program is both economic sanctions, trying to get the world together in acting against Iran. And in fact, the Japanese just announced new sanctions today and also a covert program. And the cover program, as Moises said, is primarily spying and trying to undermine the program from within.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, yes, nobody is saying that the covert program is new. And that's why I found it interesting during the recent Republican foreign policy debate when Newt Gingrich and others were making a big deal about we need to have a covert program against Iran. Duh, this has been going on, you know, let's say for 30 years. But, I mean, it's obviously been more in the open lately, as Moises says, with all these different instances that have happened.
LAKSHMANANLike, let's not forget the Stuxnet computer worm that came into Iran's -- disabled its nuclear centrifuges last year. Now a lot of people think that the U.S. and Israel collaborated on putting that worm into its nuclear program. Nobody's taken credit for it at this point. There've been unexplained blasts in Iranian gas pipelines, oil installations, military facilities. In October Iranian news services were reporting three different such explosions within 24 hours.
LAKSHMANANAs we've talked about, there've been assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. And let's not forget it goes even beyond the borders of Iran. The U.S. is also trying to disable Iran's activities with regard to Hezbollah in Lebanon. You know, it's not an accident the U.S. is also hoping that the Assad regime will fall in Syria because Assad and Syria have also been an important sphere of Iranian control.
LAKSHMANANNow, with the U.S. pulling out of Iraq, don't forget that's going to leave a big sphere of influence potentially for Iran. And so, you know, there's a lot going on here where the U.S. is in many different levels trying to reign in Iran's influence.
PAGEWe have an email from Kathleen who says, "I think a war with Iran started long ago." Moises, are we effectively in a covert war with Iran?
NAIMWhat we -- what is very evident, as both Karen and Indira have said, is that there is a very systematic attempt at undermining and sabotaging Iran's nuclear program. And that is done through a variety of means and it includes very open public sanctions that are done in concert with the International Community and other countries. And very covert operations that include monitoring and spying and then who knows what else. But there's no doubt, as Indira said, this has been going on for a long time and now it has accelerated as a result of Iran's determination to continue with its nuclear weapons development program.
PAGEMike has called in with a question. He's calling us from Arkansas saying, "Why was all the technology built into the drones? Why hasn't a self-destruct been built in in case of capture? Is there one, Indira?
LAKSHMANANThis model is supposed to have a self-destruct. Now let's not forget this is a highly classified program. It's even beyond the top secret classification so it's difficult to get people to talk about this. But in fact the Sentinel is supposed to have an automatic self-destruct and a holding pattern and a return-to-base mechanism. And this is controlled -- the people who fly these are actually in Nevada, which is interesting. So they're controlling them from a very, very far away distance.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think one of the things about the loss of this drone is that it brings up the question of how much should the U.S. be relying on drones in its stealth campaigns. I mean, because this does point up vulnerabilities. Don't forget, any time a spy plane is lost you do give the opportunity for the reverse engineering that we were talking about. And even as much as Iran wants to get its hands on American technology, so do the Russians and the Chinese. And don't...
PAGEAnd they could make a deal with them.
LAKSHMANANYes. Don't think that they wouldn't easily make a deal. Because there are sensors on this particular stealth that are of great interest to the Chinese and particularly who are a generation behind. Even though they have stealth -- you know, they have a stealth program, they're a generation behind the U.S. in terms of the sensors on the equipment.
PAGEIt's remarkable. The drone in the photograph is not really very big. How much does it cost?
DEYOUNGAgain, there are all kinds of different drones. It depends on what kind -- whether you want to use it to fire weapons, whether you want to use it to intercept electronic signals, whether you want to use it just to watch. This drone, I think, is the kind that they use to watch. We have satellites that pass over Iran and everyplace else every day. You can see static things sitting there with a satellite.
DEYOUNGThe usefulness of the drone is that you can see movement. It can hover for a long time in the same place. You can see people going from one place to another. You can track movements. You can focus very clearly on a particular facility entries and exits, trucks moving in and out. So that's what they use this particular one for.
PAGEReally quite incredible. Moises.
NAIMWhat the point that Karen makes illustrated is far more important than the actual aircraft is what's inside of the aircraft and how is it connected with satellites and other stuff. So now there is a drones arms race in which every country is building their own drones and is developing their own capability for unmanned air vehicles. And they may get them. What is far harder to get is the cameras and the equipment and all of this highly sophisticated technology.
DEYOUNGSome of them are very, very small. I mean, you can have -- they build them small enough that soldiers put them in backpacks and carry them. This is what the Israelis use in Gaza, for example, where they will launch them. And they fly very low. You can hear them, you can see them. We use them over the border with Mexico.
LAKSHMANANI think another element raised here is, of course, the Iranian claim, which is going to really build up nationalism at home about the cyber warfare aspect of this. And certainly computer hackers who are thought to be part of extensive Russian and Chinese networks have, in recent years, attacked computer networks at big U.S. defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin. They've broken into satellite ground stations and they've planted keystroke logging software in some of the military's computers.
LAKSHMANANSo this cyber warfare is a big deal and it's something the U.S. does need to be concerned about. Whether in this case Iran was capable of bringing it down, we still don't know.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to the phones soon, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Karen, you're just back from a trip that included stops in Bonn and Brussels dealing with the situation in part in Pakistan and Afghanistan, suicide bombings in Afghanistan on Tuesday, remarkably because of the terrible toll that they took.
DEYOUNGThis was a very serious situation. This was an attack against Shiites in Afghanistan. Something very similar to what would've happened in Iraq several years ago but has not been an issue so much in Afghanistan, this kind of sectarian warfare. This was a Shiite religious holiday, a bomb that was claimed by a small group in Pakistan that previously had not been known to act outside of Pakistan. And the question is who put them up to it? I mean, I think the assumption is that one of the groups that do act inside of Afghanistan had put them up to it.
DEYOUNGThis -- President Karzai in Pakistan -- in Afghanistan, excuse me, who -- there's no love lost between Afghanistan and Pakistan, at this point, despite U.S. efforts to get them to cooperate with each other. I think this further undermined that kind of non-relationship. President Karzai has said that he believes that the Pakistani government was somehow involved in this.
PAGEIs there evidence that the Pakistani government was involved, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been implicated in this. And certainly, as we've talked about many times on this show, the ISI, the spy agency in Pakistan has had very well known links with many militant groups in Pakistan for their own reasons. So this is just one more thing to add to President Karzai's frustration with his neighbors in Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANBut I think that one element here that Karen was alluding to, the sectarianism is really interesting because there has not been this big Shiite Sunni divide in Afghanistan. That's not been an element of the conflict the way it was in Iraq. And so if someone is trying to stir up sectarianism, which it seems to be in this case, we're talking about civilians who were killed while worshipping -- it wasn't an attack on military or security forces the way that these often are. You know, that's troubling.
LAKSHMANANAnd in terms of whether there's an unseen Pakistani hand here, again, we don't know yet. But the U.S. has certainly said that militants from the Haqqani Network linked to the ISI were involved in the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and perhaps even in the assassination of the top peace envoy in Afghanistan, Rabbani.
DEYOUNGBut I think that this tragic event obviously again fits into a very large context. You mentioned President -- Secretary Clinton's trip. She was in Bonn where there was a major conference of Afghanistan's foreign partners. These are the people who are participating in the military coalition there. But more importantly, the people who are expected to support Afghanistan after the military leaves. If, as NATO has said, it leaves -- pulls its combat troops out at the end of 2014, who's going to pay for Afghanistan? More than half its budget already comes from overseas.
DEYOUNGThis was a conference to talk about it. Pakistan has a key role in this. Pakistan boycotted the conference, did not show up. At the same time in Pakistan their president has left the country. There are plans laid by the United States and its allies to get out of Afghanistan. And all of these things interfere with them.
PAGEWell, in fact, we had reports yesterday that General John Allen, the top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan disagrees with the administration -- the Obama Administration's plan to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Moises, what is it that the general apparently is telling others? These aren't directly reports from him, but reports quoting people he has talked to.
NAIMThere is -- in the U.S. military and elsewhere, certainly, in fact, in Afghanistan, there is a general anxiety and fretting over the notion that the United States will go ahead and greatly reduce its presence in Afghanistan. The notion that is taking hold increasingly is that, you know, nation building and transforming and the huge presence and the huge commitment to Afghanistan is sustainable and can be reduced to highly targeted intelligence and counter insurgency and counterterrorism operations with a far smaller footprint in terms of troops and operations and all of that.
NAIMAnd that is something that is deeply resisted the most, certainly by the Karzai government. And part of the Bonn conference that Karen reported on was about that. And it was about asking the United States to slow down the plans to retire, to send more money and to keep the presence there and certainly the -- parts of the American military share that perspective.
PAGEWe're going to take another very short break and when we come back, we'll go back to the phones, take some of your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGELet's go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. First, to Charlotte, N.C., we'll talk to Dennis. Hi, Dennis.
DENNISHi. I've been listening to your show and I'm a retired airline pilot, ex-army helicopter pilot from Viet Nam and I'll say one thing. After 40 years of aviation, real aircraft look a certain way and mockups look another. I would be highly surprised if this were anything, but a very un-clever mockup.
PAGEIt looked like a mockup to you. You saw the photographs.
DENNISThey're too slick. And as far as reverse engineering is concerned, I don't think they could reverse engineer an eggbeater, okay.
PAGEWell, Dennis, thanks very much for your call. Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, it certainly looked like a parade float, as some commentators have said. It looked very perfect except for the skirt around the bottom. So, you know, there's definitely that school of thought. I think we just don't know. But I assume that the CIA and others who are watching this will be figuring that out in the coming days.
PAGEDennis, thanks for letting us -- giving us the benefit of your perspective and expertise. Let's go to Akmad (sp?) calling us from Cleveland, Ohio. Akmad, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
AKMADYes. Thanks for taking my call. I'd like to ask Moises Naim, what does he think of the interview that took place between Barbara Walter and Assad? And is he really -- is he frank? Like he -- it seems like he's not in control of the army. But years ago when the U.S. administration was accusing him of not being in control of the army he denied it. So how long does Moises Naim think that the Assad regime is going to stay in power before it goes away?
PAGEAll right, Akmad, thanks for your call. Moises.
NAIMYeah, Akmad is referring to a fascinating interview that Barbara Walters had with Syrian President Assad. In that interview Assad claimed that he had never ordered the suppression of demonstrations. His exact quote was "no government in the world kills its people unless it is led by a crazy person." When I heard that, and I just saw the whole thing, it just reminded me of Baghdad Bob. This was a spokesperson for Saddam Hussein. And as American troops were entering and were already in Baghdad, Baghdad Bob would go on television denying that anything was happening and just stressing that everything was fine. And that the troops loyal to Saddam Hussein were all in charge.
NAIMSo denial is part of the arsenal that these tyrants use. And I think President Assad said that. He had no option but to say that. Meanwhile, the Arab League, the international community, there is plenty of evidence that he was lying when he said that.
PAGEIndira, why would President Assad do this interview?
LAKSHMANANThat was stunning to me because at the end of the interview, I think the only winner is Barbara Walters who comes out looking amazing at age 82, being able to control this interview and push him back again and again and again. He came off as totally incoherent. His sentences didn't make sense. He wasn't able to answer her questions. He made himself look like he wasn't in control. He said he wasn't controlling the military.
LAKSHMANANHe used a whole litany of arguments that we've heard before. The exact same arguments, in fact, that we heard from Gadhafi, that it wasn't his forces who were cracking down on the people. It was drug smugglers, like-minded people like Al-Qaida, terrorists. I mean, I was expecting him to talk about his people being rats the same way that Gadhafi did. He said that the United Nations was not a legitimate institution. It was controlled by the United States. He couldn't answer the question about whether the majority of the people were with him.
LAKSHMANANIt was kind of stunning, this interview. So I don't think it makes him look good. He had -- you know, went around and around in circles about the Arab League being lined up against him and kept saying, well you know Turkey has their own reasons for not liking us. Was basically saying everybody's against us and you don't know what's going on. It was a very strange interview.
PAGEWell, congratulations to Barbara Walters for landing it. Now, we also saw other news involving Syria this week, Karen DeYoung. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Syrian opposition. Was that the first time that’s happened?
DEYOUNGIt's the first time that she has met with a -- what purports to be a cohesive group of Syrian opposition leaders. This is the Syrian National Council, which is a group that was formed pretty recently last summer with some help from the Turks. One of the problems in Syria that makes it more difficult than Libya say, or Egypt in terms of these uprisings, in Libya, you had a pretty cohesive opposition that very early on held territory where they could be recognized. In Egypt, you had the military essentially saying to Hosni Mubarak, get out.
DEYOUNGYou don't have any of those things in Syria and you have a very, very diffused group of minorities, of sects, of religious groups that some of whom are afraid for Assad to go because they're afraid they'll all turn on each other. And Assad certainly has promoted that belief. Some of them say that, look the only way we are going to get international recognition is to show the world that we are together. And that's what this group is trying to do. They had met with leaders in the UK, in Germany and France. And now the United States is stepping up.
DEYOUNGClinton met with seven of these leaders, the head of the organization and their executive council in Geneva. No promises were made, no real assistance was asked for. But according to U.S. officials what they said was, look you guys need to get your act together. You need to show us that this very broad and diffused opposition inside Syria recognizes you as their leaders and then come and talk to us.
PAGELet's go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and talk to Charles. Charles, thanks for holding on.
CHARLESOh, gladly. Great show. I've spent a lot of time in Russia in the last ten years and I've watched how the Putin Administration has handled and how it's approached problems in Russia, which there are numerous problems. But as the country transitions, I think we can say they're transitioning to democracy, however far away they still may be. It seems to me that there's a lot of inconsistencies with what I'm hearing on the radio about how these elections would've been, you know, rigged.
CHARLESPutin has been very sophisticated and aggressive and confident in controlling the media, in controlling public opinion. And, of course, there's only so much of that that he can control. But I think stuffing ballot boxes is unlikely. At least that's the most unlikely method. And I think the likelihood that any Americans or foreigners be allowed to be anywhere close to where that was happening when it was happening is almost zero.
CHARLESSo it kind of leads me to wonder maybe there is some credence in the idea -- I mean, the United States has very sophisticated technology for the internet. And, you know, obviously we've been involved like other countries including Russia, in spying. And so it just leads me to wonder if maybe there is some credence to what Putin is saying. Maybe we are attempting to influence public opinion in Russia. So that was my question. I just, you know, would be curious to hear what the panel thinks about that.
PAGECharles, thank you so much for your call. Karen.
DEYOUNGThere's no question that the State Department and various nongovernmental pro-Democracy groups have been active inside Russia trying to work with local groups trying to make sure that they have the tools to communicate with each other. But remember that the reports about election violations were not from the United States. You had the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Russia is a member, which invited in international monitors.
DEYOUNGThere were a number of domestic groups that were election monitors. They spread out across the country. They were at polling places. And these are their reports that are being commented on, not simply reports from the United States. And I think what Secretary Clinton was doing was reacting to that. And these have been pretty much across the board from a lot of outsiders and insiders that were there watching this vote.
PAGESam has sent us an email. He writes, "The tragic bombings were claimed by a group in Pakistan, which is long work for Pakistan's ISI, the security group in Pakistani government. Pakistan has had a long history of promoting terrorist activities in India and Afghanistan as an instrument of state policy, yet the United States has not declared it a sponsor of terrorism on its official sanctions list. How many innocent Americans, Israelis, Afghans and Indians have to die before some rationality will prevail in the administration's foreign policy regarding declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state?" That's an email from Sam. Moises?
NAIMThis weekend the U.S. Congress, there was a discussion about declaring the Haqqani Network terrorist group. That would unleash all sorts of sanctions and measures and all of that. The Haqqani Network, of course, is a Pakistani and Afghan group of fighters that are insurgents that are very active and are a core part of the violence there. They are also closely associated within Pakistan's intelligence services that are also very opaque, you know, by the definition and very fragmented.
NAIMAnd so there is a very difficult dilemma in trying to go all out against Pakistan at the same time that segments within Pakistan are important allies of the United States. So you want to force Pakistan and elements within Pakistan to be more cooperative. You want to force others to stop sponsoring terrorism. And that is a very, very tricky thing to pull off.
LAKSHMANANI think U.S. foreign policy with Pakistan has got to be one of the biggest challenges for the people at the State Department and the National Security Council. The moment that you declare -- if you declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, it brings with it all sorts of automatic sanctions and automatic cutoff, and certainly cutoff in aid and cutoff in cooperation. I mean, the U.S. is trying to regard Pakistan as an ally and trying to treat it as an ally. As we know, there is a lot of U.S. aid to Pakistan, which is on hold right now because of noncooperation in various areas, including, you know, noncooperation supposedly on some aspects of antiterrorism.
LAKSHMANANBut I think, you know, it's a real problem. As Moises suggests, there are different elements of the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military and intelligence services. And the U.S. is trying to pressure those over which it has any influence at all to do the right thing. Once you declare -- once you write off the entire country there's no chance of having a cooperative relationship. And the U.S. has to make that relationship work because the U.S. is eventually pulling out of Afghanistan. And Pakistan is right there next door.
LAKSHMANANAnd so, you know, they've got to make this work, whether it's through peace talks and eventual political settlement. Whatever it is, they can't -- I don't think they have the ability to just write off Pakistan like that.
PAGEKaren, you mentioned earlier in the hour that Pakistan's president had traveled to Dubai for medical treatment. That spurred just enormous speculation. What was he -- what were people thinking that might signal?
DEYOUNGThere's a long history in Pakistan over almost seven decades of Pakistan's existence as a country of military coups, of civilian leaders leaving the country and not coming back. President Zardari is under a whole lot of pressure now. The military there pretty much controls foreign and national security policy. The public is very anti-American and believes that Pakistan is fighting America's war in Afghanistan.
DEYOUNGAnd again just as an aside in terms of terrorism, many more Pakistanis have died of terrorism attacks inside their country than Americans have died in Afghanistan, or even Afghans have died fighting. When all this pressure sort of fell on Zardari, who's not a very strong civilian leader -- he does have health problems with his heart -- his departure from the country suddenly without any advance warning under -- amid all of this upheaval led to a lot of concerns that it was starting all over again.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Indira.
LAKSHMANANIn a way, though, you could argue that the military doesn't need to do a coup at this point. The military, as Karen says, has controlled Pakistan for half of its history -- formally controlled. They are, no doubt, the strongest institution in Pakistan today. So they need to keep up an appearance, I would argue, of having a Democratic government if they want to continue to get aid from the United States and international recognition and approval.
LAKSHMANANAnd so if they were to actually launch a coup that sets off all sorts of triggers in aid and relations around the world, why do they even need to do that? They've got a weak leader. Keep the weak leader in power and continue to control foreign and national security policy.
PAGEKaren, you were at this peace conference on Afghanistan in Bonn which Pakistan boycotted in anger over an instance with the United States. Did it matter -- did it undermine the peace conference for Pakistan not to be there?
DEYOUNGWell, I think not in terms of the financial -- future financial donations to Afghanistan that was ostensibly the subject of the conference. But everyone was hoping that behind the scenes there would be some progress made toward reconciliation talks, getting a political settlement with the Taliban, some of these groups that Pakistan has a lot of influence over. And I think that Pakistan's refusal to show up really -- because they were mad about this -- they were mad at the Americans and to my mind kind of cut off their nose to spite their face because this conference was not really about the Americans.
DEYOUNGBut it casts a pall over the thing and meant for sure that there was not going to be any progress on reconciliation.
PAGEWe have a very international audience. Here's an email from Belfast. Matthew is writing us, "How much of the UK's decision to abstain from the Eurozone Agreement can or should be seen in terms of Cameron's difficult relationship with the euro-skeptic wing of the Tory Party, something about British politics." Moises, what do you say?
NAIMThere's no doubt that there's all of that. There is a long history of the UK not being very enthusiastic about joining or even being a part -- or active part of the monetary system. They are part of the euro zone in many ways but in many fundamental ways they're not. But as I said before, this was essentially driven by the fact that in the UK the financial sector is very, very important as a percentage of the economy, which is not the case in other European countries.
NAIMAnd one of the agreements was to unify regulation of the financial system. So that was equivalent to the City of London, the financial center of the UK, and a very important center of the world's financial system to supervision by an entity that is European in nature. And still unclear on how it's going to evolve. So Cameron received huge pressures from the city and from financial interests not to sign this treaty.
PAGEAnd are there risks for Britain of being isolated from the rest of Europe as a result?
NAIMThat remains to be seen. Yes, there are risks. There were risks of joining it and there are risks of staying away. And some isolation and so there will be costs both for Cameron and from the UK if these things work. But as Indira said, this is just another installment in what is going to be a very long protracted series of episodes concerning the rescue of Europe.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, I think David Cameron pretty much laid his cards out on the table with what he said publicly to the press. He said, you know, look, I can't do anything that's against my country's national interest. And this is against my country's national interest. So I don't think he left it really to the imagination. You know, sure, Britain is part of the EU but they never adopted the euro as currency. And everything that Moises says is correct. They have strong national interest for not abiding by these kinds of budgetary strictures.
PAGEIndira Lakshmanan, senior reporter at Bloomberg News. And we've also been joined this hour by Karen DeYoung, senior diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, and Moises Naim, chief international columnist for El Pais. Thank you all for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane's husband is doing well after surgery. She thanks all of you for your good wishes. She'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.
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