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.
Violence erupted in Greece over new austerity measures being considered by the Greek Parliament. Lawmakers must pass a new reform package this weekend before the eurozone will sign off on a new bailout deal. Two explosions hit Aleppo, a city that up to now has largely supported Syrian president Assad. Egypt’s ruling generals cracked down on western nonprofit groups that promote democracy, threatening the country’s relationship with the U. S. And the former president of the Maldives demanded new elections.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. closes its embassy in Damascus as security in Syria deteriorates. Syrian forces pummel the city of Homs killing hundreds this week. The U.S. announces new sanctions against Iran. Egypt says it will put 19 Americans on trial. In Greece, hundreds of thousands protest a new austerity agreement and tensions between Argentina and the UK flare over the Falkland Islands. Here in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Nadia Bilbassy of MBC TV and Jonathan of McClatchy newspapers. Throughout the hour, we'll be taking your calls, your email, your postings on Facebook and your tweets. I hope you'll join us. Good morning to all of you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Jonathan Landay, I know you had breakfast with the Turkish foreign minister. What did he have to say about this brutal week we have seen in Syria and Syrian forces focusing their attacks on Homs?
LANDAYHe made very clear that, he said, this is a situation that cannot continue. But he was devoid of specifics as to what can be done and I think that that's exactly what there's intense diplomacy over. His most interesting line, he recounted how Turkey had tried bilaterally to try and talk President Assad into doing a deal, reforms, have elections. He recounted how this failed and the line he came up was, we wanted, we hoped that President Assad would be a Gorbachev, a reformist. Instead, he turned out to be a Milosevic.
LANDAYYou know, the late Serbian president who oversaw the Serbian onslaught in Bosnia. And he made it clear that humanitarian, he talked about the need for humanitarian relief and he kept offering parallels between what's going on, particularly in Homs and what happened in Bosnia. My response to him and my question was, but, sir, in Bosnia when they brought in humanitarian relief it had to be done by and with the protection of a UN peace keeping force, an armed UN peace-keeping force. And at this moment, there doesn't seem to be any consideration of that by anyone involved in trying to address this terrible and worsening situation.
REHMAnd now two new explosions hit a Aleppo, Nadia Bilbassy.
BILBASSYThis is true and both the government and opposition are trading accusations. The fact that we don't have independent journalists on the ground to verify what's happening make the pictures a bit harder to assess.
REHMBut what you're getting are citizen journalists who are using their own computers, their own cell phones.
BILBASSYAbsolutely, they are. Absolutely, without them, I think we wouldn't be able to tell what's happening and they turned to be an alternative voice for a traditional kind of media that we normally rely on in situations like we have seen in Libya or in Egypt or elsewhere. And I think the situation is very dire. Many of our colleagues have been recently into Homs, a BBC reporter came, described the situation as complete despair. The government has been using heavy artillery shelling.
BILBASSYCivilians in their homes, people are running, trying to find a place to hide. Children have been dying in incubators because of lack of electricity. The situation is really, really bad. And now the question is, what is the international community is about to do? And I think that there's a shift of dynamics, if I just may add, something important happened just before we came on air.
BILBASSYThe King of Saudi Arabia just criticized the UN Security Council for using the video to denounce the Syrian regime. And that's a prelude to what we're going to see in the next week, which is basically most likely that the Arab states, the GGC countries, they're going to recognize the Syrian opposition. And from now we're going to talk about this group of Syrian friends that's going to form with the auspices of the United States supporting them and basically allowing for this humanitarian corridors with the help of Turkey, as Jonathan just said.
MR. MOISES NAIMAnd that has already started, as Nadia said, in Libya. The Libyan government threw out the Syrian ambassador and gave the Syrian ambassador in Tripoli to the forces of the opposition, the Syrian opposition, is the first country that has done that. And the minister of Foreign Affairs, so the person acting as the minister of Foreign Affairs in Libya stated that he cannot stop Libyan fighters that want to go fight in Syria, in solidarity to others. What we're seeing here is a world that has ran out of options to stop atrocities. The last hope was the Security Council resolution that both China and Russia vetoed and that gave the Assad regime even a stronger sense that they could do whatever, they also just ignored the Arab League.
MR. MOISES NAIMThe Arab League also went on a visit to Syria and tried to assess the situation and moderate and that and nothing happened. The Assad regime told them that he was going to slow down the crackdown, stop it and instead it intensified it and the whole situation is evolving into a massacre.
REHMI have never heard such strong words from the UN ambassador, Susan Rice, when she said, she was disgusted by that double veto. President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, many others are condemning Syria in strong terms and meanwhile, we are told that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for a military option. No, Jonathan?
LANDAYNo, our understanding is, my colleague, Nancy Youssef, reported earlier this week that indeed there are no real efforts going on to come up with contingency plans simply because there's been no political direction to the militaries to do this. Militaries plan all the time but the fact is that I think that right now there is a hope for some kind of diplomatic effort that is going to be led by the Arab League.
LANDAYThe Arab League meets again but the Turkish prime minister, I'm sorry, the Turkish foreign minister didn't rule out somewhere down the road the possibility of intervention but you have to ask yourself, well, who's going to do that. The only force in that neighborhood that's capable of doing that is Turkey and yet they probably couldn't do it without NATO backing. There doesn't seem to be a lot of appetite at least here in the United States for another military intervention in the Arab world, in the Muslim world.
BILBASSYThis is true and I think ultimately we're going to see this manifest itself in a greater role for Turkey because it shares with Syria, because it has great interest in what's happening in Syria and it's a member of NATO itself. So the United States will give and we're going to see in consultation with the foreign minister who's going to meet with Secretary of State Clinton on Monday to discuss these details.
BILBASSYIn the coming month I think already in the strong words of the Turkish foreign minister said, what we have seen we cannot turn a blind eye to what's happening in Syria. And basically, they're saying we're running out of options. What are the options now? The options is try and -- how can you stop the killing in Hama and in Homs. The Arab Leagues have failed miserably. There's no point of sending observers, in my opinion, anymore. To do what? They cannot stop anything.
BILBASSYSo the only thing is to have some kind of consensus and that consensus will be built on Turkey builder a broader collation that will include some members of the UN Security Councils and members of the organization of Arab States. So they're going to give it a much bigger role than having just been limited to Arab countries and the West.
REHMWhat about Russia's Putin going into Syria to see President Assad?
NAIMAbsolutely. And that reason, the great question is why is Putin gambling so much in a situation that is tragic and everybody believes that is unsustainable. Why would you want tie your boat to something that is not going well? There are several reasons. There is elections in Russia, there is concrete anxiety on the part of the Kremlin that the Arab Spring dynamics of street protests and the social media and international support will have consequences and erode the strong grip on power that Putin and his allies have had on Russia. There is also, it's very important to know that Russia has a base, a naval base, in Syria, which is only in Tartus, is the only place in Mediterranean where Russia's Black Sea Fleet can resupply and has a very important geo-strategic position and they don't want to lose that either.
REHMIt's interesting. We have an email saying, "What is the Arab League member's opinion of China and Russia's veto? Are people in that Arab League burning Chinese or Russian flags in protests?"
LANDAYThere have been protests outside of Syria embassies and they've seen Syrian protesters even before the vetoes of burning Russian flags and Iranian flags. Let's not forget, Iran plays a major role here. There are Iranian advisors from the Islamic Republic Guard in Syria, reportedly, assisting or at least advising the Syrians on crowd control and providing technical assistance. But one thing is really interesting, there's a precedent and that was Kosovo. Don't forget the West wanted to intervene in Kosovo, the UN Security Council, the Russians refused to go along. NATO on its own decided to do it.
REHMAnd don't forget that all of our diplomatic personnel have now left Syria.
BILBASSYAbsolutely and they're operating now from Washington under the supervision of Ambassador Ford. As you know, Diane, the State Department said that there was a threat against the embassy there. The embassy is located in Damascus in the heart of Damascus and they believe that the Syrian government was not doing enough to secure it. They don't want to have a barricade. They don't want to have extra soldiers and we know what happened to the American embassy in Kenya when it was located in the heart of the city with not enough protection.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break here. Your calls, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre, Moises Naim. He's chief international columnist for El Pais. You wanted to go back, Moises, to one more point on Syria regarding President Assad himself and what his options are.
NAIMHis options are Gadhafi and Mubarak if he doesn't do what he's doing, that what we have been discussing is what are the options opened to the United States and to the Western World and to Arab League. What are the options opened to Assad? You know, he has seen what happens to Mubarak -- what happened to Mubarak. He has seen what happened to Gadhafi. So there is an option, there is for him to negotiate but it's not clear.
NAIMPerhaps what he should learn from these other two instances is that it's high time for him to find an arrangement when he gets some sort of immunity or some exit in order to avoid further killings. And the final point is that at the end this is also one more example of the rivalry between Turkey and Iran over dominance and hegemony in the Middle East.
BILBASSYAlso just to add to that was when Lavrov visited Damascus there was a talk actually, the speculation that he was trying to convince Assad to secure safe departure for him and his family as a way out of the crisis. And the Russians keep saying, we're not friends and ally of Syria. Obviously we know the reasons why they vetoed the decision in the U.N. Security Council. But I think there is a fear that they really wanted to make sure that the country doesn't descend into civil war because it's not going to serve any interest of anybody, whether it's the Turks or the Americans or even the Russians.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to what's happening between Egypt and the West. On Friday a British woman was barred from leaving Egypt because she's on a list of foreigners under investigation over ties to foreign nonprofit groups accused of fomenting unrest. There are now what, 19 and she makes 20 who are being held by Egypt, Jonathan.
LANDAYIt was actually a total of 43 or 44...
LANDAY...who are potentially facing charges, under investigation for allegedly accepting illegal money and conducting illegal political activities in Egypt. This has led to what is the worst downturn in relations between the United States and Egypt since the overthrow of Mubarak. The United States is threatening, that we've heard threats from congress and suggestions from the administration that Egypt could lose a total of $1.3 billion a year in military aid. And of course this is pertinent because it really is, despite the fact it had elections, the military that's still running Egypt.
LANDAYAnd this weekend the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is going over there -- is being sent over there. Now the administration denies that he's going to be delivering -- that General Dempsey is going to be delivering an ultimatum. But the way it's been put to me is that he will have a very strong message to the military of Egypt that unless you stomp this and unless you allow these Americans to leave your country, you are going to lose this money.
REHMAnd the son of Secretary Ray LaHood is among those being held, Moises.
NAIMYes. The son of Secretary LaHood is part of their Republican National Institute of Democracy Promotion and Development in Egypt. What's very interesting and also confusing about all this is that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt is going around saying, we have nothing to do with this. This is part of a different part of the government. We are not supporting this. And, you know, it's perplexing because they run the country. But so there is a very important player in all this, Minister Fayza Abul-Naga, who is the minister in charge of all foreign aid for Egypt.
NAIMEgypt depends quite heavily on foreign aid, especially U.S. foreign aid. And she was in charge of that during the Mubarak regime. And at the time a non-government organization, an outside foreign democracy promotion organization were also banned from operating but they were allowed. And they were tolerated. Now they just are saying we are just applying the law. And again, what's very, very confusing is the extent to which this government, highly fractured government is willing to put at risk the $1.3 billion that the United States sends every year.
REHMAnd that's the question I have. Why is Egypt escalating this now?
BILBASSYI mean, the irony of it all is they're accusing this NGO who wants to support the democratic process in Egypt of receiving foreign money and they forget they're the largest recipients of foreign money from the United States, the $1.3 billion. Actually Kamal al-Ganzouri, who was appointed prime minister by the staff of the Military Council, was saying that we're not going to be swayed by American threats.
BILBASSYSaying that I think there is this anti-American sentiment in the whole region, particularly in Egypt because for a while people saw the administrations and the United States supporting and propping President Mubarak. The NGO has a history of very mixed kind of reaction. Very often people think that they're coming as a spy, they're coming to...
BILBASSY...destabilize the country, undermine them, etcetera. And in general this is the reception, whether it's in Venezuela or in Russia or in the Middle East. But the fact is it's like the way they blow it completely out of context that these people are facing criminal charges for tax evasion, for not having a work permit. It's ridiculous.
BILBASSYAnd saying that, just to show you how much the Americans have lost prestige and power and influence in the region, there was a time when the Israeli Embassy was attacked by Egyptians. And the Israeli prime minister has informed the White House to mediate with the military. And now the Americans cannot get this 19 Americans out of the country, including the son of the transportation secretary.
LANDAYThe situation actually goes way beyond the $1.3 billion in U.S. aid. I mean, the military seems to be cutting its nose to spite its face because what you're -- the Egypt economy is in dire shape. One of the things they need to...
LANDAYAbsolutely but one of the things they desperately need is new international investment. But if you have this kind of atmosphere where it appears that the courts are being run by the military, that they are taking this kind of measures then who's going to want to put money into Egypt? The military went to the IMF, offered the military not too long ago to negotiate a loan. The military said no, we're not going to be put our sovereignty at risk. And now the military has gone back to the IMF and said, actually we'd like to talk about this loan.
LANDAYYou're talking about 25 percent unemployment among the young. You're talking about a possible devaluation of the Egyptian currency. It's a very serious economic situation. And doing this kind of thing doesn't help your case internationally.
REHMAnd speaking of Syria's economic things, violence is now erupting in Greece over the new austerity measures. On Friday you had youth tossing stones. What is the main Greek party during these lengthy negotiations, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, basically what they wanted to do is trying to give some confidence to the Greek people that this austerity measure's not going to affect them badly. But everything is indicating to the contrary. The EU, which is basically this new package they're trying to bail Greece out of its debt, which is 300 billion euro to keep the Greek economy afloat is basically saying that we have conditions. And these conditions we wanted you to cut civil service jobs by 15,000 by the end of this year. You have to cut salaries by 20 percent. People are going on the street saying, we cannot survive. This is actually suffocating us. The conditions are too harsh.
REHMIs this Angela Merkel's belief that the only way to cure this problem is to get tighter and tighter and tighter with Greece, Moises?
NAIMShe is more sophisticated than that. She understands that she cannot strangle the country and that the dilemma between imposing budget cuts and public spending restrictions and at the same time generating growth and employment and exports and all that is a very complex one. She has been going overboard in terms of stressing the need for austerity, for budget cuts. And as you said, in Greece already it's very harsh, the situation.
NAIMAt the same time there are plenty of other opportunities for cutting budgets and expenditures in Greece that don't have to do directly with lowering the income of the poorest people.
NAIMWhat is going on in Greece is a major national debate about how to distribute the burdens of these adjustments. There is no doubt that the Greeks have lied about the expenditures, that the Greeks are the biggest tax evaders in Europe, that there is a lot of reasons why the Greek's bailout has to be subject to conditions. But at the same time it is not fair to put the big burden of these adjustments on the poorest and the salaried (unintelligible) .
REHMAnd here's an email from Daniel in Ventura, Fla. He says, "The Greek people are past the end of their rope. These 'bailouts' are for the banks, so Germany is once again trying to force its will on the Greek people, not for their good, only for the banks and bondholders." No, Moises?
NAIMOnly partly. The banks, everybody is being hurt by this. And again, as I said before, this is a debate about who is being hurt more and the less. The banks are already getting what in the jargon is called a haircut, meaning that they'll have to write down about $100 billion.
REHMMaybe they ought to get a crew cut.
NAIMThey just lost $100 billion cut. The words here -- the jargon that is being used that is very important is austerity growth haircut and firewall. Haircuts is when the private sector needs to, you know, accept that it lost money and deal with it. Firewall is to make sure that what happens in Greece does not go and hurt countries like Spain and Italy. That...
REHMSo how close are we to resolution at this point, Jonathan?
LANDAYWell, there was expectation that they had reached an agreement on Thursday. It was announced that they had in fact the Greek coalition -- three-party coalition had reached an agreement which comes to top all of these other austerity measures that have already taken place, tax hikes, layoffs, this kind of thing. So they're talking about another 15,000 government layoffs, something like 20 percent in salary cuts.
LANDAYThey couldn't come to an agreement on cutting pensions by another 400 or so million dollars. And so when they took this deal to the Troika -- to the EU, the EU suddenly turned around and said, no. And in fact we have other conditions now. You need to cut that $400 million. You need to sign an agreement that says when you have an election, probably in April, that the new government will adhere to the new deal. And you need to pass this on Sunday or -- at least Sunday or Monday, very quickly through your parliament, which is split.
LANDAYYou've seen now a fourth member of the government minister resign over all of this. There's a violence in the streets. And there are some people who think that actually contrary to what Moises said, that Germany is actually looking to try and push Greece out of the euro zone. They have -- this almost looks like Groundhog Day but, in fact, next month they have something like, I think, about $20 billion in bonds they have to pay off. They don't have the money to pay it off. They need the $130 billion or so, $130 billion bailout that they're looking for, to pay those bonds. And if they don't...
REHMSo you're saying Angela Merkel would like to see Greece out of the EU.
LANDAYThere are some experts who believe that that is what it's all about, that they...
REHMMoises does not agree.
LANDAY...that they default next month and that's it.
REHMIf they default then they're out.
LANDAYThey need this new loan in order to avoid default.
REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy News and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nadia.
BILBASSYI was also going to add that it is a catch 22 for the Greek politicians because on one hand they have to implement these austerity measures to alleviate the debt crisis. On the same hand -- or on the other hand rather, they're going to have a problem with recession because the growth of the economy is predicted to be much more severe than they anticipated. Unemployment is a record high. It's 18 percent. So it's just choosing between two evils. And actually I tend to agree with Jonathan. I think probably Angela Merkel and Germany want to cut Greece loose out of the EU.
NAIMAngela Merkel and her government know that the European banks hold Greek debts. If the EU -- if there is a chaotic meltdown of Greece, they will have to pay even more to bail out hugely in the banks in Italy and Spain and elsewhere.
NAIMIt is all connected. And I want to say one more thing, which is very interesting about everything we have been talking, is colored by elections. There are elections coming up in April in Greece. Angela Merkel has elections. In France there are elections, in the United States are elections and Putin is running for election. Even Ahmadinejad is running for election. So this is a perfect storm of elections at the same time in which very critical decisions that are very hard to make during an electoral period.
REHMOkay. Do you believe, Moises, that the Greeks will reach some kind of agreement this Sunday or Monday?
NAIMI do and they will and then it will not be enough. And what we will see is a situation in which an agreement will be made. And there is -- we don't know how the markets will react. We need to see if the markets believe that they can restore a flaw of credit and a more normal financial situation for Greece. That's not clear because, you know, it is not clear that a new government will abide by the agreements. So you're making an agreement with a party that may not be across the table next time you see to negotiate with them.
REHMSo what you're saying is they may come to an agreement. but the Eurozone won't accept that agreement.
NAIMIt's not the Eurozone. The will come to an agreement with the Eurozone. After that agreement it needs to be seen if international bankers are willing to continue to play by the game and by the rules. It's very important to note that what we have in Greece now -- Prime Minister Lucas Papademos used to be the vice-president of the European Central Bank. His finance minister Evangelos Venizelos is also a highly respected technocrat. They are creating what has the most probability of being accepted. What we don't know if this option is going to be accepted.
NAIMAnd what some very influential players are saying, we want to see what happens after the election. And that's why I brought up the point of election because at the end this is less about finance than about the electoral politics.
REHMMoises Naim. He's chief international columnist for El Pais. When we come back we'll talk more, take your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back, it's time to open the phones, first to Ann Arbor, Mich. good morning, Charles.
CHARLESGood morning, a wonderful show as always.
CHARLESI am trying to bring up the Iranian issue.
CHARLESOkay, I'm curious as to how the United States is willing to put up with North Korea, which can actually reach the United States with a little more missile development and Pakistan, probably the least stable country on earth and yet we are so upset about Iran, which is a very stable country and I doubt would bring a nuclear holocaust upon themselves. I think it's a classic example of the Israeli theocracy with the tail leading the dog.
BILBASSYWell, I mean, if you talk to the Israeli officials, they think it's an existing ongoing threat for them. But actually for the first time now, we have seen so many Western capitals and the United States that actually are seriously worried that Israel is going to take a unilateral decision to attack Iran in the spring and there are so many reasons why they should do it now.
BILBASSYThe first, there is the presidential election as I come back to Moises' point which is election, election, election, it's absolutely true. And I think this is a good time for them to do it. If you hear the Republican candidates talking about Iran, accusing President Obama of aiding the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon it shows basically that if Israel decided to go and attack Iran that basically the president and this administration has no option but to support it. That's one thing.
BILBASSYSecond, I honestly think that they did it before in Iraq and they did it in Syria and there was no retaliation. The prediction that Iran might retaliate so badly that it's going close the Strait of Hormuz is going to affect the Iranians too and they know the consequences of that. So, it is...
REHMBecause they couldn't export their own oil...
BILBASSY...of course, of course, exactly. And I agree with the caller that the Iranians are not stupid. I mean, even if they go ahead and use this attack against Israel, they may just point something. We never mention on the show that the country is so small. You cannot separate Palestinians from Israelis. If they are going to attack Israel, they are going to wipe out the Palestinians as well.
NAIMWhenever one talks about the potential nuclear Iran, one needs to understand, one needs to include in the conversation the fact that that will proliferate nuclear weapons in the Middle East and that has been the explicit statement by the governments in the Gulf, in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey. They are not willing to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran without developing their own nuclear weapons program.
NAIMAnd, you know, are we in a better world that if the Middle East, as volatile and complicated as it is, also has atomic weapons? I don't think so and that is a very powerful reason why the world is bent on trying to contain the possibility that Iran has an atomic weapon. It goes way beyond Israel.
REHMWhat about these new sanctions against Iran? What are they, Jonathan, and what kind of significance will they have?
LANDAYIt's, there are these new sanctions which are required under Congressional legislation and are basically aimed at preventing the Iranian Central Bank from being the conduit which it is of most of the payments for Iranian oil and that's really the target here, both of the U.S. sanctions and the oil embargo that was approved by the EU, by the European Union in January.
LANDAYThese are sanctions that are really beginning to bite. There is inflation in, serious inflation in Iran. The Iranian national currency has been devalued. There are starting to be shortages of very basic materials because Iran doesn't have the hard currency with which to pay for things like rice. It gets virtually all of its rice from India. India wants hard currency. Iran doesn't have it.
LANDAYPalm oil, which is used for basic food stuffs, the Iranians get that from Malaysia. It doesn't have the hard currency to pay for that. There are reports that there are actually ships in Iranian ports loaded with these foodstuffs that the companies are refusing to offload into Iran because they haven't been paid. And quite frankly, this is the objective of the sanctions.
LANDAYYou know the West, the United States and its allies, say, we're not looking for regime change, but you have to ask yourself, then what is this really all about?
REHMAll right. Let's go to Indianapolis. Iman (sp?) , you're on the air.
IMANThank you for taking my call, Diane. I want to let you know that the current economic sanctions and the threat of U.S. and Israeli-led military actions against Iran is sealing a strong sense of nationalism in Iran. There is a part of the new Congress actions that allows the heritage of Iranian and U.S. museums and universities to be sold, to be used by Israel and sanctions are hurting average people.
IMANIt is rising the price of milk and meat and everyday commodities. It is hurting the reform movement and don't forget the Iranian people between military invasion, sanctions and their suppressive government, they're going to go ahead and choose their suppressive government.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. I mean, if they want a diversion from a domestic situation, all what you need is to have a foreign country attacking you or you're launching a war. It's a perfect cover for, you know, whatever the government wanted to do in Iran and in Iran, it's actually -- this is the example that if there is an external attack it's going to galvanize the support inside the country against this foreign entity, whoever it is, Israel, the United States or Arab Gulf states, whoever for the regime because for them in general I think also it's a national pride.
BILBASSYIt's not just about -- I mean, the Iranian government always said we're using it for civilian reasons, purposes. Nobody believed them. But ultimately, the Iranians want to have nuclear weapons just like the Pakistanis and the Indians because they can use it as a weapon in terms of not using it literally, but in terms of having a status and power in the region.
REHMMoises, the United States constructed the largest diplomatic mission, embassy in the world in Iraq to hold some 16,000 personnel. What's happening?
NAIMIt is a $700 million building that sits on 104 acre campus and now the debate is if they're going to right-size it or downsize it so when the reporters ask...
REHMRight-size it, what does that mean?
NAIMWhen the reporters ask the State Department if indeed they are going to cut by 50 percent the 16,000 employees that work there the answer is no, we are not downsizing 50 percent. We don't know where the 50 percent number came from but we are thinking about right-sizing it. We don't know what right-sizing is except that they then stress that a lot of the personnel there are diplomats and they want to start using more locals.
LANDAYActually what, out of that 16,000, only 2,000 are diplomats, when the State Department says we're going to right-size it and we don't know how many to cut but we're not cutting 50 percent I think what they're, they're playing with words here because what they mean is we're not going to cut the 2,000 diplomats by 50 percent...
LANDAY...contractors and actually in a way, you know, the fact is that a lot of these contractors there are for providing security for the American diplomats to operate but also to train the police etc, etc. and yet the Iraqis don't appear to really want that anymore. The American diplomats are unable to get out of the embassy to do the kind of work that diplomats normally do and then there's the general push here to reduce expenses, to cut the budget and so that all kind of works.
BILBASSYWelcome to what I say the reality check after the U.S. withdraws from Iraq. Now the Iraqi government wants to exercise sovereignty. They don’t want to see the 14,000 contractors with their weapons going around the country. They have a bad name especially with Blackwater. They're operating outside the law. Now they're having also a problem with getting work permits, with travelling between countries like food envoys coming from Kuwait.
BILBASSYIn the old days when the military were there, they were never asking for a permit. Now Iraq is saying we want the permits and making their lives very difficult.
NAIMI just wanted to note, Diane, that these operations in Iraq costs American taxpayers $6 billion per year.
REHMSix billion per year just to maintain a...
NAIMTo operate their...
NAIMThe American embassy in...
REHMAh, let's talk about Argentina. Britain has ruled out talks with Argentina over the status of the Falkland Islands. What's behind all this, Moises?
NAIMIt is a bit of colonialism, old colonialism with oil, with democracy and the colonialism part is that these are islands that are near, well, quite far away actually in the Pacific from Argentina. But Argentina has claimed sovereignty. Then the U.K. decided it, you know, conquered them and there was a war in 1982.
REHMI remember it well.
NAIMGeneral Galtieri, at the time, Argentina was run by a military junta. The head of that junta was General Galtieri. He decided to attack, to invade the Malvinas and Margaret Thatcher retaliated and took them over. As a result of that failure, General Galtieri lost power. And a good byproduct of all of that is that then military dictatorships in other countries in the southern corner of Latin America also disappeared. So one good byproduct of that mistake by General Galtieri was the promotion of democracy in the southern corner.
NAIMNot this is happening again on occasion of the 30th anniversary of that event, but even more important than that is the question why, why now? And the why now is that President Cristina Kirchner in Argentina is also going through her own travails and what better than trying to stir up some...
NAIM...and there is not an election. She was just reelected for a period, but she's going through her own issues with -- she's going through problems that, let's just say, it's very convenient for the Argentinean government, at this point, that public opinion focuses on the Falklands and in London, rather than what's happening in the streets of Buenos Aires.
LANDAYIt's interesting, just before we came on the air, I was looking at my iPhone and I got an email from the British Mission to the UN which informed me that the British representative to the UN was going to have a news conference immediately after the Argentinean representative to the UN has his news conference to respond to the Argentineans. So you have these dueling news conferences.
LANDAYThe British government has announced they're sending their most advanced warship down to the Falklands and that, indeed, Prince William is going to be deployed there. And this is all part of sort of what they say is the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the war.
NAIMAnd it's very important to know that President Chavez has already announced that he's willing to fight with the Argentineans against the colonialists.
REHMSo what's the outcome of this?
BILBASSYI mean, we don't expect another war. Basically, it's all domestic agendas on both countries, but also there is interest in terms of the lucrative fishing area around the islands and the newfound oil drilling so both countries probably will try to compete for interest.
LANDAYOne thing, though, you can't forget, though, in all of this, is that virtually all of the 3,000 people who live down there are British citizens and want to be British citizens.
BILBASSYBritish, that's right.
REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" and to Alexandria, Va. good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning. I had another comment about the issue with Syria and possible military intervention.
ELIZABETHIf your guests could comment on whether Turkey might consider not full-scale intervention, but perhaps, as they did in 1998, where they rolled the tanks across the border and say, hey, look at what we can do and perhaps that is an alternative to a Libya-style intervention.
LANDAYMy recollection is that '98 was over the sharing of river water, sorry, no, over the PKK leader who was in Syria at the time. The foreign minister this morning didn't rule out the possibility down the line of some kind of military operation, but right now, he is stressing the need for humanitarian measures. And again, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect, because how do you get humanitarian supplies, food, medicine, relief into Syria and the wounded out without protection?
LANDAYNobody is going to go in there. I doubt you're going to see the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, wanting to go into what is essentially a war zone without some kind of protection. That requires a UN mandate at the first and he said that if you don't get a mandate, we could do something else. But right now, it doesn't look like it. But the question is how do you get a humanitarian operation in there without some kind of military protection?
REHMAnd one last question, today, Moises, the former president of the Maldives demanded fresh elections. First, tell us where the Maldives are geographically and then what's been happening in his country.
NAIMThe Maldives are a group of beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean and this is the first president, the first democratically-elected president, they have had. He was elected in 2008. Before that he was a human rights campaigner against the President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who continues to have a lot of power, and in fact, the vice president is one of his allies.
NAIMPresident Nasheed was overthrown and decided to put in jail a judge that was blocking some of his initiatives to go after corruption and civil rights violators and that unleashed a coup that essentially ousted President Mohamed Nasheed. Immediately, surprisingly to me, but immediately the Indian government, which is like the power around that region, in that aspect recognized the new president.
NAIMAnd again, it is unclear that Nasheed is also asking for the United States to have a strong condemnation of the coup. And frankly, this is a tiny island, a group of islands, that essentially gained notoriety first because of how beautiful they were but also by how threatened they are by climate change. If these are the islands that if sea levels continue to rise, are going to disappear as a country and President Mohamed Nasheed has had a very effective international campaign to raise awareness of what's going to happen.
REHMBut now, the criminal court has issued a warrant asking for his arrest. Why should that be?
NAIMBecause probably that criminal court is controlled by the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
LANDAYIt's the same judge that he had ordered.
REHMAh, I'm telling you, there has not been a week where some new complication in our world has arisen and here are these beautiful small tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. Thank you all so much Jonathan Landay, Nadia Bilbassy, Moises Naim. Have a great weekend and thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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