European zone finance ministers approved a $170 billion rescue package for Greece; Syrian government tanks continued their assault on Homs; and President Obama apologized to the Afghan people for the burning of Korans by American troops at a U.S. base. Moises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.

Guests

  • Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
  • Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
  • Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.

Transcript

  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Western and Arab leaders meet in Tunisia to try to halt Syrian bloodshed. A UN nuclear team visits Iran, but leaves disappointed after talks fail. Afghans wage violent protests over the improper disposal of Korans by the U.S. military. A branch of al-Qaida in Iraq says it's behind a wave of attacks that killed dozens and Europe agrees to a Greek bailout plan. Joining me here in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC and Abderrahim Foukara of al Jazeera. I hope you'll join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.

  • 11:08:09

    MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.

  • 11:08:09

    MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.

  • 11:08:09

    MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood morning.

  • 11:08:10

    REHMGood morning to you. And Moises Naim, if I could start with you. It looks as though the crowd in Tunisia is trying to storm this meeting taking place to attempt to solve the Syrian crisis. What's going on?

  • 11:08:35

    NAIMThis is a group of about 70 foreign ministers of different countries and international organizations that is meeting in Tunisia to see, as you said, ways out of, to try to stop the carnage. And as they were meeting on the beginning of the meeting about 200 people, pro-Syrian demonstrators tried to storm the meeting. Hilary Clinton was on her way, had to be diverted. But apparently now the meeting has just started. The President of Tunisia just started the proceedings.

  • 11:09:06

    REHMWhat can be done, Courtney?

  • 11:09:09

    KUBEWell, there's -- we don't know exactly yet what they're going to ask for, but it seems that the leaders are going to ask for President Assad to assure a cease fire within the next several days so that aid, relief, supplies, can make it to the most hard hit areas, homes where civilians are low on food, fuel, medical supplies. There's rumors of dozens, you know, in homes that have been hurt and killed today again. So that's one thing that they're likely to ask for.

  • 11:09:42

    KUBEOne thing that may come out of this meeting as well is they may actually endorse the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council is the legitimate representative of the opposition. They're not actually going to endorse them, but they are going to recognize them and this is significant because one of the biggest problems throughout this entire conflict is the opposition. It's fractured, it's not unified and that's one of the biggest problems that the international community is facing right now in trying to stop this violence.

  • 11:10:15

    REHMAbderrahim, there have been some hints that the U.S. might try to arm the opposition. How much truth is there to that?

  • 11:10:28

    FOUKARAWell, there are obviously calls for the West to arm the opposition in ways similar to what they did in Libya, but obviously there are fundamental differences between Syria and Libya. That's one thing. The other thing is that there has, for some time now, been weapons flowing into Syria, being smuggled into Syria from across the border from Turkey, across the border from Lebanon and that's become a big, big business. So the conflict has been militarized as far as the U.S. concerned.

  • 11:11:07

    FOUKARAThere were reports, I think, a couple of weeks ago that in some parts of Syria, the U.S. is already deploying drones. And I have a feeling, based on the experience in Libya, that where there are drones, there are intelligent assets on the ground. And we heard this morning from the President of Tunisia when he opened the Friends of Syria meeting. One of the very interesting things that stood out in his speech is a call not to arm any Syrian party and he was basically talking about the West, that may be thinking of the West and its Arab allies who may be thinking of arming the opposition. But he was talking about the Russians and the Iranians who are supporting Bashar al-Assad and arming his regime.

  • 11:12:01

    REHMAnd of course, there's a referendum to be held this Sunday, Courtney.

  • 11:12:07

    KUBEWhich the international community does not put much stock in, at this point. You know, as my colleague, Jimmy (unintelligible) actually the who broke that news about the drones over Syria, the U.S. drones and ultimately the biggest problem that this international -- it seems as if this conference is not likely to walk away with some big decision that's going to change the situation in Syria.

  • 11:12:31

    KUBEThey may make declarations, they may make, you know, they may tell President Assad that he has to create the cease fire, but whether he will finally listen to the international community remains to be seen. But again, the biggest problem that they're really facing at this point is this opposition, this fractured opposition. But at this point, arming them is almost -- it's more dangerous than what they're facing right now.

  • 11:12:54

    REHMBecause they could begin shooting at each other.

  • 11:12:56

    KUBEAbsolutely.

  • 11:12:57

    REHMMoises?

  • 11:12:58

    NAIMAnd then, as my colleagues have said, the problem is, who do you harm? Because these are a highly fragmented set of people, you don't know who they represent, you don't know who they are, they don't have a unified organization structure and it's very dangerous. But the fact of the matter is that they are being armed. There's all kinds of smuggling of arms, there's all kinds of, as Abderrahim said, they have been -- the situation has been militarized.

  • 11:13:26

    NAIMOne outcome this week that, you know, it's one decision is that Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations and the Arab League have jointly appointed Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, as the joint envoy to try to seek a way out. And the main players here continue to be China and Russia, who have given -- and Iran of course, that are the main supporters of Assad. And their veto, of course, gave him a sense that he could go ahead with -- it was almost a license to kill. And since they vetoed the UN's initiatives, then he felt that he had the freedom to start shelling civilian areas and being even more intense in its carnage.

  • 11:14:20

    REHMAnd in the meantime, two international journalists were killed in Homs this week. They were both veterans of the conflict who put their lives at risk to bring us stories about the violence.

  • 11:14:38

    FOUKARAI mean, the issue of allowing access to journalists has been a crucial issue right from the start of the Syrian uprising because the calculation of the government at that time was let's deal with this in a military way while the world does not know exactly what's going on. But obviously, the world has changed since the last time that the regime in Syria in the '80s destroyed the city of Hama and nobody knew what exactly had happened.

  • 11:15:10

    FOUKARAToday, we have social media, we have a lot of Syrians actually bringing out the pictures of the massacres in various parts of the country. But the argument of the Syrian regime has always been, you can't not rely on social media to actually tell the whole truth and the counter-argument was, well, if you allow journalists from outside Libya to go in and verify, that would make a difference.

  • 11:15:37

    FOUKARAThe situation is that they did not allow that and many journalists including, by the way, Anthony Shadid who died of asthma while he was being smuggled into Syria. Journalists have been trying to get access illegally into Syria, although the Syrian government yesterday or the day before yesterday, they put out an argument calling on all journalists trying to gain access into Syria to do it legally. Now, they're saying they will allow it, but it's -- for journalists who have their lives on the line, that's sounds like a call too late.

  • 11:16:14

    REHMThere's some talk that Marie Colvin, the American journalist working for the British newspaper, The Sunday Times and the French photojournalist, Remy Ochlik, who was not yet even 30, that they may have been deliberately targeted.

  • 11:16:38

    NAIMThere was a makeshift media center in this building in Homs that apparently they had some antennas that were detected by the military, by the Syria military, and they started shelling the building and thus killed several journalists, two journalists at least. There is on the internet now a very striking, dramatic account by a French woman journalist that were the (unintelligible) correspondent who has been wounded is there and she's appealing for everyone to help her get out and get medical treatment. And again, that's part of the story in which the government is not allowing journalists and once they are in, they are targeted.

  • 11:17:25

    REHMThere's a very moving story in this morning's New York Times by Marie Colvin's mother, talking about how much she wanted to help by being there.

  • 11:17:41

    NAIMOne of the striking things not only about Syria, but all of what's happening is the force that propels these journalists to tell the story. They are willing to just run any risk and sacrifice anything to just be able to tell the story to the rest of the world. This is a very powerful basic instinct that drives these courageous journalists and we have seen several in a lot of these war areas.

  • 11:18:11

    FOUKARAWhat's interesting about the so-called Arab Spring is that initially people assumed that because it was called Arab Spring the situation of journalists whether local or international in the region is going to improve and we've heard from reporters without borders just recently that the situation of journalists in the region has actually deteriorated.

  • 11:18:33

    REHMAbderrahim Foukara, Washington Bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. Short break here and when we come back, we'll talk about the burning of the Koran in Afghanistan.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd we're back with the Friday News Roundup, the International Hour of our weekly roundup of the news. Here's an email from Mike in Dayton, Ohio. "Please comment on Saudi Arabia's position on Syria where the opposition is majority Sunni. I really haven't heard anything about this. There was a rumor this morning that the Saudis had walked out of the talks in Tunisia." Moises.

  • 11:20:44

    NAIMAnd as you said, there are rumors we don't know and it's also very hard to imagine what would get them to leave because, as we have heard, the meeting is not like discussing deeply divisive kinds of initiatives. Also it is unclear what happens if Syria ignores the conclusions of the meeting. So the meeting has a lot of symbolic elements but it's unclear what is going on. I don't know what's going on with Saudi Arabia delegation.

  • 11:21:16

    REHMAll right. Let's talk about what happened at Bagram Air Base this week, Courtney Kube. It would seem that copies of the Koran were burned and there was a huge uprising and anger on the part of those in Afghanistan at the American action.

  • 11:21:42

    KUBEThat's right. The trouble began early this week when some Afghan workers discovered some Korans and other religious material were in a pile to be incinerated with trash at the Parwan detention facility in Bagram. The workers discovered the Korans. They pulled them out. There's even some reports that one of them burned his hands badly pulling Korans out. And it incited four straight days of terrible violent protests. Thousands are in the streets throughout the country, Kabul in the east and then in the west today there were nine more killed.

  • 11:22:13

    KUBEThere have been, you know, reports of 20 people killed this week. Two American soldiers were killed yesterday by an Afghan soldier who turned his guns on them during the protest. And one of the most disturbing reports out of this is that there are people in the protest are raising Taliban flags, including outside of one U.S. base in the east where they raised a Taliban flag and shouted death to America.

  • 11:22:38

    REHMAnd of course, President Obama sent President Karzai an apology in a letter. How much good is that going to do, Abderrahim?

  • 11:22:49

    FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all in this context it's baffling to me why anybody would want to incinerate the Koran, the Bible or the Torah. It just doesn't make sense. But equally tragic is the fact that, you know, when incidents like these happen -- and they have happened in Afghanistan before protesting the desecration of the Koran or the burning of it that tragically leads to loss of life, which makes it even more hard to grapple with.

  • 11:23:16

    REHMSo wouldn't you think that after all this time American troops would have understood that?

  • 11:23:24

    FOUKARAThey would -- yeah, but apparently that hasn't happened. We don't know what the result of the investigation is going to be. But as far as the letter that President Obama sent to President Hamid Karzai it's clear that that's not going to put out the fire. And it just gives you a sense of the real challenge that the Obama Administration faces in Afghanistan. But it also, and this is very important I think, it also gives you a sense of the advantage that the Taliban have.

  • 11:23:53

    FOUKARABecause this is a very emotional issue that opens the floor for a common language that the Taliban and the rest of the population speak which is that people are very sensitive about religion. And the Taliban can very easily use the issue of the incineration of the Koran to mobilize the people in ways that make it very difficult to reach an agreement.

  • 11:24:17

    REHMMoises.

  • 11:24:18

    NAIMAnd it also shows how there is a silence for the Afghans that don't want this to happen, that there is the lack of proportion between these accidents and the loss of life. There is -- you know, how do you explain that more than 20 people have been killed by this. You know, the U.S. authorities say it was a mistake. No one in Afghanistan seems to believe it was a mistake. There is an atmosphere of mistrust after all these years. And so that also tells you a lot about the mood of the country and about what will happen after the United States pulls out in 2014, as President Obama has promised.

  • 11:25:03

    KUBEWhat you have to remember, Afghanistan is still a counter insurgency operation. This is still an operation where the NATO troops are trying to win, they say, the hearts and the minds of the Afghan people. And there's still this basic lack of understanding about how these what seemingly small mistakes, disastrous mistakes, can have such tremendously disastrous consequences, on not just the mission there undermining the mission, but then on the overall feelings for the Afghans with the NATO troops, who are already seen by many as occupiers.

  • 11:25:37

    KUBEAnd also, you know, frankly spending time over there, one thing that I was immediately struck by is there are NATO employees, all of these cultural advisors, people who literally spend their days advising them on what to do and what not to do and the intricacies of the Afghan culture. The fact that someone didn't think to say, these look like religious materials, they could be religious materials. Let's give them to the cultural advisor. These people are being paid thousands of dollars to be employed in this and...

  • 11:26:03

    REHMYou were in Afghanistan just a few weeks ago. With whom did you speak? What was the mood?

  • 11:26:14

    KUBEThe mood hasn't really changed frankly in the last several months. Right now is a very critical time though, which is another problem given this Koran news this week. The U.S. and NATO are trying to negotiate for a continued presence after 2014. It's likely to be more advisors and training of the Afghan security forces. But this right here right now, I mean, President Hamid Karzai does not seem likely to accept foreign forces to stay after 2014 given this terrible outbreak of violence and protests throughout the country.

  • 11:26:47

    KUBESo the time almost couldn't be more detrimental to the talks there right now. There's also talk with the Taliban potentially engaging in direct negotiations with the Karzai government, peace negotiations. And this actually interestingly could propel those talks because it could motivate the Karzai government and the Taliban to work together against NATO.

  • 11:27:08

    REHMMoises.

  • 11:27:09

    NAIMAnd just to show how explosive and flammable this issue is and how it touches politics across oceans, President Obama immediately apologized in a letter to President Karzai. And no one seems to take that seriously. No one seems to believe that this was a mistake, in Afghanistan I mean. You know, a lot of the people rioting just think that this was, again, a deliberate offense of the desecration of the Koran.

  • 11:27:33

    NAIMMeanwhile here, it bounced back. And in the campaign, the Republican campaign to nominate potential candidate, Newt Gingrich said that he was offended by President Obama's apologies, that it is the Afghans and the Afghan government who has to apologize to the United States. This is just to show you the kind of very extreme views that are coloring and shaping the situation.

  • 11:27:59

    REHMAll right. And meanwhile, awful violence in Iraq this week. What happened there, Moises?

  • 11:28:09

    NAIMAnother carnage and again, this is in the wake of the United States troop withdrawal. Yesterday more than 50 people were killed and 200 injured across the country. Mostly however it happened in Baghdad and mostly in the Shiite Karada districts, car bombs and all kinds of explosions. A lot of civilians, including children and young people were killed. No one has taken credit for it. The government suggests that it's Al-Qaeda again and that this is the modus operandi that they have used in the past.

  • 11:28:52

    NAIMBut again, it is just part of the horrible politics and the violence that continues to cripple that country's evolution.

  • 11:29:01

    REHMAbderrahim.

  • 11:29:02

    FOUKARAObviously, these bombings in Iraq have happened in a very interesting context because Maliki has been touting himself as the leader of the Iraqi spring. He's been saying, my government which is a Shiite-dominated government has brought stability to Iraq. The Iraqis are actually gearing up for hosting the Arab Summit in -- but that is another sign that the government in Iraq thinks that Iraq is stable. The Saudis, to placate the Iraqis and reward them for joining the boycott of the sanctions against Syria have said that they will actually -- that they have actually appointed an ambassador for the first time to Iraq since 1990.

  • 11:29:50

    FOUKARASo I think this spade of bombings is really the answer to all this talk coming out of Baghdad that the situation is under control.

  • 11:29:57

    REHMCould this be sectarian warfare?

  • 11:30:02

    FOUKARAThere is definitely sectarian warfare. I mean, Nouri Maliki's government is a Shiite-dominated government and it's seen by many Sunnis, not just in Iraq, but also in the neighborhood of Iraq it's seen as a proxy of Iran.

  • 11:30:16

    NAIMIt has sectarian elements. But let's remember there is also a power. These are the views of sectarian sentiments and the manipulation of religious feelings and ethnic devise to just -- this is a very, very basic fight for power and how to share power between different groups that are jockeying to dominate politics and government in Iraq.

  • 11:30:39

    REHMCourtney, the UN's nuclear watchdog met in Tehran for two days of talks. What happened?

  • 11:30:50

    KUBEWell, it ended disappointingly for the UN nuclear inspectors. The nuclear watchdog group the IAEA went in for talks in Tehran with the understanding that they'd be able to visit the military site at Parchin, which is believed to be a test chamber for bombs. There's believed to be a test chamber there. And this came just several days after Iran expressed a willingness to potentially resume nuclear talks.

  • 11:31:16

    KUBEBut ultimately they were not allowed in. It was just -- all they had were negotiations. They left without any kind of access to the nuclear facilities and any assurances for any future access. So it was a big disappointment for the UN, the IAEA and the International Community. And unfortunately it's just one more tick in the ticking time bomb for potential strikes with Israel in Iran.

  • 11:31:42

    REHMAnd you were with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea.

  • 11:31:48

    KUBELast week, yes. I went with the U.S. Navy through the Strait of Hormuz and saw the Iranian warships and the little fast boats cutting across waves that, I have to say, I don't think I could be in a small motorboat going through these waves. But it was fascinating to see the area that there's been so much rhetoric about, the potential to close the strait, the potential to mine the strait.

  • 11:32:11

    KUBEOne thing that I did come out with was the realization that Iran wouldn't be able to do too much in the strait without the International Community knowing, specifically the U.S. Navy. There are so many assets there. The notion that they could lay a mine field in the strait is pretty farfetched. They wouldn't be able to do it without the U.S. Navy's knowledge. And, you know, the other thing that I found just fascinating throughout the whole thing, there's also a concern from the U.S. Navy that there would be a rogue element, these small boats that could potentially have a bomb. That they could go and they could hit a tanker, they could hit, you know, a U.S. Navy ship.

  • 11:32:47

    KUBEBut what's interesting is how many methods the navy employs and even these tankers employ to keep them from doing just that. We saw some last week.

  • 11:32:58

    REHMCourtney Kube, a national security producer for NBC News and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Moises.

  • 11:33:10

    NAIMCourtney's right. The probability that the Strait of Hormuz where 30 percent of the oil from that region passes will be closed is very, very low. Yet only the possibility that that may take place, even if it's a very low probability, has driven oil prices to record heights. This week oil has reached in euro denominated terms the highest ever price...

  • 11:33:34

    REHM$107-and-a-half here, I think.

  • 11:33:40

    NAIMAnd so that just tells you how sensitive this all is and how we're going to see the consequences of this at the pump when we got to gas up the car.

  • 11:33:48

    REHMBut what about the fears of Israel attacking Iran?

  • 11:33:54

    FOUKARAWell, first of all, on the issue of the spiking of the price of oil, I mean, you have to remember that that also serves the interest of the Iranians because Iran is a major oil exporter. And at least in the eyes of many people in the region, one fundamental asset that both the Iranians and the Israelis have in common is this ability to maneuver indefinitely. I mean, if you just look at, in terms of the negotiations with the Palestinians for example, the Israelis are seen in the region as being able to negotiate indefinitely and come back to square one.

  • 11:34:30

    FOUKARAThe Iranians are seen to possess a similar asset. If you look at the talks with the nuclear watchdog, many Western diplomats are already complaining over the last few days that the Iranians just want to keep on negotiating indefinitely, when in fact their real intent is to build the bomb. But we know that the Iranians are saying that our ultimate goal is not to build the bomb. It's to build nuclear capability for civilian purposes.

  • 11:35:00

    FOUKARASo I mean, the broader context to this is that the Israelis are maneuvering. The Iranians are just as good at maneuvering. I find that, given the state of play in the region, I find it very hard to imagine a major military conflagration between Israel and the United States on the one hand and Iran on the other.

  • 11:35:23

    REHMBut how are Iranians feeling the sanctions, Moises?

  • 11:35:30

    NAIMThe sanctions and the technologies, as you call it, of sanctions has improved greatly in recent years. These sanctions against Iran are being more effective and they are more targeted. And they are affecting the ability of the country to operate, the ability of the country to integrate, import export with the rest of the world, for senior Iraqi officials to travel. And it -- you know, and the economy -- the widespread -- broadly the economy of Iran is being deeply affected.

  • 11:36:05

    NAIMAnd again there are elections coming up and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing an important set of elections in this context.

  • 11:36:13

    REHMLet's talk about Greece. It was offered a second bailout package. For this week euro zone leaders are hailing the deal as a triumph. Was it, Courtney?

  • 11:36:26

    KUBEWell, it averted another chaotic default by Greece and the potential that Greece would fall into bankruptcy. So from that perspective it was a win. Greece has to -- of course, Greek parliament accepted some very unpopular austerity measures this week, which lead to more protests in the streets in Athens and beyond.

  • 11:36:47

    KUBESo the biggest problem is this just continues to be kicking the can down the street once again. It's another effort to delay what could be an impending disaster in Greece and then beyond in the euro zone. They're providing this financial support to this highly indebted country that comes with strong strings attached. And it's hoping that ultimately they'll buy them some time for them to break down their budget deficit to -- that the precious months they'll be able to cut their deficit. But ultimately it hasn't worked in the past.

  • 11:37:19

    REHMCourtney Kube of NBC News, Moises Naim of El Pais, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Short break. When we come back, it's time for your calls. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. First to Derry, N.H. Good morning, Catherine. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:12

    CATHERINEHi. Thank you for taking the call. I'm concerned about the flag-burning issue because I was to -- ask if we know all the facts and if it's correct to get angry right away if we don't because. When I saw my former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, speak on this this morning, he said that these Korans had been used by the Muslim POWs and had been used to write notes back and forth to each other.

  • 11:40:44

    CATHERINEIn a sense, they were the ones that vandalized them. And the military burned them because that was the respectful thing to do and that's what they were told. So in light of all that, who -- speak on this would be Karzai. We don't necessarily need to apologize because -- done our best.

  • 11:41:01

    NAIMWhat is very interesting to me is that no one contemplates the possibility that this was an honest mistake. That the troops were given assignment of cleaning the trash, were disposing trash and in the middle of that there were some Korans. They noticed it and they stopped it and tried to avoid it. No one believes that because in Afghanistan because there's no trust.

  • 11:41:25

    NAIMAnd, you know, when you start thinking who in a large air base is in charge of cleaning the trash. Who is in charge of garbage collection? These are not highly sophisticated, culturally-sensitive troops. And, you know, the possibility that a mistake, an honest mistake that was, took place, again, is seldom considered.

  • 11:41:48

    REHMBut here's an email from Abe in Coral Springs, Fla., who says, "For the life of me I cannot understand why the officer in charge -- this assumes an officer in charge of the destruction of the Korans has not been cashiered or worse. As an Army retiree I'm flabbergasted that whoever led that project did not make any effort to find out what was the acceptable method of destruction."

  • 11:42:28

    FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all, with regard to what we heard from the caller about John Bolton, I mean, it strikes me as very strange indeed if these Korans had been used by detainees to transmit messages that, you know, copies of the Koran with such sensitive intelligence material from the detainees would be disposed of in a garbage by we don't know who, actually, was looking after the garbage.

  • 11:42:56

    FOUKARAAnd secondly, I mean, look, maybe because we're sitting here in the comfort of Washington, D.C., but it seems to me that it doesn’t need the work of a genius to know that this is a Koran or this is a Bible or this is a Torah. And even if you have the most ignorant soldier, whether he's American or European or from another nationality, they would know that in the context of a country like Afghanistan this is a highly explosive issue.

  • 11:43:30

    FOUKARAAnd even without the context of Afghanistan, just as a matter of personal conduct towards the holy book, whether it's the Koran or the Bible or something else, you should treat it with respect. Now, when you are in a context such as Afghanistan where these issues can actually make issues of war and peace much more exacerbated, it's just flabbergasting to think that such a thing happened.

  • 11:43:53

    REHMAll right. To Clearwater, Fla. Good morning, Joann.

  • 11:43:59

    JOANNGood morning, Diane, and everybody there. My comment is this, in spite of the fact that two journalists were tragically killed in Syria and there is escalating amount of innocent citizens getting killed, my hope is still that the United States does not arm the Syrian rebels. We don't know much about them. And my fear is that we could be giving arms to a group that could potentially turn against us, as we did when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the CIA gave arms to Osama bin Laden and his fighters in the 1980s.

  • 11:44:41

    REHMCourtney?

  • 11:44:41

    KUBEYeah, Joann, it's looking less and less likely that the U.S. would actually provide arms to the opposition. There are reports that some of the other countries in the region have provided them arms, but the notion that the western world would, it seems relatively far-fetched at this point. Instead, it seems that the U.S. and the international community, the western world, are likely to try and work more from the humanitarian side.

  • 11:45:10

    KUBEThere's even some talk of trying to provide some sort of a protected corridor. Maybe even peace-keeping troops, that’s come up in Tunisia today actually, that would provide a safe haven, sort of, for civilians to go and a place for troops and relief organizations to come in and bring medical supplies, food, gas, everything to...

  • 11:45:32

    REHMTo Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Bob.

  • 11:45:36

    BOBMorning, Diane. I believe that the people of -- given a safe passage to a North African country.

  • 11:45:48

    REHMAny comment? Courtney?

  • 11:45:51

    KUBEThere already have been refugees streaming into Lebanon. And there are likely to be more refugees before this conflict is over, leaving the country. Unfortunately, it's just nothing about this Syrian conflict is easy at this point. It looks more and more like it's just going to continue to fall into chaos and Assad is not going to fall as a leader.

  • 11:46:15

    KUBEHis security forces continue to be relatively loyal to him. There's a low possibility for international intervention. Oh, and in the end the population in Syria -- there's a low participation in these protests. The vast majority of the population in Syria, especially in Damascus and in Aleppo, in the large cities, they're not protesting against the Assad regime.

  • 11:46:37

    KUBESo unfortunately, it looks like the people will continue to be living in this chaotic situation with no end in sight.

  • 11:46:44

    REHMAll right. Here is a very poignant email. He identifies himself as a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air Force. He says, "I cannot talk specifically about the incident. I think I can illuminate the problem. While all the other military branches deployed together, they understand their roles, unit and responsibilities. However, in the Air Force, we deploy as individuals for three, four, six or even 12 months. When we arrive at our location, we have to come together and become a team.

  • 11:47:47

    REHMI believe all the rules and guidelines are not taught to new members. My apologies to the Muslim people of the world. And please don't think the burnings were done by the U.S. government, but by ignorant people." And it's signed Robert.

  • 11:48:16

    KUBEThe military that Robert is talking about and what they call an Individual Augmentee in the military. And the Air Force and the Navy send them over to the war more than others. And they're sort of people who fill a billet. They put them in. They take them away from their unit and they fill a billet in Afghanistan. They also did this in Iraq, obviously.

  • 11:48:32

    KUBEThis term is bandied about in the military. It's called a strategic corporal. And what it is is a low-ranking, often young person in the military who often out of, you know, just being junior and making a mistake does something that has strategic implications on the larger conflict. And that's something that I've heard a lot this week, that this was likely the act of a generic strategic corporal.

  • 11:48:58

    KUBEThe problem is -- and Robert, I'm sure, knows this, assuming he was an Individual Augmentee into Afghanistan, why these were burned does not matter. How it happened, what the circumstances were, it really doesn't matter in the end. These protests have even been in areas where the Taliban does not have a strong foothold anymore.

  • 11:49:18

    REHMHum.

  • 11:49:18

    KUBEIn the end, it's just a terrible disastrous mistake and it's going to have strategic consequences.

  • 11:49:25

    FOUKARAI mean, in a way in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world, it undoes the reputation that President Barack Obama built as someone who wanted to be not just the U.S. president, but the U.S. president with the most understanding of Islamic tradition. And whether he sends the letter to Karzai or he doesn't, I think it's gonna be very difficult to convince people, who are already convinced that this is the official working of the U.S. government, and they will not buy into the story that this was just a mistake, even if it were a mistake made by an ignorant sergeant.

  • 11:50:09

    REHMAll right. And to Yellow Springs, Ohio. Good morning, Henry.

  • 11:50:17

    HENRYGood morning. I'm also a military retiree and I'd like to likewise address how could this have happened after 10 years of what we've been through and everything. And, like Diane, I listen to right-wing radio occasionally. And the trash talk, especially on Islam and all that I think for just of people and has basically desensitized, isn't even getting into the depths of it, of how the talk radio opinion shows have just warped individuals, especially those that listen to a lot of it.

  • 11:51:10

    REHMIt's interesting. I do think it's as though that kind of talk that Henry listens to and I listen to because I feel I must hear what is said, is to create somehow a monstrous other as opposed to people of different beliefs, people of different habits, languages and so on. And it's truly unfortunate.

  • 11:51:48

    REHMNow, I must tell you that the Saudis have in fact walked out of the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis over what it saw as the gathering's inactivity. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported that the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal left the meeting saying that humanitarian aid to Syria was not enough. He said my country cannot take part in any meeting that would not lead to protecting the people.

  • 11:52:36

    FOUKARAI think that what we've been hearing in recent weeks, especially since the Russians and the Chinese veto at the UN Security Council on Syria, what we've been hearing from the Turks, what we've been hearing from even the West is much less about toppling the regime of Bashar Assad and how can we help people who are in need of humanitarian effort?

  • 11:52:58

    FOUKARAThe Saudis have invested themselves way too much and way too far into the idea of toppling Bashal Assad for all sorts of different reasons. One of them is that he's an ally of Iran and there's a cold war going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And talking about humanitarian relief, in this case, was obviously not going to be enough. And I suspect that message was driven across by the speech of the Tunisian president when he said, we should not be arming anybody. And I guess that wasn't pleasing to the Saudis.

  • 11:53:27

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". We have an email here, "Is Syria, Iran and other hot spots around the globe showing the UN to be weak or empowering it to take on a more active and decisive role?" Moises?

  • 11:53:52

    NAIMThe UN is what the member countries want it to be. And in this case, if Russia and China don't want any action taken to protect the innocent civilians in Syria then that's the signal they sent and that's the signal that was read very, very clearly by Assad, who then took the initiative of doubling down on the killings and the assassinations of innocents in...

  • 11:54:20

    REHMMoises, let me ask you about Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez. He's facing another health scare. What do you say about it this week?

  • 11:54:32

    NAIMThis week he announced -- a couple of weeks before he had announced that he was completely cancer free. That he was cured. And that everything was fine. And he is facing an election and in a campaign. He needs now to start campaigning. This week he then announced that no, it is recurring, that he will have to have an operation, that he's going to Havana, Cuba to have the operation and that he even admitted that that will slow him down and will perhaps make it hard, if not impossible for him to take place in the electoral campaign in the next few months.

  • 11:55:11

    REHMSo you would think he will not participate at all?

  • 11:55:17

    NAIMThe problem is that he has kept his health details as a state secret. We don't know still what kind of cancer he has. We don't know what kind of treatment he's getting.

  • 11:55:28

    REHMWhy did he go to Cuba for treatment?

  • 11:55:30

    NAIMMostly for security reasons. He feels that if he's done in Cuba the details will be more protected. The government has gone to great extremes in trying to hide the exact nature of his illness. And in Cuba he feels that he can control the flow of information about that.

  • 11:55:49

    REHMMoises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, thank you all so much.

  • 11:56:02

    NAIMThank you.

  • 11:56:02

    KUBEThank you.

  • 11:56:03

    FOUKARAThank you.

  • 11:56:03

    REHMBefore we close, I want to say a very sad farewell to Harry McPherson, one of the most decent, honorable men I've ever known. He worked, as did my husband, during the Johnson administration. I want to send my deepest condolences to his wife, Tricia and their family. Thank you all for listening. I hope you have a great weekend, but stay safe. I'm Diane Rehm.

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