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.
Guest Host: Terence Smith
Greek elections usher in a conservative, pro-bailout party and the new prime minister forms a government. European leaders hold a mini-summit on the debt crisis. In Egypt, protesters gather in Tahrir Square as they await delayed presidential election results. The Arab League presses Russia to halt arms shipments to Syria. And talks over Iran’s nuclear program stall. A panel of journalists joins guest host Terence Smith for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Stella Dawson U.S specialist, economics editor, Reuters.
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
MR. TERENCE SMITHThanks for joining us. I'm Terence Smith, formerly with PBS, CBS and "The New York Times," sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's had a cold this week, but says she's feeling better and expects to be back on Monday. Greek elections usher in a conservative, pro-bailout party and the new prime minister forms a government. European leaders hold a mini-summit today on the debt crisis. In Egypt, protestors gather in Tahrir Square as they await delayed presidential election results. The Arab League presses Russia to halt arms shipments to Syria and talks over Iran's nuclear program stall.
MR. TERENCE SMITHJoining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Stella Dawson of Reuters and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. Welcome to all three of you. Jonathan Landay, the Greek elections. You have a relatively conservative new democracy party elected, but the problems certainly have not gone away.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYThat's absolutely true. There were expectations or hopes, at least, that the elections of this government, after a first stalemated election back in May, were going to calm the markets in Europe and they did so, but only temporarily. And this government faces, not just serious economic problems, but it's got a balance an attempt to try and win some loosening of the very severe austerity terms attached to its second bailout, with trying to address the serious social problems that previous austerity measures have created in Greece.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYAnd it has to stay in power itself. This is a very, very weak collation and it's so weak that the second largest party in the collation, which happens to be the first, the major partners, long-time historic rivals, are the socialists have only given one junior member to the cabinet. The third party in the collation, who left, hasn't given any and so Antonis Samaras has got some real balancing to do. And there are expectations that not only will he not be able to deal with the growing economic problem that could push Greece out of the Eurozone, but the government could well collapse.
SMITHStella Dawson of Reuters, what does Greece have to do at this point to stay in or get in the good graces of the Eurozone leaders?
MS. STELLA DAWSONThe G20 leaders and the EU leaders in Los Cabos, Mexico, made very clear earlier this week that Greece has got to stay on track and continue its structural reforms. During this political interregnum that they've been having, they have slowed down those reforms. They've got another approximately $12 billion in cuts, austerity measures, that they're supposed to push through in order to continue on their $130 billion euro bailout package.
MS. STELLA DAWSONThe EU leaders have made clear they will want them to stay on track. That's going to be very difficult for Greece to do when they've got unemployment for youth at about 50 percent and recession that's 15 percent loss of GDP. What the Greek government is requesting is they would like to see the time period over which they implement these reforms ease a little bit. They're talking about two years. The EU has not given any indication they're willing to do that. I would anticipate there'll be some haggling and they'll try and comprise on one year to give them more time.
SMITHSome extension, Abderrahim?
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAPossibly. I think that the ray of sunshine, if you will, in all this is that there are large numbers of Greeks who do not see leaving the Eurozone as something that they want or wish for. And now you have the hard line, such as Angela Merkel of Germany, who seems to be willing to loosen, as Jonathan has said, some of the austerity terms that she had so adamantly defended in the past.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAAnd just to hark back to what Stella said about the G20 meeting in Mexico, one thing that came out of it that is cause for optimism, at least as far as the Greeks are concerned, is that the Americans seem to be very interested in having Europe do everything it can to help out the Greeks. And it's interesting that this comes, for me at least, this comes at a time when there are various countries in my neck of the woods, in the Middle East, grappling with the issue of democracy.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGreece has only been a democratic country for a few decades, after military dictatorship. And the fact is that a lot of Greeks have said in so many different ways, in peaceful demonstrations, in violent demonstrations, but through repeated elections, that they do not want the kind of austerity measures imposed on them that Angela Merkel had originally angled for.
SMITHAnd yet, Jonathan Landay, this Eurozone crisis seems to go on and on and on. No leader, not Angela Merkel, no leader seems able to take the decisive steps or prepared to take the decisive steps to deal with this in any decisive way.
LANDAYWell, that's right and Angela Merkel, of course, answers to her constituents, answers to the voters of Germany who put her in power, as does her party. And they are very, very hesitant to expose Germany to essentially the debt of the countries that are in trouble, that are suffering this sovereign debt crisis, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and now Spain. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, those are small economies but Spain is the fourth largest economy in Europe. Right now their banks are looking for a bailout, at least the government's looking for a bailout of, we heard yesterday approximately up to $68 billion euros because of the housing bubble that burst in Spain leaving them with these massive amounts of debt.
LANDAYThat would be a huge burden. It’s going to be a huge burden to anyone who steps in. Germany is very hesitant to do that because of what it would mean to its own, exposing its own economy. And beyond that, there's questions about whether the Spanish government itself will be able to survive without its own bailout.
FOUKARAThen on top of that, you've got rumblings in Italy, which is seeing the servicing of its debt skyrocketing because of the size of its debt, although its economic fundamentals are much better than Spain or any of the other countries. So you have this fundamental gap, you know, Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, it wants to stay that way. And a lot of Germans don't want to be exposed to the debt of these other countries.
SMITHAnd yet don't they, Stella Dawson, don't they have to confront the consequence?
SMITHIf they fail to do so?
DAWSONYes, absolutely. I think there's been an important shift over the past month whether you've seen Angela Merkel saying, we have to have more Europe. What you're seeing here is an evolution not a revolution. We're talking about wanting these big bang solutions in Europe in order to get this crisis over with. That would be lovely, but what we're really talking about is 17 democracies that have got to take a lot of time to come around to the idea of how do you move from a monetary union into a banking union, then a fiscal union, then a political union?
DAWSONThat's something revolutionary, but it has to happen at an evolutionary place. Merkel has now said she's ready to do it, she's got to do the sales job, as Jonathan very accurately says, to her people. But they are making progress and they have the EU summit coming up. I'm anticipating from what they were saying in Los Cabos, Mexico, that they will put in place some kind of a broad framework for how they will take those steps, to ultimately ending up with a political union.
SMITHAnd there's a bit of a mini-summit today, Abderrahim, in Rome with Germany, France, Italy and Spain, discussing these very issues.
FOUKARAWell absolutely. I mean, as Jonathan said, we obviously, we've been talking about this first tier of European economies, Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The real concern begins with the next tier, the bigger economies and that is Spain and Italy. Spain is obviously, at this particular point in time, is in much worse shape than Italy is, but Italy, in addition to its economic, as we all know, it's economic woes, Italy has, the political system in Italy has over the last 20, 30 years gone through its own hoops and that's necessarily helping the case of Italy bringing its economic house in order.
SMITHAnd the premiere, Mario Monte, is seeking concession specifically for Italy.
FOUKARAExactly. But I think what you have within the European Union -- so what you've had within the European Union so far and I think what you will continue to have for a long time to come is an issue of identities. Northern Europeans who seem to have the better economies, the French, the Germans primarily who are really the locomotive and have been the locomotive of the European Union, Britain to a lesser extent because Britain has a foot in Europe and a foot in with the United States, if you will.
FOUKARAAnd then you have the southern economies of Europe, Portugal, Spain, Italy. The northerners have always looked at the southern Europeans as not being effective in the way they manage their economies. But the southern Europeans have always looked on the northerners, particularly Germany, as trying to impose their will on southern European economies.
DAWSONI think that's going to create a very interesting position for the new French president, Francois Hollande. Because he has the ability to straddle those two, he shares an alliance with Mario Monte in Italy and some sympathy toward Rajoy in Spain. But as the second largest economy, he needs to work very closely with Merkel and make sure that there's a French-German solution.
LANDAYI think one of the first major tests is going to be how they come down, the leaders come down on this Italian idea of using the European bailout funds to try and stem the increasing, huge increases in debt servicing that Spain and Italy are going, are seeing right now and we should see more of that today and on next week at the summit.
SMITHComing up, more about the international stories confronting us today. Stay tuned.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith sitting in for Diane Rehm on the Friday News Roundup of international topics. And I'm joined here in the studio by Abderrahim Foukara, who is the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic and by Stella Dawson, U.S. specialist and economics editor of Reuters and by Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
SMITHAbderrahim, why -- let's go to the question of what's going on in Egypt and the delay in the election results. Initially they were to be announced yesterday, Thursday. Now the electoral commission says no, there's been a delay. We're checking out, you know, questions of fraud and so forth. Is that the real reason?
FOUKARAPossibly yes, possibly no. I mean, both -- the campaigns of both candidates Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi have talked about rigging and fraud. And there are about 400 cases that the electoral commission -- 400 cases of alleged fraud being investigated by the electoral commission. So they're saying we need time to investigate thoroughly.
FOUKARAThe Carter Center, by the way, which has monitored the Egyptian election, issued a statement yesterday. And they said, we can only ascertain the integrity of the election to the extent that our mission actually covered. And it didn't cover the entire process. It didn't cover the districting and the process right from the start. So they say the part that they monitored they didn't see any rigging which sits at odds obviously with the allegations of both presidential candidates.
SMITHNow -- but that's the possibly yes answer. But the possibly no answer...
FOUKARAThe possibly no answer is the -- harks back to the position of the supreme constitutional court. Supreme constitutional court issued a ruling a few days ago nullifying the parliament. And at least the Muslim Brotherhood...
SMITHThe lower house...
FOUKARA...the lower house of the Egyptian parliament, which the Muslim Brotherhood dominate, that decision was seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a political decision, not as a constitutional decision. And the constitutional decision was based on the fact that a number of the lower house -- a number of seats in the lower house had been allowed to be contested for individual independent candidates. And the allegation is that although the Muslim Brotherhood had agreed to that, they in fact used that to field their own candidates and fill those seats that were supposed to go to independents.
FOUKARASo now they're saying the decision of the constitutional court was a political decision to actually help the military dissolve the parliament. The supreme council is concerned about the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the lower house of the parliament. It was concerned that it may dominate the constitutional assembly that would draft the constitution. And it was concerned that they would also amass the Muslim Brotherhood with a mass of the other power which is the power of the president.
FOUKARASo they moved in, they dissolved the parliament, they issued an addendum to the constitution saying the president, whether it's Shafik or somebody else, will only have this number of limited powers. So they curtailed the powers of the president even before the president has been announced. So now we have the Muslim Brotherhood and others demonstrating in Tahrir Square and other parts of Cairo saying that if -- that the election results should not favor Shafik. And they're using these protests, at least as far as Shafik is concerned, as a means to put pressure on the military so as not to rig the result of the election and give it to Shafik. So there's mistrust on both sides.
SMITHStella Dawson, this sounds like a soft military coup.
DAWSONIt's looking dangerously as if it could be heading that way. I think one thing to be concerned about is the very council that's reviewing these election results is the one that in the last Mubarak election gave him a 90 percent victory. So all of these measures that we just described certainly are looking as if they are trying to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood, keep control of the military.
DAWSONAnd this is a very worrisome situation because it ends up with an inability to get Egypt back on its feet. We had many of the electorate who were actually voting for Shafik because they didn't want to go for the Muslim Brotherhood. But the whole goal of the revolution of leading toward a more open democratic society is very much in debate right now.
SMITHAnd those goals are in the minds of the tens of thousands of people who are in Tahrir Square today. Jonathan Landay.
LANDAYOne of the things that people are not focused on as they focused on the political turmoil in Egypt is Egypt's growing economic crisis. The country has suffered serious economic turmoil since the overthrow of Mubarak. The tourism -- all important tourism industry has been seriously, seriously damaged. Egypt has only about two months left of hard currency reserves -- the equivalent hard currency reserves for imports. It's got a massive budget deficit. It has not concluded an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a loan. And so as the political turmoil goes the economic turmoil gets worse.
LANDAYAnother issue here is how -- is the position that this puts the United States in. The Obama Administration, and particularly the Obama Administration's Pentagon, has made an enormous investment in its efforts to persuade the SCAF, the military council to step aside, to put Egypt on the road back to democratic civilian rule. The chairman of the joint chiefs has been over there. He has had telephone calls with the defense minister who was one of Mubarak's right-hand men because at stake here is $1.3 billion of annual U.S. military assistance to Egypt. And that is the basis for the Peace Accord, maintaining the peace agreement with Israel.
LANDAYSo all of this turmoil has many other implications that are serious and that go to the stability of the region and U.S. national security interests.
FOUKARAI think that the point that Jonathan has raised about the economy is much more crucial than crucial because the economy, as he has just said, it has suffered almost total drainage both in terms of its performance but also in terms of Egypt's foreign currency reserves that are said to be almost completely depleted.
FOUKARANow Shafik who served as the last prime minister under Mubarak, and he's seen by many of his opponents as trying to revive the old regime but...
SMITHAs a Mubarak man.
FOUKARA...as a Mubarak man and as a pawn of the military. But it's interesting to listen to the ticket that he's run on. The ticket that he's run on is back to stability and he's not just talking about political stability. He's talking about economic stability. And that message resonates with Egyptians who, by the way, tend to be politically conservative and economically more conservative because they have been deeply hurt in their pockets over the last 15 months.
FOUKARATo what extent he is actually genuine in saying those things as opposed to saying them just to win votes and it'll be business back to normal, we don't know.
SMITHStella Dawson, almost as a sideshow this week, there's been the up and down about Mubarak's health and he's said to be in critical condition, on and off life support. There is some question, I suppose, as to how genuine that is or whether it's a maneuver to try to secure better treatment, even a pardon for the former president.
DAWSONYeah, I mean, at one point, there were reports that he had actually died, then that he'd had a stroke, that he was moved...
SMITHClinically dead, I think, was...
DAWSONClinically dead, exactly, yes...
SMITH...was the phrase.
DAWSON...accurately said -- and now moved to a military hospital. Very hard to know exactly what's going on there but with the other political maneuvering in the background with regard to the decision that was taken by the military, it's very difficult to know. One thing I...
SMITHHow much does it matter?
DAWSONI don't think I'm in a position to say on that one. One thing I would like to add though, I think that we need to also remember when talking about the strategic importance of Egypt and the amount of military aid that has come in from the United States over the many years and the 1.3 billion that's contributed to its budget, should the Muslim Brotherhood take the presidency and had it retained or should it again retain control of parliament, and the potential for an Islamist-controlled Egypt is also equally worrying for the United States and does raise similar questions about what the future of the aid is.
SMITHAbderrahim, I ask you that question as well. How much does it matter? I understand that former president Mubarak is still a very important symbol and he symbolizes the old regime. His health -- he's not going to return to power.
FOUKARANo. He's not going to return to power and the issue of his death at this particular point in time obviously it's going to make things complicated. And there's debate among Egyptians whether it's going to sway Egyptians one way or another. But to me, the most important thing to watch for is not whether it sways Egyptians or not. The most important sign to watch is what sort of funeral he will be given. Because if he is given a low key -- it's one thing if he's given a low key funeral, just family and friends and the event passes on unnoticed. It's a completely different situation if he's given a state funeral.
FOUKARA'Cause remember, he was president for 30 years. He was originally from the military so giving him a fully fledged state funeral will be a massive statement from the military as to what their intentions for the future are.
LANDAYIf I had to be Machiavellian and conspiratorial given the amount of chaos in Egypt and how a lot of Egyptians are very, very worried, why not throw in the health of the president to increase the worry, increase the insecurity and thereby drive up support for what the military is doing to bring stability back to Egypt?
SMITHStella Dawson, also this week there was dramatic -- there were dramatic developments in Syria in that ongoing situation -- excuse me. And a Syrian fighter pilot, very senior member of the air force, flew to Jordan on Thursday and announced he was seeking political asylum. What's the significance of that and is this some sort of unraveling of support for President Assad?
DAWSONThis is the first pilot who's taken an aircraft and actually gone over the border. Now we need to bear in mind that the air force has not been used significantly in this conflict. It has been primarily the -- actually forces on the ground. But without question having a fighter pilot take a fighter plane is symbolically a very difficult situation.
DAWSONWe -- it's also not the first time that there have been significant people moving. We had a general -- brigadier general over a tank unit last week who also went over to the other side and a year ago, a colonel who now is one of the people who set up the free Syrian army. Reuters is reporting it's very difficult to know how much descent there actually is within the air force. But the fact that he's done it could indeed encourage others to do the same.
SMITHI'm Terence Smith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Jonathan Landay, you wanted to add something.
LANDAYMcClatchy, my company, has had two reporters inside Syria for weeks now accompanying the rebels. And one of them happens to be a former marine who was an air craft controller -- a ground controller in Afghanistan. He filed...
SMITHA former U.S. Marine.
LANDAYYes. He filed a story yesterday with regard to this defection but in a broader sense. And what he has been watching, what he has been seeing is that yes, Syrian forces both on the ground and the air have been shooting at the rebels but not very accurately. And when they've used aircraft, he's reported, they actually fly way too high to be accurate that they -- and when they actually do fire, they fire very inaccurately.
LANDAYAnd his conclusion is that these may well be an indication that these are people who sympathize with the rebels, don't want to kill them, don't want to kill civilians, but also don't want to be arrested by the regime. And therefore they're doing things like defecting with aircraft or being very inaccurate in the use of their aircraft.
FOUKARAWanted to add quickly a couple of things. There's obviously been that New York Times article which says that the CIA is operational in Turkey trying to vet the Syrian opposition in terms of deciding which group the United States is going to arm, which Syrian group the United States...
SMITHNot just the United States actually, but...
SMITHAnd its allies, the Saudis, Qataris and others. And while there's nothing particularly new in that because we've known for several months now that there's a thriving smuggling trade along the borders of Syria with Lebanon, with Turkey, with Iraq. But the novelty of it is that it coincides with this particular defection of this particular pilot that we're talking about. And the importance of the pilot is there's obviously -- Syrian regular ground troops have been defecting for several months and forming the Syrian free army.
FOUKARABut the importance of this one is that pilots in Syria are extremely carefully vetted by the regime. So for this one to have actually slipped through the net and gone to Jordan I think it's of particular significance. Just one more addition, remember before the invasion of 2003 U.S. -- intelligence from the U.S. and its allies did try early on to make contact with high offices in the Iraqi army to spur them to actually defect at that time. And I think that strategy did bear fruit. Many of them have defected and that made it a lot easier for the invasion to happen, at least in its early stages.
FOUKARAIt would not surprise me if intelligence from the U.S. and other countries are pursuing now a similar strategy with the Syrian army.
LANDAYI can easily see that there's a deal between the United State and Qatar and Saudi who are supplying the arms and the United States saying, okay, you can do that, but we want to make sure -- we want to vet which groups you're sending the arms to. We don't want to see you sending arms to people who are associated with Al-Qaida or some other salafist group. And I think that's probably one of the major purposes of having the CIA officers where they are.
SMITHStella Dawson, very briefly.
DAWSONAnd to the point about how planned this might be I did note that his family had already been moved out of the country and that indicates that this was not just a I'm-out-of-here move.
SMITHRight. So this was clearly planned. Coming up, your calls and questions for our panel. We'll be right back.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the many international topics that are in the news this week with Abderrahim Foukara, who is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic and with Stella Dawson, U.S. specialist and economic editor at Reuters and Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
SMITHAbderrahim, I'm interested in Russia's role in Syria. The Arab League has demanded that Russia stop supplying arms to Syria, its long-time client, really, in the region. And a ship bearing arms from Russia was turned around when British insurers pulled the insurance coverage on it. So tell me how you read the Russian role right now and what might be anticipated.
FOUKARAWell, first of all, on the issue of where the Arab League stands on Syria at this particular point in time, obviously the Arab League represents a relatively broad spectrum of different positions on how to deal with the Syria issue. The Algerians, for example, are against taking any kind of stringent action towards Syria. The Gulf Arabs, the Saudis, the Qataris and others, obviously they feel that they are on the front line. They feel that whatever happens in Syria, particularly that Syria is very close of Iran and relations are not good between Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example, they feel that they have a higher stake in having the Syrian opposition, you know, having it get as much support as it can.
FOUKARAAnd they see the Russian position on Bashar, as it's supporting Bashar Assad through thick and thin, they see it as a threat. The Arab League made strategic mistake -- or at least that's what a lot of people in the region say -- a few months ago when they came up with their own initiatives and they brought it to the U.N. without having prior to that consulted with the Russians. So the Russians took it as an affront. They have since tried to mend fences with the Russians, but obviously the Russians see Syria not just in terms of their influence in Syria.
FOUKARAAs we've heard over the last 48 hours from the Russians, they see Syria as an entry point for them to actually changing the international political system. Sergei Lavrov and his deputy have said that to us Syria provides the key to what the international system will look like tomorrow. And they didn't say whether Assad goes or not because there's some discussion now as to how attached the Russians, at this particular point in time, are to Bashar Assad. We don't know their exact position.
SMITHStella Dawson, President Obama and President Putin met this week at the G20 to discuss Syria. There did not appear to be much of a meeting of the minds.
DAWSONAbsolutely. A very chilly meeting even though they had expected to meet for 45 minutes they met for two hours, but coming out of that we just got quite cold responses, not they seemed to have come to any conclusions. And I think the important thing about the Russian role here is that they now see the usage of Syria as a way to re-inject themselves into Middle East politics in a way that they haven't been during the Arab Spring. They saw NATO take the initiative in ousting Qaddafi in Libya. And this has given them an opportunity because of their long-standing relations with Syria to play a bigger role. Putin's going to play this for everything he can.
SMITHUm-hum. Let's take some calls here. Roscoe is in Shenandoah Valley, Va. Roscoe, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROSCOEYes. Thank you for taking the call and I'm enjoying the show. But listening to all of the talk about CIA and Turkey controlling or trying to control where arms go, all the money to the military in Egypt, I just keep wondering hasn't anyone who's in power these days ever read "The Ugly American"? It seems like 60 years later we're still trying to manipulate and control everything. And that's my comment.
SMITHWell, interesting question, Roscoe. Jonathan Landay, the major difference here is that the CIA operatives that you were talking about earlier are not inside Syria.
LANDAYNo. They're reportedly in Turkey. And to the gentleman's point, obviously countries do what they have to safeguard what they perceive to be as their national security interests, whether it be in terms of controlling ground or controlling economies, insuring that the U.S. economy isn't hurt by actions in other parts of the world. One of the things though one should point out is that to a certain extent the Obama administration has pulled back somewhat in terms of the kind of massive military interventions that we've seen during the Bush administration. It's using other means now. He stepped up drone strikes, cyber warfare purportedly against Iran, but withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, pulling U.S. troops out of Iran, sorry, excuse me, Afghanistan.
LANDAYThank you very much. I hope that's not a...
SMITHThat would be news.
LANDAYI hope that's not prescience. And not taking a front-role seat in the intervention in Libya, but sort of getting involved from behind. You see the United States unable, really, to do anything in terms of aggressive intervention in the European economic crisis. And so I don't think you're ever gonna see any kind in history where the United States or any other country doesn't do what it thinks it needs to do to safeguard it's national security interests.
SMITHRight. Abderrahim, let me ask you about the nuclear talks with Iran and the world powers that ended this week. Was anything accomplished there?
FOUKARAWell, I think there's general consensus that nothing substantial or substantive has been achieved, but remember two things. One is that this particular round of talks was held in Moscow. And we circle back to the importance of the Russians, both in terms of Syria and in terms of, in a larger context, Iran. That's number one. Number two, remember that for decades the Iraqis had negotiated with the international community over different issues. And they weren't very successful. The Iranians, watching them negotiate with the West over the last 10 years or so, they have shown far more agility than the Iraqis have in terms of the brinkmanship. They're very good at it.
FOUKARAAnd they will always get the international community or at least the P5, the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, they'll get them to a point that looks like the brink and then they'll come up with something else that will revive the talks. Now, I'm sure the Iranians have their...
SMITHIt's a dangerous game.
FOUKARAIt's a dangerous game, but I think so far they've played it well. I'm sure that they're watching what's happening here in the U.S. They know that it's election year in the U.S. They know that it would be very difficult for President Barack Obama to engage in military action although, they're obviously extremely worried about sanctions by the Europeans on the Iranian oil sector. They didn't quite close the door in Moscow 100 percent. There's a round of technical talks that has been scheduled. And that may be their way of keeping the door ajar, but as you say, it's a potentially dangerous game.
SMITHAnd of course, Israel is watching very closely, as well.
LANDAYIn fact, I think that we could see a new escalation in the tensions as a result of the impasse in Moscow. And you are going to see, next week, new American sanctions kick in, whereby the United States will cut off access to the American economics and financial system to any foreign banks that are seen to be doing business with the Iranian Central Bank and then the Europeans impose a oil embargo on Iran. Now …
LANDAYPartial oil embargo on Iran. Now we're gonna have to wait and see what the Iranian response is going to be. The hope is by the Western nations and China and Russia that Iran will come back to the table. On the other hand, we've seen a pattern where the Iranians have actually turned up the heat. The last time we saw them threaten to attack American ships, a naval aircraft carrier, if it entered the Persian Gulf. We've seen them bring a new enrichment facility online in a place called Fordow, which is under a mountain, which is extremely hard to get to.
LANDAYWe could see Iranians increasing the degree by which they have been enriching uranium. We could see them go to a higher degree of enrichment. There's all sorts of bad scenarios that we could see play out in the coming weeks. And of course, you still have the Israelis out there saying we won't accept any kind of enrichment program for the Iranians. And I was at a talk this week here in Washington by their new deputy prime minister, Mofaz, who's an Iranian Jew, who says we are not under any circumstances going to allow Iran to maintain this nuclear program. And so things are very tense.
SMITHSo Stella Dawson, this place is a great pressure on those sanctions which are supposed to take effect, I believe, July 1.
DAWSONYeah, they have had quite a significant impact on the Iranian economy. The currency has plunged, inflation has increased dramatically. And the hope is that as the sanctions bite even further and cut off the ability of Iran to export more of its oil, that it will cause them to be more serious about their negotiations. But at the same time, the economic sanctions -- many, many countries have gone through this for many, many years. These might be the harshest that have been delivered and are far more effective because they are squeezing them through the banks and the insurance companies. But the military options still remain on the table even though it seems that we're trying very hard not to use that.
SMITHHere's a caller in Newton, Mass., Leonard, who would like to take us in a different direction. Leonard, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
LEONARDWell, I am surprised that you have not even mentioned the conference on environment that is going on in Brazil as one of the important international events of the week. It is said to be the largest conference the U.N. has ever held in terms of number of delegates. They are discussing issues that quite literally could determine the fate of life on Earth. And I would suggest that the press, like the general public, has a state of denial that these threats really exist. And that they are not doing their homework.
SMITHAll right. Leonard, let Abderrahim respond to that.
FOUKARAMy humble opinion is that this summit in Rio has not been as important has it had originally been built to be. One of the fundamental differences that have lingered throughout the summit and will linger after the summit, certainly, is the divide between the rich and the poor. And there hasn't been any real agreement achieved between the poorer countries in the world and the richer countries in the world. The real blow is that the heads of state of many of the rich and powerful countries did not actually attend this summit.
FOUKARAAnd if you'll allow me, just one quick point on the issue of sanctions that Stella touched upon. Remember...
FOUKARAAgainst Iran. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe has been under sanctions for a long, long time. And Zimbabwe is much, much poorer than Iran is. So I think the people who put all their eggs in the basket of sanctions to sway the Iranian regime, I'm not so sure about that strategy.
SMITHI'm Terence Smith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jonathan Landay, you wanted to add a comment.
LANDAYYeah, the irony here is that I think there could have been some ground to make progress in Moscow. The major Iranian demand is that its right to enrich uranium under the Nonproliferation Treaty be recognized by other countries.
LANDAYAnd in fact, it has been. It's been U.S. policy since the Bush administration to recognize that Iran does indeed have the right under the NPT to enrich uranium, albeit that they first have to satisfy all of the concerns that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has raised about their nuclear program, about allegations that it did at one time pursue a nuclear weapons development program and could be maintaining parts of that program.
LANDAYNevertheless, that, in fact ,has been U.S. policy that has been confirmed by the Obama administration. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham-Clinton has said so. The only reason I think we didn't hear anything was because had the United States said, yes, we recognize that, there would have been serious domestic criticism of Mr. Obama from Mr. Romney and other Republicans, claiming that he's gone weak on Iran.
LANDAYBut the fact is that that's been U.S. policy for quite awhile.
SMITHStella Dawson, let me raise one more topic because this week in Pakistan the prime minister, Gilani, was ousted and now there's confusion, to say the least, as to who the new prime minister will be. And it's an immensely sensitive country and area.
DAWSONYes. People's party has nominated a new prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf.
DAWSONWhether this is going to lead to anymore stability, though, is very much in question. What seems to be going on is the military, the courts and the democratic institutions are all struggling for power. The court is imposing its view and how much the two are linked is a little bit more difficult to tell. The new nominee for president, he too has corruption charges against him. And there had been another candidate who was withdrawn during the week. The ousting of the prime minister, Gilani, this also was over corruption.
DAWSONIt really shows that the depth of the difficulties of leading a government when you have such embedded corruption is extraordinarily hard for the United States trying to withdraw from Afghanistan, unable to reach agreements with the Pakistani government over routes for taking our equipment out of Afghanistan.
DAWSONYeah, supply routes, yeah. An unstable government, uncertainty about how you move forward, elections being brought further forward, really difficult situation.
SMITHVery briefly, Abderrahim, a final comment.
FOUKARAI'm watching Pakistan. And I'm able to actually superimpose the political picture of Pakistan over the political picture of Egypt because you have a similar scenario. You have a supreme court that's been accused of making...
FOUKARA...political decisions in both countries. You have a military that is the real master of ceremony, if you will, in more than just ceremony in both countries, at least at this particular point in time, in Egypt.
SMITHAll right. Thank you all very much. Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera, Stella Dawson of Reuters, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. I’m Terence Smith sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you for listening.
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