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Secretary of State Kerry announced a plan to provide the Free Syrian Army with food and medical supplies. The U.S. will also more than double humanitarian aid for rebel-controlled areas. But the administration’s first public commitment of support for the armed opposition fell short of their request for weapons. Nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran ended with only an agreement to hold further meetings this spring. Pope Benedict officially entered retirement. And Italy’s inconclusive election reignited fears about the European Union’s debt crisis. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler current White House correspondent and former diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times.
- Moises Naim chief international columnist for El Pais and author of the forthcoming book, "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be."
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. pledges food and medical supplies, but not weapons, to Syrian rebel fighters. Talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program end with an agreement for future talks. And Pope Benedict XVI leaves Rome for a papal vacation home after officially resigning. Joining me for this week's Friday News Roundup of our top international stories, Moises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Mark Landler of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join me and call us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning, Diane.
REHMMark Landler, talk about the significance of Secretary Kerry's announcement about aid to Syrian opposition leaders.
LANDLERWell, at a meeting in Rome, Secretary Kerry announced for the first time that the United States will extend non-lethal aid to armed rebel factions in Syria, which is an important step. Perhaps more symbolically than real because the nature of the non-lethal aid is medicine and food rations.
LANDLERAnd what the rebels have said all along, have indeed been clamoring for, is to get weapons. The United States is not going to--at this moment anyway--give them weapons, provide weapons. So this gesture, while important symbolically, still reflects the reluctance that the Obama administration has had to be drawn into this conflict militarily.
REHMBut what about other things like body armor and the like, Courtney?
KUBEThe U.S. is still rejecting those calls for now. There's some speculation that perhaps if the Free Syrian Army--because this aid that Mark was talking about, the food and the medicine, the training, that goes directly to Free Syrian Army. It goes directly to the Syrian opposition military, so that's new. It's opening this channel of communication between the U.S. and this military group. But the concern is that if--well, I guess what we're looking for is if the Free Syrian Army really distributes that aid, that medicine to the correct people, it doesn't end up in the hands of insurgents.
KUBEIf that's the case, the U.S. could maybe inch forward with more communications equipment or whatnot. In the meantime, the E.U. lifted an embargo on providing non-lethal equipment to the Syrian opposition. I think the embargo was lifted today, actually. So the British are going to send some body armor, maybe some armored vehicles, communications. And the U.S. is actually still training some of the rebels in Jordan.
NAIMThe United States is very concerned about the possibility that this aid and these weapons may fall in the hands of a group called al Nusra Front, also called the Jabhat al Nusra, which is a group that was formed in 2012. And it's the most aggressive, the most violent group that has had and has staged very, very important strikes against the Syrian government. But the United States did put this group in a terrorist list. And it's rumored to be the al Qaeda franchise operating in Syria.
NAIMAnd that has created strong reactions from the other opposition forces. And the head of those oppositions, who met with Secretary Kerry, has asked, officially, that the United States takes al Nusra out of the terrorist list because they have the same enemy, they share the same enemy, they share goals. They said we'll do politics later. But this is a group that says that it's fighting to establish a pan-Islamic state based on Sharia law and it's very, very much an issue of concern.
REHMBut what about U.S. efforts to covertly train military fighters there in Syria, Mark?
LANDLERWell, we reported this week that indeed there is a covert operation underway. We reported this morning that's in Jordan. It's being run by the CIA, not by the U.S. military. We still don't know the size or the scope of the mission. We don't know whether they're brining large numbers of fighters over or only commanders. We don't know whether they're training them purely in communications and tactics or in how to use weapons. That would be a very important point because the U.S. might be, in fact, training fighters to use weapons that it is not itself supplying.
LANDLERAnd that could be a way that the U.S. is upping its involvement without crossing the line into providing lethal weapons. So a lot needs to yet be learned about the nature of this operation, but what it shows is that this is happening along two tracks, a public track, aid to the opposition coalition, food and medicine, but also on a covert track. And presumably the U.S. is not the only country involved in that. There's probably British involvement in this, other allied involvement.
REHMSo called friends of Syria?
LANDLERFriends of Syria are operating in a couple of different ways. And what's interesting is that the word of this covert operation has sort of leaked out in the same week that Secretary Kerry increased America's public support. So there's a sort of a suggestion here that the U.S. wants to make it clear that on a lot of different fronts we're willing to do more, even with all the reluctance and resistance that President Obama has shown up until now.
REHMSo how is this new aid from the U.S. likely to affect Assad and his supporters?
KUBEWell, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson came out this morning and said that it's going to just encourage future armed uprisings to overthrow governments and that it was dangerous, which also, there was rumors earlier this week that perhaps Russia was coming more onboard with helping to bring Assad to the table and helping to, you know, get him out of power, but that doesn't appear to be the case after these comments.
KUBEBut also, you know, going back to what Moises was saying earlier about the Jabhat al Nusra brigade, the fact that the opposition coalition leader came to Secretary Kerry this week and said, you know, take them off of your terror list because they're not terrorists, they're part of our growing group. That really represents the core problem here for the U.S. administration and these other so-called friends of Syria. It's that this opposition is quickly looking at the U.S. and the nations that are helping as more of the opposition, than they are these Jihadists.
KUBEYou know, the moderate Syrian opposition are sort of falling into the hands of these extremists who are helping them in their fight and they're starting to feel more and more isolated. They're trying to help out with these sort of local governing councils in the areas that are rebel held, provide sanitation, rule of law, whatnot. We can throw money at that, but in the end that's really going to have a very minor impact in what these rebels want. What these oppositions want is weapons.
NAIMWhat we had heard is that the United States is not the main player here. It's a very important player, but you have a bunch of other actors, both inside Syria and outside Syria. That includes, of course, Iran and Russia and the European Union and, of course, Turkey. Turkey is a very important player because of its location, the role it's playing in the Middle East and so on. Secretary Kerry, after the meetings in Europe, is today, I think, in Ankara meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan. And that meeting was also overshadowed by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan made some very strange comments equating Zionism with a crime against humanity.
NAIMAnd the United States and other countries strongly reacted. And so that now becomes part of the conversation instead of just how are we going to deal with Syria together.
LANDLEROne other point to make about what Secretary Kerry put on the table in Rome was also $60 million in direct financial aid to the Syrian opposition coalition. And this is important because it's aimed at allowing the opposition to provide better basic services, whether it's sanitation or water. The actual things that have helped other groups, notably Hezbollah, make huge inroads in Lebanon. So there's an element here that the U.S. wants to do two things, empower the rebels to the extent it's willing to, but also empower the civilian opposition to provide better services.
LANDLERAnd that goes back to the argument about al Nusra and some of the Salafists and other groups, in addition to their fighting capability, they're sometimes viewed as being more effective in local governance. So you have to empower the opposition or the goal, at any rate, is to empower this more moderate opposition to play that role, as well.
NAIMThat's right. And the social situation is just dire. It's just terrible. And the people there, just also need all kinds of assistance. And we're rapidly approaching the one million people mark of refugees and displaced persons. We are at 950-something thousand people that have lost their homes, that are displaced, that don't have a means of making a living. And there are many other players, as I said before…
NAIM…that are helping them. And that's why the United States also feels that it has to have a presence, not only with weapons, but with assistance and help.
REHMSo how is that 60 million going to be used? Is that going to help refugees? How is that going to be used?
KUBEMy understanding is it's going to go to sort of the local governors of these areas that are rebel held. And they'll help with sanitation. They'll help with rule of law. Hopefully cut down on any kind of vigilante justice. Create sort of more of a governed space by the opposition. The only problem that it really presents from the U.S. perspective is the optics of it. This money is not going in stamped with USA on it, so they Syrians don't know. And that's one of the other problems with some of this humanitarian aid, is it goes in and the Syrians don't realize it's coming from the United States, in part because they don't necessarily want to make the aid or make the people who are getting it more of a target, that they're receiving this outside assistance.
KUBESo from the optics perspective, the Syrian people still look at it and say, oh, well, America isn't helping us.
REHMDoes that aid have to be approved by the Congress? How might it be affected by sequestration?
KUBEThe money specifically for…
KUBENo. You know, I don't know that it has to be approved by Congress for any reason. And it wouldn't be subject to the sequestration.
REHMIt would not?
KUBENo. Unlike everything else in government, it would not be…
REHMUnlike everything else. All right. Courtney Kube, she's national security producer for NBC News. Moises Naim, he's with El Pais and the author of a new book, "The End of Power." Mark Landler's current White House correspondent, former diplomatic correspondent for the New York Times. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Mark Landler of the New York Times, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Moises Naim, columnist for El Pais. Let's talk about Iran, Moises. There were two days of talks between six world powers in Iran. What happened?
NAIMWell, they decided, as often happen in these diplomatic summits, the main decision was to meet again. And that, in fact, may be a good sign.
REHMExcept that Iran called it a turning point.
NAIMYes. And in general, there was a mood of optimism and that some progress has been made even though...
REHMWe've got to bring some optimism into these discussions.
NAIM...even though, you know, the next meetings are still pending and this agenda is still -- you know, progress there has not been completely -- these, Diane, these meetings have as much to do with sanctions and elections in Iran as -- sanctions on Iran and election inside Iran as they have to do with a nuclear program.
NAIMThe sanctions are biting. The sanctions that these are the most sophisticated, wide and significant sanctions that the International Community, a wide array of countries have now imposed on Iran. It has now historical precedent and they are having dire consequences on the economy. And that is bringing them to the table, but at the same time there are elections in June where Ahmadinejad -- President Ahmadinejad ends his term. And as we know, there is a very deep rift between him and the supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
LANDLERAll of Moises' points are very apt and I agree with the political calendar being so important. But I'd make two sort of points about the substance of these negotiations. I think part of the reason the Iranians are putting a more positive gloss on it and calling it a turning point is because there's evidence that the West has somewhat softened its demands.
LANDLERIf you recall over the past several rounds of negotiations it's been a pretty simple formula. Cease enriching uranium to above 20 percent and close this Fordow enrichment facility. This is the facility they're building in a mountainside near the holy city of Qum. And it's of extraordinary concern to the Israelis because they feel that at some point the Iranians will make this facility impregnable and resistant to any air strikes. So the Israelis have been pushing the major powers to demand that this facility be shut down.
LANDLERWell, what happened this week is that the major powers said to Iran they want them to cease enriching uranium to 20 percent and make arrangements so they won't readily be able to resume doing it. That's a slightly modified use of language from shutting it down altogether. And the Iranians had said all along, we're not going to shut down this plant that we have invested so much in. So on the -- in the sort of people who parse the language to look for signs of movement, that was a small but potentially important change in the major powers position.
KUBEYeah, and Iran would also -- the reports coming out of the meeting is Iran would also agree to some more inspections by the IEA, more regular inspections that -- another concession that it seems that the P5 plus 1 made to Iran is that their current stockpile of uranium at 20 percent would not have to be shipped abroad as was previously demanded of the P5 plus 1. And said they could maintain a very small amount that would be used only for medical isotopes. But they would not be allowed to enrich anymore.
KUBEAnd in exchange the P5 plus 1 nations would lessen some of the sanctions and get rid of some of the trade embargo sanctions. But they would not get rid of the most biting ones, the oil and the financial sector sanctions that are just really destroying Iran's economy slowly.
REHMWhat about Israel's reaction to all this?
LANDLERWell, there's another interesting twist that's happened over the last several weeks, which is that there's evidence that the Iranians are actually beginning to use their stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, 20 percent enriched uranium. They're diverting some substantial chunk of it to make fuel rods to go into a research reactor. And the reason this is really important is because it actually buys a little more time for everybody before Iran would have a level of 20 percent enriched uranium that the Israelis would deem as intolerably high.
LANDLERSo the Israeli reaction has been cautious this week. And I think that may reflect the fact that everyone's calculation is perhaps a little less urgent than it was six months ago when you remember Prime Minister Netanyahu famously went before the United Nations with that picture of the path to an Iranian bomb. Well, it may be -- and I don't want to overstate this because it's all highly technical -- but it may be that that pathway, the window between now and the breakout capability is slightly longer than we thought it was six months ago. And that I think also accounts for slightly different atmospherics at this meeting.
NAIMThe only relevant thing that happened this week in Israel is that they tested a new missile shield that is brother and, you know, for ballistic missiles coming from Iran for example, that provides an additional layer of protection and security on this issue. At the end however, what matters is what Ali Khamenei the supreme leader will decide. And there is -- we have a history here in which decisions and commitments and progress has been made. And then he comes and said there's no deal, go away, and nothing happens.
NAIMSo this has happened several times in the past so we hope that the progress of the mood of optimism in Kazakhstan this week continues. But let's remember that at the end of the day it's the word of one man.
REHMIt's interesting that John Kerry was called out for referring to Iran's government as elected, same problem that Chuck Hagel had. But as you said, there is an election next month.
NAIMThere is an election but we have learned that elections now have acquired different meanings in different places. You can have an election that looks like an election but in fact does not comply with what we understand to be the minimum conditions for elections where you have free and fair elections where the position is able to participate freely without coercion where the state doesn't use the resources of the government to support...
REHMSo would you never refer to what's going to happen in Iran as an election?
LANDLERWell, no. I mean, there is an election. People go, they cast ballots, there's candidates. You know, the fact that the election and the aftermath of the election was so abused the last time led to days of bloody street protests. So I think it's simplistic to say that there's not an election. It's just clearly not an election and a process that we would regard as truly democratic.
REHMAll right. But in Italy there has been an election and a guest on yesterday's program said Italy has no pope and no government. What happened in the Italian elections this week?
KUBEWell, there were two shocking -- pretty shocking results. The first was this Italian comic turned political activist or agitator really. He established this antiestablishment internet-based party. And they came out of nowhere. They have no real platform, no real programs other than they want to encourage more of a green economy and have no way to pay for it. And he came away with 25 percent of the national vote and he's taken 160 seats in the parliament. And everyone was sort of shocked.
KUBEThey were also somewhat shocked by the fact that Silvio Berlusconi, amidst all of these crazy scandals that he's been involved in the last year or so, he took a significant portion of the vote as well and became this -- the minority blocker. So they need to form some sort of a coalition government. Well, now Beppe Grillo, this Italian comic now politician, he's saying he's not going to side with one of the -- either of the two main political parties. And he's just going to take -- he and his -- they call themselves the Grillini -- he and the Grillini are going to take every single vote as it comes and decide from it.
KUBESo it promises for frankly chaos in there.
REHM... a mess, a mess.
NAIMAnd Italy's the most extreme manifestation of a trend that we're seeing globally in which elections are not defining a way of governing a country. It ends up being highly fragmented. You have a lot of small powers that can veto any initiative. And that creates gridlock and makes the government quite incapable of operating. We have an example this weekend here in Washington with the sequester in which we have a situation in which essentially the government and the opposition cannot agree on moving forward. What I'm saying is that if you look around the world in more detail you see a lot of this happening in many countries.
LANDLEROne other important thing that comes out of all this amidst all this opera buffa aspect to Italian politics is there is one clear message. And the message is the austerity policies of Mary Amonitti's technocratic government have been broadly rejected by the Italian people. And this is important for a couple of reasons. As painful as Mary Amonitti's policies were, they had reestablished Italy's credibility in international financial markets which had the effect of taking a bit of the heat off the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.
LANDLERBy throwing all that once again into a question, it's going to ratchet up the sort of sense of uneasiness in Europe. And then the one other piece of it is that the other thing that both Beppe Grillo and some of the other candidates, Berlusconi, made a major platform of in this campaign was rejecting Germany's leadership role as the country that is steering the attempt to keep the euro on track, to keep Europe's economies on track.
LANDLERAnd so this result was greeted with a great deal of nervousness in Berlin where Chancellor Merkel is now worried that if the Italians peel off and no longer play by the German rulebook, it could really throw the euro once again into disarray. And then frankly has electoral consequences for her. She faces an election in September.
KUBEYeah, absolutely. And, you know, this election, in the end, it's remarkable. Twenty-five percent of the vote was really a protest vote but the vast majority of the overall vote was anti-austerity. And one of the things that Beppe Grillo really did stand for, he wants -- he's calling for a referendum on Italy leaving the euro zone. It's the third largest economy in the euro zone and that would have tremendous ripple effects throughout Europe.
KUBEThe markets already showed it this week. As soon as the election results started coming through, there was this wave of fear that sort of overtook the markets, and in the United States as well.
REHMSo for the European economy right now, what does this election, or a lack thereof, mean?
NAIMAnd yes, Diane, it's not just for the European economy. It's for a global economy because if the Italian instability rocks and undermines the European economy, that obviously -- well, what we have learned painfully is that now these things travel quite quickly and following very strange itineraries. And we may feel it in our pockets very soon.
NAIMTo make things even stranger in Italy, you know, in the next surprise -- not the next surprise -- another surprise of this election is that Berlusconi's back. We had thought that he was gone. No. He now got 20 plus percent of the vote. He's a second force in the country. And yesterday another judge said that he was going to try to put him in jail for having bribed in 2006 a senator to move to his side in government.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You should know that John Boehner has just emerged from the West Wing staking that same position he had before he went into a meeting with President Obama and other congressional leaders saying no more revenues period. And it is said that the president may make a speech in just a few moments. So we shall see.
REHMLet me just ask you now, we were talking about the Italian election. Of course another important election will begin on Monday. The Cardinals are gathering to come to a decision about a new pope. I wonder whether the election of officers in the Italian government has in any way been affected by the fact that the pope himself has stepped down, Courtney.
KUBEI don't know that I've seen any evidence of it. I think that everyone wants to think of this intrigue that exists around how the Cardinals choose a pope. But it seems like it's actually a very regimented structured, you know, historical process that they don't seem to deviate much from in any capacity. But it's a fascinating process in that. You know, they're going to meet on Monday and presumably -- we don't know 100 percent yet but presumably set the time for the conclave. And then all of the Cardinals will lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel and begin casting their ballots.
KUBEIn the meantime, you know, it's fascinating to me how they come together before the conclave and a lot of these Cardinals have to get to know one another. You know, you would assume that it's this very high echelon of the Catholic Church that they would all have a working relationship but almost 60 percent of them were appointed by Cardinal Benedict...
KUBE...I'm sorry, by Pope Benedict, which means that many of them are relatively new to be in Cardinals. They've never been involved in a conclave before.
LANDLERI think we need to stipulate, first of all, that we have no idea what happens behind those closed doors. That's one of the world's remaining true mysteries. But one other interesting backdrop here is that the pope obviously left amid a great deal of scandal, amid scandal not just in the broader church but in the Vatican itself. Talk of wire tapping phones, leaking of damaging information. He has commissioned a report that was done by three very senior Cardinals about all kind of evidence of corruption and misbehavior inside the Vatican.
LANDLERAnd one of the interesting things that will happen early in the conclave is I -- the Cardinals will be allowed to see not the entire report, which the pope has stipulated as to be held only for his successor, but they will be given some highlights of what's in that report. And that is very interesting because for a lot of these Cardinals, as Courtney points out, who are from far flung places, have maybe not been in their jobs that long. They're probably just as puzzled by what's going on in the inner sanctum of the Vatican as some other people.
LANDLERSo in addition to getting to know one another they may want to get a sense for the lay of the land. You know, why exactly did this pope decide to take the extraordinary step of resigning his office? There may be more here that we don't know and I imagine the Cardinals themselves want to satisfy their own curiosity before they make a momentous decision about who to hand the reins over to.
REHMAnd Moises, aren't there a lot of factions present within that group of Cardinals who will do the electing?
NAIMOf course, Diane. They reflect different doctrinal and theological views, different regions, different demands from the flock. And there are also a lot of politics. And so Mark is right in saying that we have no idea what the outcome of this is. Nor do we have any idea of what are the consequences of the report -- of the secret report that Mark mentioned.
NAIMThis is a report that the pope commissioned to a group headed by Cardinal Herranz, a very senior Cardinal from Spain, a member of the Opus Dei. They created this 300-page report that has been kept secret. And the pope said I'm not going to deal with this. This will have to be the next pope who is up...
REHMMoises Naim. He's chief international columnist for El Pais. Courtney Kube of NBC and Mark Landler of the New York Times. Short break and your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we're back, ready to open the phones. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Let's go first to Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Good morning, Marie.
MARIEYes, thank you, Diane, for taking my call.
MARIEOne thing that has just riled me up about this pope who just left, I'll never, ever forgive him for going to Africa where AIDS is rampant and they're having one child after another that's dying and they're so poor and telling them never to wear condoms. What business is it of his?
LANDLERWell, he thinks it's very much his business and he also believes he's infallible in these matters. But, you know, you're raising obviously the huge question which is that this pope has a very rigorous and many would say completely outdated view of Catholic doctrine, unbending, unreflective of current reality and I think the big question is, given as Courtney said, how many of the cardinals are appointed by Pope Benedict, whether it's realistic to hope for a pope that would take a radically different view.
LANDLERThere might well be a pope from Africa or from the Latin American world or from Asia, that's all possible but that doesn't necessarily mean that that pope will have a very different theological and philosophical view. Most of the rising cardinals and the powers in the church are very much in the mold of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. They're extremely conservative.
LANDLERTheir goal is to purify, to keep the church very pure and not to undertake any kind of a reform along the lines of Vatican II so we may see an African pope who will be just as hard-lined on this issue as his German predecessor was.
REHMAnd President Obama has just spoken regarding the cuts that will go into effect. First the publication The Hill is reporting that Mr. Boehner said the House next week will move a resolution to keep the government funded through September 30th but would not agree to any new tax increases.
REHMPresident Obama says now what's important is to understand that not everyone will feel the pain of these tax cuts right away but the pain will be felt. President Obama says Americans will get through the sequester crisis. He calls it dumb and warns of pain for the middle class. Whether we're in the national or the international hour it's important to talk about these statements and the sequestration. Mark?
LANDLERWell, it's clear from this last meeting, honestly, it was clear before the meeting ever happened that the train has left the station. There isn't going to be a compromise, a last-minute compromise or breakthrough. The sequestration will go into effect.
LANDLERThere will be these across-the-board cuts and what's going to be interesting is that the White House is very much of the position that politically over time this will harm Congress and the Republicans much more and that they can in effect let this play out for a while and let some of this pain be felt and the pressure will build.
LANDLERWhat's interesting though is how much will the pressure be felt by whom, how quickly, on what timetable? A lot of this is somewhat uncertain. There was a period of time a few days ago where the White House was speaking kind of apocalyptically about air traffic controllers being pulled from their jobs and closing small airports around the country and other things like that.
LANDLERArne Duncan made some statements about schools closing which were later shown to be perhaps not so much related to the sequestration as other things. So there's a great deal of posturing on both sides, not just about who is responsible for it, of course. That's been the great debate of the past two weeks in Washington, about how the pain will be felt and where.
LANDLERSo I think really as with the fiscal cliff we may actually tip over it. Remember there was a lot of talk...
LANDLER...on New Year's Eve about this incredible zero hour we were approaching. Well in fact we did go over it very briefly. In this case it appears that we will go over it by much more than that. And then we'll simply have to see how the pain manifests itself and whether the White House is right or wrong in its calculation that ultimately the American people will blame Republicans in Congress for it and not the President.
NAIMSo it maybe that the sequestration comes and the world doesn't end and there's nothing major happening. But the truth of the matter is that these and it's worth repeating, these are self-inflicted, completely unnecessary wounds to the American economy, a weak economy that was in the process of recovering and that inevitably it generates more uncertainty, stops people from investing, stops job creation.
NAIMSo the immediate, more easily to measure, easy to measure consequences perhaps are not so dire. In the long-term, the notion that this large, important country in the world, this superpower cannot make very basic decisions and instead gets into very dumb, as President Obama said, self-inflicted wounds says a lot about the structure of power in Washington these days.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call Owings Mills, Md. Good morning, Claire, you're on the air.
CLAIREGood morning. I was just wondering if there is a timeframe that they have to elect. Could it go on for months? Could it go on for days? Or is there a time where they have to say, you have to have a new pope.
KUBEI'm not aware that there's any time limit. In fact, I feel like there was even some sort of a law that was passed years ago that set the specific timeline for it, that they have to wait 15 days before the conclave starts after the pope dies because Pope Benedict had to alter that law since obviously he was retiring as opposed to. He hadn't passed away.
KUBESo I don't know. I'm not aware of any specific timeframe. You know, this entire change of power has just been so unusual and historic, it's thrown a lot of the Catholic scholars up in a tizzy. It's, you know, the first time in 600 years that a pope has resigned as opposed to passing away.
KUBEWe believe this is the first pope in history who has actually been able to address the cardinals who will choose his successor because he was alive at the time of his, of the change. And I'm not a scholar, but I believe this is the first pope in history who was able to send a farewell message via Twitter, but I would have to look back and make sure there wasn't a previous one.
NAIMYes, as Courtney says, the situation is as complex. There was a very interesting statement by Hans Kung who is one of the most important theologians in the world. He works at the University in Tubingen, Germany who said that, you know, in the same way that there was an Arab Spring that undermined all sorts of autocracies it's time for a Vatican Spring in which the structure of the church as it has been held now has to be opened and liberalized and changes will come.
NAIMSo that just illustrates the range of issues that are going to be discussed and are driving the decisions of the cardinals in the conclave.
REHMAnd of course, there are many people who want the church to stay exactly where it is, with talk of women as priests, with talk of marriage for priests. I mean there are some people who don't want to see that happen and want the church to remain faithful to what it has always been.
LANDLERWell, and indeed one of the themes of Benedict's papacy was an emphasis on a pure church even if the price of that purity was a smaller church. And in fact there have been numerous articles written during Benedict's papacy that suggested that his own vision was not necessarily to continue to expand the church and to change dogma in order to do that but rather to reinforce, to buttress the core of the church even if, as I said, the price of that is a smaller church, not a universal church in the old definition of that.
REHMAll right, to Daytona, Fla. good morning Pat, you're on the air.
PATGood morning, I'm questioning the use of the word purity when you talk about the Catholic Church. Now your guests said this quite frequently this morning because this pope or any of the history that we know a little bit about.
PATI'm really not a historian but it seems to be more political than anything else and when we in our time. It's been a little bit of a disgrace to me to see that if a priest got in trouble historically we see that he was not punished for the trouble that he got in. I'm talking about pedophilia right now, that they were elevated. Now that priest is a bishop, you know, up in the realms and I don't think purity should even come into question.
REHMAlright thanks for your call.
LANDLERWell, maybe the better word is rigorous or uncompromising or, you know, I think purity in the sense that I used it was not meant at all to get into the question of the conduct and behavior of the clergy which has clearly been a huge problem.
REHMAll right, to Joe in Bethesda, Md., good morning to you.
JOEHi, thank you for taking the call.
JOEOne of your guests happened to say in response to a woman's call about condom use in Africa that the pope felt that he could say that because he was infallible in that manner. If he's really an expert, he should know that the pope does not speak with infallibility on those matters. He's only infallible when he speaks ex cathedra and it sort of demonstrates either a lack of knowledge of the Catholic Church or an anti-Catholic bias in your guests and I would ask you to try and balance the argument with your guests next time.
KUBEWell, the pope is believed to be the human embodiment of the message of God so he's someone who is supposed to understand the Catholic dogma so strongly and live it so strongly that he can pass it along to the flock. He can pass along the beliefs of what he believes God is telling people on how to live that is.
REHMAnd just in defense of our reporters here, I don't think anyone would claim to be an expert on Catholicism, dogma, the pope's infallibility, but I have had and did have yesterday a full hour on that subject. Thanks for your call. Let's go to Fort Wayne, Ind., good morning, Doug. You're on the air.
DOUGGood morning, Diane, thank you for taking my call.
DOUGAnd thanks to all of your guests there. One comment I want to make, since you opened the door on sequestration. We're deficit spending about a trillion dollars a year. With the sequestration, we will be deficit spending $915 billion a year, give or take a few billion.
DOUGNow I don't blame the Republicans for that, I credit them. We have got to cut spending somewhere. Of course, it's going to hurt, but so is setting a bone or taking chemotherapy. The end result of deficit spending ad infinitum is it's going to ruin us and I don't think anyone takes the long-term view of that's...
REHMAll right, Mark?
LANDLERI guess the only observation I'd make to that is it's the nature of where the cuts are falling. Under sequestration, it's discretionary spending. I think most economists would argue that the long-term solution is you have to address entitlement spending. That's where the costs and the growth of the costs are particularly damaging over the long-term. So really it's also the composition of the spending not the mere fact of them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And the president has been taking questions from the press. He says he remains open to entitlement cuts as long as it's part of a bigger deal. And let's go now to Orlando, Fla., good morning, Gary. You're on the air.
GARYHi Diane, thanks for taking my call.
GARYMy comment or question or whatever is regarding the Catholic Church, which some of your panel was mentioning. And I'm a Catholic and my first wife however was, I believe, a Lutheran. So when we had my son, I wanted to get him baptized Catholic so we went to a local church down the road and the monsignor there refused to do it because my wife wasn't Catholic and we needed to get an annulment before he would consider baptizing my son.
GARYAnd so I went across town -- and this was in Wisconsin at the time and I went to another Catholic Church and that priest was more than welcoming, to take another baby into the fold, you know, into the Catholic religion.
GARYAnd I just -- that made me. This was about 25 years ago and that turned my whole thought pattern into these priests are getting somewhat big-headed and all the people that run the Catholic Church over there in the Vatican seem to put themselves into the position that they're God and they're going to make all the decisions.
REHMAll right, we'll leave it at that. You clearly had a very interesting experience. Let's talk about the legacy of Van Cliburn.
KUBEWell, he was this 23-year-old, tall, lanky kid with enormous hands that seemed to span the piano and in 1958 he went to Moscow and won over the Russian people with his piano-playing. He won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow right at the height of the Cold War, just a few months after the Russians had successfully launched Sputnik and America was feeling maybe a little bit inferior if not a lot scared about the fact that the Russians had done this.
KUBEAnd he sort of became the American Sputnik. He was able to, in a sense, just by playing the piano, the Russian people embraced him. They adored him and he was able to, in a small way, warm a little bit of the tensions of the Cold War.
REHMThere was a beautiful story in The New York Times this morning about Van Cliburn's visit to a dying man. You didn't read that? It was just extraordinary. He brought a piano in, played for this man. It was such a touching story. But I do agree with you Courtney that he came, his talent, sort of showed through all of the distemper of the world that was going on at the time. And for him to die at such an early age is quite sad, Moises, anything from you?
NAIMYes, it's a lot of what you said and at the end this is more about space exploration and superpower rivalries in the Cold War than about music. He used music to bring together different cultures that at the time were against each other.
REHMMoises Naim, his new book to come out on Monday is titled "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be," Courtney Kube of NBC News and Mark Landler of The New York Times. Thank you all...
REHM...thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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