President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Cyprus banks reopen under tight controls. The Arab League recognizes the Syrian opposition. And a new government crackdown in Egypt. 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.
- Elise Labott CNN foreign affairs reporter.
- David Ignatius columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
MS. DIANE REHMThank for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says his rocket forces are ready to settle accounts with the U.S. Banks in Cyprus reopen with restrictions on transactions and as the Syrian opposition opens its first embassy in Qatar, President Assad appeals to a five nation economic forum meeting in Africa for help.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Elise Labott of CNN and Mark Landler of the New York Times. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning, Diane.
REHMElise Labott, the U.S. flew two stealth bombers over South Korea yesterday. Defense Secretary Hagel said it was not meant as a provocation. Why was it done?
LABOTTWell, it was done, Diane, in response to recent provocations by North Korea such as the nuclear test and even more, threatening to attack U.S. bases in the region. threatening to attack the U.S. mainline and it was also meant to show U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, that the U.S. is ready to protect them and ready to defend itself.
LABOTTThe chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said this was to assure our allies that we could protect them and to conduct a long range strike at will precision. But the question is, was this a provocation to North Korea? You know, after suffering from American carpet bombing during the Korean War these stealth bombers are particularly sensitive to North Korea and anything that kind of shows North Korea its defense is about, is willing to get North Korea's back up. It doesn't take much.
LANDLERI guess, Diane, what I would say is that what's different about this particular cycle of provocations and response is that the U.S. and South Korea and the allies know so much less about the behavior and motives and psychological condition of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.
LANDLERThese kinds of cycles are well established in North Korea where the North Koreans are belligerent, the South Koreans or perhaps the U.S. respond. Everyone reaches a certain fever pitch of tension and then things subside and often that's followed by a diplomatic overture, whether from the North toward the South or vice versa.
LANDLERIn this case it's interesting, the South Koreans are sticking to a plan of providing humanitarian aid to the North and detaching it from the North Korean nuclear program. This is a program of the new South Korean President Park and that's viewed as rather a sort of a very mature and interesting way for her to start off her presidency given the level of provocation that she's dealing with from the North.
LANDLERBut to get to sort of the heart of the matter, it has to do with Kim Jong Un. Is he acting in a way where there's liable to be a miscalculation? His father was a master of taking these things right up to the limit, but knowing when to back down, when to stop short.
LANDLERAnd this new president with so little experience relative to his father, who spent years and years preparing for his job, there's just a greater degree of uncertainty about whether he'll know when to call things off, when to step back.
IGNATIUSThe Obama Administration's policy toward North Korea has been described as strategic patience and what I think you've seen since their nuclear test in February is that U.S. patience is running out. and so the decision has been made, I think, as North Korea threatens to attack U.S. bases, U.S. territories specifically, to respond as you would to a military threat from another nation.
IGNATIUSAnd demonstrate that you're prepared to go to war if that other nation chooses to attack. And that's a big step. The U.S. is flying our most aggressive weapons of war, B2 stealth bombers over adjacent territory. We have submarines in the waters off North Korea. We have an array of forces and what I hear talking to people in the Pentagon is, people are thinking more carefully, how would we use them.
LABOTTBut it goes back to the whole issue that Mark brought up about a miscalculation.
LABOTTBecause as Mark said, Kim Jong Un is believed to be by the U.S. more unpredictable even more dangerous than his father. His lack of experience, his desire to prove himself to the North Korean people and to the world could lead to a miscalculation and at this very time North Korea has said no more need for communication, cut off all communications with South Korea, with the United States, these hotlines that they have going back and forth that they use for crossing cross border transit between South Koreans that work in an industrial park, but the ICRC, military hotlines.
LABOTTSo in a very time where there's no communication between the two sides with an unpredictable leader, that's a very combustive mix that could lead to some miscalculation and escalation which nobody anticipates or nobody wants but maybe can be prevented.
LANDLERAnd I guess the other I'd add is, as ever, the Chinese are a key player in this equation as well and as of the last couple of weeks we have a president in China. Xi Jinping has completed the multi-stage process whereby he consolidates power. So we have a new paramount leader in China. He's been in touch with the president of South Korea expressing his hope to find ways to stabilize the situation.
LANDLERThe Chinese have proven to be just a recurring source of frustration for the United States. They alone among nations have real influence over the North Koreans since they have so much to do with the continuing survival of that regime.
LANDLERBut they've been traditionally very loathe to really step in in a big way to do anything that could really destabilize their regime in Pyongyang because they have their own fears of what would happen should that regime fall. So there'll be a lot of focus, I think, on Xi Jinping and how he approaches the North Koreans in the coming weeks as well.
IGNATIUSWell, I think Mark is right but a part of U.S. strategic patience has been being patient awaiting the Chinese to step up to their responsibilities as regional power and address this very erratic destabilizing government in Pyongyang. And the U.S. has waited and hoped and almost begged the Chinese to take greater action.
IGNATIUSAnd so, yes, there's hope that the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, will play a more positive role. But one of our Washington Post experts on Asia, John Pomfret, wrote a very important piece a week ago in which he said, all of his sources and his judgment built up over decades watching China tells him that China prefers the current situation.
IGNATIUSPrefers to have this quite volatile North Korea as a buffer between itself and South Korea and so John was really saying don't expect the Chinese to come in and change this because they won't.
REHMWhat I want to hear from you, David, because you had a little implication or I had an inference, how scary is the current situation?
IGNATIUSNorth Korea's one of the problems that I have tended just to look past as I look at crisis's spots around the world. But I'm not doing that as much now and I think your listeners shouldn't either. We have a very bellicose, erratic regime in North Korea which is threatening to attack the United States and has cut off communication, almost saying, you know, I pulled the pin on the grenade, I'm ready to blow myself up.
IGNATIUSAnd how do you react to that and I think our government is looking at ways to try calm down the North Koreans if you can but also to prepare for the possibility that they mean it. So what they're thinking about, how would we shoot their missiles down? How would we, what would be the steps in a crisis? How do we show the South Koreans that we have a nuclear umbrella and we're serious about that?
REHMWorst case scenario, North Korea attacks U.S. bases in South Korea, what happens next?
LANDLERWell, the U.S. retaliates, the South Koreans retaliate, the role of the Chinese comes very much into play.
LANDLERDo they attempt to shore up the North Koreans? I mean, do you then run into some sort of a potential confrontation? I mean, presumably all sides have thought about this for years and have thought of ways to avoid it. but I mean, that's precisely why David says he's paying attention now. Because the moment that happens it's a regional conflict immediately and it's very difficult to contain it to the peninsula.
LABOTTBut I think the Chinese, in particular, even though it's very true that traditionally they have wanted to avoid any kind of escalation, you do see a very open debate in China right now about the usefulness of sticking to North Korea. They signed to very tough UN resolution with UN Security resolution with very tough sanctions.
LABOTTAnd you've seen Chinese party officials openly question in the Chinese state media whether we should abandon North Korea, whether we should get tougher on North Korea and the Chinese are sending signals to North Korea that they shouldn't violate these sanctions, which are related to its nuclear program. It'll pay the price.
LABOTTSo the Chinese are not there yet, but if the North Koreans were to go over the line, and presumably the Chinese do have a line, although we don't know what it is, presumably that would be the key that brings China more on the side of the United States and its allies.
IGNATIUSElise is right. The Chinese have sent signals, mixed signals, but they've sent signals that they may be prepared to take this more seriously. They did help the U.S. write the UN Security Council sanctions text that followed the February North Korean nuclear test. So that was a positive sign.
IGNATIUSThe problem here is that if a miscalculation were made by the North Koreans the tripwire is so tight North Korea artillery is massed around Seoul and the fear has always been that if conflict began Seoul would be destroyed before the U.S. could respond and that's been the heart of why North Korea has power and why the U.S. is really stumped about what to do.
REHMDavid Ignatius, he's columnist for The Washington Post. Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs reporter, Mark Landler, current White House correspondent, former diplomatic correspondent for the New York Times.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here with me for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup, Elise Labott of CNN, Mark Landler of the New York Times, David Ignatius of the Washington Post. David, let's talk about Syria. There was an attack on Damascus University on Thursday. Mortar shell crashed into the engineering campus in Syria's capital. Blasts killed ten students, injured 29. Dear God.
IGNATIUSWell, the war is really coming to the heart of Damascus. And many Syrians tell me that we're really entering now the final stages of this battle. The New York Times report from Damascus, from the university about yesterday's attack was very powerful. But I'm told that around Damascus the rebels are moving forward and cutting off an increasingly exhausted regime army, so that its access to points east and some point south and some points southwest is very much reduced.
IGNATIUSThe airport is now under regular fire. The Sheraton Hotel in the middle of town where a lot of people, including me, have stayed over the years has been shelled. So the battle of Damascus is on. The rebels tell me that it's a matter, they think, of some weeks now before it's resolved. But I think it's going to get much worse and darker in Syria for the next while.
LANDLERWell, in what David said, you know, on one level gives you cause for confidence -- or for hope I should say, given how long this has dragged out and how horrendous it's been. If there's evidence that Assad is really on his heels militarily, I think, you know, the caution in all this is even as that happens you see these increased signs of disarray on the side of the opposition. Who speaks for the opposition? Who's backing which member of the opposition?
LANDLERYou have this opposition leader Moaz Al Khatib who's been very prominent on the international stage, took Syria's seat at the Arab League in the past week. And yet he appears to be half in and half out of his job. He's been threatening to resign. So one of the big questions about Syria all along has been even after Assad falls -- a process that has been longer and bloodier than even the worst pessimist could've expected -- then what comes afterwards.
LANDLERAnd I think you'd have to say that the past couple of weeks have created new doubts and new questions about the shape of this opposition. Which countries are backing which parts of the opposition? Is it becoming a proxy for various countries' rivalries with each other? And then lastly of course the U.S. role in all this, which has been hesitant, reluctant, modest, and evidence that there's increased debate inside the White House about whether the U.S. needs to step up and do more.
LABOTTThis has really revealed not only splits within the Syrian opposition but splits within the International Community over not only how to deal with it, but who to back. And so you have the -- Moaz Al Khatib, who is really a kind of wide consensus candidate in the International Community. Muslim Brotherhood didn't like him very much. They thought that they were losing power as the Syrian opposition kind of consolidated itself.
LABOTTNow this new gentleman Gassan Hito is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a candidate of Qatar and Turkey who are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand you have the Saudis, a little bit backed by the Americans who didn't think this was the right time to necessarily install someone new. They saw this -- foresaw this split in the opposition. And so not only do you have this split within the opposition, you have a split within the rebels. You have the free Syrian army who's really kind of the main rebel group.
LABOTTBut what's really concerning now is the increased extremism within the rebels who is infiltrating them. Al-Qaida, this al-Nusra Front is believed to be the ones with all the money, all the guns. So it's giving -- and because there's not a whole lot of support from the International Community to arm the rebels, they have to make a devil's choice between do I fight with Al-Qaida who's going to help me or do I stand alone against Assad's forces?
LABOTTSo even though, as we said, there is kind of reason for, you know, a little bit of optimism that the rebels are gaining ground, the country is still a mess. And that's why the International Community is a little bit hesitant to get further involved because they're really concerned about when this ends, Diane, what happens next? Who's going to be in charge? They don't know.
REHMSo why did the Arab League grant the Syrian opposition a seat at their summit on Tuesday? What happened?
IGNATIUSThe Arab League is dominated by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that strongly oppose President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. So they were eager to give that seat to the opposition.
REHMEven though they can't quite define exactly who that opposition is?
IGNATIUSDiane, this process of seeking Arab League recognition was a kind of classic fiasco. The U.S. wanted this Sheikh Moaz al Khatib, the head of the oppositional coalition to be the claimant because the U.S. likes him. Vice-President Biden has met with him. Meanwhile Turkey and Qatar decided that they wanted another person. Sheikh Moaz is too moderate. He's not enough of a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist for them.
IGNATIUSSo they pushed this man Gassan Hito, who's a Kurdish Syrian who's been living in the U.S. for decades -- they pushed him into the role of interim prime minister hoping -- then Sheikh Moaz got furious and resigned as president. And then all of a sudden he was in Doha claiming this seat as the Arab League member. So, you know, that's the kind of disorganization that's been going on.
IGNATIUSThe reason that the United States should get more involved right now goes precisely to the point that Mark and Elise have been making, which is about the day after. What the Syrian opposition needs is more disciplined command and control. I mean, I try to talk to the people from the free Syrian army almost every day.
IGNATIUSAnd they tell me every day, this is their biggest problem. And it's something the U.S. can help with. I mean, we are good at training special forces, training other people's armies. It's something the U.S. knows how to do. The time for it is running out but the different that it will make is not so much on the battlefield in the coming weeks. But I think in the future, in the day after and the month after and the year after there being some people who are better trained who have, you know, good links with the United States and the U.S. military.
IGNATIUSSo that's -- the president is still somewhat reluctant to do that because he sees this just basically as a mess, as a real...
REHMYeah, a real mess. Mark.
LANDLERYeah, I think it's sort of shaping up as the signal foreign policy debate of the beginning of his second term. He's really being forced to balance a very strong commitment he made a couple of years ago in the early days of the uprising in Egypt and Libya. Where he said I want the United States to be on the right side of history against an absolutely valid concern about being entangled in a military conflict with multiple...
LANDLER...another military conflict. And to many people inside the White House Syria bears all the hallmarks of Iraq, a sectarian conflict. We saw what happened there. We saw the six or eight years of blood and treasure that were spilt in Iraq. And so I think he's reacting this early to some extent on the Iraq precedent. But increasingly his own top advisors in the National Security Council are saying it's not enough to give food rations and medicine. You have to be willing to step up precisely so you have some role in what comes afterwards, some relationship with the people who will actually be running the post-Assad Syria.
REHMAnd to think that what has gone on in Iraq is over, today we learned car bombs hit five Shiite mosques in Baghdad and in Kirkuk just after prayers on Friday killing 19 worshippers, injuring another 30. It doesn't end. It doesn't end. I want to ask you all about Cypress and the issue of the banks reopening but with severe restrictions, Elise.
LABOTTVery severe restrictions. It seemed to be rather calm. There was a real concern in Cypress and in the European Union in the euro zone about a rush on the banks, a stampede on the banks. It was relatively calm but there were armored guards, there were armored cars with all of the money. Cyprians can withdraw only about 300 euros per day. You can't take more than 1,000 euros out of the country. People are being searched as they leave.
LABOTTAnd it's not just -- we all know about -- you know, there's been a lot of money coming from outside Cypress in investing a lot of Russian money. But we're also talking about pensioners who don't have a debit card and want to go to the bank and withdraw money. People need to cash their paychecks. Right now paychecks aren't being cashed. And the public, Diane, is really in shock about what's happening. They're saying, we never signed up for this. Why should we be accountable for this money?
LABOTTYou know, it's really just the beginning, I think, of a lot of shock, not just in Cypress but fear in a lot of other countries that this is going to happen to them.
IGNATIUSIf the Cyprian public really is saying, oh my goodness, you know, we didn't know anything was going on, that's really not credible. The financial world has know for the last decade that Cypriote banks were becoming a haven for hot money, for flight capital, much of it coming from Russian. Much of it of very dubious origins and that was creating a kind of boom in Cypress. It was like the banking fuel boom that Ireland saw. So the notion that people didn't know what was going on, oh my gosh, how could this have happened, is not credible.
IGNATIUSJust one -- so as Elise said, we now have capital controls limiting the ability to take money out of the country. And Floyd Norris of the New York Times had a wonderful column I think yesterday, in which he said the time for capital controls was five years ago, not to prevent money from going out but to limit it from flooding in. And once it flooded in, something bad was going to happen. That was almost a...
REHMBut you know, the idea that the man in the street is really going to know what's going on.
LABOTTOr that he should be responsible.
REHM...for the big banks and their lack of oversight. I have a little question about -- I mean, it seems to me that those who were putting all of this money in there as a haven -- we did a whole program on tax havens this week -- because it does seem as though those who are in the know know exactly where they can put their money to avoid paying taxes to their own government.
LANDLERWell, absolutely. And I think, you know, in a lot of these other countries that played the same role as recipients of hot money, there's a huge divide between people who know how the system is fixed and take advantage of it and those who are merely going along. And speaking of someone who knows a lot of people and has some family members in Ireland, I can attest to, you know, the wiping out of real estate values and investments for people that were not involved in the hot money side of the Irish economy.
LANDLERSo there is a human cost. I think what's interesting to me about Cypress is every time the European Union has dealt with a specific country and crisis, they've kind of set new precedence with Greece, with Spain, with Ireland, with Italy. It's not as though there's a one-size-fits-all response. In fact, they're all very tailored to each country. Now that presumably largely reflects politics. You can't jam the Spaniards with the same thing you can jam a small number of Cypriots with.
LANDLERBut the reason I think that Cypress has caught everyone's attention this week is because it has the element of capital controls. The first time they've ever been imposed since the introduction of the euro, and something that's really very reminiscent of Latin America and the Asian crisis. And secondly that regular depositors are getting hit and having some part of their deposits over 100,000 euros wiped out. That's new.
REHMMark Landler of the New York Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Could what's happened in Cypress happen elsewhere, David?
IGNATIUSWell, certainly there are other overleveraged countries. Spain and Italy are still struggling with their debt burdens. The danger that Cypress posed was in the attempt to deal with the crisis. Cypriote banks, Cypriote depositors were made to pay a real price. And they scrambled -- people scrambling to get their money out and they couldn't because these capital controls were in place. And so I think a lot of the big ripples this week have been in other countries that could get into, you know, increasing difficulty with people going, oh my gosh, our deposits could be frozen. We could be in the same situation as the Cypriots.
IGNATIUSAnd so that was the knock on effect that seems to have stabilized by the end of the week.
REHMAnd how is this -- how is what's happened in Cypress likely to affect the thinking of Germany and the rest of the EU?
LANDLERWell, I think for Germans who are fed up of this entire process and think they simply got called on to bail out one country after another, I don't think -- I think for many ordinary Germans this is going to be viewed as just desserts. You know, it's a hot money country and we've been called on now to bail out one after the other of countries that are guilty of one form of financial access or another. So I actually think it probably is seen with some satisfaction in Germany.
LANDLERBut I think, you know, as David and Elise have both said, elsewhere in the union there's got to be concern that we've crossed a kind of a Rubicon here. I mean, it was the case before this that the ordinary depositor was pretty much insured and safe. And if the ordinary depositor now faces the prospect of losing some of the money they have in what they thought were credible banks, then that's a kind of a new frontier for the European crisis that's perhaps more worrisome and ultimately destabilizing than a lot of what we've seen up until now.
LABOTTAnd, Diane, I mean, this goes to the larger issue of, you can, you know, look at countries and criticize now the lifestyles in Greece or the workday in France and say, you know, you really have to, you know, come into the modern era and pay the piper like everybody else. But this comes on top of austerity measures that a lot of countries are facing. Those publics had a lot of criticism of those and they felt, why should we have to suffer for the bad policies of a government?
LABOTTAnd now on top of this, you know, these measures are going to take about 40 percent on the euro of these accounts. And also it could create what analysts are saying is a kind of dual structure of the euro, where euros in Cypress are worth less because of these controls than countries and France.
REHMSo who was advising the banks in Cypress to buy up bonds in Greece, as Greece's economy was beginning to tank? I don't get it. I mean, isn't somebody overseeing reputable behavior to protect the bank holders?
REHMDiane, as we've seen in our country, and certainly we've seen this in the European crisis, reputable behavior and banking don't -- shouldn't always go in the same phrase.
REHM...necessarily go together. And we've got to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd welcome back, time to go now to the phones. First to Arlington, Va. hi there John, you're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Diane.
JOHNI think the Korean situation is a case where it actually, nobody is really perfect in this. I think we made an unnecessary response, a negative response to the Korean satellite, the North Korean satellite launch. That particular rocket is really not the kind you'd want to use for an ICBM. You'd want to maybe go to solid-fuel rockets and stuff like that.
JOHNBut if we had let that go and just said, we hope you do peaceful stuff in space and just let it go, it might have been better than raising the issue then and then having the North Koreans do their nuclear test, which really was the kind of thing we should have responded to.
JOHNThe second thing, I don't know that using a strategic bomber such as the B-2 in this little demonstration necessarily was helpful either. I'm sure the North Koreans knew we had the bomber. We might use it and using that maybe helps some people feel better, but it wasn't I don't think a great idea.
LANDLERWell, I guess I'll make two points. One, missile launches are against North Korea's agreement with the United Nations so there is an actual principle here that has to be applied. And secondly, on the issue of what the U.S. is doing in terms of extended deterrence or sending a signal to the North Koreans, it is as much for the other neighbors in the region, chiefly South Korea.
LANDLERI mean, you've got to also think about where the South Koreans are. They have a brand new president. The threat that we're talking about is 40 miles from downtown Seoul, not six and a half thousand miles away. The missiles that the North Koreans have can reach South Korea so you really...
REHMBut cannot reach the United States.
LANDLER...cannot reach the American homeland. There's no evidence they have. They've never tested an ICBM...
LANDLER...so there's no evidence that they could hit the West Coast and no one thinks they could at this moment. But so you have to think about what message the U.S. is doing to reassure not just the South Koreans, the Japanese, and others in the neighborhood. There's a lot of -- the U.S. will be asking a great deal of the South Koreans in terms of restraint and maturity in dealing with a real and present danger.
LANDLERSo I think that the stealth mission, as much as anything, was designed to say to the South Koreans, look, we have your back. We know the next few weeks may be tough, but you can count on us in how you calibrate your own response.
REHMRight, and here's an email following up on that from Tim: "With all the threatening talk from North Korea concerning a nuclear attack on U.S. bases in South Korea, Guam and Japan, if those attacks were to happen, what would be the likelihood of the U.S. responding with a nuclear strike of its own on North Korea and what would the likely international reaction be to a North Korean nuclear strike on U.S. bases?" David?
IGNATIUSWell, our deterrence posture is premised on the idea that if you attack with nuclear weapons, the targets that we have designated as being under our nuclear umbrella, we will reserve the right to respond in kind. The problem we're talking about is one reason why you begin to like the idea of missile defense because it gives you the possibility to take down North Korean missile attacks that could be nuclear.
IGNATIUSYou don't know what's in the weapon, obviously, until it lands and detonates. But before it hits a U.S. base in Guan or a U.S. base in Japan -- so the Navy or military in general is putting a lot more emphasis on the ability to have missile defense close by.
IGNATIUSI was told that destroyers are now being fitted with missile defense capability so that ships as small as that could act to stop missile threats from -- Let's imagine that North Korea just continues to be a rogue nation, unpredictable, threatening to attack, people would be glad that we had those missile defenses.
REHMAll right, to Edmond, Oklahoma, good morning, Margaret.
MARGARETGood morning, Diane, I love your show.
MARGARETI'm going to be moving to Seoul, Korea in about a month to be teaching English over there and I was going to ask your panel how would I...
REHMOh dear, I'm afraid we lost her. She wanted to know how safe she ought to think of herself as being in Seoul. What would your thoughts be, Mark?
LANDLERWell, I mean, having been to Seoul many times over the past decade, the South Koreans are extraordinarily good at living with this threat and, in fact, daily life in Seoul. It's always struck me as amazing how unimpeded it is by this and how South Koreans have really made peace with a situation of this kind of unremitting tension.
LANDLERAll that said, I have to agree with what Elise and David have said this morning. I think we are in a more combustible phase now than we were with Kim Jong Il, who was a master at playing this game. So I guess I'd say to your caller that she's right to be somewhat concerned, even if the South Koreans are extraordinarily good at dealing with this kind of...
REHMIf your daughter said to you tomorrow, David, I'm moving to Seoul next month to teach, what would you say to her?
IGNATIUSGiven the places my daughter, who has just graduated from medical school, goes, I'd be relieved. She's in Haiti right now. But you know I think...
REHMI wouldn't compare Haiti to North Korea or South Korea now.
IGNATIUSNo, but I think that Mark made the basic point that the South Koreans have to live with this every day and we've been through cycles where the North was so belligerent in its rhetoric that I thought, my gosh, war is going to break out tomorrow and it doesn't. And so there obviously are stabilizing factors that are present even in this increasingly volatile atmosphere.
LABOTTYeah, but even as this new President Park has kind of extended the hand to North Korea and said, I'll continue to provide aid, you have to remember who she is. She's the daughter of a very famous general in South Korea and has -- at the same time she's extending the hand, she's vowing to forcefully respond if the North Koreans do anything.
LABOTTAnd in the past, when you had the sinking of the South Korean submarine or the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the South Koreans were very restrained. It's not clear how restrained the South Korean military is right now. There's a lot of pressure on them to respond and if South Korea responds in any way, you're likely to see an escalation and a cycle of violence that's very scary.
REHMOkay, let me ask it this way. If our caller had said, I'm thinking of moving there in six months. Do you think that the issue might be tamped down by then?
IGNATIUSI think so. I think one advantage of the U.S. taking this more seriously, moving off the strategic patience, well, let's see, let's wait, let's hope, is that maybe you could draw in regional actors, especially China, into some new way of addressing this.
IGNATIUSSome people argue that the North Koreans would be satisfied if they provoked enough turmoil and concern that we went back to some kind of negotiating process that they saw as being potentially advantageous. So you know, I think six months from now, I think the caller should feel free to go ahead to Seoul. Six months from now, it will be resolved better.
REHMTo Monroe, Mich., good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning, my question is regards to North Korea also. Given all the rhetoric that North Korea has been doing with or saying with the nuclear tests, the missile launches, and you know, under what circumstances will we preemptively strike them considering, you know, if any other country were to go through these steps, we would have done so by now.
CHRISWhat else would North Korea have to do in order for us to, you know, to take action?
REHMThat reminds me of George Bush, George W. Bush and his tactic of, we preemptively have the right to strike. Elise?
LABOTTI think that the point of prevention, if you look at Iran, for instance, and there's all this talk about preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon and that's why there could be some preemptive strike. We're way past that. And North Korea does have nuclear weapons and I think any kind of preemptive strike, you don't know what the fallout would be.
LABOTTI think that that is really off the table. I think that, as David said, there could be a preemptive, you know, and it's not preemptive, striking down a missile, stopping the North Koreans before they take any type of action.
LABOTTBut I don't think you're going to see some kind of wholesale, military action by the U.S. and South Korea to take out any North Korean...
REHMMark Landler, we haven't talked about Egypt at all. The government on Monday ordered the arrest of some political activists. Why, and what happened?
LANDLERWell, these are anti-Islamist activists and the significance here is, you know, there's been a consistent worry over time that President Mohamed Morsi would use the legal system to crack down on dissent and on enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
LANDLERThese are activists that have already identified with an anti-Islamist point of view. It also -- these arrests were ordered at a time that a crowd of anti-Islamists attacked the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo and the government was sort of suggesting that these were the fomenters or the agitators behind that.
LANDLERWhat's interesting is our own colleagues in Cairo combed through their Facebook and Twitter accounts and found no evidence that any of these five had issued a call to violence. There was one who had had in a very abstract way said that, at some point, there might be cause for a violent response to the government, but not at all implying that we had reached that point.
LANDLERSo I think it feeds into fears that this new Egyptian government will crack down on dissent kind of the old fashioned way in this part of the world.
IGNATIUSYes, I -- this was an example of the increasing difficulty that the Muslim Brotherhood government is having under President Morsi in governing effectively. And when you have to jail people because of their Twitter messages, or you think you have to that's a sign of your political weakness not your strength, much as Mubarak's authoritarian government was a sign that he just didn't have a strong government.
IGNATIUSThe U.S. is facing, I think, a real challenge in Egypt. We have been important, I would say, to the critical supporters of President Morsi's government because we see this as an experiment in an Islamist party governing in the Arab world after the Arab revolutions.
IGNATIUSAnd the experiment in democratic governance is failing. It's failing in terms of the crackdowns that the Morsi government is making against protestors, but more profoundly, it's failing in the inability of the government to address the economic disaster that is looming in Egypt.
IGNATIUSEgypt is about to run out of foreign exchange, which means you won't be able to buy anything, raw materials for factories, goods in department stores. I mean, they're getting close to that. And what's the U.S. going to do? Are we going to try to rescue them? What's the Egyptian military going to do?
IGNATIUSThese questions, I think, are just over the horizon, but they're raised by stories like the one we're talking about.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Clearwater, Fla., hi, Joanne.
JOANNEGood morning, Diane, my comment -- I've noticed that every time a top official, a top government official, visits Afghanistan, the Taliban attack with suicide bombers. Government officials, including President Obama, are putting their own lives at risk as well as our troops and other innocent people.
JOANNEMembers of the Afghani police were killed when Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited. Apparently leaks are being made to the Taliban and the only ones who are surprised are us Americans who read about it or hear about it afterwards.
REHMSo you think we ought to have our top officials stay home? David?
IGNATIUSWell, that doesn't strike me as a good idea. That's letting the Taliban win a battle of intimidation. But the caller raises a very interesting and important point, which is that there are leaks out of the Afghan government and the security forces. Clearly, these are examples, but there are lots of others.
IGNATIUSI would say about the visit by Secretary of State John Kerry this last week that it was an example of why Kerry may be a good Secretary of State. There had been a disastrous visit by the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Kerry knows President Karzai and managed to kind of calm him down and Kerry said, we're on the same page and suddenly everything was back to normal. It was sort of the Kerry effect.
REHMWhat do you think, Mark?
LANDLERI totally agree. And interesting, in Kerry's relationship with Karzai is Kerry, you may recall, played a very important role in getting President Karzai to agree to a runoff election back in 2009 when the first round of voting was filled with irregularities.
LANDLERClinton, Hillary Clinton had gone out to speak to him to make that effort. Richard Holbrooke, the special representative had made that effort. It took Kerry, in a sort of what's in diplomatic circles often recalled as a five-hour session between Kerry and Karzai, where they walked in the presidential garden and John Kerry said to him, I know a lot about losing elections.
LANDLERI lost a pretty big one too in 2004 or I've had a setback in an election and you need to deal with this. And he got Karzai to agree. I've often thought that this was one of the examples of why I thought John Kerry was always a good candidate to be Secretary of State and now you see him, in effect, cashing in a little bit on some of those relationships.
LANDLERHe has those relationships with a lot of people around the world and so I agree it was a Kerry moment and maybe a harbinger of things we'll see in other parts of the world as he puts 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to work.
REHMWhat about those Iranian flights through Syria?
LABOTTNot as successful in Iraq as he was in Afghanistan. One of the main reasons that Secretary Kerry went to Iraq was to get Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop these over-flights into Syria from Iran. Secretary Clinton went there in 2009. She thought she secured that pledge but since then U.S. officials say maybe they've been stopped about twice.
LABOTTAnd so for Nouri al-Maliki Iran, as the U.S. has withdrawn most of its forces and really is a receding influence there, Iran is really becoming the winner in Iraq and if you look at Nouri al-Maliki looking into Syria, some of these guys that are fighting Bashar al-Assad look a lot like the guys that are fighting against his country in Iraq.
LABOTTAnd so this partnership is very concerning to U.S. officials and Secretary Kerry said he had very spirited discussions, but it doesn't look like al-Maliki relented.
REHMWell, on this Good Friday, it would have been nice to end on a note of peace and good news, but unfortunately the world is what it is. Elise Labott, CNN foreign affairs reporter, Mark Landler of the New York Times, David Ignatius. He is a columnist for The Washington Post and author of one of my favorite books, "Blood Money: A Novel of Espionage." Thanks for listening. Happy Easter everyone, I'm Diane Rehm.
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