Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
The Afghan government stalls peace talks with the Taliban. President Barack Obama calls for cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And widespread protests continue in Brazil. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent for the BBC and author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton From Beirut to the Heart of American Power"
- Warren Strobel diplomatic editor, Reuters.
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Afghanistan suspends peace talks with the U.S. and the Taliban. A million Brazilians protest in widespread demonstrations and President Obama calls for cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup," Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Kim Ghattas with the BBC and Warren Strobel of Reuters. You're invited to participate, do give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
MS. KIM GHATTASGood morning.
MR. WARREN STROBELGood morning.
REHMKim, what happened to the peace talks?
GHATTASIt went terribly wrong but I think it was no surprise to anyone really that this was going to be a very bumpy road. This is something that the United States has been trying to get off the ground for the last two years. And it appeared as though they were getting close to a start of talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government about peace, long sought peace.
GHATTASThe only way really to make sure that the draw down and departure of American troops from Afghanistan would actually be possible. It all broke down, you could say, because of a name. What happened was the Taliban set up their office in Qatar, Doha to start those talks.
GHATTASThere was apparently an agreement that the office would be called the Political Office of the Taliban. Instead what happened is that they raised a banner and called it the Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is the name that they used when they were in power in Afghanistan and you can understandably see the reaction of President Karzai who says, hey, you know, that's not what we agreed to. This is like the Afghan, the Taliban setting up a rival embassy, a rival government and that's not what the Americans told me would happen.
GHATTASSo President Karzai was very upset, the Americans were also very upset. Something certainly got lost in translation, perhaps the Qataris didn't handle this very well themselves either. They were not able to force the Taliban to put the sign that they had agreed would be put up. That banner has now been brought down...
GHATTASSo perhaps there is a possibility that the talks will restart in the coming few days but it's all very iffy. Because now you have to bring President Karzai back on board and on the face of it, it is about a name but it is also about much more than that. There's a lot of mistrust also between President Karzai and the Americans.
REHMAnd of course now the flag has gone back up again, Warren?
STROBELYes, I mean I think a good rule of thumb here for listeners and anybody else interested in this, if it doesn't become real until the Afghan parties actually get in the room and start talking. That would be representative Karzai's government and representatives of the Taliban. That hasn't happened yet in the two years that Kim was talking about.
STROBELRight now we're talking about talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. I think it's a little bit of a good news, bad news story. There are signs that this little bump in the road which was serious is being worked out and all three sides have sort of committed themselves to having talks. I think you'll probably see some initial talks go forward but after that it gets very, very difficult to read.
LANDAYI think that there should be a little bit of blame put on the United States, on the Obama administration, for moving ahead with this announcement without having its ducks in a row, without being sure that everything was smoothed out, everything was ready to go.
LANDAYBut beyond that there's also another problem here that goes beyond the name of the office in Doha and that is the relationship between the United States and Mr. Karzai. I think Mr. Karzai ended the talks he was having, well he at least suspended the talks he was having with the United States on what's known as the Status of Forces Agreement which will govern the presence of the United States troops who are expected to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 in some kind of numbers perhaps 10,000.
LANDAYAnd that is, you know, the United States has despite Mr. Karzai's intemperance and somewhat paranoid character, had the habit of pulling the rug out from under him and this was another case where the United States has been saying ever since its wanted to start these peace talks, these will be Afghan led, these will be Afghan led.
LANDAYOnly there have been no Afghan led peace talks and President Karzai has been reaching out himself, as been trying to reach out to the Taliban himself. to be able to do that you need to be able to say I can organize a detainee swap. Well, the United States refused to give all the detainees over so he had no control over all of the detainees.
LANDAYHe needs to be able to say I'm going to create this area in a particular province where there will be no, you'll have a safe zone, Taliban can feel safe there. unfortunately he was not able to do that and you saw this big brew ha-ha over the presence of U.S. Special Forces in a province right next to Kabul which he was unable to, you know, he said I can't, he wanted to get them out there, the United States refused.
LANDAYAll of that makes him look weak and unable to deal with the situation where he's going to the Taliban saying I want to start these peace talks.
REHMSo where are we with this prisoner swap, Warren?
STROBELWell, first of all, a little, for Reuters we first broke the story back in December 2011 that the administration was thinking about transferring five Taliban prisoners to jumpstart the peace talks. That deal broke down in 2012 probably over some of the things Jonathan was talking about, U.S. control of the prisoners and how they be transferred.
STROBELNow it's up again. The Taliban have said, yesterday they told the Associated Press that they're at least willing to talk about this. the problem lies less there than it does here in Washington where members of the U.S. Congress or some of them are very much opposed to this transfer.
STROBELAnd the reason is, Diane, at least several of the Taliban people who would be transferred are, at least in the U.S. view, fairly nasty characters. Two of them were involved in the late 1990s and the slaughter of tens of thousands of Shia, ethnic group known as the Hazara, and some of them were present at a prison riot right after 9/11 in Afghanistan, a placed called Mazari Sharif (sp?) that eventually led to the death of CIA officer Johnny Michael Span.
STROBELThere's no evidence that they were directly involved in that but they were there in the general vicinity so this could become a domestic issue very quickly indeed.
REHMSo lots of roadblocks here.
GHATTASLots of roadblocks and domestic politics is often a roadblock as well which is something that I find people outside of the United States don't always understand. They don't always understand why Congress does something and the president does something or why the president can't impose his will on Congress, why can't he just make it happen.
GHATTASAnd I was intrigued by something that the Afghans said about, you know, this name that the Taliban had used. You know, President Karzai said or his government said, you know, they had received assurances from the Americans that the Taliban would stick to the name Political Office of the Taliban in Qatar.
GHATTASAnd you sort of wonder why does anyone think that the U.S. has the power to impose anything on the Taliban? They are in essence at war with the Taliban so there is always a gap in perceptive about, you know, a gap between the perception of what America can do and what can actually do. But, yes, as Warren was pointing out there will be lots more roadblocks on the road to those agreements.
REHMAnd in the meantime on Tuesday, Jonathan, the American led NATO collation transferred security responsibility to Afghanistan. How is that looking?
LANDAYWell, this has been a process that's been underway ever since the president, President Obama, announced that, you know, in 2009 that he was going to surge troops and then the United States was going to start pulling its combat troops out.
LANDAYHow is it looking? Well, we're not quite sure because no one's really telling us. We're not able to get at least a whole numbers of violence in terms of how many Afghan troops are being killed now that they're in "the lead" of security operations around Afghanistan. But beyond, you know, there's some, there's also a little bit of fudging going on here.
LANDAYThe United States, you know, and President Obama and NATO and Afghanistan itself are talking about this great achievement and yet the fact is there's not a single Afghan army battalion, sorry, battalion or brigade, sorry, that is rated able to conduct its own operations autonomously.
LANDAYThey still require...
REHMNot a single one?
LANDAYNot one, not one. they still require, they lack what the American military likes to call enablers, the ability to coordinate artillery fires, the ability to coordinate logistics supplies, the ability to airlift their causalities out of firefights. that's all still being done to certain extent by the United States.
LANDAYThe United States has also from what we can see has reduced or ended the air support which has been absolutely critical to military operations in Afghanistan.
REHMBut isn't it true that if we continue to provide it for them, they'll never get ready to do it on their own, Warren?
STROBELYes, Diane, that's the Joe Biden argument and in some sense Obama's argument that we have, and even before them, late in the Bush administration that we have to start transferring or less they'll never be able to stand up on their own. And the question now is, can they stand up on their own?
STROBELAfghan forces are taking huge causalities which is again a good news, bad news story. it shows that they're actually in the fight but they're taking causalities that the U.S. military would never, at a rate the U.S. military would never accept.
GHATTASAnd you have to keep in mind that if those peace talks do get underway whether it's the U.S. Taliban track for the prisoner exchange or whether its, you know, the Afghan led, the Afghan to Afghan side of the talks it will not necessarily change anything about the military situation on the ground.
GHATTASThere will be fighting and there will be talking and in fact, you know, just this week there was an attack by the Taliban against U.S. troops and four Americans were killed. I mean that's, you find yourself in a difficult situation if you're the American president. You know, are you going to have talks with them while they're killing your troops but at some point you have to get those talks going so that you can move away from a fighting situation.
LANDAYIn a way the Taliban seem to have adopted what the American strategy was, which is fight and talk. In other words, fight, put military pressure on the Taliban so they'll come to the table. Well, the Taliban seem to be doing the same thing.
LANDAYBut beyond all of that there's still the biggest issue of all in all of this that has to be dealt with and doesn't seem to be at all, and that is the sanctuaries from which the Taliban operate out of Pakistan. There seems to be no evidence at all at this point that the Pakistanis are willing to do anything about that.
REHMJonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Kim Ghattas, State Department correspondent for the BBC, Warren Strobel, diplomatic editor at Reuters, Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy newspapers. Let's turn to Iran, Jonathan. What about this newly elected Iranian president? How cautiously is he going to have to move in the early days of his office?
LANDAYWell, this is the big question because as I think a lot of people know, the president of Iran is not the ultimate power in Iran. The supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei is, as well as the fact that he has his own parallel intelligence and military force, the IRGC, which plays an enormous role now in the Iranian economy. There have been a lot of news reports that cast Mr. Rowhani as being a moderate, but I'm not sure that that's really true. The fact is he comes out of the ruling establishment, the ruling clerical establishment.
LANDAYHe has said during the campaign and after that he will not change Iranian policy towards Syria, which is supporting the Syrian regime in more than just political terms. They support them militarily. There are IRGC advisors on the ground directing -- helping the Syrian forces in their offensive. And he has said he is not going to stop the enrichment of uranium either by the Iranians.
REHMAnd yet he served for two years as chief negotiator on this very issue, Kim.
GHATTASHe did and he takes credit for some of the progress that was made during the talks at the time. He has also written -- he had also written a piece in 2006 in Time magazine where he in essence said that the nuclear bomb was not something that would make Iran more secure. So he's quite pragmatic as well. He understands the need for negotiation. But it's important to remember that most Iranians support their country's right to enrichment. They feel that they should be respected when it comes to that. They feel that this is something that they should have the right to.
GHATTASSo it's a little bit -- we should not assume that the large majority of peaceful Iranians are against enrichment. And if only they could elect someone who was against it as well then everything would be different. There is mostly within Iran a sense that they deserve to have that right and they chafe at pressure from the outside.
GHATTASI also think that it's important to not dismiss the election of Mr. Rowhani too quickly because this was quite an interesting election.
LANDAYSeventy-two percent turnout. It was a real rejection of Ahmadinejad's eight years in power. Mr. Rowhani won at the first round. There could have been two rounds but he won in the first round. And that's not to say that everything will be different now but he does bring a different face that is more amicable, more palatable and that will possibly change the dynamic in exchanges. It will make it easier, for example, for the Europeans to sit down with him.
GHATTASYou know, there was a time when during Mr. Ahmadinejad's rule, no one would even shake hands with him.
GHATTASAnd now you have someone a little bit different.
STROBELYou know, Diane, one of the fascinating things about Iran is that most of the Iranian people, certainly the urbanized ones want better relations with the United States, they do, and the rest of the world. The Iranian leaders know this. And if there's ever going to be a deal with the United States, each one of them wants to be the one to do it. In fact, the current president Ahmadinejad, on several occasions, tried to cut a side deal with the United States. He sent out fielders to try and do this. And he was blocked by people within -- around the supreme leader. Exactly.
STROBELIf you look at it, that makes it very difficult for the United States or others to try and actually cut a deal. But I would agree with Kim that Rowhani does have, not complete power obviously but some. And I think the United States and the Europeans in the months ahead are going to try and test him and see if there's some opportunity there.
REHMHis first comments projected reconciliation.
STROBELThey did and they were -- he's a different -- Ahmadinejad came from basically a working class neighborhood in East Tehran I think it is. And he was a rough character. Rowhani is much more obviously a diplomat, somebody who's more -- you know, better spoken and more comfortable in the international stage, I guess you would say.
LANDAYI think, you know, that it's a big question. We have to wait and see.
LANDAYBut once you remember that the last two Iranian presidents, Mr. Khatami who was considered a moderate, Mr. Ahmadinejad, not so much, have both ran afoul of the supreme leader in trying to chart their own independent course, particularly on foreign policy. So we're going to have to wait and see whether or not the supreme leader ends up backing up Mr. Rowhani on whatever approaches he decides to take.
REHMHow soon do you think we might know if there truly is a different outlook on the part of Iran, Warren?
STROBELYou know, I think in some sense fairly quickly. There's talk about having some talks between what's known as the P5 plus 1 and the Iranians I believe in August. And that might be a first hint about whether the Iranians -- a different place. On the other hand, the Iranians have been trading rugs and doing deals for a millennia and they know how to sort of string things out and they're great negotiators. So that would say not quickly.
GHATTASYou'd have to see who he's going to appoint as his negotiator. I'm not sure that Mr. Jalili will necessarily remain in that position. Is that right? I think you'd have to see who he presents forward as his negotiator. But also, going back to the one that we were making earlier about domestic U.S. politics. You know, what will the posture be here and what will congress do because congress is always pushing for more sanctions on Iran.
GHATTASWill congress be willing to wait a little bit to see whether there is a better atmosphere that settles between the two countries that could allow for discussions, negotiations about Iran's nuclear program, or will they want to show force, which will then be misinterpreted perhaps from Iran's side? Say, well you know, clearly the U.S. as a whole doesn't want to talk to us, isn't willing to compromise.
GHATTASAnd they'll lump the president and congress in one bag.
REHMWe've got lots of international news this week. Let's talk about the latest unrest in Turkey, Warren.
STROBELIn Turkey, yes. It's very interesting. I think what you have here is a leader who's by and large in Erdogan very popular. He's been successful, he's been there for ten years. He's improved Turkey's economy amazingly. He's improved its standing in the world and in the region. Made Turkey much more of a player. But now he's getting a little long in the tooth, as they say. And there's fear among the people who are protesting about growing authoritarianism.
STROBELSome of his liberal base is -- I'm sorry, not his liberal, but liberals in Turkey are splitting from him. And now he's going off on this campaign in more rural Turkey to try and arouse his conservative base. It's interesting and it shows a little bit of instability I think.
REHMSo the park becomes symbolic, Kim.
GHATTASThe park definitely became symbolic. It was this park that lit the fire that had been simmering. I think this is Turkey really trying to redefine its identity. It had been, you know, in -- very much -- the rulers had been very much under the pressure of generals in the past. Prime Minister Erdogan helped move Turkey away from that. He's had ten years in power where he's actually reined in the generals. But there's a whole transition that is also taking place within Turkey about its cultural identity, its religious identity, how secular or how modern or how religious or how conservative they want to be.
GHATTASAnd Prime Minister Erdogan is certainly the more conservative face. He has not always been very inclusive of the liberal elite who have themselves in the past been inclusive of the more conservative side of Turkey society. So I think this is, you know, the growing pains of rising powers as they grow. You know, this is the 17th largest economy in the world now. They had a very rapid growth rate over the last ten years, something that the West envies. It's gone down a little bit and it's very similar -- I mean, you can draw a parallel with what's happening in Brazil as well, the protests there.
REHMAnd we'll get to that. What about the European Union membership, Jonathan?
LANDAYWell, there were two -- I believe two European Union member states, I think Germany and the Netherlands, which have basically said we're not going to consider Turkey for membership anymore, at least at this point because of the tactics that were employed by Erdogan and the police in suppressing and clearing the demonstrations from Taksim Square and Gezi Park. This is a process though that's been going on I think for about 50 years now. And it looked for a while, at least under Erdogan early years, that they were making progress towards being admitted. And now that process again seems have at least come to a temporary halt.
GHATTASAnd it's tricky for the Europeans because if you break the talks than you risk pushing Turkey further away from, you know, the influence of democratization in Europe. But if you, you know, continue talking to them then you might send a signal that you condone the approach, the very rough approach that Mr. Erdogan's chosen.
REHMBut these protests in Turkey are putting a strain on U.S. efforts to help the Syrian rebels, Warren.
STROBELYeah, we haven't talked about Syria here but it's a huge issue.
STROBELOne of the issues it the -- I don't have the figures in front of me but hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as in Jordan. And then I believe that there's a deep dissatisfaction among many Turks with Erdogan's Syria policy. He started out believing that he could do a deal with President Assad of Syria. He went to Damascus -- or his foreign minister did and he thought he got some promises from President Assad. This was way early in the conflict.
STROBELThose promises turned out to be broken and Erdogan became very aggressive in an aggressive stance toward Syria. And I think a lot of people in Turkey sort of feel like he's spending too much time on the issue. They're not happy with his policy at all. Plus all these domestic issues that we were talking about.
REHMAnd now you've got this disagreement between President Obama and President Putin that showed up at the G8 summit over Syria.
LANDAYIn fact, all you had to do is look at the photograph that came out of that where you had -- I think the president was kind of looking down to one side and he had his chin in his hand.
LANDAYAnd President Putin was looking at the floor with a smirk on his -- or with, you know.
REHMYeah, what about the veracity of the Syrian's use of chemical weapons? Where is that coming from?
LANDAYThere's still a dispute about that. We've talked to chemical weapons experts who say they still have doubts about it. The Russians themselves have raised questions about what they call the chain of custody. Were these samples that the United States and Britain and France used...
LANDAY...blood samples, tissues samples. What was the chain of custody? Who had them before the countries' experts got a hold of them? Maybe they weren't secure samples. Maybe they were adulterated in the process. But beyond that there's still questions. One of the biggest ones that some of the experts we talked to is, where are the cell phone videos of these attacks where people allegedly were killed by serine gas?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One last question on that, what's the latest on plans for a no-fly zone, Kim?
GHATTASI'm not sure we're there yet. And I'm not sure at what point we -- you know, this administration might go there. They've been struggling to figure out how to deal with Syria for two years now because there are no easy solutions.. There are no easy plans. And what I find striking is to hear people in the Arab world today call for any sort of American military action, limited or wide, when the invasion by the U.S. of Iraq in 2003, regardless of why it was decided, the planning for the day after was certainly not perfect, to say the least.
GHATTASSo it's incredible to hear people today rediscover in the Arab world the fact that without the U.S. certain things simply can't get done.
STROBELThis is based partly on reporting and partly on analysis, but I think President Obama did the bare minimum he did when he announced just a few days ago that they're going to give some light weapons to the Syrian rebels. He's not all in on this at all. And secondly, on the chemical weapons issue, that was the administration's explanation for why they changed policy. But we've been told that the real reason had -- chemical weapons allowed them to explain it to the American public but the real reason was that Iran and Hezbollah were in Syria in a big way. They had just scored a major victory at the city of Qusyar. And that's what changed Obama's -- to the extent he's changed at all.
LANDAYAnd yet clearly there is some thinking about a no-fly zone along the border with Jordan because the United States -- excuse me -- had staged war games with the Jordanians involving American air defense systems and F16. And the Americans announced that they were, in fact, going to keep those weapon systems in Jordan after the war games, which clearly means that they're at least thinking about -- because these are prime elements in mounting a no-fly zone -- in at least having that option.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about what's happening in Brazil where more than 1 million people protested in 80 cities across that country. Why was it...
GHATTASAstounding images. Absolutely astounding images coming from a country where you're more used to seeing people pour into the streets enjoying the carnival.
REHM...enjoying themselves. Right.
GHATTASAnd now you have people pouring into the streets…
GHATTAS...protesting about something that appears very simple. The rise in bus fares -- the rise in fares for public transportation by about 8 percent, which you could say, you know, is not that much. But it was in a way the straw that broke the camel's back. There is a real deep sense of disaffection in Brazil. People feel disenfranchised. The country is growing at rapid rates. It is the country of the future, perhaps always will be as they say. But it was seen as a model. It has overtaken the UK as the sixth largest economy in the world.
GHATTASBut the gap between rich and poor is growing and there is a lot of upset in Brazil because of all the billions of dollars that are being poured into preparations for the World Cup, for example. And people are saying, well what about hospitals? What about public transportation?
GHATTASWhat about the poor? What about better living conditions? And that's what it's all about.
STROBELI don't think you can discount the World Cup or the coming Olympics at all. I think, you know, events -- countries host events like that. It causes them to look more closely at themselves and how the world sees them. And these favelas or poor neighborhoods in Rio are being cleared to make it look better for the tourists. But there's other favelas that are farther away from the Olympic sites that are not getting any attention whatsoever. So this increases the kind of tensions.
REHMSo what has the Arab Spring meant for countries like Brazil?
LANDAYWell, I think that it may have helped galvanize this. But the fact is that Brazil was this rapidly growing economy that has actually experienced a slowdown -- economic slowdown over the last two years. You had an expanding middle class. And with expanding middle classes, as you know, you get expanding expectations which haven't been met. And so these protests that began over these rise in bus fares, which in fact have now been rescinded, have continued because there are other issues that people want to address
LANDAYAnd there's a sign one person was carrying, if your child is sick take him to a soccer stadium, because they've been pouring money into this sport infrastructure in order to host these coming sports events.
REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy News. Short break here. It's time to open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back, we'll open the phones now. First to Winchester, Va., good morning, Bob.
BOBGood morning, I grew up in the Middle East and I was wondering, what is the condition of the physical archeology and Crusader castles in the 3,000-year-old central cities and other archeological artifacts. What is happening? I haven't been able to get any discussion about that.
LANDAYThere actually have been stories about the destruction of some of Syria's unbelievable cultural heritage particularly in the city of Aleppo, the old city of Aleppo where old mosques, old buildings, castles, fortifications that date back centuries have been destroyed in the fighting.
LANDAYAnd, you know, Syria is the site of unbelievable Roman ruins whose fate is now in the balance, so no, there has been some reporting on that and in fact it's a serious problem I think the U.N. has taken note of.
GHATTASUNESCO, yeah, UNESCO has raised the issue but, you know, it just goes to show how when a country is at war nothing is sacred anymore, whether it's the lives of people or whether it's the country's heritage. And what we're seeing today is really the destruction of Syria, the Syria as we've known it for decades and centuries is no longer and will not return.
REHMHere's an email from Sam who says: "I believe the U.S. is making a major mistake in talking only with the Taliban while the outcome could benefit the U.S. It's unlikely to lead to long-term stability and peace in Afghanistan after 2014. Instead it should have included other ethnic groups representative of Afghan society in discussions with Afghanistan."
STROBELWhile John, maybe Kim knows more about this than I but most of the other ethnic groups are represented in the Karzai government, the Tajiks and so forth. The Taliban is mostly a Pashtun movement. I think that the other, this is a news question but the other question is, that we didn't discuss earlier is Pakistan.
STROBELWhat their role is. Have they really changed? Are they going to encourage the Taliban to talk to us and the Afghan government or are they playing a game here?
LANDAYThe representative of the Afghan government in these talks is what they call the High Peace Council and the High Peace Council is actually led by an ethnic Tajik, the son of the late President Rabbani who was assassinated by the Taliban several years ago.
LANDAYBut Warren raises a really important point and it goes beyond the fact that the Taliban has sanctuaries in Pakistan. There's another group, other groups that have sanctuaries in Pakistan that are not included in these talks, chief among them being the Haqqani Network which is probably the most lethal of the insurgent groups that are fighting against the Afghan government and NATO forces.
LANDAYThere are reports that the head of the Pakistani army, General Kayani, did play a role in pushing the Taliban to agree to open talks and get this deal with the opening of the office. But there's been no effort as far as anyone can see by the Pakistanis to close down the sanctuaries and as long as those sanctuaries exist the fact is that the Taliban will have a base from which to pursue their insurgency.
REHMAll right, to Miami Beach. Sylvia? Good morning? Sylvia, are you there?
SYLVIAGood morning, Diane, how are you?
REHMFine, thank you.
SYLVIAThank you for taking my call.
SYLVIAI'm Brazilian and I also am an American citizen by on my mother's side. I've been living in Miami Beach for 17 years. I go very often to Brazil. The problem in Brazil, it's very easy. It's the corruption. These people in power, Dilma and Lula who became very famous abroad, they are terrorists.
SYLVIAThey are trying to keep the people unaware of culture, with no culture, no hospitals, nothing. Brazil is becoming a new Cuba or Venezuela and there will be no way back because of the immense territory and the huge volume of people there.
GHATTASCorruption is absolutely something that is at the heart of the complaints that people have in Brazil. It is part of the discussion in Brazil. It is something that perhaps we didn't mention specifically by name in our references to Brazil on the grievances that Brazilians have against their government. But corruption has been there for a long time in Brazil and the Brazilians are fed up.
GHATTASThere was a, many big scandals within Dilma Rousseff's own political party...
GHATTAS...about corruption. But it's difficult to pin all of it on her because she's only been in power for a couple of years and the scandals precede her time in power. But she will have to show how she's willing to deal with that. It's interesting to see that at the moment she is still very popular, 57 percent approval ratings.
GHATTASBut she's facing reelection in 2014 and the way she handles these protests will make or break her reelection. It is no longer guaranteed.
STROBELYeah, I think these protests seem to have metastasized beyond any single issue. There's a great line in a story I read this morning. They were asking a female protester, you know, what are you protesting about? Her response was, ask me what I'm not protesting about. I'm protesting about corruption and the inequality...
REHMAnd bus fares.
STROBEL...and bus fares and three or four other things, yeah.
REHMLet's hear from another perhaps Brazilian, Manuel?
MANUELHello, good morning, Diane.
MANUELThank you very much for taking my call.
MANUELIt's a pleasure speaking to you and also thank you for bringing this subject which has been going on for a few days in Brazil. And it's fairly unnoticed by the international media.
REHMActually, Manuel, we're going to do a full hour on Brazil on Monday.
MANUELOh, that's fantastic.
MANUELWell, as someone brought up, the fact is if the revolutions on the Arab countries have anything to do with it. I particularly think they don't. They, what no one has in common with Israeli social media. The power of social media in this type of protest is fantastic. The reason being because the media in Brazil is very powerful and it's, we don’t have lots of large networks. It's really only.
MANUELThere's one large network that is very popular. It probably holds almost 50 percent of the audience and they not necessarily tell the whole story.
MANUELThe traditional media really can't even interplay with YouTube, with Twitter, with Instagram showing what was going on in the streets.
GHATTASI don't think you. Absolutely you can't compare a country like Brazil to a country like Egypt. At the heart of it is dissatisfaction with your rulers but the way the rulers respond is the key difference of course. And you have someone like Dilma Rousseff saying that protests, peaceful protests are part of democracy and that she welcomes that and that's quite a contrast to how rulers in the Arab world reacted to their people rising.
GHATTASAnd it's even a contrast to the way Mr. Erdogan in Turkey has reacted to the protests blaming a foreign conspiracy, the foreign media, the social media and accusing people of being traitors. You know, that is very interesting to see how different leaders.
REHMBut how is she keeping it peaceful?
GHATTASWell, one protester died last night and we'll have to see how things move forward. There's always the risk that things get out of hand.
LANDAYActually, the fact is that these protests I believe turned violent, some of it turned violent after the police used excessive force, tear gas, rubber bullets in Sao Paulo in addressing, in trying to put, control the demonstrations there but the caller raises an interesting point.
LANDAYHashtag mudabrasil, hashtag changebrazil has been the hashtag that's been used to organize these demonstrations which really, you know they started under the leadership of a committee that was against the rise of transportation fares but have, but there's really no identifiable leader of what's going on there now.
LANDAYAnd the other point being that, yes, Brazil has actually seen a social turmoil for some time. There were union strikes earlier over the privatization of its ports. There has been dissatisfaction about other aspects of government policy and we have to wait and see to see how the president addresses this. She's cancelled a visit to Japan.
LANDAYThere's an emergency cabinet meeting today. And the fact is there are so many issues that the demonstrators are demonstrating about that it is hard to see how you can get an all-encompassing solution to end the demonstrations.
REHMAnd here's an email on that from Jack in Columbia, Mo. He talks about the current protests, the cost of living but he says: "At the same time there seems to be a deepening sense of the whole idea of Brazilian democracy. How much do you sense that this is a larger movement to call for better representation of the majority of Brazilians by their politicians?" Kim?
GHATTASI think it's always difficult to tell at the onset how the demonstrations will evolve. Who knew that in Turkey protests about a park would lead to where we are today? In Brazil, as Jonathan very accurately points out, this isn't just about one issue. It is about a host of issues that are emblematic of you know, the difficulties of growing fast when you're a country like Brazil.
GHATTASYou leave a lot of people behind. You aren't able to address certain problems in time to address grievances. You have the issue of corruption but overall you know countries like Brazil and Turkey are searching for the next phase and how they move forward from here.
REHMHere's an interesting question regarding Iran. Scott in Baltimore says: "The BDC have reported previously that in the Iranian opposition they had originally called for a boycott of the election but this call collapsed for lack of support and the clerics called for a high voter turnout."
REHM"I keep hearing that the high voter turnout is a good sign for reformers but if the clerics had been calling for a high turnout and got it, how is the clerics getting what they wanted really a success?"
GHATTASShall I respond because I'm from the BBC?
REHMSure, of course.
GHATTASWell, I mean, it's important to remember that some clerics are also reformers. I mean, Mr. Hatami was seen as a reformer, but he was a cleric. So it's not because you're a cleric that you don’t necessarily believe in moving forward for your country. There are different brands of clerics.
GHATTASI think that Mr. Hatami and others within the reform movement through their weight behind Mr. Rowhani because they thought that was their best chance. There are no real reformers as is understood in the West perhaps, no liberals as understood in the West.
GHATTASBut if you want to make a break with Mr. Ahmadinejad, if you want to take this country in a different direction, even if it's you know one degree at a time you have to start somewhere and I think that's why we saw so many people respond to the call to vote.
REHMKim Ghattas of the BBC, she's also the author of a book titled "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton From Beirut to the Heart of American Power." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." President Obama called for the U.S. and Russia to cut their nuclear arsenals. There did not seem to be too much of a positive response.
STROBELYeah, the Russians did not jump on this one. President Putin did not jump on this one. And one reason is, even as the U.S. is proposing cutting offensive nuclear weapons it is moving ahead with missile defense which the Russians just cannot abide.
STROBELAnd they say that you're asking us to cut our offensive weapons. You're building a missile shield. What we have left is not going to be as potent as it was before.
STROBELAnd there was another really interesting thing I think that the Russians said. They said, I've seen a Russian foreign ministry official say, you know, it's not the 60s and 70s anymore. We shouldn't just talk about U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and guess who they're talking about?
STROBELThey're talking about the Chinese who have a historically tense relationship with the Russians and have a fairly sizable nuclear arsenal so that's increasingly I think going to be part of the arms control equation.
REHMAnd what about Israel, do we know about their nuclear arsenal?
STROBELThey, you know, sort of have a no comment policy but I think it's been widely reported they have between 120 and 200 nuclear warheads. They don't want to talk. They don't want to be in arms control talks.
LANDAYI think the Russian comments on missile defense are a bit disingenuous, the fact is that the administration cancelled the part of the European missile defense system that the Russians were most opposed to. They've gotten rid of that. I think that there are other issues at play here, Syria for instance...
LANDAY...and the fact that Mr. Putin who has become president again for the third time ran on sort of a very nationalistic program, one that cast the United States as being sort of out to undermine him and Russia. And to be seen doing deals with the United States now after he's cracked down on the liberal opposition, after he's gone after American NGOs and foreign NGOs who have been there, trying to push the rule of law and help people adopt Russian orphans, that would raise real questions among his political base.
LANDAYWait a minute, you've been vilifying the United States and now you want to do another arms deal with them. So I think that there's Russian domestic policy involved here as well.
REHMAll right. And one story people were talking about this week is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin stole a ring from the owner of the New England Patriots. What do we know Jonathan?
LANDAYI like to think that, you know, you look at that picture that came out of the meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama and you think, well, maybe it was because Mr. Obama said, give the ring back and Putin said, no ,I won't. This ring belonged to Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots.
LANDAYHe was visiting St. Petersburg in 2005 and met with Mr. Putin and according to Mr. Kraft's version of the story, he took the ring out to show Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin took it, put it on his finger said, I could kill someone with this ring, took it off his finger, put it in his pocket and walked away protected by three very burly men.
REHMDo we have any...
GHATTASMaybe he thought it was a gift?
LANDAYThat's what the Russians' story is, that it was a gift.
REHMExactly, it was a gift. I can't imagine Kraft giving him the ring...
LANDAYA $25,000-diamond encrusted ring?
REHMOkay. And the other question is, are there any films of exactly that moment? Warren?
STROBELYeah, I don't know about that. One of my favorite aspects of the story though is the suggestion by Kraft that the Bush administration, President Bush at the time, told him don't make a big deal of it. Don't ask for the ring back. Don't pressure the Kremlin because that would upset U.S.-Russian relations and that kind of rings true.
LANDAYBut I don't know about the film or video.
STROBELThe only picture I've seen is a very nice picture of Putin looking at the ring and Mr. Kraft with his finger pointing at the ring with a big smile on his face.
REHMAny comment, Kim?
GHATTASWell, I saw a skit on television last night about this where you see the picture of Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin at this meeting at the G8 and obviously it's fake, but you see Mr. Putin putting lots of other things in his jacket, you know, the tea set that's on the table.
REHMKim Ghattas of the BBC, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Warren Strobel at Reuters, thank you all so much.
LANDAYThank you very much.
STROBELThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Aaron Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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