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U.S. Secretary of State Kerry pressed Arab leaders to help re-start Middle East peace talks. Egypt installed an interim government that includes Christians and women. After major protests, Russia temporarily released a leading anti-corruption activist. India is mourning the deaths of 23 children poisoned by tainted school lunches. Panama detained crew members of a North Korean ship caught smuggling missile parts through the canal. And former South African President Nelson Mandela turned 95. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Bruce Auster national security editor for NPR.
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent at Bloomberg News.
- 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 REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The standoff continues between the U.S. and Russia over NSA leaker Edward Snowden's asylum. Palestinian leaders object to the U.S. led plan to restart Middle East peace talks and India mourns the death of at least 23 children poisoned by school lunches.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan with Bloomberg News and Bruce Auster of NPR. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody, happy Friday.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MR. BRUCE AUSTERGood morning.
REHMIndira, let's start with Russia, where Edward Snowden has asked for temporary asylum this week. What's the latest?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANWell, the latest is that Vladimir Putin has been put in the embarrassing situation, one I guess he's been in before but of having to make two contradictory statements to the press.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANOn the one hand saying we are not going to allow the Snowden affair to interfere with U.S. - Russian relations and bilateral relations are far more important than any case of the spy agencies. And at the same time saying, we're not going to be pushed around by the United States.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANAnd we're not going to bow to the U.S. because we have our sovereignty. It's an obvious reference to how the U.S. forced and pressured other countries to force down, Evo Morales, the Bolivian president's plane when he was flying across Europe to search it in case Edward Snowden was on board since Bolivia's offered Snowden asylum.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANSo I think where we are right now the White House is trying to send out a signal that it is ready and very prepared to cancel the Obama Summit with Vladimir Putin planned for next month or planned for September if this situation is not resolved before then.
REHMAnd, David, what has President Putin said about Mr. Snowden?
IGNATIUSWell, he made a fascinating set of comments. At one point he said, "We're prepared to let Mr. Snowden stay here so long as he doesn't harm the interests of the United States." And then said, "That sounds funny coming from me," Putin being an ex-KGB officer himself.
IGNATIUSYou have the feeling, at least I have the feeling that now that Snowden is in Moscow the Russians almost certainly have found a way to get access to the very secret material that he has. I mean, surely Mr. Snowden's had to go to the bathroom for the last two weeks.
IGNATIUSThat they've got the stuff and they'll make whatever use they want to and I suppose in their interests it's probably better to keep it less decimated now rather than more.
AUSTERYes, that's a really interesting point. Earlier in the week Glen Greenwald who's the journalist who's reported a number of these stories and has been in contact with Edward Snowden, said that Snowden has thousands of documents, not just the ones that we've all seen publically that have been released.
AUSTERBut that he has thousands of others that are essentially the architecture of how the NSA programs work. So the question then becomes, does Snowden have control over the documents in his possessions? The Russians could conceivably just coerce him into handing them over. But there have been reports that there are four laptops that he has in his possession.
AUSTERSo over three weeks in this airport it's entirely plausible that A, the Russians get physical access to that computer which would then get them say, his hard drive. Then what they have to do is break the encryption and cyber experts, people who understand computers will argue that it is entirely possible even if the encryption is very good, that those documents could be read.
AUSTERAnd so from the perspective of U.S. intelligence services you have to assume that those thousands of documents are in the possession of the Russian security services.
REHMHow big a threat are those documents to not only the National Security of the United States but our relations with every other country in the world?
AUSTERYes, there's two issues there. One is we don't know what they are but to the extent the description of them is providing the blueprints for how the NSA actually goes about implementing these programs. That would be, you can imagine, enormously valuable to another security service.
AUSTERThe other question is the sort of geo-political impact of all of these revelations. Putting aside whether the Russians get what's left on his laptop, Even the revelations that we've seen so far have so complicated relationships. There were leaks about cyber attacks against China that were leaked on the eve of a president's summit with the Chinese president.
AUSTERWe see the European nations basically discovering they've been spied upon. So geo-politically there are enormous impacts or at least complications from these revelations.
IGNATIUSWell, in this NSA bag of tricks that Snowden brought with him are secrets that are among the most precious the United States has. The question always is when the magician been revealed and how he does his tricks can he still do them and do you want him to do them?
IGNATIUSAnd we are now in a debate in this country over the surveillance and civil liberties. There's no question to me as somebody looking at intelligence that the ability to listen all over the world often in cooperation most security services but not always, is an immensely valuable foreign policy tool for the United States. Much more important than anything the CIA does.
REHMSo the question becomes, has not only Russia but indeed perhaps even China already stolen Snowden's files, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, I'd like to make one point about this, which is that a colleague of mine who writes for Bloomberg Business Week wrote a really interesting article that questioned how secret and fantastic and close Snowden's access to the deepest secrets of the NSA actually were.
LAKSHMANANAnd what he concluded from interviewing current and former intelligence officials was basically that the information that Snowden had is not the deepest, darkest secrets and, in fact, that while U.S. allies made this obligatory show of anger over the revelations there was nothing that Snowden revealed that they didn't already know.
LAKSHMANANYou know, both our allies and our adversaries and that includes China, are well aware that the U.S. bugs their offices, hacks their computers just as they do it to us. So one of the points that General Keene Alexander, who's the director of the National Security Agency made this week was he said that Snowden got access to his biggest bombshell, the one about the phone records while he was still in training.
LAKSHMANANAnd that a lot of the other information that he leaked was found in internal web forums where employees learn about the agencies rules. So they've been trying to downplay how important this is saying, you know, these folks already knew it and this is stuff that was available to entry level people coming into the NSA.
REHMBut isn't that what would you expect from the NSA?
IGNATIUSYes, you'd expect that they would, two things that they'd say, this is so terrible, what a disaster for the country. On the other hand they'd say, of course we have a lot of secrets still hidden and the truth is that people like us won't know which is which except that this clearly has been some damage.
IGNATIUSThe damage principally as I look at this is to those who cooperated with the NSA and other government agencies, U.S. companies that said okay, you know, I've got a court order. There's a program here, I want to be a good U.S. company and so they cooperated.
IGNATIUSForeign governments, the extent of cooperation in many cases from some of the governments that are indignant in Europe has been extensive and they cooperated because they get a lot of the take here. It adds to their ability to monitor al Qaeda terrorists.
IGNATIUSSo for those companies and governments cooperating in the future, whatever the programs end up being going forward will be a little harder I think.
REHMAll right. Another story coming out of Russia this week, the conviction of Alexi Navalny after massive protests to the judge sentencing him to five years in a minimum security prison. He's been let go temporarily I understand. Bruce, tell us about him. Who is he and what is the threat to Putin?
AUSTERThis is a very interesting case. He is, Mr. Navalny, is an essentially a political opponent of President Putin. He is seen as someone who could be running to be mayor of Moscow and he has been on trial and many people including Mikhail Gorbachev have indicated that this essentially been a show trial.
AUSTERSo he was as you said, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. There were enormous protests. I mean, he had I believe began his career as sort of a blogger and a sort of popular figure. And so his supporters took to the streets and as a result the court reversed itself and has now given him, as you said, sort of a temporary reprieve pending further legal action. So that's where things stand right now.
REHMPending further legal action?
AUSTERRight, it's not resolved at this point but it should give him potentially an opportunity to run for mayor of Moscow. Now, what's particularly interesting in connection to the other subject we're talking about, which is the Snowden case.
AUSTERWe have a situation where Mr. Snowden is in Russia seeking asylum because he thinks the United States is essentially out to get him and is an oppressive government and yet he is now seeking refuge in a country in which someone like Mr. Navalny is sentenced to prison because he's a political opponent of President Putin.
REHMWhat is Navalny's likely future, David?
IGNATIUSWell, he's a very courageous and funny person. I mean, one reason that he's just so likable is that he makes fun of leaders in the Kremlin. He calls them thieves and swindlers and he comes out and sees the big police presence and he says, "Where am I? Is this Chad or have they forgotten what the name of our country is?"
IGNATIUSHe's, you know, he's a proud Russian who wants Russia to be a modern country and I think, for me, seeing people in the streets reverse, it appears at least temporarily, the decision in this case put together with what we've seen in Cairo, in Turkey, is a sign that street power, people power is back.
REHMDavid Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, also contributor to the Post-Partisan blog on washingtonpost.com. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're in the midst of our International Hour of the Friday News Roundup this week with Bruce Auster, national security editor for NPR, Indira Lakshmanan, diplomatic correspondent at Bloomberg News, David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post. Tell us what's going on in the middle east, Bruce. How much progress did Secretary of State Kerry make in restarting these talks?
AUSTERWell, work in progress. The secretary was due to return to Washington yesterday. That's how things looked at the end of the day yesterday. He instead went back to the West Bank to continue negotiations. I don't know that we have a sense yet of what the result of those are. There was a phone call last night between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu in which the president apparently urged him to continue working with Secretary Kerry. So this effort to jumpstart negotiations, to restart them, which looked maybe yesterday as if it was faltering is still in play.
REHMSome conditions that the Palestinians want put in place, David.
IGNATIUSWell, the Palestinians have had certain demands that they want to have met before they return to the negotiating table. The Israeli position has been we're ready for open-ended negotiations. And what Kerry has been trying to do in a kind of shuttle diplomacy that really does hark back to Henry Kissinger, he keeps it all in his head in moving back from capital to capital, has come up with a plan that as best we know will exchange Israeli agreement on the boundaries of a Palestinian state, 67 lines plus swaps.
IGNATIUSIn exchange for some real effort to show Israelis that if there's a Palestinian state it won't become Gaza. In other words, it won't be a launch pad for missiles against Israel. And they're doing that with the help of General John Allen, who is our commander in Kabul who Secretary Kerry has tasked with thinking through these security issues. So that's the package that we think they're trying to come up with. And we know that they're really close because Kerry stays up until 3:00 am talking to Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. And then he leaves and he comes right back.
IGNATIUSAnd the final thing I'd say is there's been an enormous buzz among people who follow foreign policy about whether Kerry's wasting his time on this. Has Kerry gone running off? This is his sixth trip to the Middle East leaving all other issues hanging. His critics say, yes, he's just wasting too much time on this. His defenders say no, he's really making effort, he's really close. And the truth is, we won't know until probably another 24 hours. This is make or break time.
REHMAnd of course, that was all interrupted when his wife became ill.
IGNATIUSYes. His wife's illness was a sudden break and that was a kind of crazy week for Senator Kerry because he was photographed, you know, onboard boats when people thought he should've been working after the Egyptian crisis. But Kerry really has been dogged, even surprising people who expected that he'd work on this and just how much effort he's put into the Palestinian/Israeli negotiations.
LAKSHMANANIt's interesting how Secretary Kerry has essentially taken on the role of special envoy for Mideast peace himself. And I thought it was interesting at yesterday's State Department briefing where someone asked, well, what about the status of David Hale who's now going to be an ambassador, is no longer operating in that role. And George Mitchell, of course, the famous senator had been in that role and was unable to succeed despite having managed to get peace in Northern Ireland. He couldn't get peace in the Middle East.
LAKSHMANANKerry seems to have unofficially taken on this mantel to himself, as David was saying, in a Kissinger-like way with shuttle diplomacy. Where we are right now is the State Department is saying this is an hour-by-hour process. He was supposed to have already left. In fact he's extended his stay. He's still there now. He had some meeting with Abbas, the Palestinian leader this morning in Amman, Jordan and is now -- has gone to Ramallah to the Palestinian territories for an urgent meeting there. And this all follows yesterday when the Palestinian authorities leadership had a meeting in which they were unable to come to an agreement on endorsing his plan.
LAKSHMANANAs Bruce was saying, what the Palestinians have wanted is an end to Israeli settlement construction and they've wanted the recognition upfront of the 1967 borders for a Palestinian state. And the Israelis have been unwilling to give that. At the same time, you see someone like Israel President Shimon Peres saying publicly this week that Kerry has made real progress in returning to talks. So there's a lot of talk in the region about whether, you know, has Kerry gone back merely for arm twisting or to actually seal a deal. So we won't know, I guess, how it goes until later today, but the State Department is keeping expectations tamped down, I'd have to say, for now.
AUSTERBut the broader question, as David suggested, is, is this where his time should be spent? If he has effectively become the Middle East envoy, is this the priority issue, especially as you look around the region and you see Syria in conflict, you see Egypt, people in the streets, the government overthrown. You see -- and Secretary Kerry actually visited a refugee camp in Jordan but you see refugees inside Jordan. There are a lot of hotspots in that part of the world. And so the criticism is -- or the question at least is, is this where his time should be spent?
REHMAnd in Syria you've got rebel groups now killing one another, David.
IGNATIUSYes. Diane, there's a terrible breakdown of anything you could call order in Syria. Assad's forces, the force of President Bashar al-Assad are on the offensive, are regaining territory, are really in control now what you'd call a rough Syria state that stretches from Damascus northwest to Latakia and the Mediterranean. And in the areas that have been taken by the rebels, there's growing infighting. There was assassination of two moderate Syrian officers in the last week. One of their warehouses was overrun.
IGNATIUSIt's really becoming a mess. These rebel forces were hoping to have much stronger and more active training and support from the United States than it turns out they're getting. And that leaves them very vulnerable to some Jihadists who are tough guys. These are al-Qaida trained Jihadist fighters. They've been very effective in the field and they're now beginning to have an internal war among -- on the opposition side to sort out who's going to control this territory.
REHMAnd on Thursday, John Kerry heard lots of complaints from Syrian refugees in Jordan.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. He went to visit what officials say is the second largest refugee camp in the world in Jordan. And it's basically a city onto itself. It's got hospitals, police stations, schools, but people are living out of trailers, containers. And he really got an earful from the refugees who he met who were saying -- you know, that one lady said to him, you know, the United States could end this in 30 minutes. And why aren't you doing something about it? And he tried to reason with them saying, it's a very complicated case, which is the case that the White House has been making all along.
LAKSHMANANI mean, interesting if we say this rump Syria being run by Assad's forces and where are we now on the ground with the civil war. What's interesting is General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs was up on capitol hill this week for his hearing about whether he's going to get a second term. And he was talking about how the Obama Administration is deliberating about whether or not it should use military force in Syria.
LAKSHMANANNow they've said all along that everything is on the table short of U.S. military boots on the ground. But he used terms like the U.S. is considering using kinetic strikes in Syria. And he talked about the issue being under deliberation inside of our agencies. I mean, this has been an ongoing thing now, a debate in Washington for two years. And, you know, the whole question of how much we support or don't support the rebels, even after last month the Pentagon left a fleet of F16 fighter planes and the Patriot missile system on the border between Syria and Jordan after a routine, you know, military drill, there are a lot of questions about where this is going.
LAKSHMANANAnd I was struck by Samantha Power at her hearing...
LAKSHMANAN...for United Nations Ambassador where she called the UN's response. Interestingly, she didn't put the blame on the U.S., on her own administration but she called the UN's failure to respond to Syria a disgrace that will be judged harshly by history.
AUSTERAnd to the refugee in that camp in Jordan, the answer that the problem is complicated really isn't a very satisfactory answer. And that's the problem that's been going on for ages now. And that hearing that Indira mentioned about with General Dempsey yesterday was really quite a remarkable exchange between Senator John McCain and General Dempsey. General Dempsey is up for his second term as chairman. Senator McCain was so unhappy with his answers about Syria that he's effectively said that he will put a hold on that nomination.
AUSTERAnd what really got them going was the idea when General Dempsey said, we've been active. We've been doing things, which angered Senator McCain because from his point of view, what he sees is nothing. And the best case really is this notion of the decision -- it was back in June, there was a decision made by the administration that the redline had been crossed. Remember, we talked a lot about the redline and how chemical weapons had been used. And therefore the U.S. was going to act. And the action was going to be providing arms to the Syrians -- or to the Syrian opposition.
REHM...to the rebels.
AUSTERRight. And nothing has happened. And we've seen reports about lawyers involved, and congress has problems with it. Whatever the reason, the arms aren't there and that's what people on the ground are seeing. And it's that sort of inaction, the idea that the problem is too complicated, I think the critics would say doing nothing is also an action. And that's where we stand right now.
REHMAnd Bruce, let's talk about the new interim government in the Egypt's sworn in, who's in it?
AUSTERWell, who's in is -- the interesting point is who's not in and who's not in in this sort of new coalition that's been formed is the Muslim Brotherhood. They created a sort of interim group, 30 some odd people. Nobody represented from the Muslim Brotherhood.
REHMWhich you had a woman -- two women and you have a Christian.
AUSTERUm-hum. And you also have about a half a dozen members of the former Mubarak government. So the United States sent a very high ranking official, the number two person at the State Department, and his message was of one of inclusion. And whatever comes in the new government in Egypt should include all parties, given that the former president is in custody and out of sight, that's hard to see how that's going to happen.
REHMHas the Muslim Brotherhood come any closer, David, to accepting this interim government?
IGNATIUSIt doesn't appear so. People are still in the streets. They're in the streets today. The hope the U.S. had when the military first intervened was that it would be possible to split the Muslim Brotherhood, that you could get less militant people who were associated with their political party, the freedom and justice party to come into talks. I think the military in truth, all the Muslim Brotherhood members of this cabinet would like to have had some. If they were willing to break they'd like that image. The conservative Salafist al-Nour party, which supported the coup has also backed away.
IGNATIUSI find it absolutely fascinating that America's top representative, the Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns deeply experienced in the Middle East, goes to Cairo and members of the secular liberal opposition refused to meet with him because they're so angry that the United States has been propping up the Muslim Brotherhood. It just shows you how the deck has been reshuffled in the Middle East.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Bruce, NPR did a piece on Al Jazeera's coverage of what's happened there in Egypt. Explain what happened.
AUSTERThe charge against Al Jazeera is essentially that its coverage is biased. I mean, this is a Qatar-based news organization. It has different parts. There's an American organization. But we're talking here about the reporting in Egypt. And the charge essentially is that their bias is in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. So there were a couple of really interesting examples of the coverage that produced this outrage against the network.
AUSTEROne was that they would show scenes of protests, and the scenes of the pro-Morsi protesters. The crowds would be huge. And then they would show scenes of the anti-Morsi protestors and there'd be nobody in the street. And it was only discovered later that they were essentially showing those place when the streets were empty. You know, there had been people there, they just didn't show that.
AUSTERThere was another incident in which you'll recall there were a number of pro-Morsi people who were killed. Al Jazeera's accused of inflating those numbers dramatically. And so those are the charges against them and effectively that they've been misreporting and that they've been tilting their coverage in favor of one side.
REHMAnd what has Al Jazeera itself said?
AUSTERYou know, they've had a number of employees have actually quit over this. I mean, even internally there's been a sort of acknowledgment that the coverage was wrong. There were some 20 or so employees who actually resigned over this incident.
LAKSHMANANI thought it was really interesting that the bias exists on all sides it appears, in Egypt. And some of my colleagues in the region did a story earlier this week about Egyptian TV bias on the other side and how they're something like, you know, the most popular channels. And there are, you know, 200 private satellite TV channels in Egypt today, that the most popular channels, they were people celebrating the coup. The anchors on air, you know, wrapping themselves in the Egyptian flag, singing on air. You know, being openly anti-Muslim Brotherhood, anti the previous president.
LAKSHMANANAnd so, you know, the bias seems to exist on all sides. And now you see in these Muslim Brotherhood protests, you see people carrying signs with photographs of the anchors who they think are inciting violence against the Islamists. So it appears that this bias is something you see all the way around. And what is interesting though about the Al Jazeera piece is that Al Jazeera's a Qatar-funded station.
LAKSHMANANThere's a new leader in Qatar now and they're going to have to make a decision. Because they have funded not only through Al Jazeera and its coverage, but directly to the Muslim Brotherhood government millions of dollars in funding, whereas the Saudis, who fund Al Arabia, are now funding the new government and a different kind of coverage. So you also see the power play among Gulf states for influence.
IGNATIUSYes. I think the competition among different Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar is evident and in Egypt. It's evident in Syria it's evident in Bahrain. So this is something that those of us who covered the civil war in Lebanon remember all too well bitterly. The way in which outside powers choose to fight their battles inside these small countries and just take the countries down.
REHMI think the toughest story to see this week was the 23 children between the ages of five and twelve who died from eating tainted school lunches in India. How could this happen, Indira?
LAKSHMANANYeah, this is a heartbreaking story. As a parent this just made me want to cry, particularly the story that was told that the cook in the school who was preparing these government-funded and supplied school meals had actually said something. Had raised concern to the head mistress of the school and had said, I think there's...
REHM...to whom he's married.
LAKSHMANAN...saying, you know, I think there's something wrong with the oil in the cooking. And the children were complaining. And the head mistress basically told them all to keep quiet and finish eating the meal. And then we ended up with more than 20 kids dead and another 25 in the hospital. So tragic.
REHMAnd short break here and when we come back, we'll talk further and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back, just before the break, we were talking about that school lunch tragedy in India. David, you wanted to add to that?
IGNATIUSListeners who are wondering how something as awful as this could possibly happen, I would commend a novel I just finished reading called "How to Become Filthy Rich in Rising Asia". It's largely a comic novel by a man named Mohsin Hamid who is a Pakistani novelist and it's all about how a guy gets rich with adulterated food, reselling things whose expiration dates have gone.
IGNATIUSYou know, taking water out of the water mains and pretending it is bottled water. But it's a look at the kind of world in which food then ends up killing children, could possibly get bottled.
LAKSHMANANAnd we've seen that in China. We've seen that happen in China where tainted food and tainted baby powder etc. has been used and some of those people have been put to death by Chinese authorities.
REHMAnd Bruce, you were talking about the fact that this was indeed pesticides?
AUSTERThat's right, we're talking about cooking oil that somehow, somehow pesticides got into the cooking oil and part of what is sort of especially tragic, the potency of this must have been extraordinary because of how quickly the kids got sick and died.
AUSTERThe other tragedy which I think we sort of alluded to here is that this is a case of a program that's designed to help kids. This happened in a particularly poor part of the country. There had been warnings even a couple of years ago that, you know the quality controls, that there were issues here. So it's not as if there had been no prior knowledge that they needed to look at this.
AUSTERAnd yet you have something where, on the one hand, they're trying to do good and then tragedy emerges from it.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Houston, Tx. and Ryan, you're on the air.
RYANThank you, Diane, thank you for taking my call.
RYANHello to the guests, hello to everybody. My comment was on the Edward Snowden case. One of your guests had said that Edward Snowden was applying for asylum in Russia because he thinks the U.S. is out to get him. Well, it’s not really a matter of he thinks, the U.S. is out to get him. The U.S. is out to get him.
RYANThey grounded a flight with the Bolivian president on board simply because they believed that Edward Snowden might have been on that plane. So any plane Snowden takes off on is going to get grounded because the United States is basically using the whole globe as its jurisdiction.
LAKSHMANANI think that's a fair statement that the U.S. is going to pressure any country over whose airspace Edward Snowden travels to, you know, bring down the plane. I don't know that any force would be used but the question is, how does he get from Russia to Latin America without a refueling stop?
LAKSHMANANAnd so if he's going to be on a plane that needs to make a change, if it's a commercial aircraft then there's the question of him being seized and turned over to authorities in any country where he's changing. I mean I think the point that the other speaker was probably making was that it's strange that Putin would be comparing Snowden to, you know, human rights icon, Andrei Sakharov, the anti-Soviet protester. I think perhaps that's the point.
AUSTERI mean, Snowden's problem is that his sort of ideals are in conflict with his desire to remain free and survive and so his, he's standing on principle and yet at the same time he's having to compromise his principles because the only countries that might take him are countries that are politically repressive.
REHMHere's an email from Mike in Sand Springs, Okla. who says: "There's an ongoing drumbeat indicating thousands of documents in Edward Snowden's possession are on his laptop. If I were he, and I am an IT guy, I'd put them on a secure server somewhere safe and access them remotely. Edward Snowden surely has marshaled his considerable skills, no doubt exceeding mine, to protect this stuff."
REHMThat's the question. Can any of this truly be protected?
AUSTERThat's what we don't know and what we think we know is that he has more than has been released, that it's serious material, that you can bet that the security services in places like Russia would very much like to get at it. The question is, can he keep it from them if he desires to keep it from them? And technically I think that they may have the upper hand on him.
AUSTERWe don't know for sure.
REHMTo Kevin in Cleveland, Ohio you're on the air.
KEVINHi Diane, you're a national treasure.
KEVINI want to talk about Syria. I have been reading David Ignatius' writing about this until his newspaper started charging me for it. But I think the disgraceful way that the U.N. in general and the U.S. in particular has been dealing with this situation might have to do with the fact that what we want is Assad ousted and item number one enemy of Al Zawahiri has been on video calling for Assad's ouster. How do we reconcile that? Thank you very much.
IGNATIUSWell, I'll give Kevin a brief summary of the latest column once you. You can get access to The Post I hope. But I said that, Syria illustrates a feature of U.S. foreign policy that is sadly too common which I call seduction and abandonment. We seduce groups like this to believe that we're prepared to stand behind them as they rise up and challenge their leaders.
IGNATIUSAnd then when the going gets tough and the president looks around and realizes there's not much political support in the country for these actions we abandon them and that is what's going on now.
IGNATIUSThe caller is and it's a terrible. We should really think about this...
IGNATIUS...because it happens over and over again and it's just wrong. It shouldn't be. The caller is right that we are in a very strange situation in which the forces opposing President Assad range from some very decent moderates who want to, you know, secular people, all the way to people who really are al-Qaida-trained. I mean they are reporting to Ayman al-Zawahiri as the caller said.
IGNATIUSAnd the program that we're now kind of backing away from was trying to strengthen the moderates, the decent people so they have a better chance of fighting against al-Qaida and keeping a decent country.
REHMAnd here's a tweet: "Is there such a thing as a Muslim Brotherhood moderate? Morsi's tenure did not seem to suggest that such can have a voice."
IGNATIUSThe Muslim Brotherhood made a decision that rather than seek to topple Egypt via violence they would seek to change Egypt through the ballot box. President Morsi was a particularly unfortunate choice as president because he just doesn't have the gift of compromise.
IGNATIUSHe was not able to reach out and build a government that could do anything and Egypt really has been falling apart. But the caller shouldn't think that despite propaganda that's now coming from the Egyptian military, this is a terrorist organization. It may become one again but this is a group that said, our future is in the ballot box. We want to live in a democratic Egypt.
IGNATIUSAnd they just were unlucky, I think to have had such an incapable president, he couldn't reach out and govern the country when he needed to.
REHMAll right to Leesburg, Va. Hi there, Ron.
RONHi, I really enjoy your program...
RON...I must say. I was wondering about the poisoning in India. When I was a kid I picked apples in Washington State and there was always lead arsenate on the apples to save them from the worms. And they warned us every year, don't eat these applies until you've washed them. Some kids did and they would get sick but they wouldn't die. Very few people died.
RONThe fact that so many kids died, so quickly, made me think that maybe there's some deliberate attempt to poison them. Is somebody trying to wreck the program there in India?
LAKSHMANANIt's an interesting question and certainly there has been, there is an investigation into whether this was an intentional poisoning or whether it was somehow accidental so Indian authorities are looking into that possibility. I mean what we're talking about with this program, I mean let's put this in perspective which is nearly half of India's children suffer from malnutrition of some sort.
LAKSHMANANSo this program is a really important one. It's $22 billion-a-year welfare scheme that basically subsidizes wheat, rice to 67 percent of the population plus you've got this school lunch program. So one would hope that they're not going to be forced to throw the baby out with the bath water and get rid of this program.
LAKSHMANANI don't know whether someone is trying to intentionally sabotage it. My instinct would be that it's probably more along the lines of what David was mentioning which is someone trying to get rich by cutting corners and you know, tainted food has been in Asia a really common thing when businessmen have tried to get rich quick by cutting corners in their production.
REHMAll right, to Nori here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
NORIThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
NORIMy comment is on the issue of Egypt. Initially I do like to say that, me personally, I don't like to see any fundamentalist on any part of this world to be in power for the interests of the mankind. But on the issue of Egypt what I want to say is really we are living in an era, that hypocrisy is a policy of nations and governments.
NORII don't want the Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood to be in power but once we accept it, the principle of democracy. The elections were fair. I think we're supposed to play the game up to the end. The United States in particular they knew the coup d'état even before months, before it happened.
IGNATIUSMy understanding is that the United States did seek to mediate some compromise between Morsi and the military, Morsi and his opponents and was unsuccessful. They did this with help from Qatar which has been a strong supporter of Morsi.
IGNATIUSAnd Morsi just was dug in. He was not going to compromise. You could see that in his final speech if the caller watched it as I'm sure he did. He was just in an unyielding frame of mind. And the military I think asked the U.S. to explicitly bless the coup. They wanted a public green light that America thinks this is okay.
IGNATIUSThey didn't get that. People, you know, in the Arab world always see deeper conspiracies but one of the funny things is that the U.S. to the end, at least in its public statements, was supporting legitimacy and elected government.
LAKSHMANANI mean, I think the caller makes a larger point which is really interesting that if you're going to support democracy, and this is something that George W. Bush faced in Gaza where you supported elections in Gaza and then Hamas comes to power...
REHMAnd they're doing fairly well.
LAKSHMANAN...and they were fairly elected and we didn't like the result but that is the case. If we're going to respect the process and if the process is fairly conducted then you kind of have to respect the result and this has been the problem. The Obama administration has been seen to tap dance around this issue in the last weeks, not calling it a coup because they don't want to cut off military aid yet we know the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in the last days trying to negotiate with, trying to persuade the Egyptians to not have this coup.
LAKSHMANANNow once this coup has happened, A, we don't call it a coup and, B, John Kerry has now, just a couple of days ago said, well, it looks like this prevented a civil war from breaking out. And so we have to weigh that against legal issues as well when we analyze what to call this.
AUSTERWhich raises a broader question of American influence and leverage, I mean there have been sort of two points at which the United States could have sort of intervened or made a difference. One was the question of whether or not Morsi would be able to hold on to the position or not.
AUSTERAnd the other is now, as they try to figure out where do they go? How does this new government get formed? And what you see is a sort of inability to achieve the outcomes that the government seems to want to get. The leverage that the United States seems to have is this $1.3 billion in military aid and yet you wonder at some point whether or not the U.S. needs that aid to be delivered to Egypt more than Egypt actually needs the aid.
AUSTERThe U.S., that aid guarantees or helps secure the peace deal with Israel. It gives the U.S. ships access, priority access in the Suez Canal. It may be more important to the U.S. than to Egypt.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To John in Danielson, Conn., you're on the air.
JOHNI have a comment on the Indian school death cases. Apparently the husband or the wife who was the principal sells food to the school and as of this morning both the principal and her husband have disappeared. Is that true?
REHMDon't know. Don't know.
LAKSHMANANI don't know the latest on whether they've disappeared but again, this sort of feeds into the same thing we were talking about. About it not necessarily being intentional, but it being negligence in terms of bad food being provided, that wouldn't surprise me at all.
REHMAlright, and Malala and the Taliban, Indira talk about the letter that surfaced this week to Malala from a senior Taliban.
LAKSHMANANFascinating, I mean, this letter came out. Apparently, it must have been written the day after last week when she addressed the United Nations. This is the young girl, of course, who was shot by the Taliban and nearly died, shot in the head and who is now 16 years old.
LAKSHMANANSo this letter was attributed to Adnan Rashid who is a former Pakistani military officer who got out last year in the biggest jail break in Pakistani history. So the whole case is fascinating. He is himself a member of the Pakistani Taliban. And he made headlines by in this letter essentially trying to say why we shot you.
LAKSHMANANAnd his justification is, well we didn't shoot you because you're a girl or because you're advocating for education. We shot you because you were trying to rise up against Islamist leadership. So that has been his position, but the letter is sort of stunning in its arguments and its details.
LAKSHMANANAnd Pakistanis have said what's stunning is how much it's like a mainstream view that's become popular in Pakistan.
IGNATIUSWell, blaming this victim, saying essentially she brought it on herself...
IGNATIUS...by smearing the Taliban was appalling. I mean, in a situation like this, you'd think, well, you'd think somebody should just shut up.
REHMAnd that would have been much better than sending that letter. One piece of good news yesterday, former South African President Nelson Mandela turned 95. They say he's improving. What are the reports that you're getting Bruce?
AUSTERThat's exactly right, that a couple of weeks ago it felt like we, it was imminent that he would pass away and now there are reports that his health is improving. He may even be released from the hospital but apparently they had quite a birthday celebration yesterday.
REHMAnd I loved the photographs of the young children singing, "Happy Birthday" to him. Thank you all so much, Bruce Auster of NPR, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. Have a great weekend.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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