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 world reacted with relief to the last-minute deal to end the U.S. government shutdown and raise the debt limit. But foreign officials warn Washington’s credibility has been damaged, and more stable long-term management of the nation’s finances is needed. A joint statement by Iranian and U.S. officials described nuclear talks in Geneva as “substantive and forward looking.” Chemical weapons inspectors in Syria said they’re on track to meet a deadline for disabling equipment. And former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said he protected secret documents from Russia and China.
- Tom Gjelten national security correspondent, NPR and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Nadia Bilbassy senior correspondent, Al Arabiya.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Global markets react to the end of Washington's fiscal crisis, Geneva talks set the stage for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and Secretary of State Kerry repeats that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup: Tom Gjelten with NPR, Nadia Bilbassy at Al Arabiya, and James Kitfield with National Journal. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Well, what a week, gang. Good to have you here.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGreat to see you, Diane.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. TOM GJELTENGood to be here.
REHMWonderful to see you all. Tom Gjelten, was America's international standing damaged by the shutdown?
GJELTENDamaged further, Diane. I mean, this is not the first time this has happened. And this is a phenomenon that the rest of the world simply cannot understand, how this great power, this economic superpower can come so close to default in the space of three years. It's just baffling to the rest of the world.
GJELTENIt's baffling to tourists from around the world who come to Washington, expecting to see the government, and find closed signs everywhere they go. You know, perhaps the most significant reaction came from China, which is of course the number one rival to the United States for leadership economically in the world today. And Xinhua, the official news agency, came out with a commentary that clearly had the blessing, the endorsement of the government saying, this shows it's time to de-Americanize the global economy.
REHMWhat does that mean?
GJELTENIt means that -- well, in the most practical terms, what it could mean is that China is giving its support to the idea of developing a reserve currency. The U.S. dollar is the most important currency in the world. It's the currency around which the global economy rotates. There have been proposals for years for developing some kind of alternative to the dollar as the reserve currency, perhaps a basket of currencies. This will certainly add to that movement.
BILBASSYI mean, Diane, this is the biggest world economy. It's the most stable. Everybody looks to America. And it's not just what's fascinating for us, for our audience who have been covering foreign policy. But to cover something called the government shutdown -- a superpower is shutting its government -- nobody understood that.
BILBASSYBut on top of that, I think it wasn't just the shutdown as much as the default on the debt. And that's a big problem. And it was fascinating just to see reaction from the world -- all over the world, but in particular from the IMF. Christine Lagarde was basically cautioning the Americans. She's saying, you have to be careful. You have to come to this deal. We're not talking about Feb. 7, but we wanted something permanent. So imagine the head of the IMF talking to America, the most stable market in the world, as if they were Greece or as if they were Italy.
KITFIELDAs if we were Italy -- that sums it up nicely. We're beginning to look a lot more like Italy, a place that really can't govern itself. And that unnerves people who understand that the international system is one that we created in our own image. We've been pushing for a half-century the American ideal of open markets and democracy. And here we are, taking our democracy and proving to the rest of the world that it's dysfunctional. And that does hurt the American creed.
REHMSo is this short-term or long-term?
KITFIELDWell, you know, that's a very good question. I think all of us want to know that. When President Obama was reelected, he talked about breaking this fever that had been in Washington. It clearly has not broken. This fever has come back again and again, so, you know, for the, you know, near to midterm, it seems that we're stuck with this. And that has really, really serious consequences in how our leadership is viewed around the world.
REHMAnd is there a way that confidence that we seem to have lost, at least temporarily, could it be restored and how?
GJELTENWell, I think that depends on whether the Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been so chastened by this experience that it's going to lead to sort of a new atmosphere in the approach to budget negotiations going forward.
REHMYou expect that?
GJELTENWell, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate -- the Republican leader in the Senate, said there is not going to be another government shutdown. There's not going to be more brinksmanship. He seems to be speaking pretty clearly. This is not an episode they want to repeat.
GJELTENNow, the -- part of the solution here was to restart budget negotiations. So far, those negotiations have been stalled over sort of intransigence, to some extent, on both sides. If the Republicans and Democrats can agree on a budget going forward, something they have not been able to do, that will go a long way toward restoring some faith in the U.S. position.
KITFIELDYou know, I think we tend to sort of forget how big of a shock 2008 was. 2008 rocked this country and the world economy to its knees, and it created the Tea Party. And the Tea Party was a sort of backlash against something that really a segment of our population. Until the Republican Party reconciles -- and you talked about it in your first domestic hour.
KITFIELDUntil it reconciles this divide in the Republican Party and the Republicans can return to being a loyal opposition again, which means cutting deals that bring the Obama Administration back towards the center -- it's been sort of out on the left flank of its own sort of worldview because it doesn't have any Republicans to deal with.
KITFIELDUntil the Republican Party reconciles this split and starts acting like a loyal opposition, we're not going to fix this problem. But once it does that and this deal is cut and government starts to work again in a way that people see a middle ground, then, yeah, you can get out of this hole. But you got to quit digging.
REHMYou know, we here in Washington think so much about ourselves, our country, our city, but the whole world has been watching this, Nadia.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. And the fact that they said that they managed to get a deal, a temporary deal by Feb. 7, it's already sent the Asian market -- it rose by 0.8 percent, just to show you how much they react to the American market. But also, it will affect the confidence. You know, the credit market, we're talking again about China, the news agency -- the Chinese news agency has a scathing attack on the American politicians, saying, get your act together.
BILBASSYThis is -- they invest $1.3 trillion in treasuries, so they might -- as Tom was saying, they might look in for another market. Maybe it's not good for them to keep all their money in the U.S. dollars. So it has an implication on everyone, European markets, Middle Eastern markets, the Asian markets, et cetera.
BILBASSYSo when you have a small group of Republicans that -- some people even comparing them to the Taliban, these newcomers to the House, that they're saying that they're so extremist, and they lack the skills of negotiating. They haven't had long time to experience how you can make a deal in the House. And now they're holding everyone at ransom. That all affect the whole world.
GJELTENAnd, Diane, we have to consider this in the broader geopolitical context. I mean, if you look at the Middle East and the way that the United States seems to have lost great influence in the Middle East over the last couple years, developments there that are going on without any guidance, direction from the United States.
GJELTENSo it's not just -- we can't just look at this in terms of the economic picture. We have to consider it in the total geopolitical, geo-economics picture. In all realms of that picture, the United States has lost influence.
REHMSo, in fact, I hope when the negotiators come to the table, the Democrats and the Republicans, they will keep what you all have just talked about in mind. Let's turn to Iran. They and six world powers met in Geneva for talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program. What happened, Nadia?
BILBASSYThis is a very significant, Diane, because this is very substantial, very serious, very detailed, the first time since 2009 that we have this high level between Iranian government officials led by the foreign minister and the chief negotiator and between what we call the P5-plus-1. Now, people say, don't jump into conclusions. There is no need to over-optimistic about this, just because we have a change of a moderate president in Iran. We have to be very cautious about it.
BILBASSYBut, for the first time apparently, they have a PowerPoint representation of one hour of basically talking technically of how we can reach common ground. The Russians actually came out yesterday, and they said, hold on a second. Don't be too optimistic about it because the gap between us and the Iranians are measured by miles.
BILBASSYAnd what we're making is very small modest steps. Despite the fact that the chief foreign policy negotiator Lady Ashton and also Foreign Minister Zarif came out and they said, this is great. We agreed again to meet on Nov. 7, and we're going to discuss in more details what we can achieve later. But I think the premise here is two things. Number one is the Iranian want acknowledgement from the West that they have the right to enrich for peaceful purposes. And the West wanted to make sure that this enrichment is not going to be used to build a bomb.
REHMAnd the White House is weighing a proposal to offer Iran access to millions of dollars that are held in frozen funds, James.
KITFIELDYeah, I mean, it's very clear that they are going to need some sanctions relief on a sort of dual track to show that, you know, we're looking for evidence that they are serious, and they're looking for evidence that we're serious. And the one thing that his leverage has brought to the table is sanctions are crippling their economy.
KITFIELDSo they're going to want some little action along the way to show that we're serious about actually getting rid of some of these sanctions. That's not going to be easy. Congress remains very skeptical. But without that, the Iranians will not -- I mean, Rouhani will not have anything to show his own hardliners. You know, he can't just be seen as giving, giving, giving and then getting nothing in return.
KITFIELDSo the White House is coming up with its own proposal about how to do this, how to sequence this along the way so you basically have confidence-building measures as you get to a final deal. But the final deal, I mean, they've been very secretive about it for good reason. As soon as you put it out there, hardliners in both countries, here and in Iran, are going to start tearing it apart.
KITFIELDBut -- so we don't really know what the contours of the final deal, but it's going to certainly include dismantling some of their centrifuges -- they have way too many. They could spin up too much uranium too quick -- and also limits on their stockpile of highly-enriched uranium.
REHMAnd we're going to have to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about Israel's reaction to the negotiating that's going on there in Geneva. We'll take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup with Tom Gjelten of NPR, James Kitfield of National Journal, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya. Just before the break, Tom, we were talking about Iran, the disputed nuclear weapons program, Israel's reaction. Not a very happy camper.
GJELTENThere's a headline in Time that says, As Iran and the West make progress in Geneva, Israel grumbles from the sidelines. It pretty much sums it up. Great skepticism, I think is the proper word, in Israel that these talks will lead to anything that really counts, that will give Israel security. The kind of security it's demanding. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, this week, as if to sort of establish a counterpoint to what was going on in Geneva, gave a speech where he once again said that Israel reserves the right to take a preemptive strike against Iran if it feels like its security is endangered.
GJELTENSo basically what he's saying is, don't get too carried away with all this talk of peace.
GJELTENWe're still going to reserve for ourselves the right to take military action if we think it's necessary.
REHMSo why is he doing this in the midst of these negotiations? Wouldn't you think he and Israel would want these negotiations to go forward/
GJELTENWell, I think that what he is fearful of is a deal that would actually take the window in which military action could take -- I mean, the important thing here is the timing, Diane. I mean, there is a point after which Iran has so much highly enriched uranium that there'd really be no chance to intervene and stop it from developing a weapon. He's worried that the concessions that might be offered to Iran will shorten that window, so it'll basically make the possibility of a military strike not feasible.
GJELTENSo he is trying to influence those negotiations, warn the United States and its allies not to accept a deal that will basically leave it without any options.
KITFIELDYou know, I am actually pretty sympathetic to Israel on this. I mean, they have seen time and again that Iran has lied. It's hidden, you know, vast parts of its nuclear program. And only we find out later that it has underground facilities with thousands of centrifuge spinning. They are not even involved in the negotiations that are actually -- they have an existential stake in those negotiations.
KITFIELDSo what they're obviously trying to do is keep pressure on so that we do not relieve them from sanctions until we get, you know, proof that convinces Israel that they are not and cannot have a breakout to a nuclear weapons capability. The problem is, you know, if there is a deal that they don't like but, you know, everyone else in the world, and particularly the United States, agrees with it, they're going to have to swallow it.
KITFIELDThat's a big difference from Netanyahu standing at the UN General Assembly one year ago, you know, telling the world that trying to drum up support for a military strike on Iran, he's lost momentum for that. he realizes that. And he's not very powerful in influencing how this goes. And that makes them very worried. I get that.
REHMMeanwhile, what's going on with the Palestinians, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, in terms of the negotiations, you mean, or in general. I mean, this is another big challenge for Secretary Kerry actually. He wanted to move this process forward. And so far they decided to be secretive about it, so we don't know the details. But the Palestinians have been leaking information saying that it's not going anywhere. And the -- strangely enough, you can link actually the negotiation in Geneva with Iran with what's happening also with the Palestinians.
BILBASSYThere was one interesting angle that I looked at, which is apparently according to Iranian sources that they're willing to suspend the enrichment of uranium for six months while they're negotiating. And this is what the Israelis did with the freezing of settlements when they talked about the Palestinians that we -- and they ended up not getting anything and the negotiation didn't go anywhere, which is fascinating for both cases.
BILBASSYBut I think with the Iranian case, Diane, the Israelis want a full suspension. And this is not going to happen because negotiation is you give and take. You cannot start from the top position. They're not going to reach that. The Israelis cannot strike Iran militarily alone. They need the United States. They know that too.
BILBASSYAnd I think there is a deal bigger than just the Iranian nuclear fall in Geneva and that will involve Syria. Many people, especially the Gulf states, are very, very worried about this rapprochement, this warming or the detente between Iran and the United States because they think Syria is going to be a prize.
GJELTENLet me just inject a little note of positive thinking in here, Diane. There are developments in the Middle East that actually favor progress on the Israeli Palestinian issue. First of all, the government in Egypt that replaced the Muslim Brotherhood far more hostile to the Palestinians than the Muslim Brotherhood-domineered government was. So the strategic situation from the point of view of Hamas and Gaza has really deteriorated as a result of this change of leadership in Egypt.
GJELTENSecondly, the Sunni Shia rivalry has really, in a sense, eclipsed the Israeli Palestinian conflict in a sense, as the greatest source of violence in the Middle East right now. If you look at Iraq, if you look at Syria, what you're seeing is the level of hostility between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam is greater than what is existing right now between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As a result, Syria is weakened. Iran is sidetracked by what's developing in Syria.
GJELTENAnd finally, Netanyahu, one of the most hawkish leaders Israel has had in a long time, has actually lightly been making some statements that suggest he's a little bit more open to progress with the Palestinians than he seems to have been in the past. So there are a few developments here that actually are positive, whether they will actually lead to anything, as Nadia says, there's no signs of it on the ground yet. But strategically there are some trends that are in the right direction.
REHMThat's good news, Tom. Let's turn to Afghanistan, James Kitfield. Secretary of State John Kerry, President Karzai, reached a partial agreement to allow some troops to stay in Afghanistan. But there's still -- the same issue that started is still there, namely who has jurisdiction over the actions of American troops.
KITFIELDYou know, I think this goes down to a success for personal diplomacy. Of all the American officials of the Obama Administration, even when he was a senator, used Kerry as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee as sort of an envoy to Afghanistan. He made frequent trips over there, established a relationship with Karzai, which is no easy doing because Karzai is a very mercurial and unpredictable figure.
KITFIELDBut they have a decent relationship. There was this October 31 deadline for reaching some sort of a deal on our continued presence in Afghanistan after the end of next year. They basically agreed to reach a deal but they didn't solve the two points that were holding the deal up. They basically agreed to sort of disagree for the time being. We will not leave forces in Afghanistan if they are subject to Afghan law. We don't do that anyplace in the world. We're not going to start with Afghanistan.
KITFIELDYou could get drawn into situations where our own soldiers are being arrested and held, you know, some kangaroo court. It's just not going to happen. Karzai said, okay, we'll put that to a (unintelligible) . That's usually what he does to get -- to sort of cover for a tea leaf cover to go along with us. His second demand was, we don't launch independent counterterrorism strikes against al-Qaida or Taliban officials.
KITFIELDThere seems to be some sort of wording that they've agreed on that says there'll be Afghan involvement in those in a way to satisfy Karzai's concerns. So they kind of punted this down the road. Karzai's going to be gone after presidential elections early next spring. So they avoided a crisis and we got away from this situation where we're talking about a zero option, which would've been disastrous for Afghanistan.
REHMBut the Taliban threatened attacks if you had some bilateral agreement.
BILBASSYExactly, Diane. And (word?) came out with a statement in saying, hold on a second, if you leave any residual force in Afghanistan, they are a legitimate target and we're going to attack them. So you better not leave anyone behind. And this reminds me very much of the situation in Iraq in terms of negotiation over mechanism with the SOFA agreement. Shall we leave U.S. soldiers behind or not?
BILBASSYAnd also of -- if you remember, we talk often about Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi army. And this is exactly the same as the Taliban in Afghanistan. If you leave American forces, no matter what they wanted to do, you want to pursue al-Qaida, you want to pursue the extremists, the Jihadists, whatever, they're not allowed. They have to leave. And this is a serious threat.
BILBASSYAnd I think one more complication into the picture was the arrest of the second man in charge of Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan about, I think, ten days ago, Latif Mehsud. And basically he was in Afghan authority under their supervision and suddenly the Americans took him out for interrogation. And the Afghans were very unhappy about that because they said, we brought this guy because he's going to be our man to negotiate with the Taliban once you guys leave. So you are messing up with our internal affairs. So they make it a picture that's completely complicated.
GJELTENYou know, Diane, this statement that came out of Mullah Omar this week suggests that he is a little concerned that developments are not necessarily moving in the Taliban's direction. He talked a lot about fractions within the Taliban movement. He's worried that some people who have been perhaps sympathetic to the Taliban might now be attracted by the idea of elections. So he clearly is worried that what is happening in Afghanistan may not be in the Taliban's long term interest. You know, what that means, whether that means that they're going to be more open to negotiation I think is still to be determined.
GJELTENI did want to point out one other thing. Jim is actually right that -- absolutely right that John Kerry said that what they're looking for in terms of immunity in Afghanistan is what they've got from every other country in the world. The problem is it's not quite true. Glenn Kessler did a very interesting fact check on that and showed that actually the United States, with respect to basing in Japan and Korea and a number of other countries, has actually surrendered a lot of that immunity.
GJELTENRemember, you know, U.S. troops in Japan and Okinawa have been subject to local prosecution. So it's not exactly true that U.S. forces everywhere in the world have immunity.
KITFIELDI haven't read that piece so I -- but my understanding is that if we ever get -- our soldiers ever try in Japan is because we agreed to it. They may rape somebody and we say okay, that's bad. Go ahead and take this guy. But they have to ask our permission. They cannot arrest an American soldier over there and try them. That's my understanding. So I'll have to read Glenn's piece.
REHMSo you think it's unlikely that the U.S. is likely to give up on that condition.
KITFIELDAbsolutely unlikely. I can't even imagine it, actually.
GJELTENAnd Afghanistan's very different from Japan.
BILBASSYYeah, exactly. I was going to say, it's different to trust a democracy like South Korea or Japan or Germany than to trust Afghanistan.
KITFIELDDiane, can I just make one...
KITFIELD...one quick point on -- you know, because the Taliban doesn't want us gone, probably is a good sign we should stay. That's just my point there.
REHMJames Kitfield. He's senior correspondent at National Journal. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tom Gjelten, let's talk about Syria. How much progress has been made on securing Syria's chemical weapons?
GJELTENActually pretty impressive progress. I mean, you know that John Kerry -- Secretary Kerry...
REHMYou're filled with good news today. You really are.
GJELTENI'm an optimist. It's a nice fall day and let's -- you know, how many days do we just depress ourselves on this program, Diane...
REHMYou're absolutely right.
GJELTEN...talking about all the worries and developments in the world, you know?
REHMAnd I leave here downcast but today you're upbeat.
GJELTENWell, no, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to NPR this week and he actually made some pretty positive statements about -- he says we know where the chemical weapons in Syria are. They're satisfied with the declarations that are coming out. He actually thinks that those weapons can be moved out of the country into a safe place. I mean, this is way more optimistic in terms of the -- you know, what he foresees in the disposition of chemical weapons than anyone was a little while ago.
REHMHe also said military options are off the table.
GJELTENWell, military options are off the table in part because if you want this chemical weapons deal to work, you've got to have, in his words, institutions of the state in order to do it. There is no way that you can see any situation developing in Syria where the opposition would take even nominal control of the country and have the kind of in-state institutions that would be necessary for this military exercise of removing chemical weapons and make it work.
GJELTENYou need a stable government. You need institutions, as Kerry said. That, to me, suggests that the United States is no longer looking to a change of government in Syria. They are in a sense -- they're not going to say that but in a sense they are now banking on the Assad government to stay in place.
REHMThe Assad government stays in place.
KITFIELDI actually disagree with that. But I -- But Tom's optimism is infectious and I'll tell you why I'm now optimistic after listening to him. If you look at what's happened in Syria it's amazing. We've gone from him using chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people to denying he had chemical weapons, to signing on the Chemical Weapons Convention to actually having, you know, scores of UN-backed weapons inspectors destroying production facilities and getting their hands around these chemical weapons.
KITFIELDYou have Iran. We just talked about how the movement has been made by that. Iran is Syria's number one benefactor. You have Geneva 2 coming up where we're going to talk about Syria, where the Russians are actually starting to play something like a constructive role here. You know, people have looked at the Syrian nightmare and I think there may have been an epiphany about how bad it was going for all sides. And there may be a -- stepping back here -- I think that it will be impossible to reach a deal with Assad.
KITFIELDKerry said this week too, I think in your interview, that Assad -- there has to be a transition away from Assad. I think there's talk about maybe that happening. Because I cannot imagine us signing a deal with a guy who we just admitted killed a bunch of women and children with chemical weapons. But if there could be -- if that one issue could be finessed, he gets exiled in Russia, something like that.
KITFIELDNow again, it may all fall apart on this very issue. I don't see us signing a deal with Assad but I see talk that people's interests are aligning to get this -- get beyond this conflict because it's really threatening everyone's equities. I mean, you had al-Qaida planting its flag and holding territory in northern Syria. Sunni al-Qaida, that scares Shia awry and that scares the Assad government. That scares Russia. It has its own problem with Islamic extremists on its border. It scares us. There's a lot of reasons to think that interests could align here in a way that would be progress.
GJELTENI just want to read, Diane, two lines from Secretary Kerry's interview with NPR, because he was asked this specific point, could we deal with Assad? He said, "I don't believe that one man, one person is essential to that. Certainly a structure within the state of Syria is important, which is why one of our foreign policy goals is a political settlement to maintain the institutions of the state."
GJELTENNow we can argue about whether you can maintain the institutions of the state and a state's structure without Assad. I just -- to me it's hard to imagine a scenario where you have state institutions and a state structure but somehow Assad is gone.
BILBASSYI think that American position from day one has not changed. Basically Assad has to go. President Obama said many times he lost legitimacy. We cannot deal with a president who killed 100,000 people. he's out of the picture. But if you look -- if we link everything that we mentioned to Geneva 2 that's supposed to take place now on the 23rd or 24th of November according to Russian and Syrian sources, nobody can confirm it. Even the Americans are saying you have to be referred to the UN to decide the date. And so many things need to be worked out.
BILBASSYBut if you think that we're going to have this conference, the opposition is very divided and the Syrian government said they might attend. That will take you to 2014 when the time of finishing the inspection with the CW. And this is the time when Assad should step down and maybe we can have a change to replace him.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya. Short break. When we come back, your calls, your ideas. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup," this week with Tom Gjelten of NPR, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya and James Kitfield of National Journal. Let's go first to James in Falls Church, Va. Hi there James.
JAMESGood morning, thank you for taking my call. I appreciate it. I wanted to circle back to the discussion at the opening of the program which dealt with the government shutdown.
JAMESI honestly thought, frankly that I heard a lot of hyperbole creeping in. I mean assuming that 800,000 out of 2 million workforce creates a calamitous closing of the World War II Memorial, creates a calamitous disaster for America's reputation around the world, what are the options?
JAMESIf you look when Libya was the issue, where did they turn to for military support? We were basically their only option. You talk about declining American influence in the Middle East. I admit that there's some but does anybody imagine that Iran can be dealt with without the United States? Is that remotely possible?
JAMESAnd then you talk about economics in China. And in that case does anybody even remotely think that China's transparent, absolutely wide-open economic model is going to be proved a viable alternative anywhere in the world to the American option?
JAMESSo I grant, you know, it didn't do great things for our reputation necessarily but really here, when we get into this oh, calamitous and it's all coming apart and this is a disastrous outcome. Really, aren't you operating in a bubble when you're not comparing it to what the alternatives and the other options are?
REHMAll right, James Kitfield?
KITFIELDThe listener raises an interesting point. There is no default for America. So you've got a world that America built. We are in a period of relative decline in the sense that we were a lone superpower without any competitors, you know, as recently as a decade ago because of a decade of war and what we've seen since.
KITFIELDYou have a rising China, more of a multi-polar world, but we're still the indispensable nation within that world. So if we don't get things done, they don't get done. It's not that someone else steps in and becomes the new America. There's no country that can do that now.
KITFIELDChina can't for instance say we're going to have a second reserve currency other than the dollar because basically no one trusts China's reserve currency. No one trusts the European Union as a reserve currency now after seeing what happened in the euro-zone in the last four years.
KITFIELDSo he's right, there is no sort of, another America sitting in the wings ready to do the stuff that we do to keep this international system going. But, to the extent that we seem less able to, more dysfunctional and less able to do the things we used to do to keep it functioning it becomes less functional, less stable.
REHMAll right to Curtis in New York, you're on the air.
CURTISHi Diane, first of all I just have to laugh at, a little bit, at the last caller talking about America as the indispensable nation. I suppose Rome once was the indispensable nation. But I feel like, as a nation, internationally we're majoring in the minors, Israel, Syria, and Iran.
CURTISMeanwhile the Chinese just launched a fully-functioning aircraft carrier. Just to put that in perspective we have 11 to 13. I think the British have two. The French might have one and everyone else is at zero. There is zero indication that the last Chinese aircraft carrier or that this is going to be the last aircraft carrier they launch and it looks amazing. It looks futuristic and magnificent.
CURTISThis gives them a real power projection and basically because an aircraft carrier is a military base that can sit off the shore of any country, Taiwan, Japan or even the State of North Carolina. How does this affect the global power balance and what does the United States government think about this?
REHMWhat do you think, Tom Gjelten?
GJELTENWell, I think it's all relative. I mean there's no question, as the first caller said, that the United States is still the mightiest country on the planet. But there's also no question that U.S. influence has declined. U.S. power has declined and China's position has increased.
GJELTENIt's not just the example of the aircraft carrier. You know, I was reading in The New York Times, the business section this morning and there is a story in there about China getting prepared to export cars to the United States, export cars to the United States, another story about China investing in the nuclear energy industry in Great Britain.
GJELTENChina already is the dominant outside economic power in Africa. So, you know, it's, there is no, and so it's a question of who is rising and who is declining.
REHMAll right, to Tom in New Bedford, Mass., you're on the air.
TOMThanks Diane, going back to Israel's skepticism of a deal with Iran, I can see where there may be an advantage to Israel being the bad cop to our good cop when negotiating with Iran. But I wonder if Israel is concerned that if a deal is struck with Iran that international focus and attention would shift to Israel, either the Palestinian issue or Israel's own weapons program.
TOMSomething that concerns me deeply is the fallibility of any securement program. What happens if Israel's weapons or materials fall into the hands of people who may hold a grudge against us?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, let's be a little bit cautious here about reaching a deal. I mean idealistically we wanted to reach a deal but I don’t think it's going to happen anytime soon. Israelis, as James said, maybe they have a security concern and legitimate ones about the threat from the previous government of Ahmadinejad. Obviously, he used the rhetoric very highly.
BILBASSYBut I think this government in these peace talks, that in the last few days, actually the foreign minister said that, if we reach a deal then Israel will be living in peace. So he's already given assurance to Israel. Now, I don't think the worry is about, you know, not just Israel particularly, but also about the Gulf States.
BILBASSYAnd they worry about, and maybe Tom mentioned it before about this hegemony of Iran over the Gulf States, over the Shiite rise, et cetera. And it will focus of course. I mean once you defuse one situation it will focus on others so the Israeli/Palestinian question has always been the heart of the matter when it comes to the conflict in the Middle East.
BILBASSYSolving it will not resolve everything but definitely, it will defuse so many other tensions. And I think, I mean I wanted to be optimistic but I think I'm here pessimistic that we're not going to see anytime soon an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think it's going to be a long time before we can and some people even go further than me and think it's going to be a generation of things before we can reach some kind of agreement.
REHMAll right, to Ryan in Houston, Tx., you're on the air.
RYANThanks for taking my call.
RYANOne of your panelists or guests said earlier that in Afghanistan the Taliban wants the U.S. to leave and that that's a good reason for the U.S. to stay. And I just had a quick comment to him. The age of imperialism is over and Afghanistan is not our colony.
KITFIELDNo, Afghanistan is not our colony and if the Afghan government and the Afghan people want us to leave, we'll certainly leave. If you look at any poll, the vast majority of Afghans want a residual U.S. presence there to help them cope with terrorists like the Taliban.
KITFIELDThe government knows it needs our help and the international community's help to stand on its own two feet for which it requires a lot of outside aid to do that. It understands that that aid will quit flowing if there are no, there's no presence of the international community in Afghanistan.
KITFIELDSo I take his point, you know, Afghanistan is not, we're not there because it's a great place to be. We're there because it was a launch pad for a terrorist attack on America in 9/11 and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Laura. She says: "In the domestic hour, a panelist commented on the president's handling of several things, including Syria as examples of his ineffective leadership. My question is, why does everyone leap to the conclusion that President Obama did not have a grander plan with Syria? It's turning into a huge success."
REHM"We weren't privy to his conversations with Mr. Putin. Perhaps Mr. Obama is smarter than we all think and realized that the chemical weapons/Syria issue could never be solved by the U.S. Perhaps he knew of Mr. Putin's ego and came to the conclusion that letting him take the credit would achieve the desired results. Perhaps President Obama is not the glory hog everyone expects him to be."
GJELTENWell, you know, my point, Diane, is that it seems like we've had a change of strategy in Syria. You know, a year ago the definition of success was a change of government with the opposition taking power and democracy taking hold. Really, there wasn't a whole lot of talk about chemical weapons.
GJELTENNow it seems like the whole definition of success has changed. It's not so much with all due respect to my good friend, Jim Kitfield. It's not so much about a change of government. Now, the definition of success is a Syria that is free of chemical weapons. Those are really very different objectives. That's my only point.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And now to Licking, Mo., Alan you're on the air.
ALANHi, Diane, good morning.
ALANI've got a question about the news story I just read yesterday about Turkey's release of, giving Iran the basically, Israel's complete spy ring. And what does that say to us even having anything to do with Turkey from now on because who's to say they're not going to give our people away to one of our enemies? Thank you.
KITFIELDYeah, I saw. That was a very interesting story in the and the strained relations between Turkey and Israel are something we all are well aware of. Why did Israel let its sources and methods become known to Turkey? That's what I would like to know.
KITFIELDIt's not something. We don't share our double agents with anybody. We may share that information we get from them but that's the last thing in the world you ever share. So I'd like to know why Israel surrendered the most sensitive intelligence it has to a country that it's had really raucous diplomatic relations with. I don't understand it.
REHMAnd speaking of intelligence, what about the interview Edward Snowden gave saying he did not take secret files with him to Russia. Do you believe him Tom?
GJELTENYou know, in that interview Diane he said, and this actually impressed me. He said, he was able to protect the documents from China's spies because he was familiar with that nation's intelligence abilities, saying that as an NSA contractor he had targeted Chinese operations and taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence.
GJELTENHere we have an individual with such a high opinion of his own knowledge that he says, oh I know all about China and I can outwit China's intelligence apparatus. You know, to me that just. I have to wonder about that. I mean, is he really that brilliant that he figures he can outwit China's intelligence apparatus?
BILBASSYAnd he's 30 years old and I think the experience he had in working with intelligence like was, at one stage was four months only. And it was just fascinating as you said. What also I picked up from this article was that the interview was done by email and was encrypted. I was just wondering if the NSA was reading that interview as well. They intercepted it.
KITFIELDYou know, Tom we were at a, off-the-record briefing by a senior intelligence official this week and they certainly aren't confident that Snowden didn't, that that information didn't.
KITFIELDThey are not confident. I mean they have a lot of concerns there and quite honestly Tom is right. I mean the idea that this, you know, guy that didn't finish high school is outwitting the Chinese.
REHMYeah. But why would he say such a thing? Why would he claim such a thing?
KITFIELDWell, because he's getting a lot of this, you know, he's being called a traitor by a large number of people who think he gave away the family jewels in terms of our intelligence.
REHMYeah, but what I'm saying is couldn't it ultimately be checked? Why would he claim such a thing if, in fact, it later turns out he did give this information to the Russians?
KITFIELDI mean, even if what he said about the Russians is true -- and maybe it is. Maybe he didn't take it to Russia, but the question is he was in Hong Kong. He was, you know, did the Chinese get a hold of it, to me, is the more pertinent issue and I don't think that our own intelligence officials feel comfortable that didn't happen.
REHMAll right, let's go to Cleveland, Ohio. Ahmed, you're on the air.
AHMEDThank you very much. Tom Gjelten does a very good job when he fills in for you Diane, when you go for voice treatments.
AHMEDThe Supreme Leader of Iran said that the building of a nuclear bomb is against Islam. If that's the case why Pakistan which is a Muslim country has multiple nuclear bombs? Second question, I'll make it brief. A few months before the civil war in Lebanon, a Saudi Arabian wealthy businessman, his name is Wileet Ben Tanal (sp?) he's an equivalent to Warren Buffett in America.
AHMEDHe met with the president of Syria and I think at that meeting he told the president of Syria to break away from Iran and for some reason the president of Syria didn't do it, or couldn't do it or both. And I blame nobody but the president of Syria for all this mess that's going on.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call, Ahmed.
BILBASSYWell, it's a different brand of Islam in Pakistan and Iran I guess. When the Ayatollah said that, it's against Islam to develop it. But let's put it this way no Iranian leader, extremist or moderate I think will give up the concept of having nuclear weapons, developing it for peaceful means.
BILBASSYAnd this is a condition that Iranians put in the negotiations. They were saying that we have the right to enrich, okay. We want to make sure that the West will be secure that we're not going to develop the bomb but we should have the right to enrich. So I think this is, nobody can take this right away from them because they believe it.
BILBASSYOf course, India and Pakistan and everybody else will develop it in secrecy and they get away with it because by the time it was declared, nothing you can do about it and they became nuclear weapon countries. So the Iranians wanted to do that I think, not because they want to use it but because obviously they wanted to be a very powerful, regional power in the region, especially against the Gulf States.
KITFIELDWell, if they are determined to get a weapon then there will be no deal and we can test that proposition and that's the whole reason to have talks. We can test the proposition. Are they so determined to get a weapon that they are willing to live under these crippling sanctions? We're going to find the answer to that.
KITFIELDI don't think. I think they would like to have a nuclear program and have the threat that that could be a breakout at some period in the future if the geo-strategic neighborhood turns against them but I sense that they are so crippled by these sanctions they're willing to give away some of that ambition.
BILBASSYWell, I'm not saying bomb. They wanted it, the access to nuclear energy for sure, a program.
GJELTENA quick thought Diane, this is a very high-risk game that we are in. The risk that Iran will develop and be able to use a nuclear weapon is a very great risk. The risk of taking military action is a very great risk. It could jeopardize the entire Middle East. There are no easy answers here. There are no low-risk solutions.
GJELTENEvery imaginable scenario having to do with Iran is a high-risk scenario.
BILBASSYAnd this is why the negotiation is very important and it's vital because it is really -- it's in the ground. They have six months ahead of them before they can anything and they're saying, okay, let's sit down together seriously for the first time, have substantial talks and see if it will lead to something.
BILBASSYBecause President Obama said Diane, one last thing, that Iran will never have a nuclear bomb under his watch.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya, Tom Gjelten of NPR and James Kitfield of National Journal, you know I feel as though we are ending on your optimistic outlook and I'm glad to say that. Thank you all so much.
BILBASSYThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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