Friday News Roundup - International

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Russia frees a jailed oil tycoon ahead of the Winter Olympics, and offers Ukraine billions of dollars in economic aid. A group of US Senators pushes for new sanctions against Iran and fighting in south Sudan forces the evacuation of westerners and UN personnel. Here for the Friday News Roundup of international stories, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya and Tom Gjelten of NPR.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:34
I do hope you'll join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

MR. DAVID IGNATIUS

11:07:50
Good morning, Diane.

MS. NADIA BILBASSY

11:07:50
Good morning, Diane.

MR. TOM GJELTEN

11:07:50
Hello, Diane.

REHM

11:07:51
Happy holidays everybody. Tom Gjelten, Russia has extended what's been called an economic lifeline to Ukraine. They were in Ukraine. There were big protests over whether to link up with Russia or move toward the EU. What happened?

GJELTEN

11:08:17
Diane, this has been a real east versus west bidding war and struggle for the affiliation of Ukraine. The European Union wants Ukraine to be part of Europe. Russia does not want Ukraine to look west. It wants Ukraine to be at the center of what it calls a Eurasian Union. There was, literally, a bidding war between these two sides, with sort of competing arguments and advantages, economic advantages. In the end, as you say, Russia came up with 15 billion dollars in loans, and also a discounted natural gas price.

GJELTEN

11:08:59
That was enough to get Ukraine -- that would be enough to get Ukraine through its current economic difficulties. And the President, President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine said now that he will align with Moscow. This will mean that all these people, the Ukrainians, who are so desperate to identify with the west, will feel abandoned and, you know, the problem is, Diane, that something like this cannot simply be resolved economically. I mean, we're talking here about which world this country wants to be a part of. That tension is going to continue.

REHM

11:09:38
So, what happens to the protestors, Nadia?

BILBASSY

11:09:42
Well, it will be interesting to see if they will be happy, unsatisfied now, because, so far, the President has promised that he will go back to the EU deal. And he will renegotiate it, despite the fact that, as Tom said, Russian has thrown this lifeline to them. But I think the demography has changed. Many people who started the Orange Revolution, who actually got rid of President Yanukovych the first time. Now they want, again, to get him out. And they're not happy, it's not a matter just of economic aid, but also political reform.

BILBASSY

11:10:12
Because these people look west. They want to identify with the European Union, not because of the benefit of the economy, but also because they want to be part of the values of Europe. They don't want to go back to Russia. And the fact that President Putin, now, is reinserting himself and Russia as a new player in the region, with Syria, with Snowden, and now with Ukraine, which is the largest country outside of the former block, was 46 million people. And has great influence. He wants to pull it back to his sphere of influence and not to leave it to Brussels.

REHM

11:10:44
So, is there any other way to read this then? The President of Ukraine caved to Putin.

IGNATIUS

11:10:55
Well, we'll see if he tries to leverage Putin's offer in future bargaining with Europe and tries to get better terms on offer from Europe. I think the other X Factor here is whether the Ukrainian people stay in the streets. As both Tom and Nadia have said, this seems to be a country where the population wants to be European. And if people are uncomfortable with Yanukovych's seeming cave to the 15 billion and are back in the streets and don't leave, that's -- Yanukovych has shown he is not able to control that popular protest movement.

REHM

11:11:37
So, could the protestors themselves, however, be in danger if they continue their efforts?

IGNATIUS

11:11:46
In every situation like this, Diane, anywhere in the world, the question is, is the army prepared to open fire on citizens of the country who are massed in protest to the policies of the government? And you never know the answer to that, really, until the moment arrives.

REHM

11:12:00
But it was interesting that Ukraine's President warned of foreign interference, Tom.

GJELTEN

11:12:09
Yeah, and we've often seen this in situations where the United States explicitly takes the side of pro-democracy activists. The United States made absolutely clear that its sympathy lay with the protestors. You know, even to the point of State Department officials passing out sandwiches to the protestors in their demonstrations. And invariably, this sort of rubs authoritarian leaders the wrong way. And I think the jury is out on whether there's really a whole lot the United States can do in these situations to promote democracy by openly siding with the pro-democracy activists.

GJELTEN

11:12:50
But, as you say, one thing that's for sure is it always enrages the leaders who are arrayed against those activists.

REHM

11:12:59
And Nadia, now President Putin has pardoned a jailed oil tycoon.

BILBASSY

11:13:06
The most famous political prisoner in Russia. And it was really interesting, because President Putin has a press conference for almost two hours. And he was about to leave.

GJELTEN

11:13:15
Four hours.

BILBASSY

11:13:16
Four hours. Because he likes to talk, as we know. And as he was about to leave, somebody asked him, you know, that apparently there is a clemency or there is some talk of like...

REHM

11:13:26
You mean he hadn't mentioned it.

BILBASSY

11:13:29
He has not mentioned it.

REHM

11:13:30
Okay.

BILBASSY

11:13:30
And somebody asked him that question, so he said, yes, actually Mikhail Khodorkovsky is going to be released because his mother has handed over this letter of amnesty and it's time for him to leave. He spent 10 years in jail, since 2003, on many people believed, was trumped charges. And now, we just learned that he actually already left and he's in Germany. So, I think there is underlying causes for that. Some people say it's because of the Winter Olympics, that he wanted to improve his image.

BILBASSY

11:13:57
Many people believe because he's no longer a threat to him. I mean, he stripped him from all his money, the money that he made out of this oil industry, of the company that he had doesn't exist. And funny enough, it was dismantled and sold to the state owned oil company that, obviously, the Russian government has benefited from that. So he let him go, and I think, along with him, also there is some Greenpeace activists and disbanned from the Pussy Riot's banned also that probably will have the amnesty. But I think President Putin does things, not for the sake of human rights.

BILBASSY

11:14:31
He has an internal motive for that, and I think one of the reasons is he wants just to improve his image.

REHM

11:14:36
David.

IGNATIUS

11:14:37
Well, the one thing I would add to this discussion is that we've talked about the Ukrainian peoples' desire to be part of Europe. There are a lot of Russians who feel a European identity, too. And I think that that's really the wild card that Putin has to worry about as he conducts this, to me, Czar-like Christmas charm offensive, dispensing amnesty for Khodorkovsky, and 15 billion for the Ukrainians, and Pussy Riot gets out of jail. And is that really gonna satisfy a country that has many of the same longings that you saw with people in the streets in Kiev?

IGNATIUS

11:15:19
That we want to be part of Europe. We don't want to live in an oriental dictatorship run by this ex-KGB officer.

REHM

11:15:26
What about President Obama's plans to attend the Olympics? Are all these pardons and generous outpourings going to effect that?

IGNATIUS

11:15:39
Well, clearly Putin is trying to create an environment in which people will feel comfortable coming to his country for the Olympics. The Olympics are terribly important to him as a showcase. You can argue that with the concessions, it will easier for leaders like Obama to go. I think the issue of human rights and, specifically, gender equality in Russia, is one that just is -- it keeps coming up and it's gonna -- I think if President Obama goes, he will make some strong public statements while he's there on that issue.

REHM

11:16:15
David, let me ask you about Syria. The government there has stepped up deadly air strikes, especially in the opposition held neighborhoods in Aleppo. Why now?

IGNATIUS

11:16:31
Well, always before negotiations, in my experience, in the Middle East, you tend to see an increase in violence as each side, if effect, competes for position, with the idea that the negotiations may produce a cease fire or a freeze in place. So people in Lebanon, during the civil war, you'd always see shelling just before there was gonna be some kind of international dialogue, as people tried to stretch their line. So part of it is that. I think part of it is the regime feels that it has momentum now.

IGNATIUS

11:17:07
The rebels are so disorganized, especially the moderate western leaning rebel who were known as the Free Syrian Army. They're now known as the Syrian Rebel Front. They've had a name change. I don't think that's gonna give them a command and control change. They're still headed by General Salim Idris. But the Aleppo area, where I visited last October, has been contested, no, essentially divided into different cantons already. The fighting continues in the Qalamoun area along the border between Syria and Lebanon, which is important, in part, because it's a passageway for Hezbollah fighters who've been coming in to support Assad.

IGNATIUS

11:17:48
And then intense fighting continues south of Damascus in the east, an area called East Guta. And in the west, West Guta. These are sort of the entry ways into the city. They're very, very strategic battlegrounds. So, the fighting continues. The rebels tell me that they are trying some new tactics to better harass the army of Bashar al-Assad. But you'd have to say, going into these January negotiations, the situation for the opposition looks bad.

REHM

11:18:17
David Ignatius. He's a columnist for The Washington Post and author of a forthcoming novel, "The Director," which will be out in June. In just a few minutes, we'll start taking your calls, your comments. I look forward to speaking with you.

REHM

11:20:00
And welcome back to the International portion of our Friday News Roundup this week with Tom Gjelten of NPR, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya, David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Tom, let's talk about the chemical weapons in Syria, how they're going to be dealt with.

GJELTEN

11:20:26
Well, Diane, we've actually gone through the first phase of this program to get rid of the chemical weapons in Syria. The first phase involved the Syrian government sort of identifying where the sites are, where the chemical weapons are being stored, and the International Community coming up with a plan to actually take the chemical weapons out of those places. They're going to put them on ships, go out to sea. And, you know, I'm not an expert on chemical weapons, but apparently these chemical weapons can be neutralized through the addition of other chemicals, etcetera.

GJELTEN

11:21:01
So they're going to set up laboratories on these ships out at sea. So there is now a plan in place. Now the most difficult aspect of this whole operation is actually going -- having people -- units go to the places where the chemical weapons are being stored, getting custody of them and then taking them out to -- getting them to the shore and getting them out to sea. This is going to require tremendous cooperation. It could be -- an operation like this could be blocked by fighting. It could be blocked by, you know, forces having control -- competing control over this.

REHM

11:21:37
But Syria has agreed to it.

GJELTEN

11:21:40
Syria has agreed to it and so far the international officials in charge of this are relatively impressed with Syria's cooperation. And Syria -- and apparently Syria has actually destroyed some of the facilities where these chemical weapons were being made, as well as the delivery systems. So up until now it appears that the Syrian government is complying with its obligations in this regard.

REHM

11:22:01
You know, I'm not being funny here but I'm worried about the whales and the dwellings in the ocean when they do dump these chemical weapons. How are they going to be contained forever?

GJELTEN

11:22:19
Well, I think that they have to be neutralized first because you can't just dump toxic chemicals into the ocean.

REHM

11:22:24
I understand but, you know, we've heard about that before. Go ahead, Nadia.

BILBASSY

11:22:30
I think if I understand it well I think the process is called hydro dialysis or something like this, which is basically they use water to dilute the chemicals. And then once they are safe enough to be taken on the ship, they will take them somewhere else. I don't think the plan was to dump them in the sea but I might be wrong here. But the fact that they identified 12 sites and now there is -- in the beginning it was -- the U.S. was willing, as Tom said, to have this ship and equipped with labs and do the process onboard. But now it seems that both Russia, China, the EU, many other countries are involved because it's a multinational effort.

BILBASSY

11:23:03
And basically the Russians are saying, we're going to provide armored vehicles to make sure that you -- when you ship this material from these 12 sites to the Port of Latakia, we're going to guard it. Because how do you guarantee to move toxic material in a good condition, let alone among -- in the civil war situation...

REHM

11:23:19
Exactly.

BILBASSY

11:23:19
...especially on this road between Damascus and Hamas to take it to Latakia? So it seems that the Russians are willing to do this. The Chinese said they're going to provide ambulances too. And then the Italians have agreed that a secret port on the Mediterranean will be used to move this because the American ships cannot go to Latakia I guess. So they're going to bring them closer. And the final process, it will be taken to an American ship.

IGNATIUS

11:23:42
Nadia mentions one of the really positive aspects of this. The news from Syria is generally so bleak and the level of human suffering so horrible that it's worth noting. This is positive. It's a real multinational effort to dispose of, destroy serious chemical weapons. You've got, you know, Russia providing the armor, U.S. providing the containers and the technology. The Chinese helping with...

BILBASSY

11:24:10
...ambulances.

IGNATIUS

11:24:11
...ambulances and surveillance cameras. Norway and Denmark are providing some of the ships. It's a cooperative effort by many nations to deal with a weapons of mass destruction problem. That doesn't happen very often and you'd have to say that's a good thing to see it happen.

REHM

11:24:32
But you had yesterday the head of the Nusra Front give his first TV interview this week. He had some disturbing things to say.

IGNATIUS

11:24:47
He -- this is an al-Qaida affiliate part of a very strong al-Qaida presence in northeast Syria that is linked with al-Qaida and Iraq. And I think people are just waking up to the extent to which al-Qaida has put down deep roots in Syria. And there is another war coming in Syria. I mean, if you could get some kind of stable agreement between responsible opposition fighters and the Syrian government at a Geneva conference, the next priority would be to begin operations against these al-Qaida fighters who threaten both.

GJELTEN

11:25:29
You know, Diane, as David mentioned, the United States originally wanted to work with this moderate sort of relatively secular group that was known loosely as the Free Syrian Army, sort of drawing a dividing line between them and the Islamist forces. Now the United States has basically moved that dividing line. The United States is now willing to talk to Islamist rebels as well, as long as they're not connected to al-Qaida.

GJELTEN

11:25:54
So the -- you know, the landscape of this struggle has changed to the extent that what the United States now wants as sort of the minimum goal is to isolate the al-Qaida-affiliated rebel groups. But it's really difficult because those are the groups that are having all the success militarily.

BILBASSY

11:26:11
But the problem that the Free Syrian Army has been weakened over the years is because they never received Western aid. It's still now they've been struggling. And the fact that the Jihadists are the strongest voice on the ground is because they are the better equipped, better battle tested. You know, they have the support of so many individuals from the Gulf states and elsewhere. And now they're calling the shots.

BILBASSY

11:26:32
So the fact that now Ambassador Ford was being in the forefront of these efforts trying to open this dialogue with what they call the Islamic front, which is a consortium of seven different rebel groups that consist between 20,000 to 40,000, realize that if they go to Geneva too to have this conference, who are they going to represent in the opposition? So if even in the wildest of our imaginations that they will call for a ceasefire, who's going to implement it?

BILBASSY

11:26:56
So they realize that they have to talk to these people because they're the ones who matter on the ground despite the fact they'd have absolutely nothing in common with western values. They wanted to have a Sharia-based state. We're not talking about secular city or we're not talking about rainbow city, we're not talking about a civil state. We're talking about an Islamic state that now there was this compromising. And I believe it's because of the lack of a coherent policy from this administration and the west who basically didn't know the Syria crisis from the beginning.

REHM

11:27:22
All right. Let's turn to Iran, David. Yesterday a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill threatening new sanctions against Iran. How might that affect the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program?

IGNATIUS

11:27:44
Well, Diane, I should begin by saying I'm just returned from Iran. I was there for four days. Just got back yesterday. And in talking with the Iranian foreign minister and chief negotiator Javad Zarif over the weekend, he talked about the threat of additional U.S. sanctions as being intolerable, completely counterproductive. He used strong language. But he then said that after conversations with Secretary of State John Kerry, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with Lady Ashton who's the European Union negotiators, he had agreed to go back to negotiations and continue the process.

IGNATIUS

11:28:35
I think the administration feels that during this six-month period in which there's an attempt to move from the initial freeze to a comprehensive settlement that would reverse the Iranian nuclear program, dismantle some centrifuges, close their heavy water reactor at Arak, a series of other things. But during this period to impose additional sanctions would blow up the negotiations and would be foolish. It would make a situation worse in that the Iranians would, you know, probably begin much more aggressively moving towards having a bomb. It probably would demolish the coalition that has put the sanctions in in the first place.

IGNATIUS

11:29:20
I mean, you know, from my perspective as an observer of this, what some members of congress are proposing to do is really hard to understand rationally in terms of the interests of the United States, or even of Israel. But, you know, congress is congress. And the administration is trying hard to fend this off.

GJELTEN

11:29:39
It's interesting. There is a real debate within the Democratic Party in congress over how to respond to this. You know, this proposal to toughen sanctions on Iran got an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in support of it. On the other hand, the Democratic leadership in congress seems to be squarely on the side of the administration in opposing new sanctions. We had this extraordinary letter this week. Ten Democratic senators, all of them committee chairmen, wrote a joint letter to their own Democratic colleagues, including Bob Menendez the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying please don't do this. Sanctions at this point, as David says, would be counterproductive.

GJELTEN

11:30:21
So that's where the action is. It's within the Democratic Party.

REHM

11:30:25
And now even France is voicing doubts about Iran, Nadia?

BILBASSY

11:30:32
About the progress in the talks you mean? Well, France has been taking this role for a while I think. Even some will blame them for the failure of the first round of talks. And even in the second one in Geneva, they've been reluctant. They have a different way of dealing with it.

REHM

11:30:47
But they're also questioning Iran's true willingness to stop.

BILBASSY

11:30:54
Absolutely. And this should be a legitimate question. It's the same -- I think Secretary Kerry has said that. We are in this agreement, not because we trust Iran. It's precisely because we don't trust them. We need to verify that this is a mechanism that after six months that the day that we signed the agreement -- the day after is the most difficult day because now the real negotiation will start. So give us this space. Give us the six months and let us test Iran to see if they actually will apply to everything that we agreed upon.

BILBASSY

11:31:21
So the French, yes, have their own position but the Americans too. I mean, as you said, they're not naïve. You know, they're not stupid. They know exactly what they get into. But the fact that they realize, Diane, that there is no military option. The only way, at least for now, is to try to give diplomacy a chance. And the fact that Americans opened the secret dialogues with the Iranians in (word?) two years ago. It wasn't just in Geneva. It shows that basically this is the approach that they wanted to pursue.

IGNATIUS

11:31:47
Diane, while I was in Tehran, I asked one of the hardest liners of all, the editor of the most conservative newspaper Kahad (sp?) and his name is (unintelligible) . And he's said to be very close to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei. And I asked him whether he thought compromise was possible with the west on this issue. And he said flatly no. He doesn't believe that compromise is possible on a matter of the identity of Iran.

IGNATIUS

11:32:21
So you hear things like this and you have to be skeptical that at the end of the day a deal is going to be possible. Certainly three are hard liners here who don't want to see negotiations either as we're seeing watching the U.S. congress. I think the best opportunity is to find a way to help the president of Iran Hassan Rouhani, who was elected last June, who I found seems to be very popular with people. Not just because of the opening the west on nuclear talks but because of his economic policies, because he's seen as not corrupt.

IGNATIUS

11:32:59
Iranians have gotten sick of Ahmadinejad, the fiery, you know, pop -- firecracker president. You know, they're happy to see him gone. So that's -- if there's a way to help Rouhani to be stronger and move toward a deal that's a real deal, that's probably wise policy.

REHM

11:33:18
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tom.

GJELTEN

11:33:23
Well, David has done some extraordinary reporting from Iran in the last week. And what I take from your reporting, David, is the immense sort of nature of this debate that's underway in Iran right now. Which way is this great rich country going to go? I mean, you interviewed two people, David, the foreign minister and, as you say, this hard line editor, both of -- just reading from David's reporting -- both of them have -- seem to have very different ideas about where Iran should go in the future.

GJELTEN

11:33:57
Should it continue to isolate itself from the west and sort of attack America or should it reengage with the world? And we have a lot at stake in who come out ahead in that debate.

BILBASSY

11:34:07
But can they afford to be isolated? The fact that they came to the negotiation is precisely because of the hard economic sanction that was imposed on them that crippled the economy. The rial was devalued. You know, the revenues from the oil has been reduced tremendously. So for them too -- it's not just this deal, if it succeeded. It's not just to improve the economic situation but also to rehabilitate Iran. It used to be a pariah state and still is. It's considered one of the states that sponsors organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

BILBASSY

11:34:37
So for them, it is coming out of being a pariah state to being a respective nation that plays a role, and especially a regional role, which it scares, of course, the Gulf states that have been adamant about the motivation of the Americans and why they're opening this dialogue with Iran.

REHM

11:34:53
So even President Obama himself has expressed some skepticism about whether we're going to be able to reach a long term agreement. Do you think, David, that Iran can be trusted?

IGNATIUS

11:35:14
There's no evidence that they can. The -- what a good negotiation is all about is establishing mechanisms so you don't have to trust. You can verify. And one key feature of the interim agreement that Secretary Kerry negotiated in Geneva is that it stresses transparency and verification. So we now have, for the first time, 24-hour monitoring of all the key sites in Iran that pose a threat. We have a promise that we'll be able to investigate the so-called possible military dimensions, which means bomb-making efforts at Parchin and other military bases.

IGNATIUS

11:35:56
So on that point I think you've got to credit the administration for understanding, this is not about trust. This is about having the ability to see and verify. And they've got to stick with that. If they let that one go soft, then this agreement would be much less attractive.

REHM

11:36:14
Tom.

GJELTEN

11:36:15
You know, Diane, one of the provisions of this agreement that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is the way that it empowers the International Atomic Energy Agency to do its work in Iran. And for a long time the IAEA has been concerned about quote "a possible military dimension" to Iran's program. And the IAEA has some very specific things it wants to do in Iran in order to assure itself and the world that this program does not have a military dimension.

GJELTEN

11:36:41
And this -- part of this agreement requires or will require in the long term -- will require Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in addressing those concerns. And that is probably the single biggest hurdle that has to be overcome.

REHM

11:36:56
A hurdle that will be ongoing.

GJELTEN

11:37:00
That doesn't even take -- that work doesn't even begin until this provisional first six- or twelve-month period is completed.

REHM

11:37:08
Tom Gjelten of NPR, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya, David Ignatius of the Washington Post. When we come back, time to open the phones and talk about South Sudan.

REHM

11:39:59
And, welcome back. Let's open the phones. 800-433-8850. First to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hi there, Tom. You're on the air.

TOM

11:40:13
Hi, Diane. Thank you and your staff for all the hard work. It's such a blessing to have this show available to hear.

REHM

11:40:21
I'm so glad. Thank you.

TOM

11:40:24
Uganda -- I hope that our Pope Francis, maybe tonight, tomorrow, ends their -- sends resources there to help the Ugandan government become educated. Because these laws that they're passing against -- it doesn't even have to be specifically against homosexuals -- but their thinking is just from the dark ages, and they really need their eyes opened. And I think that's something that Pope Francis could do.

REHM

11:41:06
Tom.

GJELTEN

11:41:07
You know, one of the interesting aspects of this whole sort of rejuvenation of the Catholic church under Pope Francis, which is just a remarkable story, is that the most conservative Catholic churches are not in the United States or in Europe. They're in Latin America and particularly in Africa. And so that's why his outreach to Africa is so important. This -- that's, you know, if you want to drag the Catholic church into the 21st century, Africa's a really important place to begin. And, as Tom says, there's some draconian laws in Uganda, of all places, about the treatment of gays and homosexuals.

GJELTEN

11:41:46
And so Pope Francis is in a position to really break that logjam.

REHM

11:41:52
And on Monday, our first hour, we'll be all about Pope Francis. So I hope you'll all be tuning in. Let's go to James in Atlanta, Georgia. You're on the air, James.

JAMES

11:42:13
Hey, Diane.

REHM

11:42:14
Hi.

JAMES

11:42:14
I appreciate y'all taking my call. I just wanted to say, in this world of reduced active listening, I very much value your show's being on the radio.

REHM

11:42:23
Thank you.

JAMES

11:42:25
Just a long shot, here, I guess, as far as just kind of with all this holiday altruism. You know, as far as with Putin, who I think is kind of one of the most obvious media narcissists on the planet, I just think this latest round of amnesties in response to maybe his social secretary getting a lot of RSPs from folks saying, "Look, I'm not coming to the party. You're going to be the only one on the dance floor here." And, with President Yuschenko, with Putin as well, is, you know, beyond just putting out there, you know, I want to get my people out of debt.

JAMES

11:43:02
Has anyone asked what his personal cut is out of the $15 billion?

REHM

11:43:06
David.

IGNATIUS

11:43:08
Well, that's a question that would be worth asking -- not so easy to ask. That deal making in Ukraine, Russia is corrupt, no question about it. I love your comment about Putin being the media narcissist of all time. And you think of the goofy pictures of him with his shirt off and all these stunts...

REHM

11:43:27
Right.

IGNATIUS

11:43:29
...athletic stunts. You know, he is a -- he is such a figure out of a different period. And you just have to hope and believe that young Russians, like young Ukrainians, want something different. And that this kind of dictatorial czar-like amnesties and concessions isn't going to work much longer -- that Russians are sophisticated and that they're going to want to live a normal life, with real rights.

REHM

11:43:58
Let me ask you all, what is happening in South Sudan? President Obama has said this really could mean that the world's youngest country stands on the precipice.

BILBASSY

11:44:14
Absolutely. Actually, Diane, I spent ten years in Africa. I covered Southern Sudan numerous times on many trips. And I know these people on a personal level, including Riek Machar, who's been accused of staging the coup, and President Salva Kiir. It looks like there's a power struggle. You know, when Southern Sudan seceded from the North and declared an independent state, it's a makeup of different tribes. The major tribes there is the Dinka, which is led by Salva Kiir and the charismatic leader who was killed in a plane crash in Uganda before him.

BILBASSY

11:44:47
And, now, you have Riek Machar who comes from the second largest tribe, the Nuer. And basically Riek Machar was made the vice president during the time when they signed the peace process with Khartoum in 2005. And he was the vice president till then -- until almost June, I think. He was thrown out. And ever since, I think, he was planning to come back. So, now, Salva Kiir's accusing him of his troops trying to take over. So now you have this battle for power between two leaders. I think, they don't see Salva Kiir as a charismatic person, the president who deserved to be the leader of Southern Sudan.

BILBASSY

11:45:25
This is a very important time in the history of this nation -- new nation. First of all, because you have a young nation least developed and you have the old revenues. It depends, 98 percent of its revenue comes from oil. And then you have now, because of a result of this conflict, that 500 soldiers being killed, even more. Three Indian U.N. soldiers have been killed yesterday. You have 20,000 new human terror in crisis -- as if we need more in Africa -- or people trying to flee the place. So the situation is very dire.

GJELTEN

11:45:55
Well, Diane, these tensions that Nadia is talking about so expertly are not new. That's the sad thing. They -- these divisions go back a long ways. But for a long time, sort of these various factions in South Sudan were united against the North. As long as there was this civil war between the North and the South -- as long as Khartoum was the enemy -- then, you know, these various factions could get together. Now that they have their own country and that that has been resolved, then these long-simmering tensions come back to the fore.

GJELTEN

11:46:26
This is a phenomenon that we have seen so often where ethnic tensions sort of erupt once the forces that have been repressing them are released.

REHM

11:46:34
David.

IGNATIUS

11:46:35
Well I, the only thing I would add is that these tribal conflicts are endemic throughout Africa. You see them in the Central African Republic. You see them in so many -- so many countries. We're still in the aftermath, the afterglow, almost, of appreciating Nelson Mandela and the greatness of his leadership. And, thinking about these African problems, you'd say, his greatness was above all in his understanding of reconciliation and his ability, because he was such a strong personality, to bring together otherwise irreconcilable tribal and political interests.

IGNATIUS

11:47:14
And he's a model for the whole world, but in particular for African leaders, in trying to think about how to stabilize and then begin to grow and develop their economies.

REHM

11:47:25
All right. To Rabisud (sp?) in Alexandria, Virginia, you're on the air.

RABISUD

11:47:32
Yes, Diane. I have a quick question concerning the spat we are having with India concerning the liberalness we have in New York. Is it worth it? Indian public opinion is one of the public opinions which is very favorable to the U.S.

REHM

11:47:53
So your question, is the argument worth it?

RABISUD

11:47:57
Yes, ma'am. And...

REHM

11:47:59
All right. Here's the issue. Tom, this Indian diplomat was arrested, strip searched in New York, apparently for allegedly lying on a visa application for her nanny, saying she was paying her $9.75 an hour, but was really paying her $3.31 an hour. Why in god's name was she strip searched?

GJELTEN

11:48:30
Well, the law enforcement agencies say this was just standard operating procedure. Whenever you arrest somebody, you want to make sure that when you put them in custody that they, you know, don't have something hidden that could either endanger others or themselves. But I tell you what, Diane, I have to agree with the caller. To me, this is a baffling case. I mean, the United States' relationship with India is one of the most important in the world today.

GJELTEN

11:48:56
And this seems like such a, you know -- with no offense to the nanny, whose got some real issues -- it seems like such a small case compared to what is at stake in that relationship and the way that India has reacted to the point of actually removing some of the security at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. I mean, this is just -- and the truth is, the State Department is clearly upset by this. But, you know...

REHM

11:49:21
And Secretary Kerry has already apologized.

GJELTEN

11:49:24
And the American system, you know, the State Department and the Justice Department are two different agencies. And all it takes is a local law-enforcement agency, a local prosecutor to do what they want to be done. And, you know, if the State Department is opposed, too bad.

REHM

11:49:40
You know, it makes you wonder about the gang rape -- that fatal gang rape that occurred a year ago, and whether anything in that country has really changed, Nadia.

BILBASSY

11:49:57
It was really sad because, you know, this famous case of this young lady who was with her boyfriend on the bus and she was gang raped and beaten in the most horrific way...

REHM

11:50:05
And died.

BILBASSY

11:50:05
...and to die in a hospital later on. But it galvanized public opinion against this gang rape. So even sexual harassment in India, sadly a year after, it looks like it's only cosmetic change has been happening. And actually the onus now is on the women, because they're saying basically, if you want to protect yourself as an Indian woman, then don't go on the streets. Don't dress up provocatively. And don't take public transportation. And do this, this, and that. But, so it is really an important case that we should speak out against.

BILBASSY

11:50:36
It's not just in India, but all over the world, when women are harassed. But, if there's one glimpse of hope coming out of this case, it seems that because there was public outcry and because there is a public discussion about it, we hear of other cases normally we would never heard of. For example, there was an harassment by a Supreme Court justice against an intern. So, all of a sudden, it's in the newspaper. Or an editor in a newspaper harassing another employee.

REHM

11:50:59
But, it's still going on. David.

IGNATIUS

11:51:02
It's still going on. There's, I think, greater consciousness in India of the issue of rape. There was a really disturbing report in the Guardian that I saw that, of 700 rape cases -- 706 rape cases filed in New Delhi last year, only one, which was this famous rape, ended in a conviction. Reported rapes are up sharply as people become -- as women become more willing to speak out. And I guess you'd have to say, that's the one positive thing here, is that women are following this brave woman on the bus, who was willing to speak out and give testimony. People often don't.

IGNATIUS

11:51:43
And so, over time, that pressure from women who just refuse to take it, and stand up for -- is a change factor.

REHM

11:51:51
All right. To Tom in Pikesville, Maryland. Hi there. You're on the air.

TOM

11:51:57
Hi, Diane. And good morning to each. Seymour Hersh had an article about a week and a half ago, I think, in the London Review of Books, kind of raising this issue around who used chemical weapons in Syria. Up to that point, I think, while the U.N. and various bodies were not opining on who, which side, most all of us, I think, kind of felt, well, it probably is the government. But he raised some questions without, I think, either drawing his own conclusion, but just raising the thought that there are other evidences that it could very well have been some or one of the rebel groups.

TOM

11:52:40
There was another article appearing just this week, I think, saying there were trace elements of certain chemicals within the investigation that only the government had or the government had huge stockpiles of. In another time, this -- is the question so muddied that we really don't know? I'm just really confused. I'd like to know if any of the panelists know.

REHM

11:53:05
All right. David.

IGNATIUS

11:53:07
It's a matter of subjective judgment in evaluating the evidence. I would say, no, the evidence is not so muddied that people should withdraw their judgment that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on this key date in August. There's been some additional analysis of the material that Seymour Hersh, a hard-working reporter, gathered. I mean, Hersh added enough questions about -- Why were reports not forwarded? Why was this action not taken? -- that, you know, if it was -- if he was a defense lawyer, he'd be raising plausible doubt.

IGNATIUS

11:53:45
But I think there's so much video evidence that was taken at the time, there's so much to turn to in social media -- it turns out a lot more, actually, than Hersh seems to have been aware of at the time.

GJELTEN

11:54:00
You know, what I -- it's not a court case. And David is right. I mean, these are sort of the arguments you would hear in a court case. But the truth of the matter is that the goal here is to get rid of the chemical weapons in Syria. And, you know, ultimately, if that is accomplished -- if Syria no longer has a chemical-weapons arsenal -- that's a huge accomplishment. And, you know, the question of whether it was undeniably the Syrian government that used the weapons on that date sort of may recede in importance, given the achievement of eliminating the weapons.

REHM

11:54:34
Tom, tell me about the appointment, perhaps, of Max Baucus to be ambassador to China.

GJELTEN

11:54:47
Well, Diane, I'd, you know, there's many things you can say about this. There are political implications of this appointment and there are strategic international-relation issues. I mean, Max Baucus is very familiar with trade issues with China. He represents, above all in this regard, Montana beef producers. And they want access to the Chinese market. So you could say that this is an attempt by the Obama administration to say the relationship with China is about trade. It's not about a military confrontation in the South China Sea. It's not about North Korea.

GJELTEN

11:55:20
That, ultimately, what the U.S.-China relationship is about is trade, because that's the expertise that Max Baucus would bring to this assignment.

REHM

11:55:30
And it has been said the Democrats aren't terribly happy with Baucus anyhow.

IGNATIUS

11:55:37
Well, Max Baucus was, you know, very instrumental in the end. After Ted Kennedy died, he was very instrumental in getting the health care reform through Congress. On the other hand, he was very critical of the administration's handling of that. And he hasn't exactly been a team player as far as the Democrats' agenda in Congress is concerned. But, he had already announced that he was not going to be running for reelection, so that, you know, that was over and done with.

IGNATIUS

11:56:05
And the truth of the matter is, if he goes to China now, his Senate seat will be vacant until the November 2014 election, which means that the governor of Montana will have to appoint an interim Senator. Presumably he will appoint a Democrat, because the governor is a Democrat. And that would give the Democrats sort of a better chance to hold onto the seat after Baucus is gone.

REHM

11:56:29
All right. And that's the last word. I just want to say a very brief farewell to Jean Cochran, the longest serving member of NPRs newscast unit. She's leaving today, after more than 30 years. She did accept a voluntary buyout from NPR. She was at one time here at WAMU. I know her well and respect her work. Good luck to you, Jean. Tom Gjelten, Nadia Bilbassy, David Ignatius, happy holidays to all of you.

IGNATIUS

11:57:12
Same to you. Happy holidays, Diane.

BILBASSY

11:57:12
Happy holidays.

REHM

11:57:13
Thank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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