A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
The U.S. agrees to limit drone strikes in Pakistan. A U.N. panel criticizes the Vatican over child sex abuse. And the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi. A panel of journalists join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent, Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent, BBC; author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A leaked phone call heightens tensions between the U.S. and EU over Ukraine. Syria drops destructive barrel bombs on the city of Aleppo a new round of peace talks are set to begin next week in Switzerland. And the winter Olympics get under way in Sochi. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward.
MS. DIANE REHMKim Ghattas of the BBC, and Mark Landler of The New York Times. You are always part of the program. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. KIM GHATTASWelcome.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANHi.
MR. MARK LANDLERHi Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Kim Ghattas, tell us about this telephone call that, apparently, has raised real, real tensions between the U.S., the EU, Ukraine, everybody around.
GHATTASAbsolutely. As if there was need for any more tension between the U.S. and Russia. This was a conversation between the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in Eurasia, Victoria Nuland, and the Ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, where they were discussing, in quite some detail, the negotiations underway to form a coalition type government between the opposition and the current government in Kiev. And discussing in some detail which member of the opposition should be included or not, but at some point, Victoria Nuland drops the F bomb word in here conversation as she discusses the role of the EU.
GHATTASAnd if reflects the impatience that American officials often feel with how slow the EU moves. Although, she does redeem herself, to some extent, perhaps, by saying that it's good that the UN is getting involved. And so, this plays right into the hands of Russian officials, who have often claimed, and complained, that the United States is the one moving the opposition, pulling all the strings, and they dubbed that -- there is a -- the video that was posted with the audio of that call was dubbed Maidan Marionette, in reference to the Maidan square, where the protests have been taking place for the last few weeks.
REHMMark Landler, is there any clear evidence linking the Russians to this?
LANDLERWell, clear by which, if you mean definitive, not. But, the circumstantial evidence is very strong. The recording was put up on Twitter by an aid to a top Russian official. In fact, I think the President of Russia, and so the assumption in the United States, both at the White House and the State Department, is that the Russians are behind it. They haven't come out, the U.S. hasn't come out and made that accusation directly, but the State Department's spokeswoman yesterday referred to it as a new low in Russian trade craft.
LANDLERSo, yes, the assumption is that the Russians are behind it. The irony among many ironies of this story, of course, is that the United States has been under so much pressure for surveilling and wire tapping the conversations of foreign leaders, notably in Europe. And so, now you have a case where an American official, on a sensitive topic involving Europe, is eavesdropped upon, and that call is leaked. And then the last point about Victoria Nuland, which is sort of an interesting historical point, is if you recall the Benghazi episode, and the dispute over the talking points around how to present the aftermath of Benghazi, there were a lot of emails.
LANDLERInternal emails that the White House was compelled to release. And Victoria Nuland's emails were among the most controversial, because it showed her very aggressively trying to defend the interests of the State Department against the CIA and other agencies. And she was in a bit of a hot seat there, as well, for internal communications that were made public. So, in a sense, it's been interesting that Tori Nuland, who's generally regarded as an extremely competent and well briefed and well prepared diplomat, has now twice found herself in a situation where internal communications have come to light.
REHMNathan Guttman, how big a deal is this?
GUTTMANWell, first of all, it is a big deal, because it finally gets the Ukrainian issue to the front pages. It took all that to actually get the people interested in what's going on in Ukraine, so that's maybe something you can say about it. It's obviously not a big deal, in terms of U.S./EU relations. I think both the United States and the European Union understand that these are the kinds of things that are said in an informal conversation between diplomats. It won't create a big rift between the Americans and the Europeans on that.
GUTTMANI think, in an ironic way, again, it could play into the hands of the administration in this post Snowden era, in which the United States is trying to make the point that everyone is spying on everyone and everyone's eavesdropping. Well, here you have the proof in a very crude way. You have the recording, and that's the proof.
GHATTASWell, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, did say that it was unacceptable that the EU should be described in that fashion, in a phone call, in a diplomatic phone call. And she said that Catherine Ashton had been doing a fantastic job. The EU Foreign Policy Chief. I think beyond the expletive in the phone conversation, and as Mark points out, Victoria Nuland doesn't mince her words very often. She's very outspoken. She's not a shy woman, and she believes very strongly in what she's doing in her job.
GHATTASBut beyond that, I think that the tension will continue between the U.S. and Russia, because what we're seeing unfold in the Ukraine is really this old Cold War standoff between the US and Russia. And as I said, this will play into the hands of Russian officials, who have already said that the Americans are arming rebels in the Ukrainian opposition. They've already accused the US of manipulating the opposition. So that is only going to feed this narrative.
REHMIs there any evidence to confirm that, Mark, Landler?
LANDLERWell, no. In terms of -- there's no evidence. I mean, the U.S. is obviously supportive of Democratic movements and of the people who are making or protesting. John McCain has gone over there in a show of solidarity. But no, I don't think there's evidence that the U.S. is actually getting involved and arming them. That's a pretty inflammatory charge. You know, one thing about what Toria Nuland said, and I think the reason why, ultimately, it will not be a big problem for either her or the United States, is she was actually reflecting a reasonable frustration with the European Union.
LANDLERI mean, remember, this all started when the Ukrainian government decided to rebuff and EU package and accept a competing aid package from the Russians. And there's been a lot of talk since then that the European Union hasn't done enough to counter the Russians. In other words, the European Union's line is, we've made an offer to open the door to the Ukrainians. They should recognize, on its merits, that being part of the European Union is a better deal than lining up with Russia.
LANDLERWell, the Russians have offered them 15 billion dollars in cheap fuel.
REHMAnd what did the EU offer consist of?
LANDLERThe EU offer consists largely of an open door to eventually joining the EU. You know, trade incentives and those sorts of things, whereas, what the Russians are putting on the table is cold cash and a lot of it.
REHMBut didn't the Ukrainian population actually vote on this, and didn't it come out pretty much in favor of the EU?
GHATTASWell, the Ukraine decided not to sign that trade agreement, and that's why you had those protestors come out at the end of November. These protests have been going on quite dramatically since the end of last year. They climaxed in mid-January when we saw those really amazing pictures coming out of Kiev. But this is part of the U.S./EU, on the one hand, Russia on the other hand, standoff. And as Mark was rightly pointing out, the U.S. is frustrated with the EU, because this was, in essence, all about their agreement, initially, with Ukraine.
GHATTASAnd the EU, at the moment, isn't, you know, really pushing to pick a fight with Russia. And they say they don't want to get into a bidding battle for Ukraine with Russia.
GUTTMANCatherine Ashton actually said that even if there will be an aid package given to Ukraine, it won't be dollops of cash coming into that country. So, definitely, the European Union is still standing behind its position that it's not going to try to outbid Russia in this effort. However, you still have the United States as a player here, and you have international pressure mounting on the Ukrainians, which could lead to some kind of a political reform, which will include also some kind of a financial aid package, whether it's a European or European/American financial aid package, that will help drive these reforms in the Ukraine.
REHMAnd at the same time, Nathan, you had a Ukraine in protest leader talk about his capture and his torture. Wasn't very pretty.
GUTTMANNot at all. He reappeared after disappearing in the woods a month ago. And this week, he presented his story of what happened in captivity. Apparently, he was taken, according to his report, by Russian speaking individuals. He presumes that they belong to some kind of a Russian security force, and was basically tortured for weeks, and they tried to find out whether he was an American spy, or whether he was working with Americans. Or if the Americans are supporting the opposition in any way.
GUTTMANAnd his description of being tortured, being crucified by the...
REHMHis hands nailed to the floor.
GUTTMANNailed to the door. And, apparently, there are medical reports that confirm much of what he's saying, so it's...
GHATTASAnd again, his story feeds into this standoff between the U.S. and Russia, because he said that his captors had made him say he was an American spy, that he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, and that American diplomats had given him money to create disorder. And he said he had to lie because he, the torture was too rough.
REHMKim Ghattas, State Department Correspondent for the BBC. She's author of "The Secretary: A Journey With Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power." Short break.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward, Kim Ghattas of the BBC and Mark Landler of the New York Times. Here's an email which says, "Between the WikiLeaks case, Snowden's whistle blowing, now this leaked phone call, could we be looking at a possible increase in governments utilizing information warfare in the future given technology, what it is today? I can see nothing but a drastic increase in these kinds of leaks," Mark.
LANDLERWell, I think that's an absolutely valid point to make. I mean, one of the things that President Obama has said over and over again in this debate about the NSA and the bulk collection of telephone data is that technology is moving so much faster than our capacity to decide what's lawful or acceptable in this fear of government intrusion into our lives. And that's only going to become more -- the technology will only allow the authorities to do more and more to delve deeper and deeper to capture more and more. And then to distribute it in so many more aggressive ways.
LANDLERI mean, Twitter didn't exist -- five, ten years ago Twitter is how we learned of this taped audio conversation. I suppose it could've been posted -- and it has been posted on YouTube. But the point is that both the distribution of and the capture of information, technology just simply allows you to do so much more and notwithstanding concessions the U.S. has made, like we will no longer eavesdrop on the phone calls of friendly foreign leaders. You know that power politics and realpolitik dictate that governments will use the advantages they have in this area. So I think your caller -- your emailer is absolutely right.
REHMAll right. Let's move on to a new UN report about children being harmed in Syria's civil war. Nathan, what's happening?
GUTTMANWell, as if the atrocities that we hear from Syria aren't enough, this UN report actually talks about 10,000 children that were killed in this ongoing civil war for the past three years. And it details pretty horrific stories about imprisoning and torturing, sexually abusing children mostly by the government. On the other hand, it also speaks about the use of children as soldiers and shields by the opposition forces.
GUTTMANDefinitely it makes clear by reading this report, which will be presented -- discussed at the UN, it makes understand that children are a key part of this ongoing struggle in Syria and that they're being used by both sides as a pressure point to reach leaders of the other side to inflict pain on the other side.
REHMThe UN Security Council is going to be briefed on this. What do you expect to come up, Kim?
GHATTASNot much more than we've seen come out from the international community over the last three years. I think this report is shocking but sadly not very surprising. This is what happens in a conflict. This is what happens in civil war. And we have yet to find a way in this world to protect children from such violent conflicts. I grew up in Beirut during the civil war. I've spoken to a lot of people who are adults today who were child soldiers who were recruited in militias at the age of 13 and who lost their life -- their future to that conflict, even though they're trying -- the war has ended in Lebanon, they're still suffering from the consequences.
GHATTASSo it's important to remember, while we debate a conflict here in Washington in policy terms, that it affects real people. And that there is a whole generation of young Syrians who are already living in difficult conditions in Syria who are looking at a very, very bleak future. And the number of 10,000 children, I wonder whether it's perhaps even higher. Because when you have 130,000 people killed in a lot of often indiscriminate shelling by the Syrian government as well as by the rebel groups, I wonder if that number isn't actually higher.
REHMAnd tell me about these barrel bombs now being used, Mark.
LANDLERWell, this is a technique that's used largely in Aleppo. And basically it's -- these are, you know, fairly crude devices but brutally effective. And they kill large numbers of people. And they go to the issue that critics of America in action in Syria often say is that you have to deprive the regime's ability to deliver these kinds of crude explosive devices. It just magnifies their ability to kill people.
LANDLERSecretary Kerry issued a very harsh denunciation of it earlier in the week saying that this kind of activity shows the brutality of the regime and reveals it in its true colors. And the reason I think he used that language is we're at a moment in the Syria debate where we're having this Geneva process. And the regime is making the argument that really what's going on in Syria is now a battle against Islamic extremism in al-Qaida. And the U.S. is trying to keep the focus very much on removing Assad.
LANDLERAnd so this strong American reaction to the bombing was also a way of reaffirming, let's not forget what's really going on in Syria. It's a regime brutalizing its people. The regime is arguing, no what's really going on in Syria is a subset of the wider battle against al-Qaida. And you shouldn't so much focus on removing Assad. We should join forces together to go after the Jihadis. And I think that debate is going to unfold -- it's actually going to unfold in days when the next round of the Geneva talks begin.
LANDLERThe Syrians announced this morning they will attend. There had been a question of whether the government would come or not. So the opposition will sit down again with the government. But you'll see this debate over, is it al-Qaida or is it Assad, play out. And so this barrel bombing, the latest in a long line of atrocities that have been carried out in this war, the U.S. is really jumping on it to make the point that is very much about Assad. And let's not lose sight of that.
LANDLERNow having said all that, is the U.S. willing to change its policy, to ratchet up its support for the rebels? There's been no indication of that yet even though there's a lot of talk within the government agencies in the U.S. that we need to do more. There's just no evidence at the top levels, in President Obama specifically as the key decision maker, that the U.S. is ready to do that yet.
GHATTASWell, they may be willing to do more than they have over the last three years when it come to backing the Saudis and other allies in the region. The Saudis are already arming the rebels. So in effect the U.S. is involved by proxy. And, you know, we'll see what comes out of the visit by President Obama to Saudi Arabia next month.
GHATTASBut going back to the condemnation of the barrel bombs, as Mark was just describing, one interesting line in that statement by John Kerry as well, was accusing President Assad of having turned Syria into a magnet for terrorism, that he was -- that President Assad was in essence the reason why extremism was on the rise in Syria. And that's a very interesting nuance. And that's something that the rebels and the opposition have been pushing, as well as a line to say, you know, we are rebels. We are fighting President Assad and al-Qaida, whereas President Assad is the one who traditionally has in fact co-opted and promoted some of those groups to feed the narrative that it's either him or extremism.
GUTTMANJust to weigh in on the issue of whether America can do more on this issue, I think even after the barrel bombs and even after the UN report, it's hard to see the American public opinion, or congress for that matter, shift on the issue. As Mark mentioned, there's this whole complexity of having al-Qaida there and the question of what happens if and when Assad is removed. And if you couldn't get American people and lawmakers to support military action after the chemical weapon attack, I don't see how this would change right now.
REHMIt's interesting that this week the director of national intelligence said the Syrian regime had actually benefitted from the chemical weapons deal. How so?
GUTTMANWell, they managed to stability the situation. The immediate threat of military action against Assad has been removed. And that helped them reorganize in certain fashion. Adding to that is the fact that Assad isn't really living up to the chemical...
REHMHe keeps missing the deadlines.
GUTTMANNow, the Syrians may have a good reason for missing the deadlines. They talk about the difficulty of transporting chemical weapons to the port because roads aren't safe. American's seem to be, meanwhile at least, accepting some kind of flexibility in the timetables that were set. But if he keeps on missing these deadlines, there will be a real problem as we reach the end of June when all the chemical weapons should be out of the country.
LANDLERI think there's also an issue that the Americans are facing in that they have kind of cobbled together this fragile coalition with the Russians to deal in a unified way with Assad. I mean, that was the fallback position after the military strikes didn't happen last summer. And they created this agreement to remove the chemical weapons. But it's an extremely fragile alliance.
LANDLERAnd so I think rather than be more strident in saying that this is not working and he's not handing over the weapons. They want to give it as much of a chance for success. Because if it fails and if suddenly the Russians are back out playing a purely obstructionist role than -- you might argue now they're playing a semi-obstructionist role -- than it becomes even more difficult. And this goes to -- there's been an interesting debate up at the United Nations where the British were very aggressive in the last few days in trying to introduce a resolution in the security council demanding that the Syrians offer, you know, more humanitarian access for humanitarian aid.
LANDLERThere was, I think, a little bit of ambivalence on the American side, not because they oppose the idea behind the resolution. I think they support it -- say they support it, but ramming it through in this way was to court an almost certain Russian veto at the United Nations. And it would again underline that there is no coalition. The Russians are really just in an opposing role. So this is -- and of course all of this is in the context of what we haven't talked about yet, the Olympics in Sochi.
LANDLERSo I think that what the Americans are struggling with is having brought the Russians semi onside, at least on the issue of chemical weapons, they don't want to completely fracture this coalition.
REHMBut do we have any idea what percentage of those chemical weapons have now been actually turned over?
GHATTASWell, as far as we can tell so far, it's only 4 percent of what it was reported -- of what Syria reported to the organization that is in charge of removing those weapons from Syria.
REHMAnd what had it promised to do by now?
GHATTASWell, they've already missed several deadlines.
GHATTASThey had agreed to give up their entire stockpile of chemical weapons by February 5 and they've missed that deadline. There have been no shipments out of the country since January 27. So they're missing several deadlines. They're asking for more time. They're even asking for material -- the Syrian government is asking for material to help them deal with a secured situation, you know, armored personnel carriers or security equipment.
GHATTASWhich is -- which drives to the point about what this deal with Syria actually helps do as well -- to go to the question that you posed earlier about James Copper's statement -- that Syrian government accepting this deal with the UN meant that it in essence legitimized President Assad again. It made him a partner. And they bought more time. And that's what the opposition is so worried about, that the small negotiations here and small negotiations there, whether it's about chemical weapons or whether it's about small humanitarian corridor or a little bit of delivery of aid. All of that simply gives more time to President Assad.
REHMAnd how much heat is Russia taking for Syria's neglect in missing its deadlines, Nathan?
GUTTMANNot much. I mean, the United States sees Russia as the main address on this issue and made clear that Washington expects Moscow to deliver on Assad on this issue. But it doesn't seem to go beyond that. This doesn't seem to be shaping out as a real point of conflict between the sides.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You mention we hadn't yet talked about Russia and Sochi. The opening ceremonies are today. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are warning about toothpaste bombs and now all liquids, gels, pastes, everything flying from -- I guess from America or anywhere around the world perhaps into Russia, have got to be without these items in carry-on bags. Reports from people going into Sochi have not been all the brightest, Kim.
GHATTASThey've not all been the brightest. And perhaps we should, you know, point out that, you know, journalists who travel and go cover stories perhaps do sometimes whine too much about the conditions that are...
REHMExpect too much.
GHATTAS...expect too much. So there's been a lot of pushback also against journalists who are Tweeting all these pictures about everything that's wrong in their accommodation because...
REHMBut windows falling out.
GHATTASIndeed. There is a lot to complain about, windows falling out, brown water coming out of taps, no floors in hotel lobbies, no reception to welcome you, pictures of a shirtless Vladimir Putin in your hotel room. I'm not sure how that goes down with most people. This is really -- this was the opportunity for Vladimir Putin to shine on the international stage. This was his moment. It's his pet project. He really wanted this and is one of the costliest of all Olympic Winter Games to date, $50 billion. It's cost a lot of money. There's a lot of corruption -- a lot of reports of corruption.
GHATTASIt's really being described as an exercise in inefficiency and megalomania and extreme vanity.
REHMWe had a representative of ITAR-TASS on the program yesterday who said that that $50 billion figure has been quite inflated. But is there any way to verify? I mean, if you've got to build roads, if you've got to build infrastructure, surely it is going to cost a lot of money.
GUTTMANDefinitely. I mean, these are international numbers that are out there. They might be off a little bit but it seems that that is pretty much the ballpark we're talking about in terms of the cost. And we should remember that Sochi probably wasn't the ideal location for Winter Olympics. There was a lot of infrastructure work, as you mentioned, that needs to be done. So it does make sense that they put in all this money.
GUTTMANApparently Putin or someone didn't learn the first lesson of public relations is that the first dollar of these $50 million -- $50 billion should go to making sure that the journalists are happy. Because when they arrive and see the hotel rooms with no running water, then all this PR move is useless.
GHATTASTo be fair so far, the athletes have not complained. And they've said that, you know, everything is in great shape for what they want to do.
LANDLERI just want to say, the personal aside, that I traveled for two-and-a-half years with Kim Ghattas when we both covered Secretary of State Clinton. And I've never heard her complain about a hotel room. So I think she's on the tolerant end for journalists. The point though about Putin and the cost of the games that is potentially interesting in the coming years, is you're seeing the Russian economy start to slow down. And the cost of this could become a bigger political problem for him domestically going forward.
REHMMark Landler. He's White House correspondent for the New York Times. Short break here. Your calls when we come back, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd, before we open the phones, let's talk briefly about the UN report criticizing the Vatican, Mark Landler, for not doing enough over sexual abuse. Tell us what the report said and what about the Vatican's reaction.
LANDLERWell it -- this is a UN committee -- it's the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. And it basically is saying that there's evidence of widespread child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and that the Vatican and the church hierarchy and its response had focused more on protecting the predators -- the perpetrators, than on the victims. And it's calling on the Vatican to establish a "an independent mechanism for monitoring children's rights." So this is the latest chapter in a long, very sad tale of abuse -- sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
LANDLERThe Vatican, after initially being somewhat modulated in its response, is now really kicking up a very strong counteroffensive here saying that this is part of a sort of a narrative of anti-Catholicism and basically hitting out against those who are members of the committee. Now interestingly they -- this UN committee includes a couple of countries that probably have a somewhat questionable record in this area themselves. I'm trying to remember which ones they are. I think Uganda's one of them.
LANDLERAnd so I don't think the Vatican to date has actually gone after the individual countries that are on the committee but they're very much attacking the tenor of the report. And what interests me is that this is maybe, perhaps the first major broadside against the church on this issue since Pope Francis became Pope. And one of Pope Francis' hallmark so far has been to try to go after the power of the clerical establishment. And so it'll be very interesting to see how he himself responds to it. Now the early negative response may in fact suggest that that's what we're going to see.
LANDLERBut Pope Francis' general tenor and his strategy since he's become the Pope is to be more open to these types of discussions and more willing to acknowledge that, yes, the Catholic bureaucracy, the curiae in Rome, is in fact very much built around protecting itself, its own fiefdoms. So in a way this may be a test for the way Pope Francis...
LANDLER...is going to lead at a difficult moment.
GUTTMANIt's interesting also because Pope Francis, we've all viewed him so far as a reformer in the Vatican, as someone open for change. And this will be an interesting test case, because he wasn't as vocal on the issue of sexual abuse as he was on other issues. One of the specifics of the UN report that I think irked many in the Vatican was the fact that they didn't speak only about sexual abuse. They also went into the issue of abortions and called for the Vatican to allow abortions, at least in the cases of children -- of young girls becoming pregnant.
REHMHere's a posting from our website saying: I am not Catholic and, while it may have been appropriate for the UN to take the Vatican to task over child abuse, I was very surprised that it called on the church to change several of its basic teachings. What right does the UN have? One can hardly call the UN the source of moral truth.
GHATTASWell, that's perhaps the point of view of this person. But a lot of people do rely on the Catholic Church as a source of moral guidance. And it is problematic when these issues keep coming up. One of the issues that the reporter also highlighted was the practice within the church of offenders' mobility -- moving priests who have molested children -- moving them around instead of finding ways to protect the children. So, in essence, those priests can then go after children elsewhere.
GHATTASAnd what I found quite astounding to see was that the report's findings came after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month in Geneva. And that's quite an interesting process, to see church officials having to publicly answer questions. And it does give hope to the victims and victim groups that are trying to pursue this issue -- that no one, in the end, is outside of the law. But we're not there yet.
LANDLERWell, you know, to go back to the point that your listener was raising, one of the things the UN report does say is that the church should accept the practice of abortion. And the Vatican's response to that is, Well, there's a contradiction here, because if you're calling for children to be protected -- young children to be protected -- shouldn't you also be concerned about the rights of the unborn? Now, that's obviously a fraught issue and people have various different views on that.
LANDLERBut it is true that this report didn't just limit itself to discussing the actual practice of transferring priests from one parish to another. You know, the things that I think -- there's a general agreement that the church has been flawed in its approach to this and then much broader teachings that kind of go to the heart of dogma. And by treading into that area, I think, is where the United Nations report opens itself up to this kind of criticism and becomes perhaps a more controversial document.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, first, to Alvarado, Texas. Hi there, Howard. You're on the air.
HOWARDAll right. Diane, I love your show...
HOWARD...and would like to give you and your panel kudos this morning. You're the only news outlet I heard to mention the opposition leader, and your claim being allegedly tortured? I'd just like to -- a short comment on the way we cover the news over here. I happened to have insomnia the other night, channel surfing, and caught the live -- a live interview of the opposition leader, on the Algiers channel. The man was missing half of his right ear. He had about a three inch...
REHMYes, that's what is reported.
HOWARDYes. Well, I saw it on TV and I mean, they were showing him live on the -- he had about a three-inch cut, long cut, about one inch under his left eye. I know we might debate who tortured him, but there was no alleged torture.
REHMOkay. I appreciate your call there. Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, definitely, I don't think there's any dispute about the fact that he was tortured. And he appeared alongside a doctor who confirmed his injuries. And I don't think there's much of a dispute over who the torturers were. The only question remaining open, and I don't think we'll get an answer for that, is were they Russian officials or people operating outside the system?
REHMAll right. To St. Petersburg, Florida. Anthony, you're on the air.
ANTHONYThank you very much, Diane, for taking my call.
ANTHONYI really enjoy your show.
ANTHONYI just wanted to say that we don't necessarily have a Cold War going on right now, but we do have a Warm War going on right now. And even though we don't have a Soviet Union, we still have Putin, who is trying to exert his influence throughout the entire region and always blocking the U.S. whenever possible. So, you know, I don't think we understand that he is going to try to maintain control in the region politically any which way that he can. And so that's why he's doing what he's doing. And also I wanted to mention, my son is in Sochi. He is doing -- he's a sound technician.
ANTHONYHe's actually working the Olympics. And what he told me is that there's a lot of exaggeration as far as what the press is saying for the conditions that are there. He's not in the best of the hotels, but what he tells me is basically the conditions are not as exaggerated as they're saying. The only thing he does say is true is the brown water. That's absolutely true.
REHMAh, well, Anthony, I'm glad to have that report from you. Mark Landler, on Putin.
LANDLERWell, I mean, first, just to say those of us who've covered foreign events and been in foreign countries know the danger of magnifying things. I mean, this is also true of when you cover civil unrest or violence. Sometimes it's very easy to over -- it's the nature of foreign reporting, particularly with television, that you can overdramatize things. So I think that's a valid point to make. On Putin, the only thing I'd say is I think the United States is well aware of what Vladimir Putin's agenda is.
LANDLERWe spent several years, early in the first term of the -- several months, early in the first term of the Obama administration, trying to reset our relationship with the Russians. And it was a largely frustrated process. We were able...
LANDLERWell, because we made certain -- certain things we were able to make advances with. We did sign a strategic arms reduction treaty during that period. We were also working, at that time, with a different president, Dmitry Medvedev; although, to be sure a protégé of Putin and Putin was largely the man pulling the strings from the background.
LANDLERBut as the Russians have seen their position in certain key areas threatened -- notably in Syria, which was their core ally where they even have a Naval base in that area -- I think you've basically seeing Putin decide, no, I have to really assert Russian influence. And I think the Americans are well aware of it and are seeing the hand of Russia in a lot of other areas. Another area where the Russian hand is very evident is in the dealings with Iran. The Russians are critical to maintaining a coalition on the Iranian nuclear program. The Russians have a very different relationship with Iran than we do.
LANDLEREven in the early going, with these nuclear negotiations, there's evidence that the Iranians are talking to the Russians about an oil-for-goods deal, which would really weaken the sanctions regime on Iran. So, across the board, we're in these sort of proxy struggles with the Russians. I think your caller's absolutely right in how we characterize it. The only tweak I would make is I'd say that the White House is well aware that that's the game we're now playing.
REHMAll right. To Richmond, Indiana. Hi, Jack.
JACKHi. Say, turning back to the UN report on the Catholic Church and sexual abuse, I'm curious if that report is looking at what happened in the Catholic Church in the past or if they're looking at what's happening in the present? I'm involved with a Catholic Boy Scout Troop, and the child protection measures that are taken are extremely rigorous and strict. I have to do monthly updates on my training or I can't get together with those kids. And I'm just wondering what is the report looking at, past or present?
GUTTMANI think most of it is trying to look at the present, although there does seem to be reference to past practices. And the practices are changing all the time. I'm not sure how -- if this report really acknowledges the trends that are changing within the Catholic Church. But it definitely asserts that whatever is going on right now isn't enough and that changes, even if they are taking place, don't live up to the standards.
GHATTASThere is a lot of the past in there as well. One of the scandals that is singled out in the report is Ireland's Magdalene Laundries, Catholic-run workhouses in Ireland, where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labor between 1922 and 1996. There are a lot of safeguards being put in place today, but the victims of those abuses still want more answers, more information. And that's where the Church is not being forthcoming.
REHMAnd on that very point, the real life subject of the film Philomena just met the Pope the other day. And I think there was a request from her or her spokesperson to approach the Pope with that, hope that those conditions would open up and that the records, for example, of those children born in convents operated by the nuns would be open to the public. Let's see. Let's go now to Jeanie in Alton, New Hampshire. You're on the air.
JEANIEGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much. I love these Friday reviews.
JEANIEAnd I can't thank you all enough for being so balanced in your discussion today about Sochi. I've worked in Russia for 20 years now and I'm fluent in Russian. I taught myself how to speak Russian. And I have to say that I watch the Russian news every night -- their channels. So we're seeing it, you know, this is TV-1 (sp?) and they're going to put on the best show. But I have been blown away by the complex and what they've shown and what they've provided. So it may be the journalists' conditions are not great.
JEANIEBut the center itself and the village itself and the avenues, at least what they've shown on TV, has been staggering. And the only reason why I'm tempted to believe that is, while I know the worst of Russia -- I've traveled 50,000 miles across Russia in the last 20 years and so I know the brown water. So you just don't drink the water.
REHMAll right. Thanks, Jeanie, for those comments. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to South Bend, Indiana. Hi, John.
JOHNHi, Diane. You rock. I wanted to reiterate a question, or re-ask a question. Did the Ukraine people vote on this package, this aid package? You didn't get an answer to that earlier.
REHMYou're right. And I may have misstated the issue, because I'm not sure there was an actual vote taken. Do you know, Kim?
GHATTASWell, what American officials will tell you is that people voted with their feet and took to the streets to demand that this agreement with the EU be signed and ratified by their government.
GUTTMANWell, obviously, it's up to Yanukovych to decide -- to make the final decision.
GUTTMANBut of course you can't ignore the fact that there is this outpour of opposition from the Ukrainian people. So whether the decision is valid or legal or not, it makes -- it's less important right now because we see that the Ukrainian people have a different position.
GHATTASOr at least half of them.
GHATTASBecause there is also support...
REHMAnd that's the point. Yeah.
GHATTASI mean, the country is also divided...
GHATTAS...along those same lines of being more pro-West and more pro-Russian. In the Kiev area and Western Ukraine there's greater affinity with the EU versus the Russian-speaking East and South. So we're seeing that standoff, between Russia on the one hand and the U.S. and the EU on the other, reflected in the population of Ukraine.
REHMMark, finally, there's been a lot of talk of security in Sochi. Surely there have been security concerns about just almost every large event. Are we putting too much emphasis on Russia and Sochi?
LANDLERWell, you're right that any large, spectator event has inherent risks. And you can have a terrorist attack in any society. The Atlanta Olympics were obviously victim -- a victim of that.
LANDLERThat said, there is a difference between Sochi and almost any other recent Olympics, and that is that Sochi lies adjacent to an area where there has been a basically low-grade Islamic militancy for the last decade or so. And that is a very different geographic set of circumstances than we've encountered in any recent Olympics.
REHMMark Lander of The New York Times, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward, thank you all so much.
LANDLERThank you, Diane.
GHATTASThanks for having us.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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