An update on the plane crash in the French Alps. Saudi Arabia launches air strikes against Yemen rebel bases. And President Barack Obama slows U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Ukraine announces a deal to end the violent political crisis there. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he would call early presidential elections and form a coalition government, but some protestors say this is not enough. Venezuela arrests an opposition leader and expels three U.S. diplomats while six protesters are killed in demonstrations. Iran agrees to a framework for negotiations on its nuclear program. A U.N. panel says the leader of North Korea could face charges of crimes against humanity. And President Barack Obama attends a trade summit in Mexico. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Susan Glasser editor, Politico magazine.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
- Greg Myre international editor, NPR.org; co-author of "This Burning Land."
- Sergii Leshchenko deputy-editor-in-chief, Ukrainska Pravda.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The President of Ukraine agrees to hold early elections as the government seeks to quell violent protests. Venezuelans take to the streets, demanding better economic conditions, freedom of speech and an end to rampant crime. Tehran and top world powers decide on a time table and framework for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup, Greg Myre of NPR, Susan Glasser of Politico, David Sanger of The New York Times and Sergii Leshchenko of Ukrainska Pravda.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you and thank you, Sergii, for joining us.
MR. SERGII LESHCHENKOThank you for invitation.
MR. DAVID SANGERGreat to be with you.
MR. GREG MYREGreat to be here, Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERThanks for having us.
REHMGood to see you all. Sergii, the situation in Ukraine seems to be changing very rapidly. Tell us what the latest is.
LESHCHENKOThis afternoon, Ukrainian parliament adopted special act, and it's like special agreement between opposition and protestors from one side and President and (word?) party from another side, with idea to have premature Presidential election in December this year. And also, Ukraine will have like transitional constitution for a few months, and both sides agree to having new constitution until September of this year.
REHMNow, Greg Myre, it was my understanding that the protestors were not going to accept anything less than the resignation of the President. What's changed?
MYREWell, the opposition, who's been negotiating with President Yanukovych, has agreed to this. We still -- it's happening so rapidly -- we don't quite know what the protestors think of this. And they're a very diverse group. It's not one solid block taking instructions from a leadership there. So, we're gonna have to wait and see how the protestors respond. However, what we've been hearing, the mood in Independent Square and Kiev, the sort of ground zero for this, has been relatively calm so far.
SANGERWell, it's interesting that you have not heard the Obama administration get out behind this yet. And the reason is that they want to wait and see how it's received on the street. They don't want to be in the position of embracing an agreement that turns out not to be embraced by those on the street. But as Greg points out, this is such a diverse group, including some truly far right, you know, protestors, that it's a very difficult thing to imagine right now, what this election could end up looking like.
SANGERAnd the administration has already been through several examples, during the Arab Spring, of cases where it embraced what looked like a popular revolution on the street, only to discover that it got hijacked later on.
GLASSERWell, I think a key factor to remember here is that this is a deal that was brokered by the foreign ministers of several European powers. The French Foreign Minister was on the ground. The Polish Foreign Minister, they were there all night, conducting, basically, shuttle diplomacy between President Yanukovych and these three leading opposition leaders. And so, why did they do that? First of all, this is very much about Ukraine and its position in Europe. The United States -- David's points are valid and well taken about the Obama administration.
GLASSERBut the truth of the matter is, they weren't there brokering the deal, and in the end, they won't be responsible for its success or failure. There's very little, in fact, that the United States really can do, or, very few tools that it has to steer this toward a non-violent outcome. And I was really struck by that over the last few days. If you look at, you know, sort of the outpouring of commentary, and on Twitter, what does it boil down -- that the US position could be expressed as concern, being increased to grave concern.
GLASSERAnd as one, you know, sort of well known State Department put it in a different context, concern, unfortunately, is not a policy.
LESHCHENKOI mean, the first idea of this protest was European integration, of course, for Ukrainians. And people came to the street, after the decision of Ukrainian government, to postpone association agreement with European Union. I think it was the reason why Europeans were so involved in this process. But, American government plays its role, imposing sanctions, and it was a key factor, I believe, in the process of negotiations. Because Ukrainian President his oligarchs, they understand only the language of pressure, and they did not leave any room for compromise with the people on the street.
LESHCHENKOOnly the negotiation about the resignation was the point of this process.
REHMBut, how diverse are these protestors? We've heard that they can go from moving forward to the extreme right conservatives.
LESHCHENKOYou know, there are many groups of protestors on the streets in Kiev. I cannot say that extremists from right side are playing crucial role in this protest. And we have some polls from Maidan, and it shows that, for instance, only 55 percent of protestors are from western Ukraine for instance. There are a lot of young people, students, a lot of people from Central part of Ukraine, a lot of people from Kiev. And it was impossible to have this protest in Capital without support of people from Kiev.
LESHCHENKOBecause they provided everything, what Maidan needs, starting from accommodations up to food, medical treatment, information coverage, everything. And, of course, it was not a protest of right extremists. It was a protest of Ukrainian people who are looking for better future of our country.
SANGERI think Sergii's absolutely right. It was a broad based protest. What we've learned in the past couple of years is something that can start as a broad based protest can end up being grabbed by those with specific interests. I think that's one of the concerns. I wanted to talk about Susan's very good point that the United States has very little leverage here. It does. But it's got very great interests here.
SANGERThe other day, you heard the President talking, first time I think I've heard him say this, really, many times in his presidency, about the risk of going back into a Cold War mentality with the Russians. And he was saying, look, this isn't an old Cold War struggle. Well, on TV, it sure looked like one. It looked like a satellite state for which Russia was pulling in one direction and the Western Europeans were pulling in the other. And I think the biggest risk that Washington has right now is that this descends into something that then gets replicated in other kind of Cold War standoffs.
SANGERAnd that's what the President's got to avoid.
MYREWhat's been very striking to me, throughout this, is three months ago, we were talking about an economic agreement, cooperation between European nations, a sort of basic, mundane type of thing that governments and countries do, and here we are now, Europe talking about sanctions against Ukraine. And again, as David mentioned, the sort of echoes of the Cold War, the sniping between Russia and the United States. The EU trying to intervene. So how quickly this has gone from just a mundane routine sort of matter into potential crisis.
REHMBut, then, what role do you see Putin playing in what's going to happen as this goes forward?
MYREI think that there's just overwhelming evidence throughout Putin's rule that he does not want these countries -- Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, leaving Moscow's orbit. We saw a few years ago in Georgia, where Russia sent troops and got involved because Georgia was flirting with NATO. We've seen this time and time again. This is not about a win/win situation of trade and expanded cooperation. It's, for Putin, it always seems like a zero sum game. Either we're going to be the most influential player in Ukraine, or somebody else is.
MYREAnd this is very important for him, and this is a place where he seems very prepared...
REHMAnd the people in the streets seem to be saying, we want a better economic life.
GLASSERWell, that's exactly right. You know, what triggered this crisis, to begin with, was the prospect of a Ukrainian accession agreement with the European Union. And it was actually Putin's direct intervention, and basically offering a counter veiling economic bailout on terms that seemed significantly more appealing to Yanukovych and his inner circle, that actually precipitated the crisis. It was on the eve of a meeting with the major European powers, to iron out the final details, that this all was derailed and the protest began.
GLASSERAgain, with Vladimir Putin's direct intervention. But I wanted to make the point, not only A, what will Putin do in response to the prospect of a deal that's been hammered out between European Foreign Ministers and President Yanukovych? Remember, Putin didn't have a seat at the table in this overnight shuttle diplomacy, so we need to see what he is going to do to react? Right now, remember, the world's eyes are fixed on Russia and the Sochi Olympic Games, and I think it's been an extraordinarily uncomfortable spectacle.
GLASSERVladimir Putin is concerned, both about maintaining his influence in the sphere of what Russians still refer to as the near abroad, and this lost empire that they feel. But they're also concerned -- Putin is primarily concerned with the stability and security of his own government inside Russia. And it was after Ukraine's Orange Revolution, back a decade ago, that Putin took many steps to crack down inside Russia to avoid such a color revolution scenario on his home turf. I think it's very likely you'll see that today.
GLASSERJust out of Moscow today, there's the news of protestors from last year being handed strict sentences, merely for what we would consider to be expressing, you know, free speech.
REHMAnd, of course, we cannot erase the image of the members of Pussy Riot being horse whipped by security officials in Sochi. We'll come back to this after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've been talking about Ukraine thus far in the Friday News Roundup of the week's top international stories. Here's an email which says, "I have information from Ukrainians in the street suggesting the government met moderate protestors from the west out by stopping trains while it encouraged an influx of more radical protestors from the east to ramp up violence and justify physical violence by police forces," Sergii.
LESHCHENKOThe situation completely unpredictable now in Ukraine. And, in fact, I think now it's time for Yanukovych to step back. And there is no, like, room for a next phrase of violence in Kiev because we have such kind of agreement. And the best way for Yanukovych is just to implement this agreement because it could be dangerous for him personally to continue his game.
LESHCHENKOThe really situation is out of control and Yanukovych does not control Ukrainian capital at all.
REHMNot only for Yanukovych, but as Putin looks on, what is he thinking?
LESHCHENKOFor Putin, you know, often the revolution, it was psychological trauma of Putin because it's changed his mind. And he feels that next it will go on in Russia and he afraid this virus of democracy from Ukraine. And, in fact, if Putin just not only supports Yanukovych, he not only provides some political support, he provides weapons for police -- riot police. He provides money for Ukrainian government to stay in power as long as possible. He provides consulters, a lot of agents of Russian secret service now in the streets of Kiev. And for Putin it's like better for his power, not of power for President Yanukovych.
SANGERWell, for Mr. Putin, this is one of several conflicts for influence that he's engaged in right now. So Susan referred to why this was the near abroad and that's obviously critically important to him. Syria's critically important to him as well. And it was interesting that just as this was breaking out this week, you heard first President Obama and then John Kerry on Monday and Tuesday talking about how Russia has turned to becoming a destructive force in the effort to bring about a peace in Syria in large part because the Russians think that right now Assad has got -- is winning.
SANGERSo there are multiple -- and then of course there are the Iran talks. So there are multiple places here where Putin is trying to work his advantage. If he is dealt the significant setback in Ukraine, he's got to think it's going to reduce his influence elsewhere.
GLASSERWell, I'm glad David brought up the collapse of the Syria talks in Geneva around which we had focused much of the American diplomacy over the last several months was actually in trying to engage the Russians. You know, it strikes me that it was both completely predictable. Putin and his government have been Assad's most valuable international allies. And essentially what they had been looking to do was to buy time for the Assad regime when it looked to be pressed into a corner. Now that they feel that perhaps he's regaining some advantage militarily, the Russians have taken a correspondingly tougher line.
GLASSERSo unfortunately, I don't think there's any surprise whatsoever in the failure of a political peace process in Syria. And I think it's right to point fingers at the Russians but I am struck by the fact that it really did represent two years worth of wishful thinking on the part of American diplomacy. And I do think it's a time for some reflection and looking back at some accountability as you look at some of the statements that John Kerry and others made about the Russians. It strikes me that it was more in the vein of the triumph of hope over experience when it comes to the serious situation.
GLASSERAnd I fear that when it comes to Ukraine, unfortunately we're seeing a particularly, you know, sort of horrifying and bloody version of this if you push Putin into a corner. He's done everything he could to offer money, to -- you know, his usual tools. As Sergii has eloquently pointed out, the people of Ukraine, you know, in a fairly massive way rose up and said, no, we want our future to be with Europe. We don't want to be Russians. We're looking for an alternate course here.
GLASSERAnd I think that the interpretation that this group has, I certainly agree with, which is you have to see this as an extension of Putin's fight for a Russian way, that this is the course that the former Soviet Union needs to take.
MYREYeah, just elaborating on that, Putin sees himself as a counterweight to the U.S. and to Europe. So you have to wonder, how does he see Bashar Assad as an asset? How does he see Viktor Yanukovych as an asset? These people are -- I would think most people would look at that and say, these guys are burdens. These guys are liabilities. But yet in Putin's mind it seems to be, this is a way to make Russia important, a central player in global affairs and to resist or counterbalance the U.S. and the west.
REHMAll right. A lot of questions as to whether with the situation in Ukraine even with an agreement we're heading into some new version of a Cold War, Greg.
MYREYeah, you think it's been more than 20 years now. You look at many of the states of the Soviet Union. It's really striking the way that democracy has not been able to take hold, the way Putin has been able to create so many problems and difficulties for the U.S. We really feel like it -- it just feels like you've gone back 20 years.
SANGERIt may feel that way, and certainly the symbolism is that but, you know, the world didn't stand still in the 20 years since the Cold War ended. Some countries have aligned themselves with Europe, including a significant negotiator in this case, Poland, have really emerged as a model of what can happen when you go the European way. And meanwhile, what else has changed in the world? China is nowhere near the kind of situation it was in 20 years ago when the wall fell -- or more than 20 years ago now, 25 years ago when the wall fell in '89.
SANGERIf there is a successor power to come out here to truly challenge the United States across the board economically, militarily and so forth, I think there's a sense that it's much more China than Russia. And I think Putin's got to be factoring that in as well because he and the Chinese do not have a whole lot of common interests right now.
GLASSERI think David's point is extremely well taken because in many ways, you know, it is Americans on some level who are stuck in this sort of bipolar notion about the United States versus Russia. This is -- in a lot of ways this is a story about Europe, right. And it's a story that Americans don't tend to plug into. Our eyes glaze over at the subject of the European Union and trade pacts and that sort of thing. But, you know, this is not only Europe's neighborhood but this, again, is as former Georgia President Saakashvili said to me at the beginning of these protests is the first ever in history revolution over wanting to be part of a trade deal.
GLASSERAnd, you know, so it's -- I think Americans were so far removed. We've got an ocean separating us from this conflict so we still think about things in terms of America and Russia. And I think that plays into Putin's very much -- someone used the phrase earlier -- zero. So I'm thinking -- I do think that Putin thinks in terms of I'm up they're down, they're down I'm up. But in reality in terms of global great power issues, this is much more probably a China-United States question. And Ukraine doesn't factor...
REHMAll right. I want to move to another part of the world, the violence escalating in Venezuela this week and the opposition leader jailed. What's the latest here, Greg?
MYRERight. So there -- we have a relatively new president in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. He came to power, was elected last year after Hugo Chavez died. He's mismanaged the economy, despite all this oil wealth, major shortages, toilet paper, basic goods, power outages, all sorts of things. So they've been building resistance with his mismanagement of the economy, as well as other things.
MYREThere's a pretty popular opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. He's been a mayor in a well-to-do part of area outside of Caracas. He was arrested because some of the protests got a little violent. A few people had been killed. It seemed the Venezuelan security forces were responsible. He turned himself in, Lopez did and initially was going to be charged with murder. They've, I think, lessened those charges now but still Maduro seems to be trying to come up with a conspiracy theory going after his opponents here.
REHMAnd to what extent was the expulsion of three U.S. officials justified?
MYREWell, from what I've seen it's hard to tell. But again, Maduro seems to be really a conspiracy theorist. He comes up with all these wacky ideas. I mean, just before he got elected last year he talked about Chavez appearing to him as a bird in a dream and giving him advice. He's constantly coming up with all these sort of fantastical explanations and conspiracy theories.
REHMAnd for what reason?
GLASSERWell, you know, I mean, what we're seeing is basically somebody said it's Chavismo without Chavez. And I think, you know, Maduro was the designated heir and successor of this sort of charismatic bazaar, you know, semi-dictator in Hugo Chavez. But he's without the charisma so you sort of have the remnant of this ideology, which has led Venezuela into a fairly tragic sort of spiraling downward despite its massive oil wealth, despite many advantages that one would think Venezuela would have.
GLASSERBasically you've seen a fairly catastrophic, you know, kind of plunge in the standard of living and basic public security. That was happening all throughout the Chavez years. Now you don't have sort of the dictator, the strongman to sort of hold it, patch it together.
REHM...keep it together.
GLASSERExactly, until you sort of see the unraveling basically of Chavez's what he called his Bolivarian Revolution.
REHMSo this is the third time in less than a year that Venezuela has expelled U.S. diplomats. How's the U.S. reacting here, David?
SANGERThe U.S. is reacting here largely by ignoring the Venezuelans. And it's an interesting strategy. It's -- actually if you compare it to say Egypt where something similar has gone where we had a longtime authoritarian leader, the one much more in our camp than Chavez ever was. You know, with Egypt we're highly engaged because we're quite concerned about the spreading effect throughout the neighborhood. In Venezuela, the concept is isolate the Venezuelans. Promote the kind of street protests that you're beginning to go see or at least allow them to happen. And hope very much that the rest of the neighborhoods sort of reigns them in.
SANGERAnd it tells you something about President Obama, which is that he doesn't feel that the United States has to be in every conflict. And he doesn't feel the necessity to get out the way President Bush did and say, you have to follow an American-like model. I think he very much believes that the American model is a fabulous import for those who really want it. And a really crumby export was what we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan was you can't push it upon people.
REHMBut wouldn't you begin to see some uprising in Venezuela if the standard of living is plunging, if the middle class is losing its stature?
SANGERYou might but oil money tends to delay those things, just as it has in Iran and many other places. So, you know, you may yet see it but it's probably got to get worse before it gets better.
REHMAnd speaking of Iran -- you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Speaking of Iran, David, Iran and six of the nation's agreed on a time table and framework for negotiating a comprehensive plan for Iran's nuclear program. How significant is it this time?
SANGERWell, this was the first meeting for what would be the permanent plant for dealing with all this. You may recall that at the end of last year they reached an interim sort of freeze accord that stopped the Iranians from building more and let the negotiations go. And we had the first report -- detailed report from the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors yesterday as well about what's happened on the ground.
SANGERAnd basically the Iranians have done what they promise to do, which is they're not building new -- starting up new centrifuges which enrich uranium. The stockpile of the uranium that we're most worried about, the most enriched uranium that could be used for bomb fuel is beginning to go down some, so all the early signs are good. That's the good news.
SANGERThe bad news is that in the past couple of weeks you've seen a number of senior Iranian leaders sort of dig themselves a hole by saying, we're not going to dismantle anything. If the Americans think that we're going to take apart the nuclear infrastructure we built they out to think again. And I can't see how you get to an agreement that means anything without dismantlement.
MYREJust to amplify David's point there, the one little slight note of discord that's come out is Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, has said our military program is nonnegotiable. So Iran is drawing this clear line between their nuclear program and their military program. Last week, for example, they tested two ballistic missiles. And for Iran they're saying, we have a peaceful nuclear program. This is separate. We're testing nuclear -- or sorry, ballistic missiles where you could put conventional warheads on.
MYREAnd of course, the U.S. and others who are concerned about a nuclear weapon would say, well of course you could put a nuclear warhead on that. So already you see this line of even if there's progress on the nuclear issue, there'll be some military questions as well.
REHMWhat about nuclear power for Iran? Aren't they still arguing that?
MYREYes. They say it's a peaceful program.
MYREWe have the right to do that under the Nonproliferation Treaty. And therefore -- and they're going to insist -- and I think even all the outlines of the agreement make that clear. They will have the right to enrich for peaceful purposes.
REHMSo do you see next steps as positive?
MYREWell, it's going to be a long process. They're -- we're talking about a six-month process. They're looking at July as sort of the deadline to try to work out a permanent agreement. But it already seems to be a rather squishy deadline that could be extended.
SANGERBut the agreement calls for an additional six months...
SANGER...if you need it. And one small tweak on what Greg accurately describes as where the Iranians are drawing a line out here. The Iranians say they have a right to enrich uranium. The U.S. has never acknowledged that they have a right to that. There is belief that when this whole final deal is done they'll be left with a limited amount of enrichment, but probably not enough to be significant.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." Short break here. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've just gotten from the Associated Press a note that Ukraine's parliament has voted to remove the interior minister, Zakharchenko, is that how it's pronounced?
REHMAll right. Tell us about him.
LESHCHENKOThis man is in charge of the violence on the streets of Kiev. And he's the head of -- minister of internal affairs and he is the head of riot police, this police which killed thousands of -- sorry, hundreds of Ukrainians. And, of course, it is a positive sign -- positive signal for protestors. But we have to remember that President Yanukovych is in charge of this violence. He's the person who ordered to Minister Zakharchenko, start to kill people in Kiev.
REHMI want to ask you about the video that went viral, showing the singing group, Pussy Riot being horsewhipped. Who were the soldiers who were carrying that out? Were they members of the military? Or were they members of a Russian cadre of forces?
LESHCHENKOI believe this station in Russia is the same. Officials are in charge of any violence in Russia and in the Ukraine, because they created this reality when they don't want to listen to the voice of opposition and the voice of protestors. And, in fact, you know, they can say everything they want that do not responsible for this, but if your president with this capacity of power, you are in charge of everything what is going on in your country, and beating of people as well.
REHMBut, in fact, the money coming from Russia is playing quite a large role.
LESHCHENKOIn Ukraine, Putin provided support for regime of Yanukovych. And he was the last person who did it, because European Union did not provide money for regime of Yanukovych, and U.S. as well. IMF stopped the negotiation with the Ukrainian regime after the crackdowns and after the decision of the Ukrainian government to stop the European integration. And I can say that Putin is a sponsor of Yanukovych regime. Putin is the last ally of Yanukovych.
REHMThe last ally. Susan.
GLASSERWell, you know, the economists cover The Economist cover that's out today has a horrifying picture of the violence in Kiev on it, with the headline, "Putin's Inferno." And I think that that is certainly the context we should look at it in. But two interesting data points suggesting that Yanukovych's ability to keep that alliance with Russia may be unraveling. Yesterday, the Ukrainians were supposed to float their latest bond on the bond market. That was the way in which Russia was having this bailout. They canceled it at the last minute. So there's that.
GLASSERAnd then there's this deal that was negotiated overnight, which again was negotiated between European foreign ministers and President Yanukovych without -- certainly Yanukovych was likely consulting in a backstage way with the Russians. There is some preliminary word out. I see there is, you know, at least on Twitter, a breaking news alert from the Associated Press that the Ukrainian parliament has just voted to release jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, which again was absolutely one of the main flashpoints between Ukraine and the West.
GLASSERPresident Yanukovych jailed Tymoshenko, who had been his main rival in the presidential election in Ukraine. She's a bitter enemy of Russia. And if this news is confirmed and if they actually take this step, I think what you're seeing perhaps is one of the conditions under which the Europeans told Yanukovych they'd make a deal. This would represent a real blow to his regime.
SANGERWell, there's a saying, you can't buy love, but you can buy allies. And I think this is going to be the test of the saying. Because, in Yanukovych's world here, he was basically being bought out by the Russians, with whom he's got greater trade than he's got with Europe. While he had a populace that believed their future was with Europe, not necessarily for reasons of economic growth, but for reasons of freedom...
REHMSocial freedom. Yes.
SANGER...culture, and so forth. And that's what gives this thing the whole Cold War tinge that we've been discussing here.
REHMBut Putin is -- or is he -- is he going to be willing to lose on this, David?
SANGERWell, one way to ask the question is: is he willing to lose? And, you know, would he subvert everything that is going on in the country in order to mess up a movement toward Europe? And the second question is: how far can he be seen to be going to disrupt where the country itself wants to go? And that's the hard line. We don't know where he draws that line in his head.
REHMWhat's your view, Sergii?
LESHCHENKOFor Putin, the situation in the Ukraine is like the situation in your -- for him, it's like the situation on his backyard. He understands the situation like, it is area of his influence. And he understands that -- he said it once, after the order of revolution that the collapse of Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy of 20th century. And it was just after previous (word?) in 2004, in Ukraine. And also, American political scientists, such as Dr. Burzynski, said that you cannot restore Russian Empire without Ukraine. So Ukraine is like a hostage of Putin, in his understanding of the world.
REHMAll right. I want to move on to North Korea, because a U.N. report detailed what it called North Korea's crimes against humanity. Greg, explain.
MYREYes, it came out, I believe, at the beginning of this week. And it was a very detailed study by the U.N Human Rights Commission. They've talked to many of the North Koreans who have fled and come to South Korea. They didn't have access to North Korea. But they were able to cross check and just confirm these sort of horrible stories we've heard anecdotally and put them all together in one big report of forced abortions, of all of the malnourished kids, of using prisoners for martial arts trainings -- just these sort of horrific stories.
MYREPutting them together, saying that the North Korean leadership could be charged with crimes against humanity. Again, I don't think anything shockingly new here. But it's packaged and done in a pretty comprehensive way.
REHMAll right. Let's go to the phones to John in Arlington, Va. You're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Diane.
JOHNMy difficulty with the Ukraine situation is the following. One, Ukraine's been a part of Russia since forever, or it was part of Lithuania at one time and part of Poland. It has a tie of a nature that makes this a little critical. I think the United States -- instead of Putin causing trouble -- I think when we wanted to put missiles in Eastern Poland and Czechoslovakia, allegedly against the Iranians, that really started things rolling in the wrong direction. The other thing is we're a little hypocritical.
JOHNWhen the Bahrainis had peaceful demonstrations and the government there had no elections, brought in Saudi and U.A.E. people, it was okay. When the Egyptians killed 1,000 people in exile, not bad, we cut off a little leg. We don't look good when we're trying to make Ukrainian -- the Russians have to be so bad after what we've tolerated.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. David.
SANGERWell, on the second point the caller made, he's right. We have a hard time here if we are looking to be -- having different standards for Egypt than we are in Ukraine and so forth. But that kind of disparity is common to international relations around the world. On the first point, though, there was no reasonable basis on which somebody could think that the antimissile system that the United States was briefly, during the Bush administration, trying to put into Poland and elsewhere nearby, was really aimed at Russia.
SANGERIt was designed to pick off missiles in twos and threes and maybe, at maximum, ten. And obviously the Russians have over 1,500 nuclear weapons. They could so easily overwhelm this system, that the whole idea that the U.S. provoked something with Russia by putting -- getting this missile system, which never really ended up being in place -- I think was a little be farfetched.
REHMAll right. To Michael in Chapel Hill, N.C. Hi, there.
MICHAELHi, Diane. How are you?
MICHAELGreat. I just wanted to make a comment regarding the characterization of the Venezuelan government. And I'm not going to suggest that there aren't political and economic problems with it. But to characterize it as a dictatorship, a quasi-dictatorship, I think ignores the fact that both Maduro and Chavez were elected democratically with third-party observers of those elections, and pretty well, I believe, was overseen by Jimmy Carter.
MICHAELAnd also, to talk about Maduro's, like, handling of the economy insofar as his -- or insofar as the lack of consumer goods, in that that often is attributed in reference to professor at Drexel, who, Drexel's University's names escape me, but who made -- who looked at this and his suggestion that it's probably more about companies hoarding goods, in very much the same way as took place in 1973 before the Chilean coup that was U.S. backed.
REHMWhat do you think, Greg?
MYREWell, it is true, Chavez and Maduro have both been elected. But there are elections and then there are the style and the manner in which they rule. There's a pretty broad consensus that he's mismanaged the economy terribly. They have a very high inflation rate. Basic goods have not been available. People -- a lot of the Venezuelan community in Florida has been flying down to import toilet paper. His one great success is they may have the cheapest airline in the world, by trying to control the currency. And it's completely out of whack. So people use black -- use dollars and buy currency on the black market.
MYREYou can fly from Venezuela anywhere in the world for just a few dollars. Now, the airlines are booked up for months and months in advance. But there's just -- really, for a country that has as much wealth and is as advanced as Venezuela, they shouldn't be facing these really basic economic problems.
REHMAll right. To Santiago in Kalamazoo, Mich. You're on the air.
SANTIAGOGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SANTIAGOWith regards to this local mayor in Venezuela who is supporting the protestors, he was also involved in the attempt to overthrow Chavez, sponsored by the American Embassy in 2002. And I was wondering if the people who are in the panel today could explain the line items in the budget of the American State Department that go to support the opposition, which includes this person who is in jail now?
MYREI don't know -- have the details that you're asking for on the State Department budget. I mean, this has been a political figure in Venezuela for a number of years. He's a well known quantity. I guess there are questions of how popular he is. I mean, certainly it's not clear that he has a huge swell of support. He seems to be among the more middle class or even upper middle class Venezuelans, where Maduro and Chavez before him really tapped into the poorer sections of Venezuelan society.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Brian in Grand Rapids, Mich. You're on the air, sir. Please turn your radio down.
BRIANMy comment is that I agree with the Obama administration waiting to see what the Ukrainian people will accept before making a statement, maybe interfering with the outcome. The U.S. needs to stop being the policemen of the world and take care of some business at home.
SANGERWell, you know, there's a, I think, a very common view in the U.S., particularly after they passed 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iran -- in Afghanistan and Iraq, that we need to pull back, not get involved with the conflict with the Iranians, not get involved in Syria, and stay out largely of these kind of domestic disputes that we've been discussing this morning in the Ukraine and Venezuela. The question is, at what point does the pendulum swing too far in the other direction?
SANGERAt what point, in the name of not intervening militarily, does the U.S. begin to lose influence to other players, who fill in the vacuum? Because it's not like, if we go away, that everybody else walks off the field as well.
GLASSERWell, you know, I think the caller really expressed something that, right now, is very prevalent across the political spectrum in the United States, which is a sense, as Barack Obama himself put it in the last campaign, that it's time for some nation building here at home and not so much overseas. And I think that is certainly one context in which to view what the U.S. is doing or not doing. Obama himself has emerged as perhaps the most realist president since, certainly, George H. W. Bush.
GLASSERYou know, he's not some sort of Kissinger Realpolitik in the White House, but he has been very clear that he is not only not willing to act in places where the United States might have stuck its head in before, but he's defined the national interest quite narrowly in many cases. And then, where he has laid down markers, such as in Syria, you know, he talked about a red line in the use of chemical weapons -- even then, because of the lack of political consensus here in the United States, he's found his hands tied by the fact that the American people simply don't want to be engaged.
GLASSERAnd that has taken even more tools out of his toolkit.
REHMSergii, last comment.
LESHCHENKOYeah, I understand this view, when people in U.S., after Afghanistan and Iraq, do not want to see the American government involved in the process abroad. But the point, which is very important to understand, that we do not have a civil war in Ukraine. We have a civil resistance against corrupted and bloody president and his party. And in this case, U.S. could provide a lot of support, but not a military support, but support of imposing sanctions against corrupted officials.
LESHCHENKOAnd I can say that this played a very important role in process of democratic transformation during last few days and hours, because this sanctions was really stick, which, you know, after that Ukrainian autocrats started to negotiate with opposition. And they supported this package of amendments to change the constitution in Ukraine.
REHMSergii Leshchenko, he's with Ukrainska Pravda, a very popular Ukrainian online newspaper; David Sanger of the Washington New York Times; Susan Glasser, Editor of Politico magazine; Greg Myre, International Editor at NPR and co-author of "This Burning Land." Thank you all so much.
SANGERThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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