President Barack Obama makes a historic visit to Hiroshima. The Taliban choose a new leader after a U.S. drone strike kills Mullah Mansour. And a far right candidate in Austria narrowly loses the presidential election. A panel of journalists joins guest host Sabri Ben-Achour for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
The U.S. orders sanctions following Russia’s actions in Crimea. Protests in Venezuela mark the anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death. And President Barack Obama meets with Israel’s prime minister. A panel of journalists join guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Joanna Biddle State Department correspondent, AFP.
- Susan Glasser editor, Politico magazine.
- James Kitfield contributing editor, National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest; senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in this week for Diane Rehm. She's away on vacation. The US orders sanctions, following Russia's actions in Crimea. Protests in Venezuela mark the anniversary of former President Chavez's death, and President Obama meets with Israel's Prime Minister. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup is Susan Glasser of Politico Magazine, James Kitfield with Atlantic Media's Defense One, and Joanna Biddle with AFP. Good morning, everyone.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
MS. JOANNA BIDDLEGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
GJELTENAnd you can join our conversation about world news by calling us at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email, email@example.com. You can join us on Facebook. You can join us on Twitter. We're going to be doing a sort of a worldwide tour of developments this week. But any discussion of world news has to begin with the situation in Ukraine, and specifically on the Crimean peninsula. Susan Glasser, you've been following this very closely this week. What's the latest news out of Crimea as of this morning?
GLASSERWell, what we're looking at is a lightning fast proposed referendum by the people of Crimea. Russia, in effect, has set up this process, and now moved it forward dramatically. They're claiming that they're going to have a referendum as soon as March 16th, on whether Crimea should join Russia, legally and officially. Of course, there are many questions, the biggest one of which is whether such a referendum would be possible in such a short amount of time, number one. Number two, whether, of course, it would have any legal status whatsoever, given the haphazard nature and almost at a gunpoint feeling that this is taking place under Russia's direct orders.
GJELTENYou know, one of the things that caught my attention is apparently, that referendum, at least what we've heard of it so far, will not include the choice of whether Crimeans want to be independent -- want Crimea to be independent.
GLASSERYes, I saw, and I can't verify its authenticity, but I saw a version of the proposed question this morning, and it was basically up or down. Do you want to become a part of the Russian Federation or do you want to stay as a part of Ukraine? One thing that was striking to me was that the version that I saw, the question was first written out in Russian, and then only second in Ukrainian, which, of course, after all, is the language of the country of Ukraine.
GJELTENWell, James Kitfield, what do we really know about the feelings of the people in Crimea. One of the things we've heard is the majority of them are Russian speaking. I don't know that they're necessarily -- the majority is ethnic Russian. There is a difference between ethnic Russian and being a Russian speaker.
GJELTENAnd I believe the percentage of people in Crimea who voted for Ukraine to be an independent country, independent of the Soviet Union, or Russia, was, that there was a majority. So, do we really know what the true feelings, apart from these very dramatic pictures of citizens demonstrating in Crimea. Do we really know what the sentiment of the people of Crimea is on this issue?
KITFIELDOh, my sense is they are pretty pro-Russian. I mean, they have a -- like you said, a majority Russian speaking. When they voted for independence of Ukraine, that was a very, very different time. You know, that was a very hopeful time, right, at the end of the Cold War. We're two decades past that, gone through a really tumultuous time. In the 1990s, where Russia became ruled, basically, by a corrupt oligarchs, and now you've got Putin trying to reestablish, basically, the former Russian empire in his near abroad, claiming spheres of influence, which is, you know, this is all a blast from the Cold War.
KITFIELDBut, you know, I suspect if there was a legitimate referendum, they probably would decide to become part of Russia. And that's the problem. We always knew Crimea was an issue that you really didn't want to push to this point. Because, you know, it has the Black Sea Fleet there, the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It has a lot of retired Russian military living around there. It has a Russian speaking majority. And, you know, there's a question whether eastern Ukraine, how eastern Ukraine, I mean, they're pretty pro-Russian there, as well.
KITFIELDSo, you know, my lament about this is it's come to this. I mean, and we talked earlier, but, you know, we're saying that it's illegitimate for them to hold this referendum. Quite true, but the way that the government in Kiev is now got put in place, was pretty illegitimate as well. It was basically a mob green stalled this person after it forced a pro-Russian President Yanukovych out. So, there's nothing that looks particularly legitimate on either side of this. And that's one of the problems. We're trying to claim legitimacy. The Russians are doing the same thing, and we're right back into a Cold War standoff.
GJELTENSo Joanna Biddle, we have a semi-legitimate government in Crimea protesting a semi-legitimate government in Kiev, as James Kitfield says. Issues of legitimacy surround all these institutions in Ukraine. Where do things go from here?
BIDDLEWell, I think it is very difficult to say. At the moment, there seems to be a complete standoff with what's happening in Crimea. And I would say that the, perhaps the options that the United States and the Europeans are facing are pretty limited. If the referendum goes ahead on March 16th, as Susan says, we'll have to wait and see, but I believe there's something like 59 percent of the Crimeans are actually ethnic Russians, or Russian speakers. So, that would suggest that if it does go ahead, they could be popular vote to join the Russian Federation.
BIDDLEWhat that would look like, in practice, is hard to know. And I think we're going to -- we're in for a few weeks more of real kind of conflict and crisis.
GJELTENWell, Susan, so there is a referendum. There will be a referendum, let's say. And the United States says it's not legitimate. The European Union says it's not legitimate. How do you resolve something like that?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think boots on the ground often are decisive in a situation like this. And the reality is the Russians are now, in effect, manufacturing a political process that will give whatever legitimacy they are able to get out of this referendum. But the reality is they already control Crimea. They have effectively already annexed this territory, and the real question, and I think, increasingly, by the way, that is what I'm hearing from folks inside the US government.
GLASSERYou know, a sense of, more or less, very unhappy resignation, and that a lot of this diplomacy that you're seeing, a lot of the very stern words from President Obama, I think, are really directed actually at preventing this crisis from spreading further. And James mentioned eastern Ukraine. That, right now, is really kind of the firewall here. And I think that the Europeans, the Americans, what they're trying to do is to join hands with this extremely fragile, questionable new government in Kiev. And try to say to the Russians, listen, you may have seized Crimea and stolen a march upon us by doing this very quickly.
GLASSERIt was a very well executed operation. It did surprise the United States. There's no question about that. But they're trying to say to the Russians, hey Vladimir Putin, you know, don't carve up the rest of the country. If you make it over mainland Ukraine, that's when things are really gonna get serious. So, I think that's the context for the listeners about what's happening right now.
GJELTENWell James Kitfield, President Obama and President Putin had a long phone conversation yesterday. Is there -- what did they, what do we know of that conversation and are these two leaders leaving themselves any kind of out, or are they sort of digging in deeper and deeper that's going to make it all the more difficult to resolve?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, the very fact that they've had two hour long conversations in the past week suggest to me that they're trying to figure out if there's a way -- they don't hold hands going over the abyss here. So that's somewhat hopeful, but again, you know Obama came out of this and said, you know, here's what we would like. We would like you to sit the Russians to sit down with the government officials in Ukraine, find a diplomatic solution that protects Russian interests in Crimea, as well as, you know, basically, eastern Ukraine.
KITFIELDAnd basically, have a negotiated settlement here. Something like what we thought had negotiated right before the mob, you know -- we negotiated an agreement whereby Yanukovych stays in, but the Presidential elections were gonna be earlier. Clearly, he was gonna lose those. That would have been our preferred settlement, and I think that that's what we'd like to get back to, something that protects interests, that gives Russia a seat at the table, but does not carve up Ukraine.
KITFIELDNow, that's the preferred thing, and they said, you know, we'll put international observers or monitors in there to protect the Russian citizens if you think that's necessary. We'll, you know, make sure that your interest in having the Black Sea Fleet there are protected, et cetera. But, you know, I don't get the sense that Putin is yet ready to grasp that deal. So, that's the good scenario, if it comes out like that. The bad scenario is very much what Susan said. You know, I could easily see this being like a breakup of Czechoslovakia. I mean, you could see -- you know, eastern Ukraine and Crimea basically going with Russia.
KITFIELDAnd you could see the western Ukraine going with Europe. And, you know, then if it comes to that, you hope it can be a peaceful split.
GJELTENJo Biddle, what James Kitfield just laid out, as sort of what the US would like to see happen eventually, actually leaves out a little bit, one of the main actors here, which is this new Ukrainian government. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ukrainian leaders this week. To what extent is the United States now determined to work through this new Ukrainian government or ignore them, maybe even bypass them. And just deal directly with the Russians.
BIDDLENo, I think they're actually trying to get the Ukrainian government very much onboard. I think they want to support what they see as a cry for democracy in Ukraine. They see that the US position is that Yanukovych basically, even though he was legally or democratically elected, he has forfeited his right to rule, because he has basically filched lots of money from the Ukrainian reserves. They're now very cash strapped. They need more money. They're going to the IMF. They're talking about -- the Ukrainians want to see something like 35 billion dollars given to them, which is a huge sum of money.
BIDDLESo I think the United States administration is really, very much, trying to support this government in Kiev. They want to see the elections go ahead, as was planned in May. And we'll have to see if that would happen. And they're working very closely with Europeans, as well, to try and put into place ways of actually supporting and propping up the government in Kiev, whether it be through money -- the European Ministers met yesterday in Brussels. And they agreed to a 15 billion dollar package to support the Europeans.
BIDDLEThere's also ways that they could maybe to support Ukrainians, excuse me -- there's also ways that they can help Kiev, perhaps, cut its dependency on Russian gas by perhaps using their own supplies. So, there are ways, I think. The United States and the Europeans, I think, are working pretty much in lockstep on this, at the moment, to support a Kiev government.
GJELTENWell, Jo Biddle, you mentioned the idea of somehow trying to help the Ukrainians replace their dependence on Russian natural gas. The United States is in the position, now, of being a big natural gas exporter, or potentially. And that's gonna be an issue that we get back to, once we take a little bit of a break here. I'm with Susan Glasser from Politico Magazine, James Kitfield from the National Journal, and Jo Biddle, State Department Correspondent at AFP. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm today. This is the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup and my guests with whom I'm discussing the latest world news includes Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico magazine, James Kitfield, a contributing editor at National Journal, the Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest. Boy, you work at a lot of places.
KITFIELDI'm working hard, yeah.
GJELTENHe's also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, if that all weren't enough. And Joanna Biddle, State Department correspondent at AFP. All right. We're talking about -- right now we -- just before the break we were talking about Ukraine and what options the United States and Europe may have in helping Ukraine and dealing with the pressures coming from Russia.
GJELTENThere's a editorial in the New York Times this morning about using natural gas as a diplomatic tool. The Obama Administration should use natural gas exports as a component of a broader energy strategy. But the ideas in this particular case, to promote the use of natural gas exports to reduce the power that natural has given Russia in Europe in particular, Susan Glasser.
GLASSERWell, there's a chart that ran the other day that shows -- ranks the relative dependent of European countries on gas exports from Russia. And it's a pretty eye-popping chart because what it shows is that, you know, across a large swatch of eastern and central Europe, Russians have enormous economic sway, which they have pretty successfully converted into political sway over many of the countries of eastern and central Europe.
GLASSERAnd, I have to say, I think it really explains why you have not exactly seen German leadership on the question of how to help the Ukrainians as they're in this mess with their neighbor Russia. The Germans are among the most dependent on Russian gas. And Russians have been extremely, shall we say, liberal in their spreading around of economic largess in those countries to make sure that they maintain that advantage. So that's number one.
GLASSERGas supplies really -- and several times, by the way, in previous conflicts with Ukraine, Russia has actually taken the step of cutting off the gas flow in the middle of freezing cold Ukrainian winters. So Ukrainians are well aware that this is not just a carrot that Russia holds over them, but very much of a stick, number one.
GLASSERNumber two, we're talking about the economic package of aid that the Europeans will now have to step up and offer basically in lieu of the Russian aid package, which was -- remember, what started this whole crisis was in effect Putin outbid the European Union and offered a $15 billion aid package, exactly the amount. And it's no accident that that's exactly the amount that the Europeans in Brussels are now having to talk about, offering the Ukrainians in loan guarantees. Because that's what Putin offered to Yanukovych that made him turn away from signing the EU papers that would have made Ukraine even more firmly in the orbit of Europe and the west.
GLASSERSo that's what triggered this whole revolution that ultimately toppled Yanukovych. So I think there's a sort of striking parallelism. You know, a lot of people are saying, well, does that mean that Europe could have avoided this whole mess if they had just stepped up earlier and been more generous with the Ukrainians on the front. And now there's -- that's a very complicated and nuanced argument because it involves the IMF, it involves really two decades of failed economic policies and failed political governance in Ukraine. So it's not an easy answer but it is a real live debate right now.
GJELTENAnd the truth of the matter is that at this point $15 billion may not be enough. I mean, damage has been done in Ukraine already, James Kitfield.
KITFIELDYou know, it would be a very good thing if we could reduce the reliance of Europe on Russian gas. And it's agreed we have that capability with our new found wealth of natural gas. That would be a good thing. I'm not sure if the numbers actually add up. But, you know, you can see why a negotiated settlement is so critical here now because to the degree to which this started as the west and Russia outbidding for Ukraine. Who bids to get Ukraine? As long as that is the dynamic in play, the possibility of Ukraine being split apart is very, very high.
KITFIELDBecause Russia is not going to sit by and watch eastern Ukraine, the Crimea go to our -- because Europe happens to bid $15 billion. He has laid that red line. We saw it in Georgia. He's done it again. So the degree to which this becomes a bidding war between Europe and Russia for the -- for Ukraine, I think the chances of Ukraine being split apart are higher and higher. So it makes the point of, you know, I think it's admirable at this stage that the Europeans are stepping up. But again, the degree at which this becomes a bidding war for Ukraine the more likely that country splits up.
GLASSERWell, I mean, I guess I agree to a certain extent except I would -- I really do think it's important to note, like, Crimea is over -- Russia has taken Crimea. The country has already split apart. The question is whether there will be any further fissures. There's also -- rather than -- I think the bidding war already occurred in December. And I do think it's, in a way, what triggered the revolution. Now is a question of, can you consolidate this very shaky government in Ukraine?
GLASSERAnd so, you know, the money is no longer -- Putin's no longer offering that money. He will not do business with this Ukrainian government in Kiev, whereas, you know -- so in the past they were actually both going for Yanukovych's sympathies basically, if you will. But right now, there is an interesting political dynamic with the loss of Crimea. U.S. officials, perhaps desperate to find a silver lining in all this, have pointed out to me that the margin of error in the previous presidential election that threw the vote to President Yanukovych, the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, came from Crimea.
GLASSERIf Crimea is no longer a part of Ukraine, there is the potential for it to be a somewhat more politically united country with a more determined course set toward Europe.
GJELTENOkay. We need to move on because there are a lot of other things going on in the world. Joanna Biddle, this is your first time on the Friday News Roundup and welcome.
GJELTENAnd, you know, we sometimes do a little initiation on new people here by giving them a pop quiz on world developments. So there's another country with a leader who says his opponents are fascists, where there are big demonstrations against the government, where the leader blames the United States for fomenting the demonstrations, fomenting the protests and where Republicans are saying the United States, on the other hand, is not supporting the opposition as it should.
BIDDLEWell, of course you're talking about Venezuela.
GJELTENYes, I am.
BIDDLEYes. And yes, relations between the United States and Venezuela have been very difficult for a number of years, as we know, under Hugo Chavez. I mean, it hasn't really changed since his death last year -- a year ago exactly, and the coming to power of his protege Nicholas Maduro. There are now -- as you say, there's now been four weeks of unrest. They started around February the 4th. And we know now today the death toll went up to about 20 people dead.
BIDDLESo this is obviously a situation that isn't going away. It's -- yes, you're right, Maduro has indeed blamed it on the United States, saying that it's a typical example of, you know, a Machiavellian capitalist empire trying to stir up trouble in socialist countries and so on and so forth. But I think actually the root of the problem is more likely -- well is definitely the economic crisis that Venezuela is facing. But it was there under Chavez, but by his real kind of forced personality he managed to keep some of it under control.
BIDDLEBut you're talking about a country where there are widespread shortages as lack of things on the shelves. I mean, there are some reports that inflation is now 54 percent, there's -- I saw a figure, about a third of the population live under the poverty level. So it's a country that has really deep economic troubles. And what you're seeing is, you're seeing students out on the streets who are trying to protest for more freedoms but a democracy and an end to -- there's also rampant crime and end to the crime levels in Venezuela. Caracas is now one of the most dangerous cities in South America.
BIDDLESo I think I'm not -- I know that there are some efforts to try and immediate an end to this crisis. There was some suggestion -- Secretary Kerry met last week with his Colombia counterpart. They're talking about some kind of mediation by a third country. Obviously that would not be the United States given that the relationship between the United States and Venezuela is so difficult. We'll have to see what comes out of it I think. There's an OAS meeting planned. Sometimes -- well, maybe something will come from that. I don't know where -- I'm not exactly sure where it goes from here.
GJELTENWell, Susan Glasser, so there -- despite all these parallels between the situation in Venezuela and the situation in Ukraine, and the situation in Venezuela has gotten far less attention in this country, we've been really transfixed by Ukraine, to what extent does this situation -- as Jo Biddle just laid out, does this situation raise real dangers for -- in this hemisphere? And to what extent is the United States paying really close attention to what's going on there?
GLASSERWell certainly, you know, there's no question that we need to pay close attention to Venezuela. You know, just on Ukraine, why is there a different -- three's not a somewhat hostile nuclear power on their border looking to jump inside the protests and take advantage of it. So, you know, there is a different geopolitical context, no question.
GLASSERI think this unraveling of Chavismo has been very predictable for quite some time. So on the one hand it's somewhat less of a surprise perhaps than the protests that escalated so quickly into a revolution in Ukraine. Basically, Chavez was an extremely dynamic, charismatic leader. He had managed to rally Venezuela around the notion of what he called the Bolivarian Revolution.
GLASSERHis successor is really a pale imitation of Chavez. He just doesn't have the personal authority and charisma to continue to carry out what have clearly been so eloquently described as failed economic policies. And so I think that's really what's happening now is the unraveling as the leader is gone and really not been replaced by a leader of equivalent, you know, sort of stature and ability to hold it together.
GJELTENWhile, James Kitfield, Francisco (sic) Maduro was elected, but by a very narrow margin. So not only does he not have the charismatic presence and strength and power that Hugo Chavez has, he doesn't exactly have a strong political mandate, editorial mandate as well.
KITFIELDNo. And what's fascinating about this is it's happened on the one-year anniversary of Chavez's death. And I like Susan's construct of the unraveling of Chavismo because this is what this is. It was unsustainable even under Chavez probably at some point. But clearly it's unsustainable under this guy. It's a status economy that's, you know, as she says, has adopted failed economic policies.
KITFIELDBut the problem is, I mean, talk about a third person mediator, I mean, he basically cut -- Maduro cut relations with Panama for just suggesting that the OAS, the Organization of American States, might look -- you know, act as a mediator or look into the crisis in Venezuela. So he realizes that any outside mediator is probably not going to come down on his side on this. Nineteen people have been killed in these protests already. So Venezuela is in a tight spot but it's very hard to see, over the long term, how he keeps this sort of Bolivarian Revolution going.
GJELTENAnd Jo, he has, like Hugo Chavez, wasted no opportunity to blame the United States for his problems. And I'm wondering to what extent that really sort of hamstrings the United States in terms of being proactive in trying to deal with this. I mean, we did have the House of Representatives this week approve a resolution lambasting Maduro's forces. And apparently another resolution is coming in the Senate. But these are just resolutions. They don't really mean much, do they?
BIDDLENo, no. I think the United States is, as you say, pretty hamstrung in this situation. They haven't got ambassadors. They haven't had an ambassador since 2010. There was an attempt earlier last year about June for when Secretary Kerry met with the Venezuelan foreign minister on the sidelines of an OAS meeting.
BIDDLESo there was an attempt to try and broker some kind of friendship. But at the moment -- whereas I think the United States would like to move forward on this, I think at the moment it's just not coming from Venezuela. And I don't really think there's much of a role they can play certainly publically. Whether anything behind the scenes with the other allies in South America, whether there's something they can do there, that remains to be seen I think.
GJELTENWell, the whole geopolitical situation in South America has been changing with new -- I mean, Venezuela under Chavez was dispensing money sort of foreign wide, oil money. That's now drying up. We see Brazil playing a much more leadership role independently of the United States. So I guess it's hard to say exactly who's going to sort of emerge as the real new geopolitical leader in that hemisphere.
GJELTENThis is the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And I will remind our listeners our phone number is 1-800-433-8850, our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. In a few minutes we're going to get to the calls but let's talk about Syria for now. A country that actually a few months ago looked a little bit more -- where there's some more promising developments. And there appeared today we had an agreement to get rid of chemical weapons there. We had a parent peace process underway.
GJELTENSusan Glasser, right now on any of these fronts, the situation does not look very good.
GLASSERWell, I guess, you know, all I would say was that I'm not sure there ever was, you know, any real hope in the Geneva Peace talks. Or, you know, the chemical weapons agreement, the thing that's happened, you know, right now is surprise, surprise deadlines have come and gone. And the arms have not yet been shipped out of Syria as was agreed.
GLASSERRemember the context in which we're also having this conversation, which is to say who is Syria's largest and more or less only friend on the world stage? Of course it's Russia and Vladimir Putin who have basically been personally guaranteeing, in effect, the continuance of the Assad regime, not only by continuing to supply it with arms and money, but also by acting in effect as their proxy on the international stage.
GLASSERSo it was with not a little bit of, you know, both predictability and perhaps irony that you saw Syrian leader Assad this week more or less sending good wishes to Vladimir Putin on his acquisition of the Crimean peninsula.
GJELTENHe couldn't have done any less, could...
GLASSERWell, I think he owes him a little bit more than a thank you card. But, you know, the tragedy in Syria unfolds unfortunately with a sort of terrible grim predictability. And the war has actually gotten bloodier and more deadly in the past year, not less so. The prospects for peace talks, not only did they fail in Geneva with then convened in the hopes of actually getting the rebels to speak with -- directly with the Assad government. But what it really underscored was that there are no real reasonable partners who could even make a peace deal, were they so inclined.
GJELTENJames Kitfield, the United Nations has been pretty involved, both on the chemical weapon side and on the human rights side as well in Syria. A UN panel this week had some pretty strong words. What did they say?
KITFIELDThey said -- made very, very clear what we already know, which is that the Assad regime has systematically used bombardment of civilians, siege and starvation tactics, torture, murder, rape. This is like easily the worst regime we've seen come down the pike since North Korea, willing to slaughter people -- hundreds of -- more than 100,000 already dead. And, you know, it's clarified that the UN has been impotent to do anything about it because, as Susan said, Russia is the benefactor of the Assad regime.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, coupled with Ukraine, in which this is why I keep going back to this idea that sort of there is a tint or a whiff of the Cold War blowing back in. Because we have seen that Russia, for its realist interest, is willing to continence all of the things the UN report puts up with, dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods, slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately and doing it for years. And this is something Russia's fine with.
KITFIELDAnd we need to -- you know, if Russia's going to act like this 19th century power that Secretary Kerry keeps saying that, you know, the time has passed by, then we're going to have to start rethinking how we deal with Russia. The reset clearly is by the wayside but we've seen Russia's real colors in Syria. And we're seeing them now in Ukraine. And it's going to require a very serious recalibration of how we view them. You know, I hate to go back to the election but maybe Romney was right. Maybe they are our single adversary in the world right now.
GJELTENWell, one of the interesting things about the UN panel is that it actually criticized the Security Council itself for not having done more. Okay. We're going to take a short break now. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm this week. And this is the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. My guests are Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico magazine, James Kitfield, a contributing editor at the National Journal and a number of other places and Jo Biddle, she's the State Department correspondent for AFP. I want to read an email now from Jose in Ann Arbor, Mich., who raises an interesting and important point that we haven't discussed.
GJELTENJose writes, I haven't heard much about China in relation to Ukraine. Given it's rising prominence in international affairs, what's been China's reaction to events in Ukraine? How might it view Russia's incursion into the Ukraine? How might it view any annexation of Crimea, given its own position on Taiwan? Jo.
BIDDLEWell, of course, China has a very uncomfortable position, I think, in the events that are unfolding in the Ukraine. On the one hand, it wants to solidify its ties with Russia and its been hoping to get Russian support on a number of -- and usually has Russian support on a number of issues. They stand together often. And I did see somewhere earlier this week that apparently there was a call between the Russian and Chinese presidents, and the Russian News Agency was saying that the Chinese supported them on what was happening in Ukraine.
BIDDLEBut, on the other hand, China also has a very strong policy of non-interference in territories. This goes back, of course, to their own issues with Tibet and Xinjiang, the semi-autonomous regions, that they really don't want any interference, despite, you know, there's been a lot of concern about repression of the people there and human rights abuses. So I think, on this issue, they're going to be in a very difficult position as to exactly what to do. On the one hand, they want to stay with their natural ally, Russia.
BIDDLEBut, on the other hand, I don't know that they'd necessarily want to be seen to be giving their support to an annexation, if that what it comes down to, of part of a sovereign territory.
GJELTENSusan Glasser, just before the break, James Kitfield made the interesting point that maybe Mitt Romney was right when he said Russia was our number one geopolitical foe. And, of course, he got ridiculed for that. But, at this moment, what does the Obama administration's pivot toward Asia look like? You know, is it reasonable to raise questions about whether that was premature?
GLASSERWell, I think it's reasonable to raise questions about whether that ever existed, you know, as opposed to whether it was premature or not. I think, you know, that the critique of it has always been that it was much more in the nature of branding and sloganeering than anything. And I say this as, you know, I was editor of foreign policy when actually Hilary Clinton announced the pivot to Asia in an article in our magazine, followed up by President Obama's speech.
GLASSERYou know, and at the time, I think it did reflect a genuine intention, an analytical understanding of the world that, you know, the balance of economic power and energy had moved pretty decisively over the last decade, East. China is in the midst of one of the most remarkable transformations and lifting out of poverty of, you know, in effect a billion people over the last decade.
GLASSERSo, you know, it wasn't analytically wrong or incorrect to say that the United States, as a Pacific as well as an Atlantic power, needs to spend much more strategic time and attention thinking both about the future of its military presence and act as a guarantor of the stability in an Asia, with a China that's no longer going to be quite as content to have the United States play such an outsized role in the Pacific region. So that wasn't wrong. It just wasn't yet translated into a real policy and position.
GLASSERAnd then, of course, you have now, with Secretary of State in John Kerry, whose interests couldn't be more decidedly back on the other side of the pond. He is Middle East focused. And, you know, I think that's been pretty clear.
GJELTENAnd, as a matter of fact, he's in Jordan today. And you're absolutely right, Susan, the Middle East has been a number one focus for John Kerry. This week, James Kitfield, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House meeting with the president. And the president also gave an interview in which he laid out pretty clearly his views of what needs to happen with respect to the Israeli and the Palestinian peace process. Fill us in on where things stand.
KITFIELDWell, you know, we announced last year that there was going to be a timeline. For the next year, we expected them to be talking together and at the end of that year's deadline, you know, wanted to see some sort of framework for a peace deal. The talks have not gone that well, not surprisingly. They never do. Now that we're approaching that deadline, President Obama's been very explicit. We're going to offer an American framework -- quote, unquote, "framework," -- which is something that most presidents have resisted because it's going to point to some places where we disagree with both sides.
KITFIELDBut particularly Israel, being a very close ally, it's going to be very uncomfortable. And for that reason, you know, Netanyahu doesn't like the idea of America putting down a blueprint, because it puts him in a -- he'd much rather sort of leave all that ambiguous about what the final, you know, negotiated settlement looks like. So Obama's basically -- he's clarifying the issue in a way that makes Israel uncomfortable.
KITFIELDAnd he's said, you know, if Mr. -- he gave us an interview with Bloomberg View, before -- even before Netanyahu arrived in Washington -- and said, you know, if Mr. Netanyahu, you know, the timeline for reaching a peace deal is closing quickly. And if Mr. Netanyahu has another proposal or another way out of this predicament, where Israel, if it keeps the occupied territories, is going to be -- Jews will be a minority in that greater Israel sometime in the next decade or two.
KITFIELDAnd if he has another way to get out of that bind, let me know. But otherwise, we need to find a peace deal. And that, apparently, upset Mr. Netanyahu, but they have a very, sort of frosty relationship anyway. And, you know, I think that -- I commend the administration for bringing this to a head, because there is a closing window. Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian leader...
GJELTENHe'll be here in, like, 10 days.
KITFIELD...he'll be here in, like, 10 days. And there's a pretty wide understanding that he's the most moderate Palestinian leader we've ever dealt with. And he's not going to be able to hang on forever as this is negotiated.
GJELTENWell, Joanna Biddle, Benjamin Netanyahu, being in Washington, addressed the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, AIPAC, this week. Was there anything new in what he said there?
BIDDLEWell, I think a lot of it was repetition of stuff that we've seen before. He accused the Palestinians of not being a proper partner for peace. He also called on them to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel, as he called it, with Palestinian refugees. Again, that's something he sort of said, perhaps in not such harsh terms, in the past. It provoked a very bitter reaction, straightaway, from the Palestinians, who basically accused Netanyahu of nailing the coffin for the peace talks.
BIDDLEBut, I mean, these kind of vitriolic positions in public, we've seen time and time again. He did -- there was one thing that struck me, was he also talked about, we can do things together on one of the other core issues, which is water, water sharing. Israel has most of the ability to tap into the underground water supplies. This leaves the Palestinians in a very difficult situation. So perhaps there was one little window of opportunity. But, to a certain extent, I think we should caution against what we see in public, of the public positions, and what might be happening in the private diplomacy.
BIDDLEIt's true that these talks have gone on for nine months. Initially, when they were launched and the deadline was supposed to be April 29, there was supposed to be a full peace treaty by April 29. That was what Kerry committed himself to and the State Department, with the leaders by his side -- with the negotiators by his side. That's clearly not going to happen. And so now they're settling on this framework agreement, which is supposed to set out the broad guidelines to get to govern the talks, as they go forward, towards what Martin Indyk, who's one of the peace negotiators, said would be the vision of peace over the hill.
BIDDLESo I caution against the fact, having sat in various hotel rooms for millions of hours over the last nine months, that these talks are not going anywhere. The fact is, we simply actually don't know, because most of the parties have stuck to one important thing, which was they're not revealing details of what's going on. So I don't know. I suspect, maybe I'm too much of an optimist, I suspect that by the end of April, they may indeed get this framework. What that then leads to, heaven only knows. That's anybody's guess.
GJELTENWell, we've been down this road before. And it's, I think, one lesson of all these many, many years is that you just can't predict and you certainly can't get too optimistic, because there's not much reason for that. John is on the line from Indianapolis. I want to bring listeners into this conversation now. Hello, John. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNYeah, hi. Thanks a lot for taking my call.
JOHNI've got two questions, if I may. The first one is regarding Ukraine. I don't understand what interest we have over there. And it seems to me, disconcerting that the United States is getting involved in other people's democratic issues, such as what happened with Egypt, when their democratically elected president was overthrown. We supported that overthrow. Now, it seems, we're basically doing the same. And then the second issue is in regards to the comments about Syria, made moments ago.
JOHNThe gentleman on your panel said, you know, look at the atrocities being committed against the Syrian people by Assad. But I don't understand why there's no review made of the atrocities made in Israel against the Palestinian people -- the people who had that land for 2,000 years. And there's no concern about the recent raiding of a Palestinian university and the daily bombings and shootings and killings by the IDF of Palestinians who are protesting peacefully. I'll listen to the...
GJELTENWell, I'm not sure where -- I don't -- we are not yet at the point where the Israelis are using barrel bombs and indiscriminately killing women and children in the Palestinian territories, for all the abuses that may have happened there. So I'm not -- it may be a bit of a stretch to draw comparisons there. But, Susan Glasser, what about this -- especially what about John's first point? Do we really have any vital interests at stake in Ukraine? Or should we sort of be keeping a lower profile there?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think the caller does point out really something that has been at the heart of the political debate that has erupted here in Washington over the events of the last week in Europe and Russia, which is to say, A, what is the U.S. national interest in a far-off country like Ukraine, and then, B, if we decide that there is a national interest, what tools are in our toolkit to do anything whatsoever about it. And I think, on the latter point, there actually is a fair amount of consensus across the political spectrum that those are very limited options.
GLASSERYou don't hear anyone, Republican or Democrat, calling, for example, for Obama to threaten any kind of military action. That was also the case even during the much more internationally assertive Bush administration, when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. When President Bush polled his advisors privately, not a single one of them favored even the threat of military action. So that's number one. We recognize that while we may have a national interest in something that might sound amorphous to the caller such as the international order.
GLASSERThis, after all, is the first time potentially in Europe since World War II that another country has annexed part of another country in anything akin to anything like this. So, you know, it's a major disruption in the peaceful international order in Europe. And that's something that obviously the United States has an enormous national interest in. The European Union is the United States' not only largest trading partner, this is our biggest ally. It has been more or less not only free and stable since the end of World War II, but it has expanded dramatically into Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in ways that have benefitted the world.
GLASSERThe most interesting graph that I saw this week is a graph that shows where Poland and Ukraine started out, at the fall of the -- the end of the Cold War. You know what? They were in the exact same place. They had the same GDP. They had the same standard of living. Guess what that looks like right now? It looks like a line straight up for Poland.
GLASSERAnd it looks like a line more or less, it's actually gone down in some respects for Ukraine. And I think that tells the story here of why we do care about Ukraine.
GJELTENWell, James Kitfield, you made the point before that Mitt Romney may have been right. Right now, it does appear that Russia is the United States' main geopolitical foe. And you could certainly make the argument that the United States wants to put some constraints on Vladimir Putin right now and not give him the idea that he can sort of do whatever he wants.
KITFIELDThere's no question. I mean, you talk about the pivot to Asia, I mean, what if -- and to Susan's point about what this says to the world order, you know, what if China gets the -- basically the idea that, you know, possession is nine-tenths of the law? I'm going to put Chinese troops on these disputed islands. You know, then we're going to end up with a war between China and Japan. So, and I would just also make the point that we have an interest, you know, the great win in the Cold War was, Eastern Europe was freed. The boot of tyranny was removed from a billion people, probably, in Eastern Europe.
KITFIELDWe'd like to see that expanded to Ukraine. But, you know, this was the problem, Russia's interest in Ukraine is stronger than ours. And that's the problem we saw in Georgia. And it's the problem we're seeing again in Ukraine. The national interests don't align. We would like to see it. Russia considers it an existential issue to them.
GJELTENLet's go now to Jose, who's on the line from Fort Lauderdale. Hello, Jose. Thanks for calling.
JOSEYeah, thank you, Mr. Gjelten. Thank you for taking my call. Regarding Venezuela and Dictator Maduro, I just wanted to point out the fact that both him and Hugo Chavez, they had a rig there, the past few presidential elections, with rigged machines. And this is well known to all Venezuelans. And also, he has Cubans infiltrated in the Venezuela now, I mean, killing innocent Venezuelan people. Now, this is all under the direction of the Castro brothers from Cuba. And what else can we expect from dictators like this?
JOSESo my comment actually is, I cannot believe that the international community hasn't paid that much attention to the situation in Venezuela. Why is it that President Obama or the other presidents have denounced Maduro for what he is -- a ruthless dictator, killing innocent people...
JOSE...and just denouncing him.
GJELTENOkay, Jose. Thanks for that call. And, as a matter of fact, I did notice, in fact Tweeted, a picture this week of cargo -- or troop-carrier planes arriving in Caracas, full of Cuban soldiers being sent in, clearly as reinforcements to the Venezuelan security forces, to help them deal with the protests. So, Jo Biddle, this is -- this does involve other governments besides just Venezuela.
BIDDLEWell, no, clearly this is really not a welcome development that's happening right on America's almost doorstep, if you like. But I think it goes back -- the caller's question goes back to Susan's answer earlier, that unfortunately Venezuela just doesn't have the geopolitical significance that Ukraine does in a situation like this. And so, until things get much worse, I mean, we've seen 19, 20 dead -- I'm not sure really that there's going to be an awful lot of input from the vast international community. And this is going to be perhaps more seen as something that the South American nations need to try and resolve among themselves.
GJELTENJames Kitfield, we can't wind up this hour without talking about the situation in Afghanistan and ongoing and maddening negotiations between Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and the United States over the future of U.S. troops there. He has just been refusing to sign this bilateral security agreement, which would allow U.S. troops to continue -- or some small portion of U.S. troops to continue there. And this week, Hamid Karzai gave a very emotional interview to the Washington Post, in which he explained why he's so angry at the United States. What did he say?
KITFIELDWell, he said basically that these strikes that have killed Afghanistan civilians have just been, you know, horrifying for him personally, horrifying for the country. And sort of, his argument is that it has turned the country sort of against the U.S. presence there. He also argued that we should have been much more aggressive in going after Taliban insurgents who are in sanctuaries in Pakistan, forgetting the fact that we actually, you know, run drone strikes there on a pretty frequent basis. And we don't want to invade Pakistan.
KITFIELDSo, but, you know, he is not going to sign this agreement. There's elections coming up. And, at the end of those elections, we're going to try to reach a deal sometime in the summer with his successor and hopefully move on.
GJELTENJames Kitfield is a contributing editor at a number of places. He's also a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress. I've also been joined by Joanna Biddle from AFP and Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico magazine. This has been the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. I'd like to thank our listeners, thank our guests and thank you all for listening. I'm Tom Gjelten.
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