Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
A surface-to-air missile shot down a passenger plane over Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukraine and Russia traded blame, but it remained unclear who was responsible. Israel launched a ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip after a temporary cease-fire. Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers will hit a deadline on Sunday, but talks seemed likely to be extended. The U.S. announced new sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. Russia’s President Putin warned of consequences. And in Syria, President Assad was sworn in for a third term. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent, BBC; author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com. His new novel is "The Director."
- Moises Naim senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and chief international columnist, El Pais; author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be," now available in paperback.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A surface to air missile shot down a passenger airliner over Ukraine. Israel launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. And the US announced sanctions against Russia's energy and defense sectors. Here for the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, Kim Ghattas of the BBC and David Ignatius of the Washington Post. You are always welcome to join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu. org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to see you all.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MS. KIM GHATTASGood morning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
REHMGood to see you, indeed. All right, David Ignatius, this Malaysian airliner that was downed in Ukraine yesterday was struck by a missile. We know that the President is going to speak about that shortly. What's the latest?
IGNATIUSThe latest, in terms of description of what the US believes happened, came just before we went on the air, when Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said on the record that the Malaysia Flight 17 had been likely downed by an SA-11 missile, operated from a separatist held location in eastern Ukraine. Earlier, there had been background comments on the Washington Post website and elsewhere quoting intelligence officials making a preliminary assessment to this effect.
IGNATIUSWe'll hear more from the President soon after our broadcast. But clearly, US intelligence has gathered enough evidence that they feel fairly comfortable making this claim. Remember that we're just past an initial period in which there were conflicting reports. The Ukrainian separatists, backed and armed by Russia, were saying initially, Thursday afternoon, that they had not done this. This wasn't their operation, blaming the Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian government was very quick. Their new President, Petro Poroshenko, to say this was an act of terrorism.
IGNATIUSWe had nothing to do with it. So now, we're getting hard evidence. And I think the point, for your listeners, is that the position of Russian President Vladamir Putin, who has been playing a double game now for months in Ukraine. Talking about peace and negotiated settlement, even as he continues to arm these very reckless separatists in the east. His position is now very, very difficult.
REHMKim, do we know exactly where that surface to air missile would have come from?
GHATTASWell, there are different theories. I mean, the Ukrainians, the Russians both have access to those long range surface to air missiles. The Ukrainians are saying there's no way that we did it. It's unclear whether separatists definitely have those very long range missiles that could reach a plane at the altitude of 30,000 feet, but remember that this is happening in the context of the United States accusing Russia of supplying the separatists with more and more sophisticated weaponry.
GHATTASAnd just over the last few weeks, the separatists did down two Ukrainian planes, one jet and one military cargo plane. Now, there was an interest -- the Ukrainians also put forward a conversation they say they intercepted between separatists and Russian intelligence officials where it appears as though the separatists are saying we've downed a military plane, and then in a following conversation, it dawns on them that actually, they have downed a civilian plane. So, there is still a lot that needs to be unpacked, but as David points out, this is a game changer. This is a determining moment for Vladamir Putin, the President of Russia.
GHATTASWill he deny any responsibility? Will he push this away from him and say, this was the Ukrainians, or this is Ukraine's responsibility because it is their territory. Or will he have a moment of sanity where he will suddenly realize that his backing of the separatists in Ukraine is coming at too high a cost for him.
REHMAnd Moises, meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about who has the black boxes. Do we really know, because they would provide, really, a key in this investigation.
NAIMAnd it should not be surprising to us that they are now missing. Initially, there were reports that they were in the hands of Russian separatists, that in fact controlled the territory where the plane eventually fell. But now, the claim is that they are not to be found. It is not clear who has them and where. Hopefully, the full investigation that is being now called at the UN Security Council, an international investigation has been asked to be launched and there are observers on the ground and hopefully we will know where these black boxes, these recorders, are.
REHMAre you all saying that this was a terrible and tragic mistake on someone's part, targeting a private passenger plane, or was it done deliberately? Kim?
GHATTASEither one is possible, I would say at this point. And it really depends on where you're standing. There's a lot of chatter on Twitter, for example, by Russian speakers, people in Russia, saying that this was deliberately done by the Ukraine and the US to start World War 3. These narratives take on their own life on social media, but there is little doubt, at this point, in Washington, clearly, from statements made by Samantha Power, that this could not have been done by anyone else but the rebels. And could not have been done without Russian military backing. That's the line that we're getting from American officials.
IGNATIUSYes, the key over the next hours and days will be to establish a factual record that is reliable and trustworthy. There are crazy claims about any subject on Earth that appear on Twitter and the internet. But the key for the US will be to come up with systematic, credible, coherent information joined in that effort by other countries that are part of the investigation. Many countries had nationals who were on board this plane and they have a deep interest in seeing that the record is formed. I'm reminded of what happened after a similar tragedy in 1983.
IGNATIUSWhen the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines civilian airliner over the Sakhalin Islands, after it had passed over the Kamchatka Peninsula. Both of those were military testing areas for the Soviet Union and very sensitive. The plane had veered off course. The Russians initially claimed that they hadn't done anything of the sort. Then, when cockpit recordings from the fighter jets that had shot the plane down began to surface, the Russians claimed it was a provocation, that the Korean plane was really on a spy mission.
IGNATIUSOver time, those narratives just fell apart. And I've always thought that, in that case, that disaster created space in which Russia began to pull back and look at the confrontation it had with the United States and the West, and then we can mark from 1983 to five years later, the Cold War was beginning to end. I'm not saying that's gonna happen here, but if Putin looks at the mess that he has created and says, I need to pull back from the brink that I've walked up to, then something good could happen.
REHMBut who is in charge of the investigation?
NAIMWell, at this point, there are several investigations going on. Of course, the Ukrainians, the Malaysians have all -- the Malaysian government has called and launched an investigation. But I think the important one is going to come after the resolution, if there is one, of the Security Council that is meeting as we speak today. And we have talked the position of the United States and the international community and so on, but Putin also has had very clear statements on this after asking, you know, for observing a moment of silence with his cabinet for this tragedy.
NAIMThen, he said certainly the state, over whose territory this happened, bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy. This tragedy would not have happened if there was peace in this land. And he has been, as David has mentioned, he has been portraying himself as, Putin has, as a peacemaker, as the one that is trying to bring some sanity to this craziness. But at the same time, he's the one sending arms and weapons and mercenaries and money to eastern Ukraine. And amassing significant equipment, material, war material in the border.
NAIMSo, you know, as David said, he's playing a double game that now is going to be very hard to continue and to sustain.
GHATTASPicking up on both points by Moises and David, you know, yesterday we heard Putin say, you know, responsibility goes to the country over which this plane was downed, and that's Ukraine. Today, he has a slightly different tune, perhaps as he realizes the full facts. Today he said, for example, we're calling on all sides to lay down their arms and engage in talks, going to David's point about is this a moment where, as I said earlier, he has a moment of sanity.
GHATTASAnd since this has gone too far. The problem is when you start feeding rebel groups, separatist groups, you give them arms, at some point, you may not be in full control of their actions.
REHMShould the plane have been flying in that area in the first place, David?
IGNATIUSWell, with the perfect advantage of hindsight, of course not. But the authorities, the International Aviation Authorities, whose responsibility it is to say yes or no had not said no.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. Kim Ghattas of the BBC. Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. One question I wanted to ask about the downing of this Malaysian plane. Do we know yet whether any Americans were aboard? I have a whole list of people from the Netherlands. We know many were going to an AIDS conference, Indonesia 12 people, Australia 27, Malaysia 43 including 15 crew members. Do we know yet? We don't know yet.
GHATTASAt the moment it doesn't appear as though there are any Americans on the plane. Perhaps there were dual nationals but at this moment there are only four people on the plane whose nationalities have not been determined.
REHMAll right. And, you know, the downing of this plane came one day after the U.S. had announced new sanctions against sectors of the Russian government, Moises.
NAIMAnd those sanctions were triggered by the conviction of the United States based on intelligence reports that the Russians were continuing to supply the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, the pro-Russian rebels with all kinds of weaponry and were fueling the conflict in fact. The sanctions are very sophisticated. They are highly targeted. They are financial. They strike at some of the largest companies and banks in Russia. They also target some of very important, very influential Russian officials and members of the establishment.
NAIMAnd they will create significant problems for the Russian economy.
REHMBut what's the goal here, Kim, by these sanctions?
GHATTASThe goal is to make Vladimir Putin feel the pain of his actions in Ukraine. It's to make the economy suffer so that people in Russia start to ask questions about whether Mr. Putin's policies are the right ones. It makes it very difficult for companies like Gazprombank, the financial arm of the gas company and other companies that were targeted to access financial markets.
GHATTASThe question to be asked now is, in the light of what happened with the Malaysian plane and the fact that this happened, you know, in Europe and that, you know, half the plane was full of Dutch citizens, this is a national tragedy for the Netherlands. The question now is, is this going to push the Europeans to be tougher on Russia with their own sanctions? Because the U.S. has been leading the way when it comes to sanctions against Russia, and the EU has been a lot more tepid, let's say.
REHMWhat do you think, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think Kim puts the question precisely right. After this nightmarish incident over Eastern Ukraine, European governments are going to have to reexamine their cautious, I would say, tepid response to the U.S. call for tough sectoral sanctions that hit the financial and energy sectors in Russia. As they do that they're going to have to think about Russia's ability to retaliate principally through use of the energy weapon.
IGNATIUSI did some research for a column that appears this morning and I learned a few things that might be of interest. First, about a third of all of the natural gas that's used in Europe this winter, assuming it's a normally cold winter, will come from Russia. Half of the gas that Russia supplies transits Ukraine. Russia might well choose to stop transporting gas through Ukraine. Ukraine might, for that matter, choose not to carry it. So half of the gas on which Europe depends has to be rerouted.
IGNATIUSI talked with leading European energy company Total this week. And Total said, yes, we think by rerouting pipelines, by tapping storage reservoirs, by turning everywhere we can that we could make up for the transport shortage assuming that everybody keeps talking to Gazprom, the Russian company which runs the pipeline. So there's no way you're going to be able to make up the shortfall even on the best assumptions unless you talk to the Russians.
IGNATIUSSecond, if the Russians decided to retaliate by cutting off those energy shipments, just said, okay you're sanctioning us, you get no gas this winter. I am told both by Total and by U.S. officials from two agencies that there is no way that Europe could make up the shortfall of gas. That's one-third of the energy needed to keep Europeans warm. So if you wonder why the Europeans are being so careful, seemingly so gutless, the reason is they have a big problem. And we're not able to solve it for them this winter.
NAIMThat's a very accurate analysis and there's no doubt that energy dependence -- the European energy dependence on Russian gas is critical. But as critical is Russia's need to export that gas. The economy -- the Russian economy is very weak. It has been weakened as a result of the sanction. The ruble has devaluated in recent days as a result of everything that's going on.
NAIMSo, of course -- and the Russians are talking quite -- saying quite aggressive things about they're going to retaliate against these sanctions. Dmitry Medvedev has said that these sanctions from the United States are evil and that the retaliation should -- will be part of the answer. But it's going to be very hard for a very weak economy. And remember, more and more Russia depends on energy exports. More and more the Russian economy has become a better state meaning a nation that depends almost exclusively, if not -- or very largely on exports of gas. So it's easier to say that we're going to just shut down all of our exports of gas to Europe. Yeah, it sounds good but it's going to hurt the Russians too.
REHMAll right. But how much is it going to hurt the Russians? How much is it going to hurt the EU? And there's the rub. Who gets hurt more, Kim?
GHATTASWell, at the moment Europe is hurting because of this tragedy. And we heard even Hilary Clinton chime in yesterday on television in an interview saying, you know, the Europeans need to push back against Putin. This is a moment that is a game changer. This is a moment where, you know, the EU needs to lead in the diplomacy towards Russia.
GHATTASNow, as we were discussing a bit earlier on, there is also a very careful line to walk because this could also be a moment where, as we said, Putin could think, you know, this has perhaps gone too far. So there is maybe a small diplomatic opening. And we'll have to see what President Obama decides to do when he speaks in just a few minutes, whether he's going to announce further tough action or whether he's also going to seize this as a moment where everybody needs to take a step back and think very carefully about the slippery slope ahead of us.
REHMAll right. And we had a caller on the line, Ed from Arlington, Texas who commented that he seriously disagrees that the plane had any business being in that airspace. It was failure on the part of aviation authorities. We should have no-fly areas clearly marked. These countries are basically at war," Moises.
NAIMThat plane was flying over what is known as airway L980 which is sort of a highway in the sky that all flights from Europe use to reach the mega cities of Asia, the big countries in Asia. It's a very, very heavily transited airway. The plane was flying at 33,000 feet. And there were others. There were (word?) Airlines flights also. So there was -- this was not the only airliner that was flying over that region at the moment.
GHATTASIn this conversation that was intercepted allegedly between the separatists and the intelligence officials -- Russian intelligence official, you hear at one point one of the rebels saying, you know, what was this plane doing flying over Ukraine anyway? There is a war going on here. And then he goes on to speculate that, you know, if there were civilians on there but this plane was flying over Ukraine then there must have been spies on that plane and they deserved what they got, which is such an awful reaction to the death of so many people.
GHATTASBut Malaysian Airline and civil aviation authorities will face questions. Even though this was the highway for airplanes, they will face questions about whether they were too lax in changing, you know, routes for planes. For example, a lot of planes don't fly over Syria even more even though, as far as we know today, rebels there don't have what it take to down a civilian airplane.
IGNATIUSThere will be obviously investigation within the airline second guessing. The simple fact is that the Malaysian Airline and other airlines that are flying planes over this same route did not imagine that the rebels down below on the ground could be so reckless as to aim powerful antiaircraft missiles that could reach to 33,000' without establishing what their targets were. They just didn't -- it didn't occur to them.
IGNATIUSWell, it'll occur to them now and in hindsight maybe they should've asked that question. This is a warzone. After two planes were shot down this week, somebody should've said, wait a minute, you know, this is getting out of control. But I think that's really the point is that this has gotten out of control.
IGNATIUSThe whole world can see it, Vladimir Putin can see it.
IGNATIUSAnd I think that's -- you know, it's a deterrent for everybody but I suspect for Putin to...
REHMAll right. So if it is found that and proven that separatist rebels or the Russian Army did shoot down this plane, what action might we see from the international community, David?
IGNATIUSWell, let's start with the simplest. We would see legal action on behalf of the victims in international courts, and they'd be powerful. When the U.S. Navy shot down an Iran airbus in 1988 over the Persian Gulf, an accident but they shot down a civilian airliner, they had to pay compensation that totaled many hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of the roughly 290 victims onboard the flight. So you'll see legal action and you'll have an international legal forum where the detailed evidence will be presented.
IGNATIUSI think judging from the response of the Australian prime minister -- because there were many Australian nationals on the flight -- who was absolutely furious with Putin's first comments calling them deeply, deeply upsetting, you'll see international pressure from Asia where these people were heading, demanding action. I think you may even see China, which has been very uncomfortable with Putin's actions in Ukraine, has in one instance abstained from a key security council, you may see China leaning a little bit more toward the idea of deescalating this conflict.
REHMWhat were Putin's first words?
IGNATIUSPutin's first words -- well, I don't know the exact first words but they -- but, I mean, the first message was, this is the fault of Ukraine. This is -- you know, this is the fault of them making a war against the rebels in the east, which was crazy.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. Let's turn to Israel and the launching of the ground offensive. Why now, Moises?
NAIMIt's unclear what now. It has been discussed now for several days if the air offensive and the air bombing was going to be followed by ground offensive. And it did. It started at 10:00 pm local time yesterday. And it involves thousands of troops. Oddly enough there was a very surprising report saying that the sovereignty of Gaza, the Israeli military operation were conducted in cooperation with the Egyptian government, which is a very surprising kind of event.
NAIMSo we -- the question now is for how long? You know, what is actually the goal? The Israeli government has stressed that the only main -- the only purpose -- the main purpose is to seal off the tunnels through which extremists and terrorists may be attacking and entering Israeli cities and trying to cut in a very significant way the rockets that are constantly being thrown...
GHATTASMoises raises a very interesting point, cooperation between the Israelis and the Egyptians to counter Hamas. I was -- you know, things have changed in the Middle East. I think that's perhaps an understatement. But with the departure of Mubarak, the coup against Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president last year and now the arrival to power of former Army General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, something has changed in the way Egypt behaves in the region.
GHATTASAnd it was made very, very vivid to me when I came across a video of an Egyptian presenter, woman in Egypt on air calling on the Egyptian Army to bomb Gaza. And the reasoning behind this is because there is deep anger in part of the Egyptian population towards the Muslim Brotherhood and towards Hamas. And that anger is, you know, not going away. And those are the -- those who feel angry against Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are those who support the general who's now the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
GHATTASAnd they feel that Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have conspired against Egypt. They see Hamas as an existential threat. And that is quite a shift to make for an Egyptian to call for the bombing of Palestinians. Now admittedly they're not calling for the bombing of civilian Palestinians but they're calling for Egypt to help Israel in essence de facto to eradicate Hamas.
IGNATIUSWell, I think the problem that the Israeli government Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israel defense forces have faced with Gaza is this is not a war they really wanted. They seemed ready to settle for ceasefire stand down agreement in the beginning but then they began their bombing campaign. And once you start a war in Israel, there tends to be a public demand for greater and clearer strategic benefits from the war. I mean, this is the third war over Gaza in the last what, six years.
IGNATIUSSo Israelis are saying, you know, let's finish this. Let's get rid of Hamas. And the dilemma for Netanyahu is, how do you do that? I mean, Hamas has very few friends left. As Kim says, the Egyptians have no use for Hamas. Syria, which used to be its key patron, the Syrian regime is barely keeping its head above water. Iran is not able to supply Hamas now in the way that it once did.
IGNATIUSSo in one sense it's a perfect opportunity to try to make changes on the ground so you get the Hamas government, very unpopular now in Gaza, out of the way. How do you do that? And Israel right now is reckoning with just how difficult that is.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here and when we come back, we'll certainly talk more about Israel, what its real objectives are and take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international portion of our Friday News Roundup. Just before the break we had begun speaking about Israel's launch of ground forces into Gaza. What are Israel's objectives here, David, beyond the idea of trying to close down Hamas, which they're going to have a hard time doing? One of our callers says, "If they're trying to do that by closing down the tunnels, the tunnels open into Israel. Why not start from the Israeli side rather than going into Gaza?
IGNATIUSI think one of Israel's problems is that it has an escalating set of war aims. When this began, the Israelis talked -- Prime Minister Netanyahu talked about achieving a significant period of quiet, basically meaning no more rockets falling on Israel from Gaza. Then the objectives became stronger. And so they talked about closing the tunnels. We have to go, they claim, into Gaza to do that. There's been talk about splitting Gaza, so that the northern half, which is the primary launching place for these rockets, would be under greater Israeli control.
IGNATIUSYou begin to hear in conversations with Israeli officials the idea that maybe we can change the -- over time, the basic political status there so we have a different kind of Gaza. I have watched this movie over and over again. I've been covering the Middle East since 1980. And if there's one consistent theme, it's that Israel starts operations with limited goals and has difficulty completing them. That was the story of their invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which in some ways they're still struggling to recover from. So this is not going to be easy for Israel.
GHATTASYeah, I mean the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a few statements over the last sort of day or so saying that, you know, this could take up to a couple of weeks. I'm not sure what the strategy is and what the goal is. I think that for Hamas, now it's become about trying to change the status quo and try to somehow force Israel to negotiate again about a longer-lasting ceasefire that brings some more, you know, easing of restrictions on Gaza, beyond just opening of crossings. But as David points out, you know, we've seen this movie so often.
GHATTASAnd for Israel to think that by bombing Gaza with the growing civilian casualty toll, including 43 children -- to think that that is actually going to solve a problem long term, I'm not quite sure how to describe. Because when -- I just want to take you back to 2006 very briefly in Lebanon. You know, different conflict, same sort of issues. In 2006, Hezbollah Shi'a militant group in Lebanon -- which is very controversial, loved by some, hated by many in Lebanon -- kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated, bombed the airport and started a campaign bombing Lebanon.
GHATTASThe initial reaction amongst many Lebanese was to hope, without saying it out loud, that Israel would finish off Hezbollah, because Hezbollah is not loved by all Lebanese. It is by some, but not by all. But it is a group with thousands of rockets and the Lebanese cannot -- those who don't like Hezbollah cannot take them on.
GHATTASOnce Israel started extending its bombing campaign and the civilian casualty toll started rising and the bombing reached Christian areas, where infrastructure was bombed, bridges were destroyed, power plants were attacked, people started rallying around Hezbollah, because they felt like the innocent victims of Israel rather than Hezbollah.
REHMAnd frankly that is what a number of commentators have said on this program about Hamas -- that indeed Hamas could come out of this stronger because nobody likes Abbas.
IGNATIUSWell, Abbas is unpopular, but I'm not sure he's as unpopular as Hamas is. Hamas has just failed miserably in every administrative activity of government in Gaza. In a sense, the perverse prelude to this war was the unity agreement that Mahmoud Abbas and Fattah -- the more moderate forces who control the West Bank, who accept Israel's right to exist, who work every day with Israel on security -- they made an effort to join the unity government with Hamas to put in a government of technocrats. And Israel -- the United States said, okay, we can work with that.
IGNATIUSIsrael decided, absolutely unacceptable. The funny thing is that that unity government might have provided a platform for elections, in which Hamas would have been voted out. If the elections had been held a month ago, before all this started, Hamas would have been voted out of power, I suspect.
GHATTASAnd now people are rallying around.
NAIMIt's important to recall that Hamas is putting their rocket launchers and all kinds of weapons in schools, in hospitals and in the midst of civilian populations and that Hamas lacks popularity and even legitimacy. And many in the Gaza Strip are just feeling trapped by -- in fact, one could say that Hamas has hijacked the population in Gaza and using it as human shields.
NAIMThe other point that I think, to your question about, Diane, your question concerning what are the real goals of Israel in this invasion of Gaza. It's important to remember that the Israelis' government is deeply divided. There are people in, like Avigdor Lieberman and others, that take a far more extreme view of what needs to be done. I have a quote here by Lieberman that says that, "We need to ensure that all Hamas terrorists run away, are imprisoned, or die." And that is what he thinks ought to be the goal of this occupation.
NAIMNetanyahu and others in that same cabinet have a different view. And that is one of the reasons why it took them awhile to decide when to go and how to go and extent and -- of the mission. So it's very important to keep in mind that Israel is a democracy that is divided and there are different points of view. And that division is also reflected in its government.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Nevtaly in Valdosta, Ga. Hi, you're on the air.
NEVTALYHi. Thanks for taking my call. And I enjoy your show tremendously.
NEVTALYYou know, I -- I was just listening to your guests talk about sanctions against Putin, or Russia. And, you know, those -- wouldn't -- aren't those really not going to be effective given the nature of Putin's government and control -- or his power, you know, and his disregard for the well being of either his business community and his citizenry? So that...
REHMSo you're -- I gather what you're saying is, do you think sanctions against Putin are going to do any good whatsoever. David.
IGNATIUSWell, the Russian people, as we know from modern history, are good at suffering. And they can take a lot of punishment without knuckling under. That said, if Putin wants to maintain the kind of modernizing, quasi-democratic life that Russia's enjoyed since the end of Soviet communism, he does need income. The Russian energy sector is very powerful, but it's really mismanaged. It needs money.
REHMAll right. And let's take a caller from Kiev. Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELYeah, hi. Greetings from Kiev. Yeah, this is what happens when you give advanced missile systems to a criminal rabble, you know, which is -- which half the separatists are. The Ukrainians have been almost hamstrung by all these missiles. They haven't been flying air-ops. They could have probably wiped out all the people fleeing -- three columns of separatists fleeing Sloviansk. And if they'd done that, you know, they might have panicked them into evacuating at Donetsk and pushed them into Luhansk where this would almost be all be over. But, you know, Putin can't let this happen.
MICHAELThese things have 14-mile range. You know, these guys, they see something flying in the sky and they press the button and...
REHMAll right, Kim.
GHATTASWe're just sort of waiting to see now what President Obama is going to say. I think a lot of people are going to -- a lot of countries are going to reassess how they approach this crisis. But it is going to be a fine balance between diplomacy and trying to find an opening and perhaps trying to push for peace talks and pushing harder against -- pushing back against Putin.
REHMAnd speaking of negotiations, what is happening with Iran? That's continuing and looks as though we may be making some progress there. Moises.
NAIMYes, Diane. There is a deadline, next Sunday, that was decided when the negotiations started. And now it's clear that that deadline will not be met. But the good news is that there seems to be progress. There is huge hurdles and huge issues still to be negotiated. But all sides seem to agree -- and observers seem to agree that extending the deadline is a good thing. And that progress -- we are at a point in which it was unimaginable even a few years ago.
GHATTASThere are some disagreements. But I think the biggest disagreement at the moment is that, you know, all sides want to extend. But they are disagreeing about when to resume the talks. The Iranians and the Americans want to, you know, have another round of negotiations in August. And the Europeans want to take August off, which is such an anachronistic approach to doing business in the 21st Century. But it does look like everybody's agreeing on an extension.
REHMHow optimistic are you, David?
IGNATIUSOh, I'd say, you know, 50-50.
REHMOn a scale of 1 to 10?
IGNATIUSI'm not all that optimistic still, because to be honest I don't see the Iranians yet signaling that they're prepared to take decisive steps, including dismantling centrifuges, that convince the world that this is a civilian nuclear program. That is -- that's the bottom line for the U.S. And I haven't yet seen, in my conversations with the Iranian foreign minister, other Iranian officials, or in what I've read, any evidence that they're there yet. It's obviously in everybody's interest to keep this rolling for a while longer. President Obama said Wednesday, there's been real progress in some areas.
IGNATIUSWell, there's been real progress in a few areas, frankly, from what I know. But the President thinks, let's keep going. Let's see if the Iranians can be pushed to make more concessions, especially on this question of the number of centrifuges.
REHMAll right. Let's take a caller here in Washington D.C. Samaya, you're on the air.
SAMAYAHi. Thank you for taking my call.
SAMAYAI'm calling in response to the comments and the conversation about the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza. And I'm going to try and keep it short.
SAMAYAOne of the things that frustrates me about the discussion and the conversations about this, is the fact that nobody is really willing to call a spade a spade. That, at the end of the day, there is a deep-seated racism in Israeli society and in Israeli political discourse that allows for some extremely illegal, unethical and inhumane treatment of Palestinians in the territories that Israel either controls indirectly or surveils and monitors, like Gaza.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Kim.
GHATTASI think Samaya raises an interesting point, which doesn't get talked about often, which is extreme views and hate speech in Israel towards Arabs and Palestinians. And we've seen some rather distressing examples of that over the last few days and weeks, with a member of the Knesset calling on, you know, the mothers even of all Palestinians to die -- calling -- you've seen Israeli teens tweeting, you know, racist comments about Arabs. I think it's important to take a step back and ask whether everybody's lost perspective on what this conflict is about. And it is about human suffering. And people in Gaza, you know, have suffered for many, many years.
REHMDavid, President Obama is speaking now. We have learned that there was at least one American onboard that plane. I'm sure we'll learn more. And if, indeed, Russia was responsible in some way for the shooting down, this tragedy is really going to set off a whole new way forward.
IGNATIUSThe awful truth is this is how wars begin. They begin with incidents where people take actions without being sure of the consequences. We talk about the fog of war. The phrase has almost lost its meaning. This is the fog of war. These separatists on the ground, given super-powerful weapons. They don't know what they're shooting at. And then you have a confrontation that involves the United States, Russia, many other countries. It's the kind of situation where rational people step back from the brink and examine the situation, try to deescalate it.
IGNATIUSBut we are about to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of a moment in which Europe, without ever intending to go into the kind of war it did, when they talked about the war being over by the end of the summer. That war dragged on until 1918. It was the bloodiest conflict Europe had ever seen. I don't think Europe has to this day recovered from it. And it was, in a sense, a blunder. So that's what people should be thinking about right now, as they listen to President Obama.
NAIMOne very strange and surprising parallel between what's going on in the Ukraine and in Gaza is that in both cases we see a nation state pitted against an informal militia supported by a strong government outside the region. So in the case of -- this is the State of Israel and its armed forces against Hamas. And in Ukraine, it is the government of Ukraine against a group of -- we don't even know how to call them there -- the separatists, pro-Russian, Russian-backed militias. But the point is that in both cases, we're seeing nation states pitted against informal groups.
REHMAnd what a world we are living in right now. Thank you all so much for being here.
GHATTASThanks for having us.
REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post. Kim Ghattas, she is State Department correspondent for the BBC. Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kim Ghattas, I know you're off to London. Please be careful.
GHATTASThank you, Diane. It is home.
REHMAnd thank you all for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
President Barack Obama lifts the embargo against U.S. arms sales to Vietnam. We discuss what closer ties between the U.S. and Vietnam mean for trade, leverage on human rights and growing concerns over China's military expansion.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
Now that only three major candidates remain in the 2016 race for the White House, attention turns to the details of their policy proposals. Where the presidential candidates stand on key issues like job creation, healthcare, taxes and education.