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Activists say Syrian troops battled rebels today – less than a week before a pullback agreed upon by President Bashar al-Assad. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is running a candidate for president despite an earlier pledge not to. Myanmar’s government starts talks toward political agreement with one of world’s oldest rebel armies. Spain struggles to repair its damaged banking sector, fueling worries it might be forced to follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in seeking a bailout. And President Obama and Mexican President Calderon trade warnings on gun violence. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten of NPR for analysis of the week’s top national news stories. A panel of journalists joins Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. Reports from Syria say government forces are waging new assaults on civilian areas ahead of an agreed upon mid-April truce. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood retreats from its promises not to field a presidential candidate. Pakistan criticizes the U.S. for putting a $10 million bounty on the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attack.
MR. TOM GJELTENThe U.S. plans to ease sanctions on Myanmar and the heads of Mexico and Canada pay a visit to the White House. Joining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Moises Naim of El Pais, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy and David Ignatia (sic) of The Washington...
MR. TOM GJELTENDid I say Ignatia?
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSYou did.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius of "The Washington Post." Good morning, folks.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERMorning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
GJELTENPlease join us with your comments and questions about international news. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850, send us an email to email@example.com or join us on Facebook or Twitter. And Susan Glasser, I want to start with this Muslim Brotherhood visit to Washington this week. A delegation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, officials, all of them speaking really good English so we don't know exactly how representative they are of the Muslim Brotherhood membership but did the administration meet with them and at what level or not? It seems like the White House doesn't really want to talk about that.
GLASSERWell, I think that one thing that's happening here is Egypt's presidential politics are colliding with America's presidential politics and you know I was very struck by that. Yes, they did meet with them. That has been their stated policy, in fact, over the last several years of transition. The State Department has met with them many times. There has been a stated effort to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood who are now playing a very significant role of course in Egyptian politics.
GLASSERI think it was Josh Gerstein in "Politico" who smartly reported that usually the guys who met with the Muslim Brotherhood are touted out as senior administration officials. This week those very same people were called working-level officials. So it gives you a sense of the sensitivity with which the White House is handling this. They're very concerned about the rise of political Islam in Egypt.
GLASSERThe Muslim Brotherhood made a dramatic about-face. For months they've been reassuring U.S. officials in public and in private that they would not field a presidential candidate. They made a big about-face. They tapped their deputy leader, Khairat el-Shater, a millionaire businessman who had been imprisoned under the Mubarak regime to run for president. So it's a pretty significant shift.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius, what is the administration's view of the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood? You know though of course, there are a lot of concerns about as Susan said political Islam and yet the United States has resumed all the, basically all the aid that it was providing to Egypt before regardless of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is now in power. What is the sort of the strategic analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood's coming to power in Egypt here in Washington?
IGNATIUSThe administration has made, what I call in something I wrote a cosmic wager, that the Muslim Brotherhood living the experience of democracy, having to take responsibility will become a genuinely democratic party and they look for support in that idea to Turkey where essentially Muslim Brotherhood government is in charge. I must say Turkey is a mixed story because there's been a lot of repression of the press and some curtailment of the judiciary system there. So it's certainly not a perfect model.
IGNATIUSI would just note that this is not a sudden, recent change of heart for the U.S. When President Obama went to Cairo and gave his famous speech in June 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were specifically invited to sit and watch and there was a passage in that speech, I'll read it to you, which was tailored for them and they were told this is a message to you.
IGNATIUSAnd it said, "America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world even if we disagree with them and we will welcome all elected peaceful governments provided they govern with respect for all their people." So as far as June 2009 this basic policy that we're now seeing play out was being formulated in the White House.
GJELTENWell, Moises Naim, David says that the administration's view is that this is democracy in action. But it's occurring in a broader geo-political context isn't it? And the implications of the Muslim Brotherhood being in power in Egypt are there for Syria, for Lebanon, for the Palestinian territories. What is the broader view of -- what sort of the ramifications of this old Islamist group coming to power in Egypt? What is the view of what that signifies?
NAIMWhat we don't know if a group that has a history of being an opposition and all it had to do was oppose the Mubarak government and rally the people around that opposition, how would that group behave once it's in government? We have a history of believing that the government is profound educational experience and these radical groups once in government are forced to govern and therefore worry about running hospitals and schools. And we had an experience before with Hamas when they won an election in Gaza and there was the hope that that would also change the ways, force them to change the ways and that didn't happen.
NAIMBut what will happen with a new government in Egypt is going to be highly transformational, both in its relationship with the United States, policy towards Israel, their role that it has in relationship with Iran and Turkey. Those are the main players and with each one of them a new government in Egypt will have to define a new relationship.
GJELTENAnd Susan, how strong will this new government be? What do we know about this candidate and most importantly what is likely to be the relationship that gets worked out with the Egyptian military? And what will that mean?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think -- I'm so glad you highlighted that because I think that really is still a key concern. We're sort of assuming the election has occurred and we've moved past it in some way. I don't think that's necessarily a safe assumption. Remember that Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is not in power yet and, in fact, there is a military junta that has been ruling Egypt since Mubarak was toppled. In many ways it is the remnants of Mubarak's regime but without him and some of his top lieutenants at the top, I think that seeing our way through to the peaceful handover of power to a fully civilian government is not at all clear.
GLASSERThe Egyptian military for example plays an enormous role in the economy and has assembled that power over time. They've been the key sort of keepers of those billions of dollars worth of U.S. aid which has floated them over the decades and it's not clear to me. I think there's going to be both an election and some very serious negotiations over what role the military will play going forward. So that part of it seems very murky.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius, Moises mentioned what the likely coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, assuming that they work out a relationship with the military, what it would mean for example, for Hamas. How has this changed the kind of geo-political alignment? I mean, we've seen stories, just this morning "The New York Times" that Hezbollah, which has been very closely aside with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is now being isolated because of the difficulties that Assad is facing in Syria.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Hamas now is likely to have a new partner in Egypt before relations between Hamas and Egypt were very strained. We are seeing a real realignment it seems in this region.
IGNATIUSIt's a shift of the playing field, if you will, too. I think we see new energy and dynamism in the Sunni-Arab world which was moribund for decades, people argue. And you can see in the statements by Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah that he understands the danger that in this rising tide of Sunni energy the Shia militia in Lebanon, Hezbollah will have trouble. He actually went so far as to say in a speech last week that Bashar al-Assad should seek a political settlement with the opposition. There's this sense that he, knowing that he's isolated, is seeking to distance himself some from his key Arab patron, President Assad.
GJELTENNow, Moises are we seeing here from Egypt through Syria and off to Iran, are we seeing now the arrival of this great Sunni-Shia confrontation that so many people have been fearing for a long time?
NAIMIt has been there for a while. What we are not -- what is happening is that it is revealing on, it's clarifying what those rifts wear and it's creating a dynamic that is far more explicit in terms of conflict and confrontation than in the past. But one point I wanted to make, with regard to Egypt, we should not allow the election and the assent of the Muslim Brotherhood to distract us from the fact that the main challenge for Egypt now and going forward is economy.
NAIMEgypt is deeply dependent -- Egypt's economy depends on remittances from its workers abroad and tourism and foreign aid. And all these three sources have been plummeting and the situation is quite dire in Egypt and very complicated. So regardless of who governs Egypt is going to have a huge challenge to keep economy stability that will feed into political and socialist ability.
GJELTENBoy that's a lesson that we have certainly learned over the last year and a half, haven't we? How important economic stress and economic instability is in terms of fueling unrest and destabilizing developments. Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's a really important point and, in fact, if you go back and look at sort of the most recent period of political upheaval proceeding the Arab Spring in Eastern and Central Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Let's remember that the United States and its allies contributed vastly more to the stabilization of those economies, to the transformation of those economies.
GLASSERThe kind of aid although it's significant that the United States gives to Egypt and to others in the region is nothing comparable to what we were in a position to offer up with the end of the Cold War and I think that, you know, in a way these -- the military junta is a good example in Egypt. They've been paying down but aren't going to be able to afford to sort of balance out this transition. There's going to be a big hole and that's going to possibly lead to further instability.
GJELTENSusan Glasser is editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy. My other guests on this panel of international news this morning are Moises Naim from El Pais and David Ignatius from The Washington Post. Stay tuned, we'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm. This is the International Hour of the "Friday News Roundup." My guests are Moises Naim, the chief international columnist for El Pais, Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy and David Ignatius who's a columnist for the Washington Post, a contributor to the "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com and an accomplished writer of spy novels. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
GJELTENPlease join us. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email. We'll try to get your comments and questions on the air. I want to turn now to some of the recent developments in Syria. We talked sort of previously generally about kinda the geopolitical trends that are going on in this region. Renewed attacks today in Syria by government forces against rebel forces. And that's in spite of the fact that -- or maybe because of the fact, David, that there is a truce scheduled to come on next week.
IGNATIUSWell, often before a scheduled cease-fire you see each side try to consolidate -- expand its positions to -- in advance of the cessation of (word?) . Maybe that's going on here. Maybe Bashar al-Assad and his forces just are lying when they say that they're prepared to accept Kofi Annan's initiative and don't, in fact, intend to do so. We'll find out next week. April 10 is the deadline for beginning this process of cessation.
IGNATIUSI think the key player really is standing aside of it to the north and that's Russia. If Russia decides that it's going to really pressure Bashar al-Assad to abide by the Annan plan and transfer power gradually I think the game is over. I think there's a growing recognition that Assad can't last. His own uncle Rifaat al-Assad, the man who was the leader or the kind of a muscle, if you will, of the previous Assad regime, said this last week in an interview that Bashar cannot last. He'll have to go.
IGNATIUSIf the Russians conclude that that's so they -- it's up to them to broker the diplomacy. They've invited the Syrian Foreign Minister to Moscow next week. They've invited the Syrian opposition to Moscow a few days later. So maybe they're getting ready to cut the deal.
GJELTENBut, Moises, let's talk a little bit about this -- a truce plan because the onus is going to fall just 48 hours later on the opposition. They're supposed to stop attacks as well. And the opposition's a lot more fragmented than the government is. What are the chances that the opposition can come through with their side of the bargain?
NAIMOr that the president will also honor the agreement. This is an agreement that is very similar to the one that was struck in November -- was promised in November by the Arab League. And now it has been re-launched by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the Arab League and the United Nations -- a former secretary general of the United Nations.
NAIMEssentially, the plan calls for the troops to exit the cities and stop the violence against the opposition, release the prisoners, which is a very strong demand and begin a dialogue with the opposition. The government and the opposition ought to start a dialogue which is quite a change because before it was just asking Bashar to step down.
NAIMThe reason why there are doubts about the ability of the president to honor this deal is that if this happens there's going to be thousands of people in the street protesting again. And that is what he has been trying to stop all along. And I think David was right in pointing to the importance of the Russians in all of this.
NAIMAnd one of the most acute observers of the area is Michael Young. He's the editor of the Daily Star in Lebanon. He just wrote a column today in which he says that the Russians must sense that it's time to start Plan B in Damascus. The guy is not winning. He has to keep killing to avoid being killed. And I think that's quite dramatic but true.
NAIMThe president needs to stay in power and needs to retain and sustain the violence because there's not a negotiated solution. It's at zero or nothing. It's a one or zero, all or nothing kind of power. You don't relinquish parts of power. He knows that if he relinquishes a bit of power then he must have to go. And then he sees himself in the mirror and sees Mubarak and Gadhafi and gets the message.
GLASSERWell, and that's also why I would say to be somewhat skeptical about the idea that Russia is going to change its position. Remember this was very similar to what people said about the Russians who had been staunch offenders of Saddam Hussein before the U.S. invaded. Well, you know, they have to see that he's isolated. They have to see that this is going in their direction. They're going to stop supplying them arms. They never changed their position.
GLASSERAnd if you look at the Russian rhetoric they have sort of made these efforts to sort of say we're having a dialogue with both sides. They, you know, traveled to Damascus. They've had some harsh words for Assad but in reality they haven't actually changed their bargaining position at all.
GLASSERJust the other day they sent a group of Russian officials up to Capitol Hill to brief the staffers. And, you know, they got in a shouting match where they wouldn't even acknowledge the basic facts of the situation or even that, you know, hundreds of thousands dead by the count of the United Nations over the last year. They don't even acknowledge the basic facts about it. They say, well there's no international law against us supplying arms to Assad. Well, of course, that's because they've used their veto power at the Security Council to make sure that there's no way to block those arm sales.
GLASSERSo I would just be wary of the idea that the Russians are all of a sudden going to have a change of heart and say, my, it's terrible what's going on in Syria. We ought to, you know, really make sure this guy steps down. I don't see that happening.
GJELTENBut, David, as you suggested at the beginning there is this Sunni character to the uprising in Syria. And what would it mean if a really tough Sunni regime were to take power in Syria as a result of this? What would that mean for the broader region? I mean, you know, you can say that Assad's days are numbered but there is certainly some ambivalence about what is now represented in the opposition coming to power in Syria as well, is there not?
IGNATIUSThere is. A Saudi columnist wrote last week that one way of interpreting what's going on is that there's a new Muslim Brothers access that stretches really from Morocco, skips Algeria, through Libya, through Egypt and perhaps up through Syria and certainly to Turkey. And that would present the U.S. and even more, Israel with some tough choices.
IGNATIUSI think the -- this is the reason why the U.S. and most of its allies have concluded that arming an opposition whose membership you don't fully understand, pumping weapons into a conflict where they might be used for reprisal killings, they might fuel sectarian war, the kind we saw in Iraq, is not a good idea. And that's why there's been so much effort to try to woo Russia into this game.
IGNATIUSThe only thing I'd say in response to Susan's sensible comments about Russia, I think Russia is motivated by desire to preserve its influence in the Middle East. If they conclude that Bashar al-Assad cannot survive, it's very much in their interest to lead the process of transition to somebody who would be in their eyes acceptable. And that's where the game of chicken comes in. It's convincing the Russians he ain't gonna make it, so that they then change their position.
GJELTENNow, David, another player with big stakes in Syria, of course, is Iran. What would the collapse of the Assad regime mean for Iran's influence and position in that region?
IGNATIUSWell, Syria's been Iran's most important Arab client. It's crucial as a sort of supply point for their proxy forces, Hezbollah and Lebanon. But even the Iranians seem to be sensing that Assad's time may be up. There was a very interesting visit last week to Iran by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. And one thing that was discussed in detail with the Iranian leadership was Erdogan's insistence that Bashar -- that Assad, after killing so many Muslims, has to go. And I think the decisive force in addition to Russia is going to be Turkey, which is what used to be Bashar's best friend is now his worst enemy.
GJELTENIt's fascinating, isn't it Moises, to watch these great powers try to decide where their interests lie in a confusing situation like Syria.
NAIMAnd meanwhile, while they debate and meet, so many people are dying and the levels of...
NAIM...8,000 and God knows what else is going on there in terms of torture and disappearances and things like that. And while, you know, the Russians are defending and still standing by Syria and, as Susan said, they went to Capitol Hill to defend their position, they're becoming isolated. And I don't think that the Russian position is sustainable. I do believe that Russia will change.
NAIMWhile they were doing this and Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, was offending and attacking the Kofi Annan plan and all that, 80 nations and organizations were meeting in Istanbul, a group called the Friends of Syria. Foreign ministers, international organizations had a wide international alliance that among other things decided to give money to the opposition. And money, guess what, is going to buy weapons. They may not be providing weapons in this conflict but they're providing the money for readily accessible weapons in the black market. And that is a very strong statement.
NAIMAnd when you have 80 countries agreeing to do that, just at some point, I think the Russians will have to change their position.
GJELTENWell, Susan, David's point is that, as Moises just alluded to, in fact, as well, that once it really does appear that Assad's days are numbered you could see very quickly a shift of loyalties.
GLASSEROh, absolutely. And now I think that's very likely. My point is what if the Russians actually have already concluded that it's inevitable that both Assad will go and that their influence in the region will be significantly diminished as a result of that. So then they're just holding out as long as possible. Putin, I think if you look at his record that suggests that. But, you know, of course at some point, you know, the game will be over.
GLASSERAnd this goes back to, I think, the really important point about Turkey and the role that they're playing. And they have made, as David said, a dramatic shift he alluded to. But he didn't tell us about his big scoop in that Erdogan meeting in Iran, which was not only concerned with the situation next door in Syria but also of course with the question of their nuclear program and what they're doing with it. And, you know, I think that is a very significant story. And it -- you know, it goes back to the Ayatollah Khamenei's recent statement that they weren't pursuing nuclear weapons and did that present an opening for some backstage negotiations.
GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." And, David Ignatius, tell us about your scoop this morning in the Washington Post.
IGNATIUSWell, I wrote this morning in the Washington Post that President Obama has passed a message indirectly through an intermediary to Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. The intermediary was the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan with whom Obama has developed quite a close relationship. He's worked on it I think more than any other relationship with a foreign leader.
IGNATIUSAnd the message essentially was if Ayatollah Khamenei can show that his public statement on Iranian television in February that Iran has no desire to possess nuclear weapons and regards nuclear weapons as a grave sin, if he can show that he means that in a verifiable way that would convince the rest of the world, than the U.S. is prepared to allow Iran all the -- all or most of the benefits of being a civilian nuclear power. The question whether they'd be allowed to enrich at home is left to be decided.
IGNATIUSHow the Iranians reacted to that is not yet clear to me. It is clear that Erdogan delivered the message but we'll have to see over the -- we're going to have a lot of interesting diplomacy over the next month.
GJELTENSpeaking of diplomacy, we have this kind of bazaar situation with Pakistan, Moises, where the United States has put out a bounty of $10 million on the head of who they believe to be the mastermind of the Mumbai killings. What does that indicate to you about U.S. confidence in Pakistan's justice system?
NAIMIt's very (word?) of course, and -- but it also tells us a lot about the nature and the state of U.S. Pakistani relationship. You know, they have been going downhill and this is yet another example. We're talking about the bounty on Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who is the 61-year-old founder of the organization called Lashkar-e-Taiba that is accused of being behind a lot of terrorist attacks, including of course the one in Mumbai.
NAIMAnd so when -- after that was announced, the $10 million bounty, which is one of the highest ever offered by the United States, he showed up at a hotel and said, here I am. Give me -- you know, I am identifying myself so perhaps the bounty should be given to me.
GJELTENI got the quote right here. "I'm ready to face any court in Pakistan and any international court where the United States wants to go." And his supporters were cheering wildly behind him.
NAIMAnd as often happens in Pakistan and related to terrorism and security issues, intelligence services of Pakistan are deeply involved. They have had a long convoluted complex to this hard-to-discern relationship with Lashkar-e-Taiba. And it is hard to imagine that he can pull off this appearance in a hotel without having some close connections with intelligence -- with Pakistani's intelligence services.
GLASSERWell, and I think, you know, Moises, that's the key point, right. I mean, you know, this is -- the United States knew exactly what it was doing in targeting this guy and making a public effort to say, we're targeting him with this $10 million bounty. This is a public figure in Pakistan, someone who not only has relations with the intelligence services but, you know, who has really been a key political agent of Pakistan's national policy.
GLASSERJust the other day he gave an interview, which we published on our site today, and he made the point, look we don't live in a cave or hide in a mountain. We're here in Pakistan's cities and address gatherings of thousands of people. We have a role in Pakistan. The whole world knows about us. And, you know, that's the truth. And of course the United States government knows about it too. So, you know, it's a direct challenge to Pakistan's government.
GJELTENAnd this is what David Ignatius wrote this week also -- or last week actually - about Pakistan keeping Osama bin Laden. Let's see if we get the numbers straight. Osama bin Laden lived in five houses, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives, had two children born in public hospitals. And through it all the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts, David?
IGNATIUSThe -- having fun with..
GJELTENWhat do you really think?
IGNATIUSI think it is impossible to imagine someone in the Pakistani security establishment not being aware of the presence of bin Laden. But not just of bin Laden. And that piece listed a whole string of people who were hiding out in Pakistan, in the settled areas, not in the mountains, after September 11. The -- one caution is that U.S. officials keep saying that as they go through all the materials they took from bin Laden's compound, which ought to be dispositive, they have not found the smoking gun that ties bin Laden or any of these al-Qaida people to the ISI. So we have to note that statement, which has been made repeatedly.
GJELTENOkay. And it's been made here again this morning. David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post. This is the International News Hour of the "Friday News Roundup." When we come back, we're going to be going straight to the phones. Your calls and your questions will be welcomed. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm on this, the international hour of "The Friday News Roundup." Moises Naim, just before the break, I said I was going to go straight to the phones. But before we do that, we do have to talk a bit about Mexico. You know, some analysts are saying that Mexico's violence is getting short shrift with all this attention on 8,000 tragic deaths in Syria.
GJELTENThere have actually been 47,000 people killed in Mexico as a result of drug-related violence there. Mexican President Felipe Calderon was here in Washington this week meeting with President Obama and he clearly feels that his country is not getting the attention it deserves.
NAIMYes, he came for a visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper from Canada...
NAIM...there was a summit of three heads of state of North America, Canada, Mexico, and the United States and the meeting was going to be mostly about trade and economic issues and integration of the three nations. And it became a lot more centered on the trafficking of weapons and the sale of weapons to Mexico. President Calderon in the meeting stated that they have captured 140,000 weapons, many of them pack rifles made in the United States, sold in the United States and exported to Mexico.
NAIMSo exporting guns to Mexico and importing drugs from Mexico is destabilizing a neighbor, that, yes, it will have far more importance for the life of ordinary Americans than what happens in Syria, the Middle East or in Pakistan.
GJELTENYou really think that the United States actually has more at stake in the destiny of Mexico than in the destiny of Syria or Egypt?
NAIMYes, because geography matters...
GJELTENDo you agree with that, Susan?
NAIM...and population matters and...
GJELTENAnd proximity matters?
NAIMAnd proximity, neighbors.
GLASSERExactly, you know, and also this is an election year in Mexico. And I think you know, of course, it's going to be a referendum in one way or another on the state of the drug war, on the state of relationships with the United States, on the state of Mexican democracy, which is, I think in some ways, more perilous than we think about it as being. And so to the extent that that casts more attention here in the United States and what's been going on in Mexico, that's probably a good thing.
GJELTENDavid, are you going to be writing about the western hemisphere in the coming months?
IGNATIUSWell, I should. I keep thinking that I should travel more in our hemisphere. I do think Americans should really be troubled by the fact that our money is financing a cartel that is destroying northern Mexico and our guns are doing the shooting and our money keeps the cartel afloat. And, you know, you have to feel it when President Calderon comes and appeals to his neighbor to do more. We need to pay more attention, including people like us who write about these things.
GJELTENWell, in fact, that drug trafficking is not just destroying northern Mexico. Central America is in terrible shape. Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the entire world. Let's go now to Phil who is calling us from Hebron, Ill. Good morning, Phil, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PHILGood morning, everyone. I was reading the international papers this morning and I noticed that Viktor Bout, probably the largest independent arms dealer in the world, was sentenced to 23 years. And his wife called on the Premier, Mr. Putin to free this Russian patriot. I want to know if your panel thinks it will have any effect at all. This fellow is, for sure, the largest dealer in arms as an independent merchant in the world.
NAIMYes, we have an official statement by the Russian government that essentially claims that this is an unfair accusation, that the 23 years is an unjust punishment and that Mr. Bout, in fact, ought to be freed, which is quite extraordinary if you think about it, that, you know, a nation like Russia makes such a specific statement about a person that has been indicted. And that also points to the strong links that the Russian establishment has with all kinds of traffickers.
GJELTENWell, and the arms industry in general, right, Susan?
GLASSERWell ,that's exactly right. I was going to say that, if anything, it suggests that rather than seeing Viktor Bout, (word?) rivals, you know, I think they saw him in a more cooperative way, at times operating as an independent agent, at times working closely with at least some elements of the Russian government. Russia is one of the leading arms dealers in the world today. It's a significant source along with its natural resources. It's one of its major industries.
GJELTENLet's go now to Pat who is on the line from Fort Myers, Fl. Good morning Pat, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
PATGood morning and thank you. The reason I called was we talk about, I'm going to talk about Egypt, Egypt and the money that we've been sending for all of these years. Where is it? Why aren't there better schools, better hospitals? Why isn't the average person in a better place and if we're going to send more money and it's the Muslim Brotherhood aren't they on our list of terrorists? And I was to support a terrorist organization I would be arrested.
GJELTENYou would be arrested. Well, David, the truth is the United States has been giving all this money to Egypt over the years largely because of its willingness to have a peaceful relationship with Israel. Now that that may be in jeopardy, what is the justification for U.S. aid in Egypt now? And will it be spent? Will this money now be spent on development programs as Pat thinks it should be?
IGNATIUSI think we've made clear in the many meetings that you describe that have taken place between U.S. officials and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood that continued Egyptian support for the peace treaty with Israel is an essential red line for the United States. And if there were moves to back away from that, I think you'd see a prompt reaction in terms of U.S. assistance of all kinds.
IGNATIUSThe U.S., I think, rightly wants to stay involved in Egypt and that's partly a question of money. The money, I think, needs to be reallocated so the military gets less and development gets more. One of the things that is painful looking at Egypt is that, in terms of economic policy, Egypt was heading in the right direction under Mubarak. It was growing at between 5 and 7 percent annually. Not China or India level of growth, but a level of growth that was making the country visibly a little bit more prosperous.
IGNATIUSI mean, you know, people worried about jobs and there was a (unintelligible) et cetera, but that was a good part of the story. And what we're waiting to see is whether the Muslim Brotherhood will step up to the challenge of having economic policies that are regarded as reliable, progressive, that draw Egypt deeper into the global market not pull it back from that market. And if that happens, then I think, you know, that's so much more important than the aid we might give.
IGNATIUSWe should give aid but what we should really do is encourage them to be dynamic in their economic policy.
GJELTENThank you David, Gary is now on the line from Wichita, Ks. good morning Gary, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show" you're on the air.
GARYGood morning, yes. I heard a gentleman earlier talking about Mexico and the drug problem and the gun violence and the gun problem. I think it's a three-fold thing, though. Anytime we talk about that we've got to talk about illegal immigration because our law enforcement, our court system is being put upon by. I spent time on a jury, on a federal jury, on an illegal immigration case so we're going to, if they want us to work on this side of the border on gun trafficking, Mexico has got to do a better job of helping us out with the illegal immigration problem.
GARYIt seems like it's not just two things, drugs and guns, it's also illegal immigration, thank you.
GJELTENWhat do you think about that, Moises?
NAIMIt's hard to see the connection between a country that exports attack weapons and machine guns to another country and workers coming to work in the United States illegally. Of course there is a thorny, difficult debate about immigration policy in this country that is not working, that needs to be improved and changed and reformed. There is no doubt about that. But connecting the two is, I don't see the connection. I think this country needs to do more and better in terms of both the way it manages its exporting of weapons and the drug policy.
GJELTENMoises Naim is chief international columnist for El Pais. We're going to go now to, let's see, let's go to John who is on the line from Danielson, Conn. Good morning, John, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNGood morning Tom I have a quick comment and a question or two. Now the military in Egypt has considerable interest in the Egyptian economy, for example, appliances, real estate, construction. Well two questions, where do the profits go and is it a choke on the private economy in Egypt?
GJELTENSusan, you mentioned before the terrible economic problems that Egypt is suffering from right now. Where do the profits from the Egyptian military's involvement in the economy go? How deep a problem is corruption still there?
GLASSERWell, first of all, if you think the Pentagon's budget, you know, is a black hole, it's a model of transparency compared with the information you can get. It's not like you can go to, you know, www.Egypt.com and look up the profit centers of the Egyptian military unfortunately. It is clearly enmeshed in every aspect of the economy. It's not just a military entity in a way that we're familiar with thinking about it.
GLASSERBut similar, for example, in the way that Iran's Revolutionary Guards and other military things run every kind of business, that's really how it works in Egypt. And so there's really no possible way to unspool it. I go back to your previous caller lamenting the fact that U.S. aid in Egypt has not gone to build schools and better hospitals. As David pointed out that wasn't the point of the aid it was really a fairly transparent, although not necessarily in a good way. You know it was a security arrangement and we were paying in effect for a peaceful status quo in the neighborhood.
GLASSERThrough that money, we were, every year, negotiating very tough negotiations back and forth with the Mubarak regime about even how much knowledge we would have of how those funds were disbursed. And that continues to be a major point of contention today. So, you know, even the U.S. doesn't really maintain control over the purse strings, $1.5 billion is the sum annually that we're spending. We ourselves cannot tell you where that money goes, never mind the Egyptian people having a transparent view on it.
GJELTENMoises Naim, I want to just take a quick second here to talk about, Susan mentioned this issue of how do you promote development. Now, we are going to have a new president of the World Bank coming up and you wrote an interesting column this week about the debate within development circles about how do you address poverty. Do you address development? Do you address health? Is this one of these rare moments when you're actually going to have a substantive debate about how would you promote these things?
NAIMExcept that you won't, because the U.S. government has already decided who the president of the World Bank is going to be without a debate. The U.S. government since the inception of these institutions has had the privilege of appointing the president of the World Bank and giving to the Europeans the privilege of appointing the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
NAIMThis is an agreement that in effect excludes and discriminates against most of humanity, so very competent candidates that could apply for the job have not applied for the job and now we have one or two that are challenging this and we're going to see what happens in a few weeks. But everything points to the fact that the American candidate is going to be anointed.
GJELTENOnce again, I'm Tom Gjelten, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Ignatius we're running up to the end of the hour and we have not talked about an important story yet and that's Myanmar. The United States has decided to sort of move closer to Myanmar. We've had some relaxation of sanctions announced by the State Department this week. This really is quite, considering the rebel army in Myanmar, is probably the oldest in the world and the animosity between the United States and Myanmar goes back a long time. This really is an important development, isn't it?
IGNATIUSThis is a kind of a little Asian Bamboo Curtain. I won't call it Iron coming down. It's really it's a wonderful and moving story. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar Burmese dissident, so many years under house arrest, emerging in the parliamentary elections this week, triumphant with her party. There is a president in Myanmar who seems to be reform-minded and the U.S. -- you hear real excitement from people in this administration about the changes in Myanmar and the opportunities in Southeast Asian generally.
IGNATIUSSo we're going to send an ambassador back there for the first time since the early 90s. We can't immediately halt sanctions because those were passed by Congress and have to be undone by Congress. But generally there's a feeling that this country is moving rapidly towards a kind of partnership with the U.S. and people are delighted.
GJELTENDo we know why the military junta in Myanmar has apparently made this pivot? First you, Susan.
GLASSERWell, first of all, I mean, I think David's right. This is pretty extraordinary. In many ways, it's one of the big strategic surprises of the last year and comes more out of the blue than even the Arab Spring in some ways. The level of repression in Myanmar, in Burma, was extraordinary and the isolation -- band I think that's where there are some questions to be asked about this, which has all moved with such dramatic speed.
GLASSERClearly, Aung San Suu Kyi has taken something of a risk by entering into the parliament. That means that she's entering into a process of being drawn into whatever the reforms are going to be and you know, is that going to be the best way to secure the kind of democratic change that she has been working for all her life. The new reformist leader, I think, is an extraordinary character by most accounts.
GLASSERHe comes out of this military junta that has ruled the country for decades, a former general named Thein Sein. You know, by all accounts, he has been personally sympathetic. His wife has been personally sympathetic to Aung San Suu Kyi. They received her, you know, he appears to have been one of those individual agents in history, who can make a difference.
GLASSERI just also want to point out there is a geo-political dimension to this as well and some people take the less, sort of noble view of what's happening here and say listen, you know, Burma is strategically located between India and China, feels squeezed by both those neighbors and in particular have seen the heavy hand of China looking to use Burma's natural resources, its water, its forests, its other resources in a somewhat heavy-handed way. Perhaps they are making more of a strategic geo-political move than purely one motivated by the desire to bring more freedom to their people.
GJELTENVery quick comment, Moises.
NAIMIt's a wonderful story that shows that people matter. Not only we had a wonderful leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, but also now we have the surprising new leader General Thein Sein, who just is very fore-minded and is showing the way to very surprising reforms.
GJELTENMoises Naim is chief international columnist for El Pais. We've also been joined this morning by Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy and David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post. I want to thank you all, thank our listeners for calling. Special greetings today to everyone celebrating Easter and Passover this weekend and may your family gatherings be joyous and thanks for spending time with us as I filled in here and thanks to the staff of "The Diane Rehm Show" for their support this week. Diane will be back on Monday. I'm Tom Gjelten, but this is very much "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for listening.
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