The U.S. warns that Russian airstrikes in Syria are harming peace talks. NATO sends warships to the Aegean Sea to deter migrant smuggling. And in a rebuke to North Korea, Seoul closes a shared industrial complex. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Nelson Mandela has died at age 95. Former Ukraine presidents back ongoing protests over a rejected E.U. trade pact. And heavy violence rocks the Central African Republic. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Jonathan Tepperman managing editor, Foreign Affairs.
- Courtney Kube national security producer, NBC News.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The world mourns the death of South Africa's legendary leader in Nelson Mandela. In the international hour, the Friday News Roundup, we talk about Mandela's life, his death, his powerful legacy as well as other international news. Here with me, Jonathan Tepperman with Foreign Affairs, Courtney Kube, at NBC News and James Kitfield at National Journal. I invite you to join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and welcome to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood to be here.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. JONATHAN TEPPERMANThank you.
REHMJames Kitfield, Nelson Mandela has been such a calming presence over the last two decades. Now with his death, how do you think South Africans, themselves, will experience the loss?
KITFIELDWell, you know, I think that he was sort of the moral center of that country. And I think as long as he was around, there was a, you know, a sense to sort of honor his legacy of unity and sort of racial harmony to the degree you can get it. But now, I think, with him gone, they'll be looking at the fact that the politicians that have come after him have not really taken South Africa to the next step economically. They have 24 percent unemployment. I think a fifth of the people lack proper housing. There's a huge disparity between the rich and the poor.
KITFIELDI mean, they've got a lot of economic ground to cover that they haven't really realized his dream. But, having said that, South Africa is a pretty good -- I mean, this goes right directly to Mandela's leadership -- is really a sort of, an island of stability in Africa. And I think it has -- its prospects are probably as good as any African country. But, and that goes to his legacy.
REHMSo that, even though he's been out of office, public office, since 2001, he's still been a force for that country. Courtney.
KUBEOh, absolutely. And I think he'll continue to be a force in that country well beyond his death. He's gonna be an enduring icon in the fight against racial oppression and the struggles. And I was, you know, I was so struck last night watching the video coming in from South Africa. There were people, obviously, that were crying, and were mourning and everything, but there were so many people that were celebrating. They were singing and they were dancing and they were hugging one another with big smiles on their faces.
KUBEAnd I thought, what a tremendous visual legacy, immediate visual legacy, of a man that people were there, not just mourning his death, but celebrating the gift of his life. And the gift that he's given the world, not just South Africa, but the entire world. There were black and white people embracing outside of his home.
KUBEIt was tremendous to see.
REHMJonathan Tepperman, when Mandela was elected as President of South Africa in '94, how did his Presidency go? How much was he able to accomplish?
TEPPERMANIt's a good question. Frankly, the record is mixed. He was an inspiring leader, and as Courtney and James have said, his legacy continues to inspire. He did succeed in his largest promise, which was to create a largely post racial, post apartheid South Africa. The biggest fear, especially among the white minority, that black rule would lead to black on white violence, and an oppression of the white minority did not occur. He did a remarkable job of bringing former enemies, both within the Black Nationalist Movement in Kathu, which was the rival Zulu Movement, and in the ANC power structure into his first cabinet.
TEPPERMANThat sent the symbol that this was a South Africa for everyone. He was also a master of other symbolic gestures, most famously when in 1995, during the rugby World Cup, he embraced the all white Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team, which was beloved by the white minority and hated by the black majority. Mandela put on a Springbok tee shirt, went to the first game and said, this is South Africa's team.
TEPPERMANBut, in other practical senses, his legacy has not been good. Mandela was not a technocrat. He was a spiritual leader, so on brass tacks issues, like economic development, on education, on social reform, he didn't do so well. He did oversee the passage of an incredibly progressive constitution, which is a model now throughout the world. But the lives of many black South Africans, especially the lower classes, haven't changed.
REHMI'm glad you mentioned the constitution, because it would seem South Africa did not adopt the US Constitution, but modeled its own on Britain's.
TEPPERMANYeah, that's right. Although it is a presidential system, so in some ways, it's like a mix between the UK and the US, but what they've gotten the most acclaim for is all of these incredible progressive, inclusive provisions. Greater protections for human rights, whether it's on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation than exists almost anywhere else around the world. Now again, implementation has not always been perfect.
KITFIELDYou know, if you think back at those times, and look at this Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he established and had Desmond Tutu run it, and, you know, as long as you admitted your crimes, it granted you amnesty. I mean, that was -- that will forever go down as something that was visionary. And if you want to see what might have been, look at Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, and you understand what Nelson Mandela meant to that country. Because he refused to be a President for life and hang on to power and have the crony capitalism that is typical of African nations.
KITFIELDHe relinquished power after one term. He was like the George Washington and the Martin Luther King rolled into one for that country.
REHMAnd must it have been so disappointing to him to see what happened in Zimbabwe?
KITFIELDOh, I think that's right. I mean, he was very -- you know, one of the criticisms of him that I think are somewhat valid is he was a little hesitant to criticize his other South -- I mean, African leaders. He remained kind of loyal to Castro, which I, you know, I understood the loyalty, cause Castro stayed loyal to him while he was in prison. However, Castro is famous for imprisoning political prisoners, too. So, you know, you could, around the edges, you could argue about he wasn't perfect. But, he will go down, as President Obama said, as one for the ages.
REHMSo, how would you describe the current relationship between the US and South Africa, and most especially, between President Obama and President Zuma?
TEPPERMANZuma is a tricky character, with a lot of bad marks in his record. He's an accused racist. There are allegations of corruption. He rules much more in the model of an African tribal big man than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who was a technocrat. And certainly than Mandela has. The relationship between the two countries is generally good. The United States still sees South Africa as a partner. But, the United States is also massively frustrated with the way South Africa has conducted its foreign policy.
TEPPERMANThe big disappointment is that South Africa, a moral paragon, in its domestic affairs, has not extended that moralistic approach to the rest of the world. And that is included, as James was eluding to, coddling dictators in Africa and abroad, because of post colonial solidarity. The problem is that that is included, or that's been interpreted by South Africa's leaders as a refusal to criticize abuses, whether they happen next door or around the world. And that's very disappointing.
REHMLast word, Courtney.
KUBEThat's actually one other criticism that I've been reading about Mandela, as well. He didn't really have a lot of outreach in foreign policy. The majority of his focus was really domestic. And there were even relations, we mentioned Zimbabwe, that deteriorated under his leadership with other Africa nations. There were other domestic issues that, you know, he expressed later in life, he expressed disappointment with, including HIV and AIDS. He said that he wishes that he had been more aggressive early on in the fight against AIDS.
KUBEBut, I mean, in the end, you know, you have to look at the fact that when he got out of prison in 1990, there was still tremendous racial divide in South Africa. And there was the very real potential that that country was gonna turn into a terrible -- one of the worst civil wars that the world has ever seen. And through his patience and through his ability, I would argue, tremendous courage. He didn't leave prison a totally changed and un-angry and un-embittered man. He was still angry when he left prison, but he was able to push that down. And he was able, through tremendous discipline and courage, to see what was best for his country, what was best for his nation, and that was reconciliation.
REHMAnd to offer forgiveness, even to his jailers.
KITFIELDAnd let's not forget. If you see these beautiful clips now of him as a young man arguing at his own trial, you realize we lost the lion in his youth. 27 years of -- we lost that guy. And we got the lion in winter, who was wise, but he -- you know, we can't expect him, at that age, I think, to sort of do everything on all fronts.
REHMJames, people have said that there is a comparison here to Winston Churchill and the manner in which he will be mourned. How do you see it?
KITFIELDWell, in the same way, I think, that, you know, Winston Churchill was the man of the moment, for his country, when his country was in a very bad spot. And the same for Mandela. He saved his country at a seminal moment when it could have gone in a very bad direction.
TEPPERMANThat's absolutely right. They were both world historical leaders at a time when their countries needed exactly that. The problem is that, as that moment passed, Mandela's execution on more technical issues disappointed. And so now South Africans confront the fact that while there is an empowered black wealthy class, in effect, class has now replaced race as the big dividing line in South Africa, and social mobility is no greater now than it was then. The difference is that it cuts along wealth lines, money lines, and not along racial lines.
REHMJonathan Tepperman. He's Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine. Courtney Kube is National Security Producer at NBC News. James Kitfield is Senior Correspondent at The National Journal. When we come back, we'll talk about the Vice President's visits to the far east, about what's happening in China, North Korea and elsewhere in the world. We'll be taking your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to turn now to other parts of the world. We will come back to the death of Nelson Mandela and his legacy. The U.S. said yesterday that China's new air defense zone over East China Sea was unacceptable. But the White House stopped short of calling for it to be rescinded, Courtney.
KUBEYeah, China declared this defense zone and these new rules that are going to -- that govern it about two weeks ago now. And unfortunately for the White House it came right before Vice-President Biden's long planned trip to Asia to Japan and China. And he's now in South Korea. The problem is it's so -- it's over this disputed area and they've established these rules where any commercial or military, any aircraft that go into it are supposed to establish a flight plan and communicate with them and everything.
REHMAnd file with Chinese government.
KUBEExactly. Whereas the U.S. and many other countries recognize that as international waters, international airspace and should not have to file. The U.S. came out very quickly actually after the Chinese announcement and said they were not going to recognize this. The Japanese then the South Koreans did as well.
KUBESo Vice-President Biden heads over to meet with President Xi in Beijing this week. And the question is, was he going to say we call on you to roll this back? Well, he didn't mainly because the Chinese would not have rolled it back. And it would have just been embarrassing for the vice-president to ask for it. But instead the U.S. is now saying, we're not going to recognize it. We're going to continue to fly. The military flew a couple of B52 bombers in there almost right away and there was no altercation, there was no incident. Nothing happened.
KUBESo it seems as if now the U.S. id adopting this policy where they say -- Vice-President Biden said it again this morning in Seoul, he said, we don't recognize this. But it seems they're adopting a policy where they say we don't recognize this zone but as long as you don't enforce it, well, we're not going to say anything about it. And that's not exactly music to the Japanese ears.
REHMSemantics are at play here.
TEPPERMANThat's right. The United States is sending very mixed messages. And the problem in Asia where tensions are so high is that each side will hear what it wants to hear or what it fears the United States is not going to do for it. So, as Courtney was eluding to, the United States has sent B52s through the ADIZ. They just deployed a new class of submarine-killing aircraft to Japan this week. But Biden's comments left a lot to be desired. He -- as well as refusing to call in the Chinese to roll back the zone in both Tokyo and in Beijing, he said, essentially you guys need to work this out on your own. And that comes across like a parent telling their kids, you guys handle this. I'm not getting involved.
KITFIELDYou know, the strategic pivot to Asia, now we're seeing why we're doing that, because China cannot be trusted to act as a responsible stakeholder in the international system. We've seen time and again where they -- as soon as they start feeling their oats, they start pushing around their neighbors. And this was obviously aimed at Japan but they have island disputes with the Philippines, with Vietnam. And so, you know, it just shows that we have to keep a very close eye on China.
KITFIELDAnd all this does is really drive all of China's neighbors into our arms because they are very, very concerned about China's, you know, bullying behavior here. So we have to -- you know, I was at a think tank war game recently that included a lot of the top officials in the first Obama term as well as in the Bush Administration. And it postulated a scenario of just this thing, how they could draw us in direct conversation with China if there was a dispute between Japan and China over these disputed islands.
KITFIELDBecause we have a self defense treaty with Japan, so we have to come to basically -- we have a treaty obligation to come to Japan's, you know, defense if it gets into a confrontation with China. And China seems to be -- you know, doesn't seem to care that, you know, you want to keep -- if that's the case, you'd like to keep the tensions as low as possible over this. And so we're stuck with the situation where, you know, Vice-President Biden has to go to speak for five hours and the best he can get is, well we're going to ignore this and hopefully China won't enforce it.
REHMJames, explain what happens at a war game.
KITFIELDWell, you postulate, you give a -- you know, there's a -- it's quite complex but, you know...
REHMAre there teams?
KITFIELDThere is a cabinet. It really mirrors the president's National Security Council and you have someone leading that. And this person was -- I can say who the person was, it was Jim Steinberg who's number two at the State Department. And Rich Armatage who is number two at the State Department in the Bush Administration. And they walk through a scenario -- they're given a scenario, okay there's a confrontation over these islands between Chinese ships and Japanese ships. What are we going to do?
KITFIELDAnd they walk through step -- what -- you're just -- you know, your discussion level is. And it became very, very clear that because of our treaty obligations that -- and because we cannot allow China to start saying that international waters or airspace are suddenly, you know, under their domain, that we have to do things like fly the bombers right through there. We have to ignore this because it sets a precedent that if you appease them on this thing, they'll go to the next level.
REHMSo why did China do this now?
KUBEI mean, the timing's kind of hard to say but the president has been asserting more and more regional authority over his smaller neighbors. And that's most likely what this is now. I don't think it was necessarily tied specifically to Vice-President Biden's trip. It was just unfortunate. But it's -- they have slowly been trying to take tiny little bits and pieces steps forward into asserting more claim over these disputed areas. By doing something like this, even if other countries don't recognize the ADIZ as Chinese area, just the fact that it's not being rolled back, it slowly becomes more and more of the common place.
KUBEThe problem is, it just opens up the possibility for some kind of crazy military confrontation. And that's the biggest concern here is you have some kind of a Japanese flight that's going into the ADIZ. It doesn't recognize the rules, it doesn't identify itself. And then there's just an almost accidental escalation. The U.S. of course has a treaty obligation to defend the Japanese and then do they get dragged into it?
TEPPERMANLet me jump in on timing. I think that there are three factors that contributed to Xi's decision to do this now. the first is of course the party just went through its third plenum which is its semi-regular conference where it announces big changes. The party did announce big changes including some pretty significant economic reforms. I think that -- and many of which are controversial I should say because they take power away from local officials and mid-level officials. She (sic) has formed a new national security council which will further gather military control in his hands, which has been fairly diffuse until now.
TEPPERMANSo acting tough in Asia is a way to shore up his response in the face of potential criticism over economic reforms. That's number one. Number two is, the Chinese who are acutely, acutely sensitive to signs of American weakness, see Washington as being deeply distracted right now. It was not lost on the Chinese that Obama had to cancel his trip to Asia this fall because of budget negotiations. The so-called pivot has yet to materialize in any real concrete way aside from the stationing of a few thousand troops in Darwin and Australia.
TEPPERMANAnd so the Chinese are trying to push the boundaries at the moment when they see Washington not really playing in the game. The final factor is that Japan has been adopting a more aggressive stance since Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister about a year ago.
REHMSo, James, do you see U.S. military changing anything as a result of China's stance?
KITFIELDIf anything they're more likely at attest this and basically make the point they made with those two bombers. They're going to keep, you know, sending the message that we don't recognize this, we cannot recognize this. So if anything it'll increase probably U.S. presence in that area. But I don't think -- we don't want a confrontation. I'm sure the five hours were a discussion between Biden and the Chinese counterpart -- and president was, you know, how do we avoid a confrontation here? But, you know, again it sends a really bad signal to the neighborhood that this is how China's going to act as soon as it gets power.
KITFIELDAnd I agree, usually when China does things like this it's for domestic consumption. They want to -- I mean, they know that they whip up -- they want to change the subject in some way. If there's a controversy at home, you know, if you whip up nationalism that's the way that the government usually changes the subject in something that's favored. So...
REHMCourse they probably have their own war games too.
KITFIELDOh, you know it. Oh, absolutely.
KITFIELDYou can count on it.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about North Korea and Kim Jong Un. He's believed to have fired his uncle, executed others. What is happening in North Korea, Jonathan?
TEPPERMANIt's a power play. Kim Jong Un, now 30 years old, became the leader of the country two years ago. He was so young and untested and green at the time that the other powers in the ruling cadre decided he needed a regent. They picked this fellow Jang Song Thaek who is Kim's uncle. He's the husband of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il's sister. He's been a force in the country for years and he was brought on as mentor, as watchdog and as regent. He did a very effective job helping the younger Kim consolidate power.
TEPPERMANWithin the last two years they have purged and replaced 44 percent of the military and political establishment in the country. The supposition now is -- and I should add as a caveat that nobody ever really knows what's happening in the hermit and the hermetic kingdom. But the supposition is that Kim decided his uncle had done such a good job taking care of all of his enemies that he didn't need him anymore.
REHMWhoa. And public execution of two of the uncle's confidants?
KUBEAllegedly for corruption which apparently there's still an investigation going on, although, you know, who knows what's really going on inside of North Korea. There's a couple of things that can give us a better sense of whether Jang has really been pushed out of power. And that is, in about ten days or so there's the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il. And there'll be commemorations of some sort, probably a military parade or whatever. If we see Jang right next to Kim Jong Un then obviously he's not been pushed aside. If he's not there then that's a sign.
KUBEAnd, you know, one way of knowing whether this is some sort of a power play for Kim Jong Un is also does he start to increase his military rhetoric. Does he begin provocations -- international provocations with South Korea, with other countries, you know, begin talking about testing weapons and whatnot? That usually is a sign that there's some kind of a domestic instability.
KUBEAnd then, you know, as Jonathan was saying about the change in 44 percent of the people in the power positions in North Korea, you know, I think that we're going to see more and more of that -- as difficult as it is to speculate about anything in North Korea -- more and more of that. Because Kim Jong Un seems to be putting people in powerful positions who'll be more reliant on him. People who -- not people from his father's administration necessarily, like his uncle, but other people who will totally owe their power to him and be completely loyal to him.
REHMBut now haven't you already seen an aid to the uncle defect?
KITFIELDI did not read that. Is that correct?
REHMYes, apparently this morning Reuters and others report that a close aid of the uncle who has disappeared after being sacked is reported to have fled the country.
KITFIELDWell, they just executed two of his colleagues so the guy's probably pretty smart.
TEPPERMANThat's a good career move.
KITFIELDYeah, I think that's a good career move. I mean...
REHMYeah, and also there are photos that were released yesterday by Amnesty International showing evidence of the labor camps expanding. Not a good sign, Jonathan.
TEPPERMANNo, it's not. The big question in my mind is what this purge will result in. Will it increase stability or will it decrease stability? And there are scenarios for both. Consolidation of power could help Kim rule in a stronger and more direct way. He has promised things like economic reforms. This could help him deliver it. Or there could be pushback for the military establishment, which is feeling really under threat.
REHMJonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." North Korea acknowledged the arrest of an American. Let's talk about why and what you all expect this action could lead to the United States doing.
KITFIELDWell, this guy was a former -- apparently a former vet who had served in the Korean War. He was on a tour in which -- you know, they run these tours on a pretty regular basis. There are reports that he was asking his tour guide to put him in contact with some, you know, descendants of former people who he served with, some Koreans. If he did that was a very stupid move. That apparently got wind of the security forces. They arrested him. They have now paraded out this confession on video which leaves me to believe that they'll eventually let him go. He's quite old, obviously.
KITFIELDRight. So I don't think they'll want him to die on them and really create a crisis. So I suspect hopefully we'll see this guy let go after they've, you know, humiliated him. But, you know, it goes to the point of really how unpredictable this regime is. You know, I would argue that you've got to be pretty crazy as an American to go there because we constantly see them wanting to use Americans as pawns in this game. They're constantly playing with us, how far they can push us to get, you know, aid back in that country because they can't feed themselves.
REHMYou know, we've seen his wife speak out on television. What was his stated purpose of going there? Do we have any idea?
TEPPERMANHe ran a -- during the Korean War he ran a unit of covert operatives in the north. And my understanding was that he wanted to reconnect with them.
REHMI see. Not good.
TEPPERMANBut, if I may, I want to add one more comment which is that in a topsy-turvy world of North Korean politics, what looks like aggression and belligerence is often a mask for exactly the opposite. North Korea has a habit of behaving most aggressively when it's actually trying to reach out to the United States. And there is a history of the North Koreans arresting Americans. Why? So they can get a high level of American officials to fly to Pyongyang, which -- and get the person out.
TEPPERMANThis creates an opening for dialogue. It also gives credibility and legitimacy and attention to the regime. Bill Richardson has been one of those envoys who's flown over before. The most recent time they got Al Gore. I wouldn't be surprised if this is just like starting up their plutonium reactor as an attempt to get the West to reengage, both for prestige but also because North Korea uses these moves to extort more aid from the West.
KITFIELDAlert Dennis Rodman. Maybe if Richards is not available he can...
KUBEAnd there was one sign that North Korea is hopefully going to release him too, Merrill Newman, is that in this video -- this, you know, video where he allegedly confesses to these crimes during the Korean War, which was clearly written by the North Koreans because it's fraught with grammatical errors and sentences that don't make any sense. But in it he says something about how he's going to go back to the United States and he's going to tell the truth about North Korea and the land and the people and whatnot.
KUBESo the fact that that was written by the North Koreans and he was told to read it is hopefully a good sign that they are interested in eventually releasing him. He's 85 years old. He's apparently not well. You know, I don't know what they get from holding him and letting him die there.
REHMBut would you agree with Jonathan, James, that perhaps what they're begging for is attention and more money?
KITFIELDAbsolutely. I mean, and he's absolutely right that whenever they want to reach out they do something provocative because that's all they know how to do. They don't really have a very good back channel to us. So they do something like, you know, have a nuclear test or fire off a missile or something to get our attention. And then, he's absolutely right, Bill Richardson swoops in, they've got a dialogue going.
KITFIELDI will say the Obama Administration has been pretty good about not falling into that trap very often. So we'll see what happens.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs magazine. Short break here. When we come back, your calls, comments. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup, here with us: Courtney Kube of NBC News, James Kitfield of National Journal, and Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs magazine. Going to open the phones now. Many of you, I know, would like to offer comments about Nelson Mandela. First, to Mark in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air.
MARKYes, good morning, Diane. I love your show.
MARKUm, I wanted to talk about Nelson Mandela. And, you know, he makes us proud to be a human -- a fellow human being in what he did, and his forgiveness. I think that's the big message of his life. But I wanted to mention, too, that, you know, throughout his life and in our own country, Washington branded him a terrorist, and so did Margaret Thatcher and others that, um, he was on the terrorist watch list way too long. In fact, I don't think it was repealed until 2008.
MARKBut the point is, I think it's a reminder and a lesson for Washington that around the world we need to really make sure we know who we are branding terrorist. And, certainly, this man has shown, and through his work with ANC and really the forgiveness of what happened to his brothers in Africa during the times of apartheid. So, that's all I wanted to say. And thank you again.
REHMAll right, Mark. Good points. Thanks for calling. Jonathan.
TEPPERMANMark's absolutely right. You know, the white ANC power structure in South Africa was not the only one that benefited from Mandela's forgiveness, so did the United States because, as Mark pointed out, we did brand him as a terrorist. When sanctions were passed during the 1980s by the United States, it was by Congress against the opposition of the U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who had no interest in applying pressure on the South African regime. So, in that sense, it was Mandela who helped us move beyond that terrible legacy.
KITFIELDI mean, in your earlier show, it was mentioned. But, I mean, that was very much caught up in Cold War politics. And your reader makes a very good point, because often people who are considered terrorists, including some of Israel's old leaders, you know, start out in violent protest of something that they think is an injustice, and become, you know, very mainstream. In his case, he did help form the military wing of the ANC, because he saw that all their agitation was getting them nowhere. And for that he was labeled a terrorist and, you know, that was really a miscarriage of justice.
REHMWho knows what the language was at the time. But, perhaps, George Washington was through to be a terrorist by the Brits.
TEPPERMANHe was a traitor to the Brits.
REHMHe was a traitor. And let's go to Patricia in San Antonio, Texas. Hello, there.
PATRICIAThe purpose of my call is, for years I was a dedicated follower of Nelson Mandela. And, every year, '93, '94, and '95, I'd go spend a month in South Africa. I happened to be at the Kilimanjaro Hotel, and he had called and -- May 30, 1995, Nelson Mandela had called a meeting of many leaders. He had an idea of combining like the European Union, his idea for Africa. I was to check out because they needed my room. And as I left the hotel, I saw the red carpet rolled out and Kissinger and all these people that he had invited arrived.
PATRICIAI get to the airport. The pilots are on strike. I got back to the hotel. And that's where I had -- got the opportunity to sit down and talk to him. I went to the front desk. I said, "Where are all these people?" The person at the front desk said, "They're upstairs having lunch." I go up to the second floor. It's a huge, empty room half the size of a football field, with one couch in the middle. A girl was vacuuming and I said to her, "All those people in there, when they finish lunch, is there any way they can sneak out the back?"
PATRICIAAnd she says, "No, ma'am. So I sat on the couch, waited and waited and waited. Finally, everybody had left the luncheon and Nelson Mandela came walking by with a friend of his. And, of course, I, you know, I was just in shock. And I went up to him and I put my hand out and shook hands with him and said everything that came out of my mouth, which I'm unconscious to remembering right now, because I was just so star-struck. He takes his other hand -- I'll never forget it, I can still feel it -- he put his other hand on the other side so that both of his hands are holding my right hand.
PATRICIAAnd I'd love to know the man that was with him. But as he shakes...
REHMWell, Patricia, that we may never know. But what a glorious opportunity for you. I, too, had the opportunity to shake Nelson Mandela's hand when he was here, in Washington, at the South African Embassy. A moment neither my husband nor I shall ever forget. Thanks for calling. And let's go now to Andre in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air.
ANDREHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
ANDREI'd like to tell people about Ukraine.
ANDREIn 2004 -- in 2004 Orange Revolution produced just a lemon government. And they were so bad and abusive they lost the next election right away. And, since now -- since then, President Yushchenko is nowhere around. Prime Minister Tymoshenko is in jail. She's a convicted felon now. And that movement on the square, it has nothing to do with a democracy movement. It's just the remnants of that government trying to get back the power and try to free a convicted felon.
ANDREAnd President Yanukovych did not sign that agreement, primarily because there was a requirement to release convicted felon. And I feel sorry about those kids who've been just simply used by so-called opposition, who was just a...
ANDREYeah, yeah. Thank you very much.
REHMI -- thank you, Andre. James, the Ukraine was one of the subjects we wanted to talk about. He mentioned the protests there. What's going on?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, he raises an interesting point. One of the -- what's going on is the Ukraine is trying to make a decision. Is it going to -- is its future with Europe or is its future with Russia. I think probably a majority of Ukrainians think their future should be with Europe, because they can see the prosperity there. But Russia is exerting intense pressure on the leader to come into a customs union with Russia and Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is the little, call it, dictators. And he walked right up to an agreement with the Europeans and then backed down and basically backed down under Putin's pressure.
KITFIELDAnd there's protests about that.
REHMBut did the EU try to push too hard?
KITFIELDI don't think so. I mean this has been going on -- they've been -- this little dance, and the EU never -- and the EU is very bureaucratic. So for Ukraine to even get to the step where they're willing to, you know, establish a more formal trade -- it takes years of them making sure that all the Ts are crossed and all the Is are dotted. So I don't think it's happened too fast. I think that he got cold feet at the end because, yes, one of his, you know, his predecessor's now in jail. A lot of people think that that's a totally politically trumped-up charges.
KITFIELDAnd he knows, if he has to let her out, she'll probably beat him in the next election.
KITFIELDAnd, also, the Russians were really saying, you know, we're going to cut off trade with you if you got this route. And he buckled.
TEPPERMANI mean you can make the point that the European position was not effective strategically because they did insist, as a condition for signing the association agreement, that the president release his predecessor, Tymoshenko, from prison. But, as James said, that -- she's there because of a corruption trial that has been widely denounced as having been fraudulent and unfair. The president is fighting for his survival at this point. He knows that, if he lets her out of prison, she will likely win the next election.
TEPPERMANThat's a problem for him because he loses power. It's also a problem for him because he is a profoundly corrupt leader who has used his term in office to vastly enrich himself and his family. His son, who is a dentist, has suddenly become among the hundred richest men in Ukraine in the last year through completely mysterious means. If the president loses the next election, he will face the kind of corruption trials that Tymoshenko faced when she lost office. So he is not only trying to navigate this geopolitical struggle between East and West, he's also fighting for his political and in some senses his more material survival.
KUBEI don't think you can underestimate the pressure that he also has -- he's getting from Russia. They've threatened to cut off trade. They've threatened to sanction. And it's not the first time -- it wouldn't be the first time that they've cut off, you know, gas and whatnot to Ukraine. China's also offered them some sort of a deal. It seems like it's about $8 billion financial help. So, right now, I mean, you know, President Yushchenko, he's got the Chinese and the Russians on his side and he doesn't have to give into any of the concessions that the EU is asking for, so...
REHMAll right. To Troy in Loogootee, Indiana. You're on the air.
TROYYeah, Diane. Thanks for your program. I've enjoyed it -- sitting here listening to it.
REHMI'm so glad.
TROYI think, every -- your -- on Mandela. I was an election observer -- international election observer for the Mandela election. And we went over there and monitored the election, basically. I grew up so much over there, seeing what was going on. But we are so controlled, even today, we don't know the truth. It was not about black and white over there, as we've been led to believe over the years through history. It was about rich and poor. Helping put on the election was white African-Americans, who were poor, but they were more educated than the black.
TROYThe black was the lowest level. And Mandela was the only one who could turn it around, or they was going to have another massacre. That's what the election was about.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Any comments?
KITFIELDWell, I would just say that, you know, before you can sort out injustice between classes and economic injustice, you have to sort out what the root cause is of that. We had this in our own South, where you had segregation. That institutionalizes those divides. It doesn't mean that once you get rid of the racial problems that suddenly the economic problems are solved. But you're never going to solve the economic problems until you first get rid of the racial discrimination.
KUBEYeah, the -- I mean, the racist actions, they were a part of the legal framework in South Africa before Nelson Mandela came to power. The textbooks -- children's textbooks in schools -- they had racist ideology in them. And before there was the constitution, there was -- So I'm, yes, there was -- obviously there was a problem with the socioeconomic as well. But there was a tremendous, deep racial divide that was so deeply, deeply ingrained in that populous in that country that it caused tremendous unrest.
TEPPERMANThat's right. And it's, again, a mark of South Africa's enormous progress, that the dividing lines now are no longer black and white. But they are economic. While many of the structural causes that kept blacks out of the workforce have been removed, the government hasn't done enough to empower the truly needy poor, black South Africans. Their policy of economic empowerment has enriched a small black upper class, but not done a lot.
REHMAnd, you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Here's an email from Ed in Tallahassee, Florida, who says, "I believe Mr. Mandela should be compared with George Washington. He was the first leader of a free nation. He was the nation's greatest general who fought and sacrificed his physical self for his nation. He reconciled with his former foes. He provided stability for his country during its weakest moments. All actions Mr. Washington did for this country."
KITFIELDHere, here. You know, they called -- in his homeland, they called Mr. Mandela "Tata," which is, in his tribal language, "father." And we called, you know, George Washington the father of our country, and I think aptly so.
REHMAnd here's a comment that was posted on The New York Times website from Rosalie. She says, "I cannot explain how sad Mandela's death makes me feel. I grew up in apartheid South Africa, 15 years old, standing in a long line, watching my mother vote for the first time in her 44 years. She was jailed twice for curfew. Her brother, an anti-apartheid activist, is still missing to this day. South Africa was more than blessed to have a leader such as this man, where a country could transition peacefully. Because of him and those like my uncle, I am free today."
KUBESo many wonderful stories. I mean that's the one thing. There've have been just such -- amazing. I heard a story by one of the biographers -- one of Mandela's biographers -- that when he would go out in the mornings and he would see little children out on the streets and when he'd be out, you know, walking around, taking his morning jogs, the one thing he would always ask the little kids he saw was, "What did you have for breakfast?"
REHMAh, I love that.
KUBEI just -- it's what -- he was just such a charming man who, you know, people spoke about his enormous smile and his welcoming demeanor. And all of these stories just really reinforce everything that we've heard and read and seen from him over the years.
REHMAnd the comparison to Churchill and Churchill's funeral.
TEPPERMANThat's right. On Washington, first, what Courtney has just alluded to is another comparison between the way the two of them wielded power once they took office. Part of what South Africans loved so much about Mandela was the incredible modesty that he showed when he became president. This was a guy who refused to live in the presidential mansion, lived in his little house instead and made his own bed every morning. Similarly, Washington, when he became leader of the country, it wasn't even clear that he would become president. There was talk about making him a king.
TEPPERMANHe absolutely refused that. He also governed modestly. And he was very happy to concede power at the end of his term, as Mandela did after serving just one term. Winston Churchill is another character that Mandela has been compared to on this show and by others, for the way they stepped up to save their country at a historically critical moment. And that brings to mind how Winston Churchill was feted and celebrated when he death -- when he dies, excuse me. There's a beautiful image shortly after he died. His body was taken by barge along the Thames up to his funeral.
TEPPERMANLondon was covered with cranes as it was rebuilding. And every crane dipped in tribute as his barge went by.
REHMAnd, finally, let's hear the words of Nelson Mandela himself.
MR. NELSON MANDELAThe time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divides us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation.
REHMThe words of Nelson Mandela. And, I think, his legacy, certainly part of it, is the idea of forgiveness. Thank you all, Jonathan Tepperman, Courtney Kube, James Kitfield. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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