Week in Review: Iraq Funding, Blair Stepping Down

In the news this week: the House of Representatives voted to extend funding for the Iraq war through July, critics of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz continued calls for his dismissal and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the date he will step down.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week the House of Representatives voted to extend funding for the war in Iraq to July. Critics of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz continued their calls for his dismissal. British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the date he will step down and the new French president-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, stepped up.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And to move in with what the House did this week in Iraq. They voted to release only about half of the $96 billion that President Bush had requested. And insists that the Iraqi government will have to demonstrate it has met certain security benchmarks by mid-July before the rest of those funds are released.

What are we looking at? Another presidential veto, more negotiations?

SCHORR: Yes. What we're looking - yes - at another presidential veto that bill, which will be adopted by the Senate in some form or another that will go to the president and he says he's going to sign it. However, there is something new.

A group of Republicans went to tell the president that they're in serious trouble and he's going to do something for them. So he has now said that he will consider benchmarks. This is the first time he's been willing to consider anything like that. So we move ahead.

SIMON: At the same time, a delegation of prominent Iraqis has been in the Capitol this week, telling lawmakers that troops shouldn't be pulled out of Iraq.

SCHORR: Oh that's right. And the president of Iraq has made his speech in Cambridge (unintelligible) saying that they must have troops there for at least another year or two. They have sent also a group of people from the Iraqi government to lobby here in Washington. They've been all over the Capitol Hill. So this takes on a very interesting aspect and that we're going have the people that we're supposedly trying to help are going to come in to lobby and say, please, please, we need those troops.

SIMON: President of World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz's controversy continues to swirl over charges that he had a conflict of interest in a pay raising promotion for his companion in 2005. Board members have found him officially culpable in that conflict of interest. Do they have the power to remove him?

SCHORR: They can make life very difficult for him. The U.S. Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, had said the whole world is watching, which I think is a way of saying that (unintelligible) me a lot more American money, you're not to make trouble for the president's nominee for head at the World Bank. And so this goes merrily along.

It's no longer a question of what he did or did not do in putting his companion into a very well paid job and all.

SIMON: Now he didn't actually appoint her to that job.

SCHORR: No, but he had her transferred to a position in the State Department, and then, somehow, the raise in pay for…

SIMON: And Dan, we are talking about somebody with independent credentials.

SCHORR: That is true.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: However, as regard to Wolfowitz, that his problem is that there were a lot of people who have a lot of scores to settle with him since he was the one who is the architect of the war in Iraq. And so I think for a lot of people, this is no longer question of what he did or did not do, but if they have an excuse for it, they really now want to lay him out.

SIMON: Attorney General Gonzales is back in Congress this week, testifying about the U.S. attorney firings. Did he restore that body's confidence in his administration over the Justice Department?

SCHORR: I really don't - not really. I mean, there was a - constantly questions being put to him - got a list of prosecutors, where did that list come from? Whose list was it? And he didn't remember. It was so long ago, so on and so forth.

Unlike, however, Wolfowitz who depends on a lot of Europeans and so on and so forth, this one depends only on a president and as long as the president's there, I imagine he'll be there.

SIMON: Prime Minister Blair, as we mentioned, announced this week he will leave office after 10 years on June 27 in winning three national elections. He makes this announcement at the same week that he's part of announcing that there's a peace agreement in Northern Ireland to end that conflict after several generations.

SCHORR: Yes. He made 37 trips to Northern Ireland. And he got an agreement with - they now have joint forces in dual government. And it is like a good deed in a naughty world. It's one of the few things where people are coming together in amity anywhere in the world. And I think as for Blair, they will undoubtedly be raising a statue to him in Belfast.

SIMON: Six men arrested this week for planning an attack on the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. Allegedly they said they wanted to kill as many U.S. soldiers as possible.

SCHORR: Yeah. It is interesting. These are very, very ordinary people. And it looked like in this world today where you can become famous even if you don't survive. You become famous. They wanted to become famous. I thought it was interesting that when they were taken into court, their relatives were there. And they blew kisses to their relatives. Sort of, look at us, how important we are.

SIMON: The French elections, Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected over Segolene Royal as Jacques Chirac steps down. What do you make of the turn that the French electorate took?

SCHORR: Well, I think that the French are ready for a change. The word change is very important there. And Sarkozy does promise change. And I think that when it came down to it, it was a very solid victory that he won. France needs help. The economy has weakened. He's promised to really make things change. We do that sometimes. People run for election just on the word change. That's happened in France now.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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