Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

This week there were changes to the U.S. missile defense strategy and health care legislation got picked apart on the Hill. Host Scott Simon reviews the week in the news with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, changes to the U.S. missile defense strategy, and health care legislation gets picked to parts on Capitol Hill. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And we want to note that because of the Jewish New Year, we are recording this conversation on Friday. Let's start out with foreign news. The Obama administration announced this week that it's going to abandon plans set in place by the Bush administration to establish a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Take us through what contributed to this decision.

SCHORR: Well, this is an immensely complicated situation and let's see if I can reduce this to the small fine parts of it. Let's start with the fact that the greatest threat considered by the United States today is Iran and the possibility of Iran having a nuclear weapon. In order to deal with that, they need help from Russia. There may be sanctions, whatever, but they want Russia to exert pressure. Russia was not being very cooperative because of the U.S. plans to establish a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and in Poland, two former satellites of the Soviet Union.

So what happens now is that although the administration denies that the politics played any part, they had given up their plans for this missile defense system. That in turn creates a brand new problem with Poland, the Czechoslovakia and most of the other countries, which were all counting on United States to bring them into NATO. This was - the Russians have said, Medvedev, the president, has said, no, no, no, no, that we cannot permit it. (Unintelligible) we demand that Russia have privileged interests in the area which was once part of the Soviet Union or satellites. The result is step by step by step, one problem is solved, another problem is created. Russia is now more or less on board, now then the hope for being able to integrate East European countries suffers a terrible blow.

SIMON: Is the Obama administration saying when you sweep out some other considerations that it's more important to placate Russia…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …than it is to - to have an active partnership with Poland and the Czech Republic in NATO?

SCHORR: Yes, that's exactly what has happened. Russia has a veto in the security counsel and the United States that will probably need to get sanctions on Iran sometime later in the year and so on. And they can't move very far without Russia. They hold that card and the Russians are playing that card very cleverly.

SIMON: And of course the U.S. is scheduled to participate in talks with Iran next month. Can you project what - what impact this decision on missile strategy might have on those talks?

SCHORR: Well, clearly the United States is very anxiously to sit down and talk to Iran about the nuclear program. There is no, however, any assurance from the Iranians that they are ready to do that. They only said you want a meeting, you got a meeting. The president has indicated he wants to reach out to countries like that and talk to them. They say, yeah, we're willing to talk. I think we are pretty far away yet from getting their agreement to give up their nuclear program.

SIMON: And North Korea's leader now, Kim Jong Il, reportedly is expressing willingness to return to negotiations. Of course, the U.S. hopes that those talks with lead to shutting down North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Any idea why there seems to be this shift?

SCHORR: Well, I don't want to be pessimistic, but it seems to me that about every two or three years we hear that - that North Korea is willing to talk about getting rid of their nuclear weapons. And times passes, they don't allow the necessary inspection and then we are back again. I think that they simply are very, very good at playing the West by saying, yes, go ahead. Meanwhile, they need food, they need fuel. This is a fairly starving country. And so far, if this time they really are serious about getting rid of the nuclear weapon, which has catapulted them to a big position in Asia, I would be surprised.

SIMON: Of course health care. This week Senator Baucus of Montana released his version of the health care overhaul bill. I think it's safe to say that not a lot of people rushed to his side.

Mr. SCHORR: It is very safe to say that. He wrote this thing as part of a group of six that were trying to - in the end, it was he alone who came out with a plan. Senator Rockefeller was against it. Other people, the Republicans obviously say they are against it. It is very hard to see this getting very far. There will be other plans coming from the House and so on, but they are still stuck in that position that there is really a fundamental series of divisions between liberals and the conservatives as to which way to go.

And I don't see the exit from that very clearly. The one thing I do see, however, is that if this doesn't work, they're prepared to go into the Senate using the so-called reconciliation procedure, which allows them to get things done by a simple majority vote of 51 and not allow for filibuster. That is probably the way they are headed.

SIMON: That's what you see as looming ahead in the health care overhaul debate.

Mr. SCHORR: That's what I think is moving ahead.

SIMON: NPR's senior analyst Dan Schorr, thanks so much.

SCHORR: Thank you.

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