Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

This week, Afghanistan prepared for a run-off election, Iran postponed a decision on what to do with its nuclear material, and the United States clamped down on executive pay. Host Scott Simon reviews the week in the news with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, Afghanistan prepares for runoff election. Iran postpones a decision on what to do with its nuclear material. And the United States tries to clamp down on executive pay.

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

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott. But first, I have to correct an error that I made last week when I said that President Obama had decided to send some 40,000 troops to Afghanistan. Of course, he didn't. My impression of it is that he was about ready to but I understand that he found that he would rather wait until the November 7th re-run of the election.

SIMON: Well, and let's take that as our followup point then, because there will be a runoff between President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, his principal challenger. He finished second in the balloting this summer. How does this runoff affect the political landscape?

SCHORR: Well, as far as the Obama administration was concerned, they were really very fast losing interest in the Karzai government. And this gives them a chance to get a government more to the liking of the United States and perhaps some of the European countries, as well.

Again, I have the impression, nothing very hard, but I have the impression that they will go ahead with the election. That there's a very good chance that Karzai will still win something close to 50 percent, more or less. Now, then they will entertain ideas like having a coalition government, that is Abdullah as well as Karzai together. That is, I think, what they're now aiming at.

SIMON: Meanwhile, of course, killings continued in Pakistan. And let me get you to step back for a bit and assess what the growing conflict in Pakistan means for policy in the region.

SCHORR: Well, you know, at one point, the Bush administration was totally bound up with Iraq, when the real problem was in Afghanistan. And now, apparently, once again, there's a tendency not to see where the biggest problem is. Afghanistan is treated as though it is the center of our problem in the Middle East. But more and more, it begins to look as though Pakistan is.

They get a series of explosions, which they seem to be unable to stop. The Taliban seems to be perfectly well organized, although there's an offensive going on in the north against the Taliban. But they simply seem to be holding their own. And I think pretty soon it'll look as though Afghanistan is a secondary problem.

SIMON: Outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan, let me ask you about Iran. It was supposed to decide this week whether to accept an International Atomic Energy Agency proposal…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …detailing how it would handle its nuclear fuel supply.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Now, the Iranians have said they're going to decide that next week.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: What do you make of that reaction?

SCHORR: Well, apparently, it was supposed to be a big success for Obama's engagement policy that the Iranians had decided that they would be willing to accept a deal in which their uranium would be sent to Russia for processing and would come back for use in reactors and pretty safe, and that was a big deal. So, of course, the decision was supposed to be announced by Friday. It wasn't announced by Friday.

It looks as though there are differences of some kind, either within the Iranian government, which they seem to be changing their minds about precisely whether to accept it or not, and may well indicate divisions in the Iranian government. It may also be that they're taking us down the garden path again.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. You mean agreeing one week and then changing their position the next week?

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Which offers the illusion of cooperating without actually cooperating.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. They're talking. There isn't any real success for the policy of talk to them, they'll talk back to you.

SIMON: Let's move onto domestic news. Certainly a big story this week, the decision by an Obama administration official to change the salary structure…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …for top executives at those companies that received some of the TARP bailout funds.

SCHORR: Yes, and apparently it's a very significant thing that's being done. One of the interesting elements is that, in many cases, they will receive not cash but they will receive options on their own stock. The result of that is to give them a really keen interest in the performance of their companies since their pay will, in large part, depend on it.

SIMON: What's the significance of, this week, congressional Democrats beginning efforts to strip the U.S. insurance - medical insurance industry of its antitrust exemption?

SCHORR: Well, they're playing hardball. First, the insurance industry played hardball by coming out sort of at the last minute with a denunciation of the plan which had been drawn up. And so, the government tried to sort of get back at them in its own way. They had benefited from this waiver on antitrust. And now if that waiver is removed, it's going to cost them a lot of money. But that's hardball on health insurance.

SIMON: If that waiver is removed, does that in theory open a space for a public option…

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: …which polls revealed this week seems to be popular among many U.S. citizens?

SCHORR: That's right. That's right. The public option seems to be gaining.

SIMON: And finally, the topic of health - swine flu, the H1N1 virus, which has killed almost 5,000 people around the world. According to World Health Organization, reports this week that people who needed the vaccine couldn't get it - long lines. People showed up, pregnant women were left in line, weren't able to get it. How is the U.S. federal government, after several months of preparation, dealing with this?

SCHORR: Well, they're dealing with it by trying to explain that these things don't happen simply. And that when they found out that it took longer than they thought it would take, as for me, let me say that at the age of 93, one of few blessings is that I'm supposed to be more immune to swine flu.

SIMON: And let me say, with two young children who came down with H1N1 this week, I'm very glad that you and your wife will be babysitting for them this weekend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: Oh yes, at our age, we're safe.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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