Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

This week, climate talks continued in Copenhagen, there was more debate over health care in the Senate, and Iran continued to expand its nuclear program despite the threat of further sanctions. 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, an agreement at the climate talks in Copenhagen, debate over health care in the U.S. Senate, and Iran continues to expand its nuclear ambitions despite the threat of further sanctions.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins. Morning, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And a couple of big issues - well, obviously more than a couple going on this weekend, but let's begin with the agreement in Copenhagen. Is it an agreement? Is it a roadmap? Does it have any teeth? What do you - how do you characterize what they've decided to do?

SCHORR: Well, it didn't go as far as environmentalists would want it. There were no targets to set for reducing emissions. There was no sense of anything binding. And so it's very easy to pick out what was not there. On the other hand, the president claims that there was a victory and that there was a start on something, even though there was no binding agreement there. You know, the character of this president is such that he manages to go in, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, take the best he can get and can proclaim victory, which is what he's doing.

SIMON: And President Obama returned to Washington shortly after 1:00 a.m. in the middle of a raging snowstorm, and certainly intent on trying to get the health care overhaul bill through the U.S. Senate. And it seems now as if the Democrats may have the 60 votes they need and want.

SCHORR: That's right. It just happened today that finally Senator Ben Nelson, who had been holding out on getting the language he wanted on abortion into the bill, has finally decided he's happy with what he has and he has announced that he's going to vote, which means they have their 60th vote. It really is really quite remarkable the amount of power in the hands of any one of the 60.

SIMON: Well, explain that to us a little bit, because here you apparently have 60 votes and yet the question that we wrestle with now is - when are they going to have a vote?

SCHORR: That's right. And I think they are now moving towards a vote. I think they are talking about having a cloture vote on Monday morning. Cloture, meaning that they close off debate and then get ready to vote on the bill itself.

SIMON: But it becomes difficult for people in the opposition to agree to a vote when they have people on their side who are telling them you have to use every means at your disposal to try and delay a vote.

SCHORR: That's right, and they certainly are doing very well at delaying such matters. For example, if there's a long amendment, they insist on having the entire amendment read by the clerk, which takes four or five, six hours. And they have many, many ways of delaying many, many times.

SIMON: But ultimately it looks like a vote's going to be at hand in the next few days.

SCHORR: But all the same, in its own way they are shuffling towards a vote.

SIMON: The Senate has already passed a $636 billion defense spending bill today, including almost $130 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Speaker Pelosi in the House made it clear this week, I believe her phrase was this blunt, the President Obama was on his own when it came to trying to win votes from House Democrats for his policies in Afghanistan. How unusual is this, based on your long experience?

SCHORR: Well, it is unusual. Usually the speaker, being of the same party as the president, would tend to support him as much as possible. I take it there's a little irritation there, that a president goes gallivanting off to -gallivanting to Copenhagen and leaving her to try to rally the Democratic troops. And I think she wanted to make her feelings known, and she sure did.

SIMON: Iran conducted another missile test this week. The Iranian government announced at the same time it's closer to using a new generation of nuclear centrifuges to enrich uranium.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: In the meantime, I believe there's a deadline at the end of the year, isn't there?

SCHORR: Well, there has been this deadline. When Prime Minster Netanyahu saw President Obama they agreed that they would go on attempting to negotiate until the end of the year. And after the end of the year, if Iran had not come through, they'd have to go on to other measures. Well, they're a little more than a week away for when that time comes due, and a lot of people are sitting, biting their nails, saying - and then what?

SIMON: Is this a flurry of demonstrations that Iran is making to prove a point, that they're not going to back down, or is it possible some kind of agreement's is in the offing?

SCHORR: I think that the Iranian government is trying very hard to elicit some nationalist support. And by making the enemy the United States and the outside world, they're trying to overcome the fact that there's a mounting opposition to the government itself. It's rather typical of dictatorial governments of that sort when they think they're - when they think that they are in trouble with their own people is to find an enemy, and the U.S. is their enemy.

SIMON: President Obama reportedly sent a letter to Kim Jong Il of North Korea, proposing the opening of a U.S. liaison office in that country. What would that do?

SCHORR: What it would do would be to start negotiations with North Korea again. Those were going along on a six party basis, then stopped. And now the United States is trying to get them started. If they can get negotiations started, then eventually they can get around to raising the question of getting rid of the nuclear potential in North Korea, but I don't see it happening quite yet.

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

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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