Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

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This week the U.S. and Russia signed a nuclear arms treaty in advance of the nuclear terrorism summit next week in Washington, and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced he'll retire this summer. Host Scott Simon reviews the week's news with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Two major stories we're following today. The president of Poland has been killed in a plane crash in western Russia. He was traveling with his wife and several of Poland's top military and civilian leaders to an event to mark the 70th anniversary of a massacre of Polish officers by Soviet secret police. The plane crashed in thick fog with 96 people on board. Apparently no survivors.

And also today, sad news from West Virginia, where rescuers have found the bodies of four missing miners. They'd been missing since Monday, when an explosion tore through the Upper Big Branch Mine. And coming up we'll have a report from Raleigh County, West Virginia.

First, a look back at some of the week's other news. We're joined by NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr.

Hi, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And, Dan, a critical week for U.S./Russian relations, seemingly.

SCHORR: Oh, yes.

SIMON: President Obama just returned from signing a new nuclear treaty with Russia. Is this what he once referred to, I guess, last year as a reset of that relationship?

SCHORR: Well, a reset button, yes. I'll tell you. The relations with Russia seem to be proceeding now on two tracks - the good side and the not so very good side. The good side is they had this summit meeting with President Obama, who does very well in such meetings. They began calling each by their first names. They came out and announced that they have agreed to a treaty now to reduce by one-third the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which are in wretched excess anyway.

And then there is the other side. They made a point of saying that Russia still does not accept the idea of having an American defense against missiles based partly in East European countries, and if they go ahead with that, that's about the end of everything.

Also, there's the latest uprising in Kyrgyzstan, where it turns out that the president, who now has been installed by Russia, is probably planning to ask the United States to vacate the Air Force base that we have in Kyrgyzstan, which is very important because we need it now to begin moving troops to Afghanistan.

SIMON: Well, some people would submit that the relationship has been reset to the disadvantage of the U.S.

SCHORR: I am not sure - the U.S. can take care of itself. I don't see why it's to the disadvantage of the U.S. They agree on what they agree on. And they don't agree on what they don't agree on.

SIMON: The administration also released what's called the, in fact, the NPR review - Nuclear Posture Review.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Announcing that America...

SCHORR: Are they allowed to do that?

SIMON: You'd think it'd be copyrighted. I'm sure we have lawyers working on it, right, right? (Laughing) But the government can't afford to pay any kind of settlement, so I guess they figured that NPR would just look the other way.

America won't use its nuclear arsenal against non-nuclear states. What does this mean?

SCHORR: Well, for many, many years, ever since there's been a nuclear race, the question has been how to govern it, how to make sure people know what we'll fight for, what we won't fight for. Back in 1953, I remember, the Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles came out with what he called the Doctrine of Massive Retaliation. Because the Russians had so many troops massed along the Iron Curtain, they were saying, okay, you got a lot more conventional forces than we have. However, just so you'll know, that we will respond if necessary with a massive retaliation, meaning including nuclear, against a conventional attack.

Well, that went on and they've been trying to get off that for a long time. And now it's said, how about the idea that the United States promises not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. This, of course, is preparing to hit the meeting on non-proliferation, which is coming this next week, is the next big event, where they agree to do something about proliferation of weapons.

There remains that there are nuclear weapons. The danger of nuclear weapons probably becomes mainly today from terrorists or rogue states than it does from Russia and the United States, and we're fitting into the new mold of where the threat comes from.

SIMON: But is this also a means of saying to - I'll be this specific - North Korea, if you don't develop a nuclear weapon, you're in no danger of a nuclear attack from the United States, but if you do develop a nuclear weapon, that bet is off the table?

SCHORR: Well, exactly. And that goes double for Iran.

SIMON: Next week, there's a big summit of world leaders in Washington to discuss nuclear security around the world and specifically the threat of nuclear terrorism. What do you foresee coming out of that meeting?

SCHORR: Statements of how they're going to work together. They'll establish probably some international body to keep track of what is known in the world. I mean, we have now about nine countries with nuclear weapons. U.S. has 90 percent of all of them, but they're there. Some that we don't know where they are.

And I think the organization has to be created. And apparently that is what they have in mind at this great summit meeting in which there is an international effort directly devoted to finding out who is trying to develop nuclear weapons and how to slow them down.

SIMON: Question I feel moved to ask you this week: Based on your vast historical experience and your lifetime as a reporter, what do disarmament treaties accomplish or not, really?

SCHORR: Well, there is a school of thought that if you have a disarmament treaty, that the answer's going to be that it opens up for anybody who doesn't want to go in for disarmament and makes an opening for him and it does more harm than good. That's been argued in the past.

On the other hand, if states can't get together to take in concert what they're going to do about weapons now that we're in the nuclear age, then there is no hope at all.

SIMON: Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced Friday he's retiring after 34 years. President Obama says he plans to move quickly to select a nominee to replace him. Do you expect those hearings to be contentious?

SCHORR: Well, I'll tell you. Everything that involves the Senate and confirmation gets to be contentious these days. And while there's no reason why you can't replace a somewhat centrist justice with somebody just like him, our experience recently has been that there are filibusters, there are a whole array - an arsenal of ways in which Republicans can make trouble for Democrats.

And therefore I would not rule out the fact that it'll be a long and contentious series of hearings and a fight over something which really has no reason to be fought over.

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

SCHORR: All right. My pleasure.

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