Week in Review: Burma, Iran, Iraq

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Extraordinary protests in Myanmar dominated the week's news. Also making headlines were the visit of Iran's president to the United States for a speech to the United Nations and the request by the Bush administration for more money to fund operations in Iraq.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

Extraordinary images from the government protest in Myanmar continued to leak out to the world this week despite an intensifying crackdown there. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad causes a stir on his visit to the United States and the United Nations. And the United Auto Workers ended a two-day strike after reaching an agreement with General Motors.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr is here.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And distressing and moving images coming out of Burma this week of pacifist monks standing up to brutality…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …and army troops rolling over them. The government restricted Internet access on Friday, or will try to. Now, the military regime there in Burma, Myanmar, has been assailed for just about 20 years. Aung San Suu Kyi has been lionized and honored with a Nobel, but still kept under house arrest. Sanctions have been levied, but the regime continues.

SCHORR: The regime continues. The United States has taken some limited action, some sanctions against 10 or so of the leaders of this junta that runs Burma, and runs Burma into the ground. You have this sad sight of seeing bare-footed monks by the hundreds of thousand carrying signs saying, love and kindness, marching sometimes into the bullets of the military people. And what is it to do about it?

The United States and the Western world can do only so much; a lot depends, however, on what happens among the neighbors, among the Asian countries. Well, if (unintelligible) of Thailand, which itself has a military junta running it after a coup, and China, which is no model of democracy. And so if you're going to look to the neighbors to help, you don't get very much help and it looks as though there is a simple tragic stalemate.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what happens in Iran and around the subject of Iran in the wake of President Ahmadinejad's visit to the U.N. and the United States, which met with some considerable protests sometime.

SCHORR: Protests in freaking cases in his presence by people introducing him.

SIMON: Yes, from the president of Columbia University, most notably, who turned to him and said you have - I must tell you the evidence suggests that you display all the traits of a petty tyrant.

SCHORR: Petty tyrant, those are the words.

SIMON: On Friday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the group of eight powers had come up with a list of 14 new possible sanctions for Iran…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …over its nuclear program. Now, Mr. Kouchner has been outspoken on this issue.

SCHORR: He's been outspoken on it, but at the same time the French, as Europeans in general, are trying to find a way of stepping up the sanctions. But what they really seemed to be afraid of is that the United States government may decide to take military action, which they all dread happening. And so they're doing their best to get the stiffest sanctions that they can, and it's probably the way it will go for sometime. Ahmadinejad, I think, profited from his trip here. He was viewed back in Tehran as really giving it to the great Satan, and I think it improved his position in which he had been a little bit shaky.

SIMON: Back to the United States, General Motors reached a tentative contract agreement with the United Auto Workers this week. Union members are going to vote on the contract in upcoming weeks. Preliminary indications are that most of their membership…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …accepts it. What are some of the features of this agreement do you notice?

SCHORR: Well, there are two very important features of this agreement. One is that the money for health fund, instead of being administered by GM will be turned over in a certain lump sum so to speak to the UAW, which will then administer it. What that means, of course, is the money will be fixed and if health cost rise, you may not get enough to cover it. But it was about the best you can get. Then also GM is now able to offer to many of its employees' retirement fund with the understanding that when they are replaced, it will be replaced at lower pay.

The thing to say, I think, about the GM agreement was - is that perfectly intelligent people realize that if this strike went on, it was not going to help GM, and the UAW couldn't possible gain from it. And so in the end, some common sense triumphed and you got this compromise.

SIMON: Defense Secretary Gates went to Capitol Hill this week and asked for an additional $42 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will more Democrats be more willing this time to withhold funding? Will it sharpen the debate among Democrats?

SCHORR: The Democrats are in the position where as soon as they say we want to hold back funding, then they are accused of deserting the soldiers in the field. And they have found that there really isn't a way of doing that. They're thinking of other possibilities. There was an idea launched by Senator Joseph Biden, I think, in terms of splitting up Iraq into three countries. There are lots of ideas about things to do.

SIMON: He got some people to co-sign that…

SCHORR: I think lots of people who co-signed it actually were included in a bill that passed through the Senate. Well, non-binding. It's non-binding. The Democrats are stuck. Nobody likes the war, but nobody quite knows how to get out of the war.

SIMON: And Senator Biden's proposal about splitting Iraq essentially into three federal regions - Sunni, Shia and Kurdish - does it absolutely mean nothing without the assent of the central Iraqi government now in power?

SCHORR: Oh, it would more or less replaces the central government by some other kind of government, which would simply ride her to over these three regions. The big problem is that one region has the oil; Kurdistan has the oil. If you really split them up, how do you make sure that Kurdistan provides oil revenue to the other two?

SIMON: And then arguing over oil, as we know, can take some time.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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