Week in Review

Guest host John Ydstie discusses the week's top stories with Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is on assignment. I'm John Ydstie.

This week, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hangs up his military uniform, Russia prepares to hold parliamentary elections, and the United States hosts a Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us to talk about it all. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, John. And can I, in behalf of all of us, welcome you aboard?

YDSTIE: Thank you very much. It's always nice to be here.

Let's start with this peace conference in Annapolis. There have, of course, been many other attempts to broker peace in the Middle East at Camp David, Madrid, Oslo. What gives us reason to believe this attempt will succeed where others have failed?

SCHORR: Well, I think it's always safe when you're dealing with the Middle East situation to be pessimistic. And yet, let me point out a couple of possibilities here. One is that a very interesting statement was made by Prime Minister Olmert when he got back to Israel. And he said that if we don't succeed in creating a Palestinian state then Israel is finished - a most remarkable statement. He said it will become like South Africa in civil war.

So I think the urge, at least, on the part of the Israelis, but I imagine also most of the Palestinians, they would really like it to happen. Whether it can happen, given the deadlocks they have over many, many issues over many, many years, we don't know. But I must say that the U.S., at least, is sounding a little more optimistic than when they went into it. And what is interesting now is that there is also a new procedure. Instead of being a straight mediation, you're going to have two people there and an American. And that American, at certain points, will say you're right, you're right and you're wrong and you're wrong.

YDSTIE: Sort of arbitrator.

SCHORR: Which begins to become less mediation and more arbitration. Whether that will work, we'll see.

YDSTIE: Let's turn to Pakistan for a moment. This week, President Musharraf stepped down as army chief and was sworn in as president for a new five-year term.

SCHORR: Right.

YDSTIE: Musharraf also announced plans to lift the state of emergency on December 16th.

SCHORR: Mm-hmm.

YDSTIE: And Pakistan's parliamentary elections remains scheduled for January 8th.

SCHORR: Right.

YDSTIE: Did these actions make the return of democracy to Pakistan any more likely?

SCHORR: Well, certainly it looks a little bit better than when he was refusing to step down, refusing to take off his uniform. The fact that he has made a couple of concession being greeted as good steps, the long way to go is not yet taken aboard the opposition, which doesn't believe they'll have a fair election, and they may boycott the election. The opportunities for trouble in Pakistan are always great, and yet, somehow it looks a little better than it looked a week ago today.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Russia is also preparing for a parliamentary election. It comes much sooner - this Sunday. President Putin heads a list of candidates for the United Russia Party, but it looks like the party is headed for a landslide, so why the big push to trounce his opposition if he's in such good shape?

SCHORR: Because he wants to establish that this is his Russia as it is now. He really wants to show now that this is a big country and he's a big guy, and he can do it any way he wants to. He can make himself prime minister after he appoints the - decides who the president will be; he can do whatever he wants.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Also, Russia announced that is it temporarily withdrawing from the conventional forces in Europe Treaty.

SCHORR: Yes.

YDSTIE: That's the treaty that limits deployment of conventional weapons in Europe.

SCHORR: Correct. Correct.

YDSTIE: It seems like an ominous sign. What do you make of this move?

SCHORR: It is an ominous sign. I mean, Putin really wants to rub the U.S. nose in it. He's very angry because President Bush insists on having an anti-missile defense based partly in Eastern Europe and Czech Republic and in Poland. He says, I don't want that there, and he's making it clear that he has ways of responding, and I'm not sure there won't be more. Right now, he takes great joy in facing up to Bush.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Let's move on to China which, this week, rejected a request to allow a U.S. Navy ship into Hong Kong's harbor. Last week, China barred another ship, the USS Kitty Hawk, from a port call. What's going on there?

SCHORR: There are two things that China is very angry about. One has to do with the very good reception that the Dalai Lama got here, and the other has to do with a sale of arms to Taiwan. Now, Tibet, Taiwan - China claims as its own, so anything that indicates that you're going to touch them at one way or another -by greeting the Dalai Lama or selling arms - makes them - and they want to show it, and they show it in a very obvious way.

YDSTIE: Well, let's complete our around-the-world trip by returning home. As you know, Dan, the Republicans debated in St. Petersburg, Florida this week. Any thoughts on what they said?

SCHORR: Thoughts. It's getting nastier; there's a big argument over immigration between the two frontrunners; it's not clear that they went anywhere. Huckabee is coming up, and people don't know what that's going to do. To me, the moment that may typify this kind of debate came when a question was asked for Mayor Giuliani: Do you take the Bible to be literally true? And he paused for a minute and had to worry about what trouble he was going to get into. And said, well, I do believe in the Bible, but I'm not sure it's exactly right about Jonah and whale.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: NPR news analyst Dan Schorr, thank you very much.

SCHORR: Sure, John.

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