Week in Review

Barbara Slavin, senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today, steps in for Daniel Schorr to review the week's news.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of. The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing and a fair vote.

SIMON: President Bush speaking at the White House on Friday after Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced that she will resign. Dan Schorr is away this week, so we're joined by Barbara Slavin, who's senior diplomatic reporter--or correspondent--for USA Today.

Ms. BARBARA SLAVIN (USA Today): As you like.

SIMON: Correspondent, on-air promotion. Well, thank you very much for being in with us.

So many wise people had actually prepared for Justice--Chief Justice Rehnquist to announce his resignation, and then it's Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman to serve on the high court and for the past number of years often identified as the difference in many close court cases. What does this portend for the ideological mix and balance of the court when she resigns?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, it's really been an earthquake. She is the compassionate conservative that President Bush said he would be when he ran for president. And I think that's why this is such stunning news. As you pointed out, her vote has been so important. In 77 percent of the five-four cases, she sided with the majority on this court. And so she really has been at the center of all their various decisions. The concern is what sort of replacement will be chosen. Will President Bush go for a social conservative? There's a lot of pressure on him to do that. Will it then affect the balance on cases involving affirmative action, abortion in particular? A lot of concern about that. Will he go for more of a consensus choice? Will he try to get this through the Senate without the sort of acrimony that a lot of people are predicting?

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about that, because--do you see any indications right now of what the confirmation process is going to be like? Because it was just a few weeks ago they forestalled a battle kind of because they said, `Well, we'll each agree to kind of shore up our ammunition' for this one that's now suddenly in front of them.

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, a lot of people who had reservations at the beach are canceling them, I understand, and all of Washington is now girding for battle in August. Not clear that the hearings will be in August, but it's quite possible that there will be hearings. And you see the mobilization. I mean, the e-mails are flying thick...

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. SLAVIN: ...back and forth from all the various groups. The money is being raised now. People had been expecting a battle because of Rehnquist. They will have the battle now over O'Connor.

SIMON: I want to ask you, in your more ordinary portfolio--nothing ordinary about it--there is speculation that President Bush will use the recess of the Congress to appoint--an interim appointment it's called--John Bolton as the United Nations ambassador. Confirmation obviously had been blocked in the Senate, but he does have the option of appointing him during the recess. What are some of the advantages and perhaps drawbacks of the president giving a recess appointment to the UN ambassador?

Mr. SLAVIN: A lot of drawbacks I think in this case because it's been so controversial. President Bush wants a strong voice at the United Nations. If it's John Bolton, he goes there a bit as damaged goods. Speculation that he would be named in this recess seems to be diminishing. Now there's talk of perhaps the August recess, perhaps not at all. In a strange way, the Supreme Court decision may affect Bolton. Some are suggesting because he wants to get his appointment through on the Supreme Court, he may give up on Bolton and sort of throw a gift to the Democrats, name somebody less controversial who will go straight through; save his fire for Supreme Court. Then there are others who say President Bush will stick his finger in the eye of the Democrats and try to ram Bolton down. I have a sense that we will not get a Bolton announcement, at least not during this recess. And we'll have to see. I think the two will interplay, in a way. That should be interesting.

SIMON: The president gave a speech, a televised speech, from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, on Tuesday where he said that he did not want and would not set a timetable for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. And he also stressed that sacrifices being made in Iraq are worth it. Now polls show that the American people have dwindling support for the war in Iraq. What's your estimation of what effect the speech might have had?

Ms. SLAVIN: I don't think it had very much effect, frankly. I think opinions are hardening, to a great extent, on Iraq. In some ways, it was a missed opportunity to perhaps admit, to a greater extent, mistakes that have been made there. Although, he did actually, for the first time, make some admissions which very few people seem to have noticed. I don't know. I caught this. He did say that the readiness of Iraqi forces that are being trained by the United States are uneven. He also said that progress had been uneven in terms of reconstruction. So there was a little bit of a kind of modified admission of problems there, but basically it was the same old message, `Stay the course. Stay the course,' seasoned with liberal references to September 11th.

SIMON: Let me ask you about something Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said this week, that there were several meetings--have been several meetings in Iraq between US officials and representative of insurgent groups, said the parts--they were part of an effort to include Sunnis in the political process and weaken the insurgencies. What does this represent as a possible shift in US policy? We spoke with some Iraqis this week that didn't think it was such a great idea.

Ms. SLAVIN: I think it's a recognition of reality. If the administration ever hopes to get US troops out of Iraq, there is going to have to be some greater outreach not just to Sunni Muslims but to Baathists, in particular, people who were part of Saddam's regime who may have some influence over the insurgency, may be able to bring down the level a bit.

SIMON: President Bush travels to Gleneagle, Scotland, this week for the G8 meeting. Prime Minister Tony Blair's made it clear that his agenda puts Africa and climate change at the top. Where's the United States stand on these issues?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, President Bush has given a little bit on Africa, not as much as Tony Blair would have liked. Earlier this week he announced some more money for Africa, another $1.7 billion. Most of it is going to go to aid people suffering from malaria. But Tony Blair has very ambitious goals. He's talked about $50 billion a year by 2010 in aid for Africa. The US gives about $4.3 billion right now. President Bush had something called the Millennium Challenge account, which was supposed to help African countries that were helping themselves. It's been a bit of a disappointment. Not very much money has been allocated. So he'll get some good points, I think, from Tony Blair, but it's still a disappointment, in terms of the British hopes anyway.

SIMON: Climate change. Any change?

Ms. SLAVIN: Again, a few token items, nothing major.

SIMON: I'll give you a chance to talk about Iran. Several former hostages that were held in the American Embassy after it was taken over in Tehran say they recognize the new president-elect. They looked him in the face and they remember him. And I gather there are new charges today.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yeah, there's some new charges. Actually, what was so ironic about this is that those who know Iran would have figured that had Ahmadinejad been important in the hostage crisis this would have been known. I mean, this is not a secret there. If you were in the hostage crisis, everybody knows it. A lot of people have risen to high position, frankly, because of it, people like Mary--Remember?--the spokesperson for the hostages. She's vice president of Iran, Massoumeh Ebtekar. Others are in the Parliament, various ministries. And so...

SIMON: And some of them have actually become reformers.

Ms. SLAVIN: Many of them have become reformers...

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. SLAVIN: ...and that's what's been the big irony. A lot of them are now reaching out toward the United States--Abbas Abdi, one of them that I spoke with yesterday. So had he been there, we would have known it. But he was a member of the Revolutionary Guards. He was a member of something called the basiji.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SLAVIN: And there are charges that he might have been involved in some murders in Vienna in 1989, much more serious.

SIMON: Well, those will be, I guess, investigated or vetted over the next few weeks. Barbara, thank you very much for being with us. Barbara Slavin, who is the diplomatic reporter for USA Today.

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