Week in Review: London Arrests, IRA, Egypt Probe

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr and Scott Simon discuss the week's news events. Topics include arrests in London, the IRA's plans to disarm, the investigation of bombings in Egypt, and upcoming Egyptian elections.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

Mr. PETER CLARKE (London Metropolitan Police): Despite the progress that has been made with the investigation, we must not be complacent. The threat remains and is very real.

SIMON: Peter Clarke, head of the London Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch, speaking Friday at a news conference in London. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And British media reports that all suspects sought in connection with last week's attempted attacks on mass transit in London have been arrested. Swift action. How do you see the investigation from this distance?

SCHORR: Well, from this distance, it looks as though it's going pretty well, and apparently, the people in London and throughout Britain also apparently have a great deal of confidence that it is going well. There was a certain dismaying reaction to the mistaken shooting of that young Brazilian, but then, you know, you think of Britain in the midst of this terror and say--you know, they went through the Blitz during World War II, then there was 30 years of Irish terrorism, and that it developed in Londoners a kind of a resiliency that we can only envy.

SIMON: And, of course, you mentioned the history for more than 30 years of IRA terrorism. This week a historic announcement, and we try and use that word sparingly on this show. The Irish Republican Army announced that all of its units will be ordered to disarm; they have denounced the use of violence and are encouraging political solutions to achieve the end of British rule in Northern Ireland. Statement didn't say that the IRA would be disbanded, and we must note it's certainly not the first time that they have agreed to disarm, although there does seem to be some special significance to this announcement.

SCHORR: Yeah, well, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush have both reacted somewhat cautiously, as though they say, `We'll believe it when we really see it happening,' and I guess after 30 years of on-again, off-again terror, one has a right to sort of wait to see it happen. But it appears that the IRA must have come to realize that in the end their tactics were not getting them anywhere and where they wanted to go. You know, and I sometimes wonder whether they looked out at the Middle East, where the bombings were going on for no apparent good reason, and saying, you know, they're giving terrorism a bad name.

SIMON: As we were on the air last week, of course, we were reporting the story of the bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the largest act of terrorism ever on Egyptian soil. Authorities have continued to investigate. What have they turned up so far?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know. First I read that the police in Egypt said they were looking for five Pakistanis. They later said, no, they're not looking for five Pakistanis. So whom are they looking for? I'm not exactly clear. And now President Mubarak says he wants to call a big Middle Eastern anti-terrorism summit, but it's very different in Egypt, apparently. If they have leads, they're not sharing them with people.

SIMON: President Mubarak is running for a fifth term. Elections are scheduled for September 7th, and for the first time in Egypt, his will not be the only name on the ballot.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: There's actually going to be a multiplicity of candidates. Politically, do you see the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh as helping or hurting Mr. Mubarak?

SCHORR: Well, it's an interesting question. Of course, 9/11 did a great deal for the esteem of President Bush and the country rallied around him, and so you say, you know, in the face of terrorism, people will rally to their leader. In this case, however, I don't think there was ever a ghost of a chance that Mr. Mubarak would not win re-election, so I'm not clear on whether it makes any difference.

SIMON: Iraqis on the constitutional committee are going to decide on Monday whether they need six more months to finish drafting that document. The deadline's August 15th. There are some major disagreements and people have indicated they may ask for an extension.

SCHORR: Sure.

SIMON: Where do these disagreements lie?

SCHORR: Well, I think there's one very, very fundamental disagreement, and it is: Is Iraq in the future to be a secular state or is it going to be a religious state? And the fact that the majority are Shiites and most of the Shiites are looking for something in the way of a religious state makes it very difficult. They are arguing about whether or not women have to wear veils or, as in Turkey, are not allowed to wear veils or maybe should they wear veils. I mean, when you have to take people who would rather fight with each other than form a civil society and a civil government, it becomes very difficult. And at the moment, they're bogged down in questions which are fundamentally of sectarian differences.

SIMON: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited Iraq, and he beat the drum for adherence to that August 15th deadline. Have any palpable effect? What's the American interest?

SCHORR: Oh, the American interest is very clear. This is part of a process which is supposed to reach its climax with an election in December, and that is supposed to at that point usher in a period when the United States can begin to think of withdrawing its troops. I think something is happening there. Until recently, the line that you would get from the White House here in Washington was the president saying, `We're not setting deadlines. We don't have any benchmarks or anything like that. We're going to be there as long as we're needed and not a day longer,' is the way he put it. I think that's changing. General George Casey this past week said something about, `Well, we think maybe in the spring or next summer,' and I think that what's beginning to happen now is they're saying, `You people better shape up and get ready to defend yourselves because we are as of a certain time going to leave you.'

SIMON: Congress breaks this weekend for a five-week summer recess, and it ended in a flurry of activity. The energy bill passed, the highway spending bill, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. For some time, it wasn't certain that any of these measures would clear Congress.

SCHORR: That's true. Well, you know, it was only a week or so ago they were speaking of President Bush as a lame duck, and polls showed him with a 44 percent performance rating, and suddenly, however, they managed to get themselves together and, in the last couple of days before their recess, they got these very important bills through--very expensive bills through--at the same time. And the president now said, `Goodbye. Have a nice summer.' He's done pretty well.

SIMON: Three of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO have decided to leave the federation--that's the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters and the service workers' union. Together the three unions made up almost a third of that membership.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: How important is the loss of these unions to the future of the AF of L-CIO? What does all of this mean for organized labor?

SCHORR: Well, it could be disaster, or it could be, as the Service Employees' Andy Stern says, the beginning of change. They'll come out of this stronger than they were before. I don't know, but I do remember that it was in the 1930s when John L. Lewis of United Mine Workers took his union out of the AFL. They formed something called the CIO, Congress of Industrial Organizations, and in the end they merged, stronger than ever. I don't know if history will repeat itself in that way, but you just never know.

SIMON: Thanks very much. Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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