Week in Review: State of the Union, Iran, Mrs. King

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Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Juan Williams. Topics include the State of the Union address, response to Iran's nuclear ambitions, a raging debate over cartoons that depict the prophet Muhammad, and the death of Coretta Scott King.

Scott SIMON, host:

From NPR News in Washington, D.C., this is Weekend Edition. I'm Scott Simon.

Coretta Scott King lies in honor in the Georgia State Capitol today. She'll be 78 when she died this week. Mrs. King shared her husband's journey from a small town pulpit in the segregated south, to the Nobel Peace Prize on the world's stage. Coretta Scott King also shared the dangers of that journey; she locked arms with him to march in front of mobs. She answered the phone at home when people called to threaten their lives. And she was at home with her first child in Montgomery when their home was fire bombed in 1956. After her husband's assassination, Coretta Scott King established her own record as an advocate for peace and social justice.

After the newscast, NPR's Juan Williams reviews the week's news.

It's Saturday, February four, 2006.

SCOTT SIMON, host: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so, we move forward optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come. May God bless America.

(Soundbite of cheering.)

SIMON: President George W. Bush speaking from the U.S. Capitol Building Tuesday to both Houses of Congress. This was his sixth State of the Union Address. The president outlined a domestic agenda that gave special attention to increasing America's advantage in research and technology, bolstering healthcare, and lessening the nation's dependence on oil. He also laid out U.S. achievements and challenges in promoting democracy around the world.

Dan Schorr is away this week. It's always good to be joined by our friend, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Juan, thanks for being with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS (NPR senior correspondent): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And we certainly are also, of course, going to talk about the decision to report Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. But let's get to the president's speech and reaction.

First few days' hindsight, what reaction has there been to the president's speech?

WILLIAMS: Well, actually it's not the response that he was getting a short while ago to State of the Union Addresses. According to a Gallup poll, about 49 percent of Americans who watched; and obviously, most Americans didn't watch, but of those who watched, 49 percent had a positive response. Which is a big drop, obviously, from 2002, right after 9-11 and even a drop from last year.

And I think much of this has to do with the idea that you're looking at an administration whose energy, whose creativity, is in doubt. This is all about, at this point, in terms of legacy for this administration, the war and their response to the war and how they're handling the war; even about the president's decision to authorize wiretaps without warrants.

And so, when people are looking at the speech, I think, overall they're looking for ideas and energy. And if anything that came away from it, I would guess it had to do with the president's emphasis on competition and making America competitive. I think that's going to be the lasting impression left by this State of the Union Address.

SIMON: Well, I mean, in a sense, it was about ideas and energy; the whole idea of: bolstering the U.S. advantage in research and technology, the pledge to double the commitment to basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years, increase federal money for science education, decreasing dependence on oil.

Did you see this coming, this kind of emphasis in the speech?

WILLIAMS: Well, I had been talking to people at the White House and on Capitol Hill. And they were all talking about the need for the president to invigorate the Republican base, to make sure that Republicans on the Hill believe that he wasn't just a lame duck. That he could still fly, that he still had the power to help Republicans win in the midterm elections coming in '06. And so, what they were looking for was to talk to people in terms of kitchen table issues; to get a little bit away, not too far away, from war and fear, and say to them I understand what's going on here in America, that Americans are anxious.

And so, what you see is, I think, that maybe the most memorable phrase ever from a George W. Bush State of the Union Address is Axis of Evil. I think Addiction to Oil is going to be the memorable phrase out of this State of the Union Address. And again, it speaks the idea of high gas prices, the need to help Americans prepare to compete in terms of holding jobs and being well educated in a global economy, global competition.

So, yes; everybody saw that the president was looking for an idea to hook onto that Americans could relate to at home, something that wasn't just about war.

SIMON: High oil prices and high oil profits, too, right? Exxon-Mobil, what, announced 36 billion in profits for 2005.

WILLIAMS: Biggest profits in history.

SIMON: How do we explain that?

WILLIAMS: The president, in fact, when he spoke about it this week, he went out on the road after the State of the Union Address. And when he was asked about the high profits, basically said well, that's you know, the markets sets the prices and it all that's required is that the energy companies then reinvest and continue to explore. And, of course, the argument is that there are new markets emerging. You and I have talked about it.

SIMON: Yeah. More demand.

WILLIAMS: India, China increasing the demands by a growing middle-class for oil because of cars and the like.

And it's also the case, I think, that the president makes the argument as he articulated it this week. These companies have to do more in terms of research, and drilling, and probing around the globe. And it cost money.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. I want to move forward to the decision today of the atomic, the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency to essentially give a warning to Iran. And also very carefully, it seems, saying we're going to report you to Security Council in 30 days. What happens during those 30 days? The president said, spoke directly to the people of Iran this week in the State of the Union Address. He said America respects you. We respect your country. We want to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the president is speaking to the idea that there is, there potentially is minority groups, religious groups, non-governmental organizations inside Iran that could oppose the government.

SIMON: Mm-Hmm.

WILLIAMS: But what I'm hearing from people in the administration is they don't want to provoke a rebellion that could lead to mass slaughter; a situation like Hungary, if you'll think back. And then the question would be well, does the U.S. intervene to save those who are being attacked by their own government? But nonetheless, there's pressure coming, especially from the right in this country, to help foment just that kind of rebellion. The question is does the rebellion become coup?

And so, he says, the president portrays the Iranian government as a group of clerics who are elitist, who are isolating their people, and that's the line of thought so far.

The question of sanctions then comes into play using Russia. Russia, initially a friend to the Iranian government, which now says you know what? We feel like we've been treated badly to the Chinese; bringing them in, making it an international effort more so than, obviously, what took place in Iraq.

SIMON: Mm-Hmm. A couple of things important this week; there's been such consternation all over the Muslim world and European nations over a series of cartoons that: depict the Prophet Mohammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper, have been reprinted in a number of Western European nations. Were these cartoons an exercise in free speech or the equivalent of lighting a, or yelling fire in a crowded theater?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, if you think about the State Department just yesterday said that they side with Muslims who feel that this was unnecessarily antagonistic. The United Nations has said much the same. You heard from Kofi Anan saying you know that you have to have tolerance and respect. But what I sense, you know, as an American journalist and I was talking to Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR ombudsman, yesterday about this is, you know, American newspapers and American pub including NPR have not put the cartoons up. Americans have, I think, pulled away given the problems that exist between the United States and with the war in Iraq, and the Muslim community. I think in Europe, I think, it's much more an issue of, you know: the freedom of expression, the freedom to be cynical, to be ironic, to be mocking. That is the Jonathan Swift tradition that you reminded me off the other day. And yet, here in the United States there's just such political concern over our relationship with the Muslim world. You remember the desecration of the Koran, that whole issue happening down in Guantanamo Bay, that I think people are just, you know, hands off. Leave it alone, too much. We don't want to stir that pot.

SIMON: Finally, Juan, Coretta Scott King is lying in honor at the Georgia State Capitol today. I know you knew Mrs. King. You're one of the preeminent historians of the US civil rights movement. Help us remember her life and her message.

WILLIAMS: You know, I think part of her struggle, Scott, was to make it clear that, even though she was the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in a sense celebrated in the way that maybe people celebrated Jackie Kennedy as President Kennedy's widow-that she was a person in her own right, and able to go on in her own right. For example, the decision to establish the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta was her decision-pulled her away from many of the leaders of the civil rights movement. But that decision, that she was going to protect the legacy of her husband and promote it in terms of the birthday, is really a part of her legacy. The reason that we celebrate King as an icon, is really a tribute to Mrs. King.

SIMON: NPR's senior corrospondent, Juan Williams. Thank you very much for being with us on this day that Coretta Scott King lies in honor in the Georgia State Capitol.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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