Week in Review: Milosevic, Ports Deal

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The death of former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic is a late addition to a week of news dominated by a dispute over a Dubai-based firm's plans to run terminal operations at six U.S. ports. That dispute may not be completely over.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away, I'm Susan Stamberg.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States, and to preserve that relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O Ports North America to a United States entity.

STAMBERG: Senator John Warner reading a press release from Dubai Ports World on the Senate floor on Thursday.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hi, Dan. Good morning.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Good morning, Susan.

STAMBERG: We will get to this ports story in a moment. But first, some words about some news. This morning, the former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, found dead in his prison cell at The Hague. He'd been on trial for war crimes in front of a U.N. tribunal. What does the life of this man, he was known as the Butcher of the Balkans, what does that represent?

SCHORR: Well, I think he was the prototype of the nationalist demagogue. What President Tito had stitched together to make Yugoslavia, he was very busy trying to unstitch. Also, I think, the phrase that has to be attached to him is ethnic cleansing.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: In which you go and murder people in large numbers, in order to achieve something called ethnic purity. The fact that he was also very cynical, and interested only in himself, and therefore, for example, signed the accord in Dayton, Ohio, which ended all of this, that was also typical of the guy.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Let's get now into the business of port management. It seems very odd, doesn't it, that the announcement that the Dubai company was backing off came from Senator Warner and not from the White House? What do you think is going on?

SCHORR: Well, I think what's going on is the White House was having trouble getting involved in this negotiation, which was immensely embarrassing to President Bush, because he said that he would veto any bill which will end the arrangement and then found himself in a position where if he did veto, the very good chance that his veto would be overridden. So the political types at the White House said, yeah, we got to get out of this somehow. But how do we do it?

And so what they did was, Vin Weber, who was a former Congressman from Minnesota and who was a lobbyist for Dubai, talked to staff of Senator Warner. And they simply put it together and did it in a way to leave the President out of the mix.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. And the announcement just, it came after a tremendous amount of political wrangling between the Congress, the White House. The House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly, it was a 62 to two vote, to block the deal. Equally lopsided vote expected in the Senate. So is this the end of it now?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know if this is the end of it. The Dubai people say that they don't want to lose financially by ending this deal. And how they're going to preserve their position, I do not know. I think that a lot of back and forth still to go on. But as far as this administration is concerned, the deal is dead.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. And was it only politics, you think, that did the deed? Or were there other factors at work here?

SCHORR: There were other factors involved. And that is, let me say that President Bush is now reaping what he has sown, in trying to make Americans very, very worried about some kind of terrorism. And so he has made them worried. And the result of that is that you get people saying I'm afraid, I don't want this, I want Arabs out of here. There's, you know, yes...

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: ...it's there.

STAMBERG: Yeah. Yeah. There were developments in two anti-terrorism efforts this week: wiretapping without a warrant was one, and the Patriot Act, the other. Let's start with the eavesdropping business. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Tuesday not to have the full Senate investigation that the Democrats were hoping for. Instead, they voted to form a seven-member subcommittee, to provide oversight to the wiretapping program. So, who won that one?

SCHORR: Well, one of those buddy compromises. Seven people will form this panel, but it will not be able to go to the whole Senate or to the whole House. I think on the whole that the President won this one, because he was able to save an arrangement which was being widely, widely criticized.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. And what about the Patriot Act? The President signed the revised act into law this week, most of...

SCHORR: He signed the revised act...

STAMBERG: Yeah. Go ahead. Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: He got some of the changes that he wanted. As for example, that they go and check on library books; what kind of library books you withdraw. He has, he has the Patriot Act. There was a kind of a movement to try to bring it down, but that hasn't worked. You have to say he won this one.

STAMBERG: Yeah. In the aftermath of Katrina; now, the President visits New Orleans again this week. He went around, took a look at the Industrial Canal levee. And he also made his first visit to the Lower Ninth Ward. Now that was one of the hardest hit areas. The Mayor, Ray Nagen(ph), was with him, Nagin, sorry. This is the President's tenth visit to the Gulf Coast in the six months since Hurricane Katrina.

SCHORR: Yeah. And this one he used also to sort of get back at Congress. He said the Congress was shortchanging New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It seems as though the President, when he finds himself loosing in Washington, will go to somewhere around the country and try to revive that sense that he is in charge.

STAMBERG: Hmm. In the old days, presidents use to go overseas for that. Well, Mr. Bush has been doing some travel of late, but not this time.

SCHORR: Yeah.

STAMBERG: Yeah. On Iran, very harsh words exchanged this week between Iran and this country. Vice President Richard Cheney said in a speech that the option of military action against Iran is, his words, still on the table. And after the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, decided they would refer Iran to the U.N. Security Counsel, the Iranian negotiator at the IAEA threatened the United States with harm and pain. What's your take on that?

SCHORR: Yes, but to be perfectly fair, Susan.

STAMBERG: Yeah?

SCHORR: He said he was repeating words that the Americans were using. And that two can play at the game of taking kind of forceful action. I think at the moment, the Iranians are in the driver's seat. In the sense that the issue has been referred to the Security Counsel, but without a recommendation for sanctions. The outside world is treading very, very carefully in the case of Iran since they know, as everybody else knows, the United States cannot afford another war at this point.

STAMBERG: Yeah. But it seems just so intractable. Iran just seems as if it will not budge.

SCHORR: Intractable is the word.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Turning now to Iraq. There, a rising death toll this week that's beginning to sound like old news. It goes on and on, sectarian violence continuing to flare up. And this violence has threatened to derail efforts to form a government there, obviously. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells a Senate panel this week that if civil war breaks out in Iraq, it will be the responsibility of Iraqi forces to handle it, not U.S. troops. What's going on?

SCHORR: Yeah. But at the same time, he says handle it to the extent that they can. That means if to the extent that they can, they can't do it, the assumption there is that the United States will be available.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Thank you very much.

SCHORR: Sure.

STAMBERG: NPR News analyst Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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