Week in Review: N. Korea, Mexico, Ken Lay

On the world scene, the news highlights include North Korea's missile tests and a Mexican presidential vote that closely resembles the 2000 U.S. election. On the domestic front, the death of Ken Lay raises more Enron legal questions.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

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

GEORGE W: Now that he has defied China and Japan and South Korea and Russia and the United States, all of us said don't fire that rocket - and he not only fired one, he fired seven.

SIMON: President Bush speaking about North Korea's Kim Jong-il at a press conference in Chicago on Friday. North Korea test fired missiles on Wednesday, including the long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which disintegrated shortly after take off.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And Dan, what's your reading as to why North Korea decided to test these missiles now this week...

SCHORR: They're bored.

SIMON: ...breaking a seven-year moratorium?

SCHORR: Reading (unintelligible) kingdom is a work of art in itself. Well, let me sort of try. This may have been a warning to the United States, which has lately, along with Japan, been trying to crack down on North Korean counterfeiting of currency and smuggling of drugs. Or it may have been part of some internal fight going on in the government within Pyongyang. Or it may be that they were saying, listen, you're being so nice to Iran, and you're giving them a package of goodies in order to bring them aboard. How about us?

SIMON: Hmm. Now, Japan introduced a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Counsel. It calls for sanctions against North Korea. What do you think the affect of saying sanctions could be immediately?

SCHORR: Well, first of all, I don't think there will be United Nations sanctions, in the first place, because neither Russia nor China is willing to have that happen. The resolution that comes out of the United States is more likely to be an admonition. But there can be sanctions taken by something short of the whole United Nations Security Counsel.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And Japan is leading the way and the United States is following. And they will probably find some way to make life a little more difficult for the North Korea than it already is.

SIMON: Now, obviously in the United States, we've mostly been paying attention to the long-range missile that reportedly would have the potential to reach Hawaii or Alaska.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: But what about the short-range missiles that could hit Japan or South Korea? They obviously concern those countries and the U.S. too.

SCHORR: Well, yes, of course. And the question is now they have the makings of the delivery system, since they already have said that they have the nuclear bomb, they keep giving figures - five, six, seven, eight, or nine - to add a delivery system makes it much more menacing.

SIMON: Is there also a concern that if they have nuclear weapons, they could be made available to other groups?

SCHORR: And may be already have done. There may be work done with Pakistan and with Iran. We don't know that they haven't already worked out some system.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Huge story touching on Iraq this week, actually comes out of the United States, where a former U.S. Army private is accused of raping and murdering an Iraqi woman, and killing three members of her family. Steven Green, now a former soldier, entered a not guilty plea on Thursday. And in Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki has called for a review of that provision that grants U.S. immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, which is often standard during warfare.

Could we be foreseeing a time when U.S. forces would, in fact, have to be subject to Iraqi justice in some of these cases?

SCHORR: I think so. The background of this is interesting. Whenever there are friendly troops stationed in a country, there has to be something called a Status of Forces Agreement.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: It says, you know, if we have your soldiers here, they're here to help protect you. But if they do things which would be violation of the law of the country where they are, it becomes rather difficult. So you have the Status of Forces Agreement, which in fact makes American forces in Iraq immune from any action by their government.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: Now, what Maliki is saying now is after the series of incidents involving killing people and raping people and so on, we're not sure we consider all your people here as friendly forces. And he is now beginning to say we want you now to change the Status of Forces Agreement in order to make it possible for us, since we have sovereignty, to act as though we are sovereign.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Among other things, did this perhaps improve his profile among many Iraqis? Is he seen now as a staunch advocate for their interests?

SCHORR: I'm sure it is. That's interesting you say that because here they are, a very young democracy, but even a very young democracy to have politicians. And politicians have to act in ways that their people approve. And I have no doubt that Prime Minister Maliki is making a bow to his own people when he says let me stand up to these Americans, these rapists, these murderers, and I will take care of them.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Events in Gaza have continued to intensify, where Israel soldiers have been escalating the offensive that began after the kidnapping of the Israeli army corporal. Air strikes have been ordered in Gaza and missiles have been sent in reply into Israel. My gosh, is there any resolution?

SCHORR: Well, looking for any resolution in that situation - this is the oldest established crisis in the world, I guess - and yet there may be a little olive branch. The Olmert government has made an offer to the Hamas that they're willing to release some number, I don't know how many of Palestinian prisoners, if the corporal will be released. Hamas has said no to that.

SIMON: Hamas had asked for a thousand...

SCHORR: Hamas originally asked for a thousand. So a gesture of five, 10, 15, 20 may not itself mean very much. On the other hand, it's the beginning of something. And it may be - after it goes back and forth many times, who knows? I mean, you look for some kind of good news there where you can find it.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And there's not much.

SIMON: Israel's policy, very famously, is not to negotiate because they believe although the circumstances could obviously be tragic for somebody who's kidnapped or held hostage...

SCHORR: Yeah. But they say we're going to make a gesture, they are already negotiating. Of course you don't negotiate until the time comes when you negotiate. And I keep my fingers crossed, and wonder whether perhaps this is the first gesture that may eventually result in some kind of a break here.

SIMON: Official winner has been declared in the elections in Mexico. The conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has apparently won. His opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lost by less than one percentage point. He says that the count was fraudulent and he's going to challenge in court, but in court, not in the streets. Remind you of anything?

SCHORR: Yes. It reminds me of Florida all over again. We have a conservative who now has won. There's some talk that they may try to establish a unity government, which might then bring everybody together.

SIMON: Mr. Calderon said he would invite Mr. Obrador into the government if that's necessary.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: Kenneth Lay died of a heart attack this week in Aspen. He had been awaiting sentencing for his conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges involved in the collapse of Enron. Among the many questions, obviously, that this raises is what happens to the assets that the Justice Department was trying to...

SCHORR: If I understand, and I'm not sure that I do understand, his death means that his conviction is voided. Since he's not in a position to make appeals after this, the law is now that that was the end of his conviction. If his conviction was voided, then ceasing his property may not be possible anymore.

I mean, it is not what a lot of people who made their investments would like to see happen, but that's justice.

SIMON: I'm told the law is that his defense attorney now has to go into court to actually make this - to actually make this request.

SCHORR: That's right, and he will. So we will have Ken Lay with us for some time.

SIMON: Sunday, France vs. Italy, World Cup. Your call?

SCHORR: I don't know. It's the old world and anybody in the old world who wins has my support.

SIMON: Thank you very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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