Week in Review: Lebanon, Minimum Wage Vote

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Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Juan Williams. Among this week's topics: violence in the Middle East and calls for a cease-fire; the Iraqi prime minister's address to Congress; and a controversial House vote to raise the minimum wage.


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

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (United Kingdom): We really will never understand how we deal with this situation unless we understand that there is a big picture out in the Middle East, which is about reactionary and terrorist groups trying to stop what the vast majority of people in the Middle East want, which is progress towards democracy, liberty, human rights, the same as the rest of us.

SIMON: Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking from the White House Friday in a joint press conference with President Bush. The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel forces - Israeli forces continues for the 18th day now. More than 500 people have been killed, more 40,000 displaced from both Israel and Lebanon. International powers have called for an immediate ceasefire, the exception the U.S. and Britain. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back in the region this weekend.

Dan Schorr is off and we are pleased to be joined by our friend this week, senior NPR correspondent Juan Williams.

Thanks very much for being with us, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And some of the worst casualties in the conflict were reported this week. Both sides seem to be reconciled, may even say dug in for a longer conflict. What have we learned so far about the military capabilities of both Israel and Hezbollah?

WILLIAMS: Well, just Friday, yesterday, you had 103 rockets fired into Israel, which was quite a barrage. And you now had Hezbollah fire 1500 since the start. And what we saw just yesterday was that they were able to go 30 miles into Israel, which is now the farthest that any of these Hezbollah rockets have been able to reach. And what we're told by the Israeli military as they look at the weaponry that was used, is that this was the part of this new Kaibar(ph) 1 type of rocket.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

WILLIAMS: But it was not the Zilzal, which is capable of 130 miles range, which would take it in as far as Tel Aviv, sort of Israel's business center and which would be a genuine new level of threat, which would, of course, then get Israel to respond in ways that we can't even dream about in terms of the immensity of their response.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

WILLIAMS: So what we know right now is that - what we can say is that no one imagined that Hezbollah had such an armament, such a level of armament, and that it seems like they claim that they now have 13,000 more rockets that it can fire at Israel. And they claim a range of 60 miles. If that happens, I think you're going to see escalation of this war beyond anything - I mean, would look - make what we've seen so far look like child's play.

SIMON: Mm hmm. For the moment, Israel - this is according to reports in Israel - has ruled out an expanded ground campaign, to rely on the air campaign. Can an air campaign - this is a question of modern warfare - can air campaign alone root out the places in which these rockets, I think we can fairly now say, seem to be buried, effectively buried?

WILLIAMS: No. Like, for instance, yesterday Israel was able to locate where the missile was fired from - the one that traveled at 30 miles - and then go into the launch site and take that out. But when you're talking about where missiles are stored, when you're talking about where Hezbollah has more armaments and a headquarters, it's just so hard because it's hidden among civilian populations, which is exactly why Israel says that it has had no choice but to engage in such a massive bombing campaign that has devastated much of southern Lebanon.

SIMON: Mm hmm. U.S. and Britain have not gone along with some of the international calls for an immediate cease-fire, rather openly hoping that Israel will be able to destroy some of the stockpiles of weaponry that Hezbollah has had using to attack the state. But Secretary of State Rice is back in the region for a second business - visit. What kind of pressures seem to be dictating this visit?

WILLIAMS: Well, there's tremendous pressure - international pressure going - growing on the U.S. and on Israel to stop the bombing. The international opinion has shifted over the last week, I think, pretty clearly in the direction of that there needs to be some sort of ceasefire, that the Israeli attacks have been - in the mind, you know, the word has been disproportionate, but I think that people just feel that there has been so much dying and death; there's now 462 people who have died in Lebanon, most of them civilians. And then you get into that kind of humanitarian crisis, this is since July 12th, when the conflict started.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

WILLIAMS: On the Israeli side, you've had 51 people die, only 18 civilians. So there's, again, you have the sense - and I might add in, you know, we talk about death, but you've also got to talk about people who've been dislocated. You've got nearly a million, 800,000 people - Lebanese fleeing from their homes. So you've have this - all sorts of crisis. And now you have an argument about whether or not there should be a ceasefire, simply to allow the Lebanese to take out injured and dying people.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

WILLIAMS: And the Israelis saying no, we've cleared paths for that but Hezbollah has blocked it to try to create a crisis and to use it for military advantage. I think the international opinion is, I don't care who's right, who's wrong. There needs to be a stopping. And for the - you know, the U.S. position for the longest time is let Israel bomb to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities. Now I think you see Rice back in the region understanding that she can't hold to that position for much longer.

SIMON: Is there a unanimity in the region there wasn't, say, 20 days ago, at least on this issue?

WILLIAMS: I'm afraid that this is what we're talking about in terms of international pressure. I think that the unanimity of opinion is going against Israel and in favor of Hezbollah, and anybody who can fight Israel at this moment is becoming a hero. I think that's why you see Nasrallah, who is the head of Hezbollah, you see him on TV, I think he's becoming a folk hero, and the idea that he may not be winning but he is fighting Israel, which is seen as the military giant in the region.

SIMON: But previous to that, there were Arab government who rather openly had no use for Hezbollah, who...

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely.

SIMON: ...who were just as happy to see Israel degrade its military capabilities.

WILLIAMS: Correct. And if you think about the argument being made by the Bush administration, the Bush administration's position is Hezbollah is being supported by Syria and by Iran, no friends of Jordan...

SIMON: Mm hmm.

WILLIAMS: ...of Egypt. And therefore wanting to get Arab leadership to oppose Hezbollah and to make it clear that they are wanting to root out Hezbollah. But what people refer to as the Arab street, has gone all the way in the other direction, and now been bolstered by international opinion at the sight of the devastation taking place in southern Lebanon.

SIMON: Hmm. Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki was in Washington, D.C. this week. He addressed the U.S. Congress, emphasized Iraq's growing security needs. Today there are news reports of the arrest of 60 suspected insurgents in and around Baghdad. But sectarian violence has officially surpassed the insurgency as the number one threat. And President Bush said that, of course, more U.S. troops are going to be delegated into Baghdad.

WILLIAMS: You know, it was really, I thought, an incredible press conference this week, in which you - the president with Maliki at the White House. And he's talking about the fact that it's sectarian violence that's dominating. And the president who has been, you know, consistently optimistic and a man who wanted to demonstrate his resolve and U.S. resolve in dealing with this, says this situation is now a tragic one and makes it clear that even as the - we see the Iraqi troops standing up, you know, the old equation he used that once they stand up, we can stand down, that that has not proven sufficient and at the situation is worsening. And that's why you're going to see about 30,000 - you already have 30,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad. You're now going to see an additional thousand or so go in to Baghdad to try to get that situation under control, on the theory that if you can demonstrate control of the capital, at least then you have a starting point for making the claim that you have some stability for the growth of a democratic government and the rest of the country.

SIMON: I don't want our time to expire without me asking you about Floyd Landis. He says I wasn't doping. I have a naturally high testosterone level and medical tests will prove it.

WILLIAMS: Well, what's great about this story is he says that it was caused because he - now, you got to help me with this, Scott - but I think he said he had...

SIMON: Two beers and at least four shots of whiskey, yes.

WILLIAMS: Baby, that's unbelievable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, for people like us. But for world-class athletes who are thirsty after a long run?

Mr. WILLIAMS: If I was going out for a run in the morning, would I have two shots of whiskey and four - we were talking about, you know, Richie Allen and the Chicago White Sox (unintelligible) who used to smoke a cigarette between innings. But this is a different level.

SCOTT: Alright. More later. Thanks, Juan Williams.

Mr. WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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