Week in Review: Lebanon Peace Force, Iran, Iraq

Highlights of the week's news include efforts to assemble a U.N. peacekeeping force for Lebanon, continued concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions and developments in Iraq, including a debate over U.S. manpower.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement, and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.

SIMON: President Bush speaking Monday about the newly approved U.N. peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon.

NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr is back with us.

Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott. It looks different up in the mountains.

SIMON: You were in Aspen, we should explain. Although a lot of people think you go up into the mountains to receive the wisdom that you bring back each week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: In fact, I do.

SIMON: All right. Well, good. Well, then there are a lot of things to ask you about in that case. Despite some infractions and violations, the cease-fire in Lebanon has more or less held up this week. But the U.N. has had a very vexing time coming up with a peacekeeping force.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Most of the nations involved want Europeans to be in charge with their professional armies and membership in NATO, but putting together European participants turns out to be much tougher than expected. What's going on?

SCHORR: What's going on? What's going on is that countries find it easy to vote for troops, easier than to provide the troops. President Chirac of France had to be practically shamed into raising his troop commitment from 200 to 2,000. But there's been some progress now. The European Union has met in Brussels, has agreed that there'll be a French-led force of 15,000, Europe contributing 6,900. And Israel has said that once the United Nations force is in place, it will lift its air and sea embargo of Lebanon. The question now is whether Hezbollah will disarm or not. If it doesn't, then all bets are off.

SIMON: I have to ask. Is the credibility of the European Union, as a policy making entity, somewhat on the line here? Because France in particular took a leading role in talks to get the cease-fire going and implied that it would take the lead in securing the cease-fire. And now, as you've just laid out, there's a lot of finger-pointing and not a lot of resolution.

SCHORR: Well, there is resolution and it's simply that the European Union has acknowledged the fact that it has the primary responsibility. I don't know how the United States is getting away without having to provide a sizeable American force, but apparently that's understood. Europe says, all right, it's ours, our job, we'll do it. France has lifted its contribution a little bit. And as things go in world affairs - United Nations, European Union - things are going fairly well at the moment.

SIMON: I believe the U.S. is supplying the lift, as they call it...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...which is airlifting assets in and out, and certainly a lot of money.

SCHORR: Yes. Something makes the United States like to look at troubles from the air.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I want you to talk about the reaction in Israel over these past few weeks, because there has been a lot of consternation in Israel over the performance of its army and...

SCHORR: Oh, you said it.

SIMON: And, for that matter, of the Olmert government strategy and tactics.

SCHORR: Well, there's going to be a big investigation of where the fabled IDF - the Israeli Defense Force - where it went wrong. Where was the intelligence? Sound familiar? Why didn't we know they were so well armed? And it may well be that the government of Prime Minister Olmert may be in trouble because of this. Things are not going well in Israel.

SIMON: Hmm. Iran announced this week that it's ready for what it called serious talks about its nuclear program, but pointedly refused to stop enriching uranium by the end of August, which of course was the - notably the deadline given by the U.N. Security Council.

SCHORR: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Is this a negotiating position, or an absolute position?

SCHORR: Well, you never know what's absolute until you've tested it. As of now, I think it looks absolute, as far as Iran is concerned. They're apparently enjoying their position right now. I mean, they play a part in Iraq. They play a role with the Hezbollah in Lebanon. And what they're basically saying is, so go ahead and put sanctions on us, we are a big oil-rich country and we can last. And the possibility is that maybe they can.

And so the United States and the others have to face the question, since they're being turned down by Iran, which nonetheless says they wants to have direct talks with the United States, do they get direct talks? As of now, no, but I'm not sure that the present situation is going to clarify itself.

SIMON: Are economic sanctions potentially less serious against an oil-producing country in this day and age?

SCHORR: Oh, absolutely, because what it means in many cases, if things were supposedly cut off from them, they can buy on the black market for somewhat more money. When you have oil riches, sanctions don't operate very well against you. And also, by the way, Russia, which has a lot of economic interest in Iran, says it will not support sanctions.

SIMON: We don't want to overlook Iraq this week, where the level of violence - I would never want to refer to it as less, but in a sense not the highest number of reported casualties we've had. What's your assessment of events there this week?

SCHORR: Well, in a way, as of now, perhaps, somewhat fewer casualties per day than we've seen for a long time. Our generals say they don't think they have to worry too much about Baghdad. They can secure Baghdad and protect it. If you take it on a day by day basis, or week by week basis, this seems to have been towards the end of the week a little bit better than previous weeks. But then you have this strange thing that goes on. The British have pulled out of a base, which is promptly looted of everything in the base, and probably providing weapons which will come back against our troops.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you about the flexibility of American policy makers to marshal armed force in support of policy. One, for example: there was an announcement about manpower in the Marine Corps just this week.

SCHORR: That's right. There's been a call-up of Marines. They can be held, it appears, for as much as eight more years. This clearly reflects a real problem in this country of providing the necessary manpower to continue fighting in Iraq. I'm sure that the administration didn't enjoy doing it, but that's what they've done.

SIMON: I want to get you to talk a little bit more, if I could, about - do you see a coherent policy in Iran's actions in several of these theaters?

SCHORR: Oh, absolutely. You know, the Shiites have a person called a Kalif, and I think that they are aiming to have the entire Middle East under the rule of Iran. And they're really moving in that direction. They're trying to play a part in undermining everything else that happens, long since they talked about the triumph of democracy in Iraq as a beacon to the rest of the Middle East. The beacon such as this seems to come right now from Tehran and it's quite scary.

SIMON: Hmm. And final thing to take up this week, Pluto. It's still out there. Nothing's happened to Pluto, but it's no longer a planet. There are apparently scientists who are now preparing a new designation, and Pluto will not be the only one of what for the moment are called dwarf planets.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: But they're going to apparently improve on that term.

SCHORR: Well, I don't like dwarf planet. I don't like that. There has to be something better. Why don't we say this planet, which is too small to be called a planet, can be diminutive by being called a planette?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right, I think you've just proposed it.

SCHORR: I did.

SIMON: All right. We'll wait for the calls to come in. Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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