President Bush Keeps the Focus on Terrorism

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In the week ahead, President Bush visits the U.N. to keep up his administration's drumbeat on the fight against terrorism. This week, he's also dealing with Republicans unhappy over his proposal on detainee treatment and surveillance.

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The latest of President Bush's speeches on terrorism and Iraq will be given this week at the United Nations. The president will speak before the U.N. General Assembly, where there is skepticism over some of the president's policies. And in that at least, the U.N. resembles the United States Senate. Right now some Republicans still disagree with the White House over a key issue: how to handle detainees.

We're joined now by NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now let's get right to it here. Do you see any signs of compromise on the legal rights of terror suspects?

ROBERTS: Yes. After the president's adamant remarks at his Friday press conference about shutting down the CIA interrogation program if Congress passed a version he doesn't like, the two sides yesterday sounded like they could come to some kind of agreement. They're still strongly making their cases for their different viewpoints, and one Republican who's been bucking the White House on the issue of whether the Geneva Conventions can be modified in any way is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If it's seen that our country is trying to redefine the Geneva Convention to meet the needs of the CIA, why can't every other country redefine the Geneva Convention to meet the needs of their secret police? It would be a disaster.

ROBERTS: Graham spoke on CBS News. Now the administration is saying it's up to the lawyers to find a way to satisfy those concerns while letting the CIA continue its questioning of what they see as terrorists going forward, and they say they think they can.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Now there's the substance of this debate and then there's the politics.

ROBERTS: No kidding. The Republicans running the 2006 campaign are hoping to use terrorism as their big single issue - show the president as the protector of the country against terrorism. And that's what they say the detainee questioning program is all about. Here's the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Adviser): In a war on terror, there are some things that have to remain secret if they are to be effective.

ROBERTS: And he spoke on ABC News. Now they would love to be able to say that the Democrats are opposing these secret questionings, the effective questioning. But their problem of course is that there are Republicans who are also opposing this kind of questioning. You heard Lindsey Graham, John Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; more important, John McCain of Arizona, a former POW, and with the backing of former Secretary of State/chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. So it's muddying the waters, the partisan political waters there.

But you can make the case, Steve, that as long as you're talking about terrorism and not the war in Iraq, that it's good for Republicans in this election year. But in addition to the partisan politics, there's internal Republican politics. And John McCain went straight from his appearance on ABC yesterday to New Hampshire, where he spends a great deal of time these days as a possible candidate in 2008 for the presidency. And he caught a lot of flak from the right in the Republican Party on this very issue. So there's more than a little bit of politics and varied politics going on here.

INSKEEP: We're getting analysis from Cokie Roberts this morning. And, Cokie, in the midst of all this partisan fighting there's a bi-partisan meeting involving Bill Clinton and first lady Laura Bush. What's going on?

ROBERTS: That's very interesting. The second annual Clinton Global Initiative will meet this week, bringing the attention of the world to the world's worst problems. And apparently the former president personally called Laura Bush to ask her to come. She is going to go on Wednesday to talk mainly about HIV/AIDS, but other administration initiatives. So it's possible, Steve, that even though we see absolutely no bipartisanship in this city these days, maybe there is life after the presidency that allows people to speak civilly to each other.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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