Week in Review: Nuclear Test, Foley Scandal

Topics in the week's news include the diplomatic fallout from North Korea's nuclear test and political upheaval in the wake of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL).

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week North Korea claimed to have tested a nuclear device, and questions about what the congressional leadership knew and when they knew it are still resonating in the Mark Foley scandal

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Good morning, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And on Monday, Dan, the week began with North Korea claiming to have detonated a nuclear device in an underground test. After some contradictory reports, U.S. intelligence sources now say that they have found some evidence of radioactivity to back up that claim.

What does this portend?

SCHORR: Well, you know, when you have an underground test, you don't see a lot of radiation above ground. So in early cases they found no trace of radiation. Now, however, they found a more sophisticated test, apparently, and apparently there is radiation and so, yes, it was a nuclear blast.

SIMON: Secretary Rice is going to travel to Asia next week - South Korea, China and Japan - to talk about the next step in I think what can be fairly identified as a confrontation and a crisis. Now, Russia and China have been opposed to U.N. sanctions for North Korea for some time, and in fact South Korea and China aren't wild about it because they're concerned that their sanctions and economic reverses, even greater than what North Korea has now, could flood their countries and refugees. Has that changed?

SCHORR: No. Russia and China still have objections, which apparently have delayed have delayed adopting the resolution, even though they managed to cut out of it what Russia and China objected to, which is a reference to Chapter VII of the U.N.'s charter, which would have permitted the use of force; that's out. And (unintelligible) there seem to be more objections.

SIMON: President Bush, at a long press conference on Wednesday, said that he would not retreat from earlier statements that a nuclear weapon in North Korea would not be tolerated. Secretary Rice gave a couple of interviews this week in which she said the U.S. is not contemplating military action; also not taking it off the table, but they really want a diplomatic solution. At the same time, apparently, two-party talks between the U.S. and North Korea just is not in the cards.

SCHORR: No. President Bush seems to rule that out. Although he has in the past ruled out things which he later proceeded to do. I'm not exactly sure why it happens. Also in the case of Iran, Iran also wants one on one talks with the United States and says, if we can meet with you one and one we'll talk about maybe our whole atomic program.

I am not sure why it is. Maybe it's a little like Rodney Dangerfield, that they want a little respect or something like that. But whatever it is, I'm not in charge of these things. But whatever it is, if simply having a meeting would give you a better chance of getting rid of the nuclear program than you otherwise might have, I sort of say, why not?

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Does having the meeting at the same time tend to promote the strength of regimes that the United States - and it most be said, much of the world - considers reprehensible?

SCHORR: I think that more of the world considers it reprehensible that the United States is not willing to talk if talk would give them peace than anybody who would criticize that.

SIMON: Does the United States, and for that matter, the United Nations, have to come up with what amounts to a one-size-fits-all policy now when it comes to nations who are bound and determined to develop some kind of nuclear power?

SCHORR: Yes. Well, the - as far as Condoleezza Rice is concerned, I think what her great challenge is, to get more cooperation from China. China is terribly important as an economic mainstay for North Korea. And if they can get China to put on a little more pressure, I think that U.S. would be very happy. And that apparently - after once they have written this U.N. resolution, now they have to go ahead and say, now what?

SIMON: A report in the British medical journal The Lancet this week estimated the number of civilian casualties in Iraq...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...caused by the war at 655,000.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Now, that number's been questioned by both the U.S. and Iraqi government, question the methodology. U.S. military does not keep a record of civilian casualties...

SCHORR: No.

SIMON: ...says they can't, really. But what do you make of this report and any impact that it may have?

SCHORR: It's almost hard to believe. But let's say it's half that number or a quarter of that number. The United States doesn't like these big numbers of casualties tossed around, and that perhaps is the reason why the United States says we don't keep track, we just count the Americans.

SIMON: Coming back to the U.S. Congress, as we mentioned at the top. There are five hours of closed door testimony by former aide to Representative Mark Foley, Kirk Fordham about the Congressional page scandal. Where's that headed right now, and particularly less than a month before the elections?

SCHORR: Well, it's headed right now - they've had four Republicans in some trouble because of corruption. The latest is Bob Ney of Ohio, and it really doesn't look very good for them in the course of getting ready for the election. I don't where it goes from there. The man who really wonders is Dennis Hastert, the Speaker, who's under a great deal of pressure.

He's being supported by President Bush, in case that is very good for him, and it is not very good for the Republicans running for office to have their leadership faced with these kind of questions.

SIMON: Governor Mark Warner, former Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, who was considered a centrist Southern Democrat that was appealing to a lot of Democrats as perhaps the party's presidential nominee has announced he's taken a look, he's even raised money, he's not going to make the run, doesn't want to do that to his family. Anything more to the story than that?

SCHORR: I love that, anything more to the story than that. You know, Scott, I guess it's the time that we live in that somebody in politics or in Congress says something, the question is, what do you mean by saying that? Can it possibly be true? Is it just barely possible that this young fellow, Mark Warner, means what he says, that he thinks that his family's more important to him than running for office?

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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