'Arab Spring' Violence Continues In Libya, Syria While media attention focused on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the "Arab spring" — and violent government responses — continued. An airstrike killed the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. In Syria, the government hopes to put down protests with door-to-door searches and arrests.
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'Arab Spring' Violence Continues In Libya, Syria

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'Arab Spring' Violence Continues In Libya, Syria

'Arab Spring' Violence Continues In Libya, Syria

'Arab Spring' Violence Continues In Libya, Syria

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135957775/135957770" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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While media attention focused on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the "Arab spring" — and violent government responses — continued. An airstrike killed the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. In Syria, the government hopes to put down protests with door-to-door searches and arrests.


Patrick McDonnell, staff writer, Los Angeles Times
Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent, New York Times


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The dramatic announcement that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden understandably dominated the news yesterday. And later this hour, we'll follow up with al-Qaida expert Peter Bergen. But we also wanted to catch up with major developments in two Arab countries.

In a few minutes, Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, on the developing crisis in Syria - where the U.S. remains largely on the sidelines. And we begin in Libya, where the government claims that NATO airstrikes killed Moammar Gadhafi's youngest son over the weekend, and three of his grandchildren, while pro-Gadhafi forces continue to besiege the rebel-held city of Misrata.

You can email your questions about what, if anything, the United States might do about Syria now. The address is talk@npr.org. If you have questions about the progress of the conflict in Libya, the phone number is 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us on the phone from Benghazi in Libya, Patrick McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times, and good of you to be with us.

Mr. PATRICK McDONNELL (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times): Pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you: Can you tell us what Benghazi is like these days?

Mr. McDONNELL: You know, Benghazi, which is the de facto rebel capital, is kind of surprisingly calm and normal here. There's a self-appointed - kind of shadow government which has gone out of its way to kind of reduce any social turmoil. They've been paying people's salary. And there's a very kind of odd sense of normalcy.

Particularly - I was in Baghdad after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and that quickly disintegrated. There's been no looting here. There's power. Things seem oddly normal, even though they're running out of money.

CONAN: Running out of money - how are they going to continue operating what passes for a government, and what passes for an army?

Mr. McDONNELL: Well, seems like a very good question. We were talking with the finance minister today, Ali - Mr. Tarhouni, who's actually an economics professor at the University of Washington.

And he's on his way to Europe, and they're hoping to get a line of credit from allied governments - including the United States - based on the collateral of frozen Libyan assets abroad. So they seem to be putting a lot of hope in getting that line of credit, and keeping this shadow government afloat for a couple months, after which they hope - their hope is that Mr. Gadhafi will leave Tripoli.

CONAN: And that's a hope that may have been bolstered by news from Turkey today, which demanded that Gadhafi step down. NATO says it will keep up the pressure through airstrikes and through aircraft patrols. But the situation, well, west of Benghazi is not tremendously good.

Mr. McDONNELL: Well, that's exactly true. You know, the city of Misrata, which is a city of 300,000 people, is still pretty much under siege, being shelled every day. And it's essentially being kept alive by a lifeline at sea, which is through a port that's also being shelled. So it's a very desperate situation there.

In the western mountains, near the Tunisian border, there's also been an uprising. And several towns there are also under rebel control, and they've also faced shelling and counterattack from Colonel Gadhafi's troops. So there's quite a bit of violence going on in those areas.

CONAN: Let's go to the mountains - areas first, and that's hard to get information from. It's a remote part of the country. But we hear reports that some places are close to starvation.

Mr. McDONNELL: You know, we've heard those, and it's been very hard to confirm. We've also heard that there's been some amount of humanitarian aid getting in, but it's just been very hard to get confirmable reports from that zone.

CONAN: And then let's turn to Misrata. As you said, there's been one lifeline. That's through the port. And in recent days, pro-Gadhafi forces have been shelling the port. Have they been shelling the ships that tried to deliver food and medical supplies?

Mr. McDONNELL: Well, that's unclear whether they really tried to shell the ship or not. I mean, I think there's reports on both sides, and it's exaggerated reports.

But NATO confirmed that they found several mines there the other day, and that's been a huge concern, that one of these - these ships going - and many of them are rather large ferries that can carry up to a thousand people. So to have one of those hit a mine would be clearly catastrophic. And everyone wants to avoid that. So that - the fear of mines has really slowed down the maritime traffic going into Misrata.

CONAN: The NATO mission - specifically, the United Nations Security Council resolution provided for the protection of civilians. If the only lifeline for the civilians in Misrata is through that port, does NATO see that its mission, at all, is to keep that port open?

Mr. McDONNELL: Well, that's one of those kind of thorny issues. I think that the rebel government has been pushing for some kind of cordon, you know, humanitarian cordon that would allow ships in and out. But any such cordon like that would presumably involve troops. And NATO, the United States, all the various governments involved there - very hesitant to do such a thing.

If you're going to have some kind of humanitarian, you know, cordon going in there, it's going to have to be protected somehow, theoretically with troops, and I think that that's a step that NATO doesn't want to take right now.

CONAN: And then you go to the question of what the Gadhafi government is trying to do to reassert its authority. And of course, over the weekend, reports that Gadhafi's son was killed by an airstrike and three of Gadhafi's children -grandchildren, excuse me.

Mr. McDONNELL: Yeah, that seemed to really raise the rhetoric level on both sides. There was a very - just in Tripoli, there was a very kind of emotional funeral for what the government said was one of the sons.

Of course, in the rebel area, people really dont believe that. It seems striking that people in the rebel area seem to think that it possibly wasn't the son, and that the Libyan government is saying it was the son in order to kind of draw sympathy for Gadhafi and to undermine the NATO mission.

CONAN: And there was also a funeral, at which two of Gadhafi's other sons vowed vengeance.

Mr. McDONNELL: Yeah, and that was very emotional, very emotional, shown on Libyan state television. And you know, there were many people with green flags and Gadhafi supporters out there.

But you know, we've seen a lot of rallies in Tripoli, and to what extent folks actually support Colonel Gadhafi, and to what extent they feel obliged to attend these, you know, these kinds of events, I think, is open to some interpretation.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Saladin(ph) is on the line from Columbus in Ohio.

SALADIN (Caller): Yes, Neal, thanks for having me. I listen to your show quite frequently.

CONAN: Thank you.

SALADIN: Yes, I was just wondering: With the recent developments with Osama bin Laden, what happened; but I want to weigh in on the Libyan situation. Just wondering, would it be - is there an active, a declaration of war that's needed in order to go in and basically kill and assassinate heads of state as relates to Gadhafi, trying to (unintelligible) and assassinate him?

I mean, these nations are sovereign nations. What is the legitimacy of entering into these countries - some of them the poorest countries in the world, our military forces are there. What is the legitimacy, and what is the overall outcome of this type of - it seems like a witch hunt or a bloodlust that we get from going into these nations. And I'd just like to take my comments off the air.

CONAN: All right, Saladin. We'll focus on Libya, since that's the area of concentration - not one of the poorest nations in the world but oil-wealthy -but nevertheless, he does have a good question.

And Patrick McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times - yes, there's a United Nations Security Council resolution. Yes, the Arab League did vote for intervention and asked for intervention. Yes, there is a rebel government recognized by some, but not by Britain and not by the United States.

Mr. McDONNELL: Yeah, and it's a good question. The gentleman also brings up the notion of assassination. And I think that both NATO and the United States have distanced themselves from that notion that they were, or are, trying to assassinate Gadhafi. My understanding is that that's illegal under both U.S. and international law.

They said, and have said repeatedly, that they were targeting command centers. And if Gadhafi happens to be there, then that would be something that would happen as a result of a strike on a command center.

At the same time, analysts outside seem to think that part of what NATO is trying to do - again, NATO doesn't say this, but some people outside interpret it as a bid to ramp up the pressure and force him to leave.

CONAN: Is it clear at this point, the strike against Saif Gadhafi, the son who was killed over the weekend - reportedly killed over the weekend, was that the result of an airstrike or a drone attack?

Mr. McDONNELL: You know, that's never been clarified. But drone or air, it certainly came from the air. And whether it was a drone or, you know, from a jet fighter has never been clarified.

But again, NATO said that it was a command-and-control center, even though the Libyan government said it was the presidential home.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. This is Mohammed(ph), Mohammed with us from St. Louis.

MOHAMMED (Caller): Hey, I just want to say that whether the Gadhafi regime is trying to get pity for the loss of Gadhafi's son, regardless of whether he's a citizen or not, is irrelevant because from the people that I know and from the rebels, they don't really - they basically don't feel pity for Gadhafi. They're actually happy to see that Gadhafi gets to know the suffering of what it is to lose somebody who was not even involved in the conflict.

CONAN: Mohammed, thanks for the comment. Of course, Moammar Gadhafi lost a child in the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986 as well, an adopted daughter who was killed in that raid. But is there any - are there any tears for Mr. - the young Mr. Gadhafi who was killed in Tripoli over the weekend there in Benghazi?

Mr. McDONNELL: Well, certainly not in the rebel zone. And I don't think it would be - if there are people shedding tears, they're doing it behind closed doors. I don't think it would be politically correct in this area to express any kind of condolence for the Gadhafi family.

Of course, in Tripoli, it's quite a different story there. We saw images of mass mourning and mass outrage and indeed, the looting of several embassies and the burning of several embassies, including the American embassy. So it's kind of two different faces of the same country.

CONAN: And in the meantime - we just have a minute left, but stalemate? Does that seem to have settled in?

Mr. McDONNELL: It seems that way. I mean, we've used that phrase over and over again. But, you know, as that strike on Libya showed last weekend, I mean, things can move and change rather quickly here. So it's a stalemate for now.

But one thing I think the rebel government's quite clear on is that they don't see this partition as being permanent. They have every intention of being - of governing a reunited Libya from the capital of Tripoli. So there may be periods of stalemate. They seem to think it's a matter of weeks, if not months, until one way or another, Gadhafi leaves. And they seem convinced of that.

CONAN: That same goal might be said of Gadhafi's government in Tripoli, too. He aims to have complete control of a united Libya. In any case, Patrick McDonnell, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. McDONNELL: I really appreciate it.

CONAN: Patrick McDonnell, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, on the line with us from Benghazi in Libya.

While the civil war rages there, police in Syria go door to door, to round up anti-government protesters. Hundreds are reported dead in a crackdown by soldiers and police while the U.S. and NATO remain on the sidelines.

Anthony Shadid joins us from Beirut in just a moment. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan.

Now to Syria, another country that's seen growing anti-government protest in the so-called Arab spring, and a violent government crackdown.

Human rights groups say Syrian authorities have arrested more than a thousand people in recent door-to-door sweeps. More than 500 Syrians have been killed, by many counts, since the uprising began six weeks ago.

Hardest hit in recent days: the city of Daraa. President Bashar Assad shows no signs of stepping down. His security forces continue to target protests to international outcries - but little, if anything, beyond words.

What can or should the U.S., Europe or NATO do in Syria: 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Foreign journalists are not being allowed into Syria, so it's difficult to get an accurate account of what's happening there. But New York Times Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid has been reporting on events, and joins us on the line from Beirut. Nice to have you with us today, and Anthony Shadid, nice to talk to you. It's our first opportunity since your capture and eventual release in Libya. Nice to have you back on the air.

Mr. ANTHONY SHADID (Foreign Correspondent, New York Times): It's nice to be with you.

CONAN: And protests continue even in the face of violent crackdown by Syrian forces. Can you tell us what's been happening in Daraa?

Mr. SHADID: Well, Daraa is kind of - in some ways a symbol of the uprising, and it's also the focus of the government's crackdown at this point. For weeks, some residents were claiming Daraa to be liberated, in some respects.

That ended last Monday when the military sent in, you know, security forces, tanks, soldiers. And the city's been - effectively - occupied since then. We've been hearing reports of hundreds of arrests, especially over the past four or five days. And you know, in a lot of ways, I think you can say that the uprising, at least in Daraa, has been crushed.

CONAN: Crushed - there's no news of anything going on there at all?

Mr. SHADID: Well, crushed is probably not the best verb to use on that. I think there is still a lot of resentment. There's still a lot of dissent. What we've heard is people are so scared to go outside of their homes on Sundays because of the presence of snipers there that they'll be chanting, you know, kind of -they'll be doing chants inside their homes. People in the next building will hear those chants, and they'll echo them. Soldiers, in frustration, will fire into the air.

But these kind of mass demonstrations we saw in the streets of Daraa only weeks ago, when hundreds - even thousands - would get out on the streets, those aren't happening at this point.

CONAN: And is there any indication, have we been able to get any of the previous sources' - as difficult as they can sometime be - Twitter feeds and Facebook postings?

Mr. SHADID: You know, you are still hearing some reports. We still are able to talk to people inside the town itself. You know, what's frustrating, I think, for the journalists covering this from outside of Syria is that often, these residents will only have, you know, details on what's happening on their street, or in their neighborhood. They really don't have any idea what's happening, you know, a few streets away.

And so we're getting kind of snapshots of the situation there. That's been the case for the past few days. And we're getting a picture, but it's still one that - you know, I have to say - is incomplete.

CONAN: As the pattern has evolved that Fridays tend to be the biggest days of protest - that's the Sabbath in Muslim countries - is that the pattern again? Do people expect another set of rallies on Friday?

Mr. SHADID: It is. I think - what you see with organizers is trying to focus their efforts on the turnout on Friday. And the government's bracing for that as well.

I think, you know, with this uprising in Syria, early on we saw the government attempt to make some concessions. Those concessions didn't quiet the crowds. Fridays still were tumultuous.

And in the past couple of weeks, we've seen pretty much just a crackdown. It's the government putting its bet that, you know - on the idea that it can stop these protests, stop these demonstrations through, you know, through brute force.

That hasn't seemed to work, either. And so I think what we're going to see in coming weeks is the government having to ask itself what its next step is. It's tried concessions. It's tried crackdown. Neither have worked. And then, you know, there's the prospect of negotiation.

CONAN: We hear reports, and these are difficult to confirm, but reports - again, by anti-Syrian-government groups, so take that for what it's worth - that at least there have been some conflicts between units of the Syrian army, that some units of the Syrian army have protested orders to crack down.

Mr. SHADID: You know, we have heard those reports. I think we have to be very careful about that. I think we're talking about a government that still draws on, you know, substantial bastions of support.

Syria has large minorities, religious minorities, Christians and heterodox Muslim sects. It has an economic elite, in cities like Damascus and Aleppo, that still appear to be siding with the government. It also, of course, has the military and security forces.

And while the broader military, populated largely by Sunni Muslims, might not be, you know, fervently loyal to the regime, that's not really what the regime relies on.

It relies on the Republication Guard, on the Fourth Division, which is run by the president's brother. These are the core pillars of the regime, and we haven't really seen any dissent within those pillars of the regime.

CONAN: And you emphasize the ethnic diversity of Syria. This is a country - you had a map in the paper the other day that showed just how diverse a place it is.

Mr. SHADID: Yeah, and in fact, I think this is one of the dynamics that people are going to want to watch as this unfolds. The opposition has been adamant in downplaying sectarian differences in this uprising, but there is sectarian tension in Syria. There is deep fear, deep anxiety among Christians, among Alawites, a heterodox Muslim sect that - from which the president and his family come, about what Syria would be like if the government falls.

They look across their border to Lebanon, which had a 15-year civil war. They look across the other border to Iraq, which, you know, lived through a devastating several years of sectarian strife. And there's fear of what might happen in a period of chaos, a period of anarchy.

You know, we saw Christians flee from Iraq. That community, once substantial, has almost disappeared. And I think there's a lot of fear among minorities in Syria about what their fate might be in a period of prolonged anarchy.

CONAN: You mentioned the Christians, who are - seem to be staying with the government, as you say, for fear of chaos. You mentioned the Alawites, the Shia sect from which the ruling family is drawn. There's also Druze, another Shia sect. There are also - you mentioned probably the majority, the Sunni Muslims. There are also Kurds in the northern and eastern part of the country.

Mr. SHADID: That's exactly right. It's a very diverse country, in some ways much more diverse than Iraq, which, you know, obviously was a diverse country, you know, throughout all these years.

I think, you know, when we look at the regime's support, in some ways I think we've seen the weakness of the regime over this past six weeks. It's focused its efforts on Damascus and Aleppo, the two biggest cities in the country, which - where we've seen, you know, signs of prosperity, where these neo-liberal forms have created a, you know, a substantial middle class, an elite that has, you know, has invested its future, in some ways, in the government.

What we've also seen, at the same time, is a countryside that's been neglected. So I think when we talk about the uprising and where this uprising is drawing its support, it's in some ways, you know, the proletariat. It's the disenfranchised, the people who have missed out on these reforms and the elements of prosperity that you've seen in Damascus and Aleppo.

At the same time, the government - and again, it is a weak government, in a lot of ways - has tried to rally its traditional support. Again, it's tried to rally the minorities. It's tried to make sure that the military and security forces are kept in line.

I think one big question, going forward, is whether the economic elite in these cities like Damascus and Aleppo remains with the government. And that's a question, I think, a lot of people are asking.

It's not good for business to have prolonged strife and, you know, prolonged anxiety. It's just - it's not easy to make money in that kind of environment. So where that economic elite sees its future, I think, is going to say - is going to determine, in a lot of respects, where this uprising goes.

CONAN: Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, on the line with us from Beirut, where he's watching events in Syria. What, if anything, should the United States, Europe and NATO do: 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org. Elliott(ph) on the line from Danville in Pennsylvania.

ELLIOTT (Caller): Hi, thanks very much for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ELLIOTT: Actually, your - if this is Mr. Shadid, he's already answered a lot of my question, which has to do with whether or not NATO is loathe to interfere or intercede in any way in Syria because we're afraid of who the divert protesting and potential rebel groups might be.

We want to avoid a civil war, and we're worried about the potential ramifications in Israel and Palestine and other neighboring countries. And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: All right, Elliott, thanks very much. And certainly, the government of Syria - no friend to the United States. But some people suggest that well, anything else might be worse.

Mr. SHADID: Exactly, and I think there have been periods of cooperation between Syria and the United States. And we can't forget that in the 1991 Gulf War, Syria was part of this Arab coalition that the Bush administration had put together.

There's not an ideological, you know, divide between Syria and the United States as - say, you might see with Iran, for instance. But again, we're in a period where relations, I think for years, have been very grim between Washington and Damascus.

But that fear that the caller mentioned, I think, is a good one. And it's not only the minorities in Syria that fear the day after in Damascus. It's also countries abroad: the West - the United States, Europe.

And I think it's noteworthy, you know, to compare the examples of Libya and Syria. You're not seeing calls for intervention. You're, in fact, seeing - you know - pleas by the Obama administration for President Bashar al-Assad to reform.

And I think that's a sign of that anxiety, that - what would replace this government; what would come next? And there's not a real strong sense out there of what, exactly, it would be.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Gina(ph) in Fremont, California: I have a good friend living in Damascus. We've been texting. Just last night, I questioned him again about his safety. This was his response: Again, things are fine. No hell. Our president is very beloved.

I feel nobody is getting a good picture of what's going on inside or outside the borders of Syria.

Mr. SHADID: You know, I think it's a - that's a great email to bring up because there is a lot of - the Syrian government has basically ceded the narrative of this uprising to its opponents. I mean, as journalists reporting this from abroad, it's very difficult for us to get government perspective, or government comment, on what's going on.

And I think you can legitimately say it's a failure of the reporting getting at the most complete picture possible. You know, it's probably not possible to do it. I mean, that's the frustration but there is, perhaps, a perspective missing.

I think what the - what her correspondent pointed out is that Damascus and Aleppo, again - and this is very important - the two biggest cities in Syria have remained relatively quiet.

The protest in Damascus last Friday numbered in the hundreds -nothing like the, you know, the thousands that opposition activists were hoping for.

I think what the - what her correspondent pointed out is that Damascus and Aleppo, again - and this is very important - the two biggest cities in Syria have remained relatively quiet.

CONAN: There are other issues involved as well. You reported in this morning's edition of the New York Times that there are reports that Hamas, long a - well, some might say a client, or some might say an ally of Syria - may be asked to leave Damascus, where it's been headquartered for quite some time, because Hamas has declined to support the government in this crisis.

Mr. SHADID: You know, this government is in survival mode. Like I said, we saw some concessions in the beginning. People didn't think they went far enough, and the protests continued. Now, we've seen the crackdown.

And this is a government that is looking how to maintain its grip on power, and it will do anything to maintain that grip on power. This crackdown could become worse. It could expel people, thinking they might be able to curry favor with the West or the United States.

It's hard to rule out anything at this point on what the government sees - you know, on what the government's strategy might be to maintain itself.

CONAN: We're talking with Anthony Shadid of the New York Times. He's with us on the line from Beirut, where he's been monitoring the situation in Syria, a place where Western reporters have not been able to enter for quite some time now.

Protests started there about six weeks ago. There were reports that, well, hundreds at least have been killed, maybe a thousand people arrested in recent days. In the city of Daraa, where the protests began all that - those weeks ago - is reportedly under siege and, well, people are afraid to leave their homes, according to his reports. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's see if we go next to - this is Larry(ph), Larry with us from Evansville in Indiana.

LARRY (Caller): Hi. My question is: Why does NATO look at Syria differently as opposed to Libya, and why are we not doing anything?

CONAN: The United States has talked about targeted sanctions against some of the Syrian leadership. Europe may be talking about some of the same things, but nothing like what the situation is in Libya.

Anthony Shadid, you mentioned one of the problems is Syria's position on the map. It's a central place in the Middle East - unlike Libya, which is to some degree, on the periphery. Syria does not have any oil, but it's on the border of Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. And it also has a strong alliance with Iran.

Mr. SHADID: Right. Syria punches above its weight diplomatically. There's no question about that. It is a central player in Middle East politics. You know, it's much smaller than Egypt, but in some ways it plays a bigger role - or has played a bigger role in recent years, in politics in the Middle East. And you pointed out all the, you know, all the intersections of that relationship. I think you also pointed out a key, you know, a key aspect here - and it doesn't have oil. There's not European countries banging on its door, ready to, you know, make contracts in a post, you know, in a post-collapsed future or whatever.

But I think that anxiety - I think a couple of things. There is some, I think, sense of regret, perhaps, of intervention in Libya. Only in the idea of what's, you know, where's the - what's the endgame? You know, where does this intervention end up? How does it, you know, how does it wrap up?

And I don't think there's a real clear sense out there about that. I think that may have created a little bit more caution when it comes to Syria. And I think there is also that deep fear, you know, that is shared abroad, of exactly what would replace this government.

I think the Syrian government, at this point, is reading - they're hearing the international condemnations, but they're also hearing signals from Washington and elsewhere that they have time to act, that they have time to try to figure this out. And it's something that this government is very expert at, which is waiting things out.

CONAN: Let's go next to Harold, Harold with us from Columbus.

KEN(ph) (Caller): Hello, this is Ken from Greenlawn, Missouri.

CONAN: Oh, hi. I'm sorry. I misidentified you. Go ahead, please.

KEN: That's OK, Neal. I hope - you're having a great afternoon, I hope.

CONAN: Thank you.

KEN: I was going to comment - I know it's probably been talked about, but I don't think there's any way Iran is going to let Syria fall away from its belt because they have so much influence there, and I think they use Syria, also, as like flexing their muscle.

Of course, you may have pointed to Hamas and the other terrorists that are harassing Israel. And I'm just thinking that, you know, if things get bad there, I'm just kind of wondering if Iran isn't going to start something to take like, a diversionary action to take the pressure off them. Do you think that's possible?

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, what has Iran been saying - and perhaps more importantly, doing about the crisis in Syria?

Mr. SHADID: Well, you know, I live in Beirut, which is the capital of rumors. And everyone is giving scenarios in Beirut of what, you know, of what Syria, what Iran, what Israel might do as a diversionary tactic. So absolutely, it's part of the conversation out here.

But I think the bottom line is that while Iran remains, probably, the only country that has influence in Syria at this point - and when I say influence, I mean that it could pressure it to do something. You might have said that about Turkey weeks ago, but I think, again, that was before the government really went into full survival mode.

So while it does have influence there, I think the question becomes: What can it do about the popular uprising? And again, I don't want to say this is necessarily the majority of the country that's up in the, you know, that's in the streets. It's not that. The numbers haven't been - they're not in the hundreds of thousands, like we saw in Egypt. But it is a sustained campaign of dissent and discontent.

And you know, at some level, Iran doesn't have all that many options to negotiate that. I mean, as your caller pointed out, there's the possibility of a diversionary tactic, a war that - you know, something along those lines. But to be honest, I think a lot of countries find themselves unable to really have all that much impact on what's happening within their neighbors' borders.

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it and again, nice to have you back.

Mr. SHADID: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you. It's good to be back.

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, with us on the line from Beirut.

Coming up, the life and legacy of Osama bin Laden, from one of the few Western journalists ever to meet and interview him. Peter Bergen will join us; 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. What lingering questions do you have about the future of U.S. policy after the death of Osama bin Laden? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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