Week in Review: Iraq, White House Highlights of the week's news include Iraq's struggle to form a government and changes among key White House staff.

Week in Review: Iraq, White House

Week in Review: Iraq, White House

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Highlights of the week's news include Iraq's struggle to form a government and changes among key White House staff.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

Mr. SCOTT MCCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): Mr. President, it has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to have served you for more than seven years now, and the last two years and nine months as your Press Secretary. The White House is going through a period of transition. Change can be helpful. And this is a good time and good position to help bring about change. I'm ready to move on.

SIMON: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan speaking from the White House lawn on Wednesday. Mr. McClellan's resignation was the first of several staff changes at the White House this week. We're going to talk about those in a moment. But first, the Iraqi government has broken a months-long deadlock and nominated a new prime minister to replace Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And Shiite politicians have nominated Jawad al-Maliki to replace Mr. al-Jaafari. Let's remind ourselves. What held things up for so long, and what do we know about Jawad al-Maliki?

SCHORR: Well, what held things up so long was simply that the non-Shiite parties, that is the Kurds and the Sunnis, didn't want him. He's been the interim prime minister, and they wanted to make a fresh start. Actually, he's a Shiite, and the one they've chosen now, al-Maliki, is also from a Shiite party.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: But I think a lot of this is symbols. The symbol is, if we're going to start a brand new government, we don't want to start it with people who served under the Americans, or anything like that. And that, I think, is what did it. When they finally got the other parties to agree to it, the crisis was over.

SIMON: The reports we're looking at the moment is that Mr. al-Maliki is, reportedly has been closely aligned with Mr. al-Jaafari.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: Which raises the question, is practically, is he al-Jaafari-lite? What is the reaction of Sunni and Kurdish groups in Parliament going to be?

SCHORR: I guess you won't know. But then they're also going to have established a unity government. Which means that it isn't only the prime minister, but who will be in the cabinet? And if it works well, they'll get a certain balance there. But as to al-Maliki, who spent a lot of his years in Syria and came back after the Americans got here, we don't know what he's going to do, what it's going to be like until he does it.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. What does this agreement represent for the Bush Administration?

SCHORR: About the only good news they've had in a long time. I mean they kept saying that we can't talk about bringing our troops home until there is a functioning government in Iraq.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And there was an awful lot of pressure from the United States government to try to get them to break that deadlock. When it finally succeeded, I can imagine that a huge sigh of relief was breathed all through the White House.

SIMON: Let me ask you about changes at that White House this week. Because after Scott McClellan announced his resignation, the White House also announced that Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove will be at least changing job descriptions. He will keep his title as Deputy Chief of Staff but is going to work less on policy and more openly on political strategy and planning for the

SCHORR: Which, by the way, raises the question: If he's not going to be working on White House matters, but is going to be working on the campaign and on political matters, should he be on the White House payroll?

SIMON: Well, I'm not the one to ask.

SCHORR: No, I'm not asking you. I mention the whole idea.

SIMON: What do you read into the significance of these changes?

SCHORR: Not very much here. Clearly, they would like to give the impression that there is a whole new breeze flowing through the White House. They have a sense that Americans are, on a whole, ready to get rid of most of the people in this administration, doesn't like the administration, doesn't like Congress anymore. And at a time like that you want to say, well, we are making changes. How are important are the changes? One of the words now is that Harriet Miers, who is the President's counsel, is going to be one of the next to leave. She was a nominee for the Supreme Court, but apparently would have been okay for the Court, but not okay to stay as the President's counsel. And we'll wait and see. You know, Rove is a complicated question. He's still under investigation in connection with the CIA leak.

And so that may be a reason for him to change his functions. There's several little things happening here. But I don't look at it as a new (unintelligible) in any sense.

SIMON: Price of oil is up to $75 a barrel.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: New records seem to be set every week. And of course this affects the price at the pump. What are some of the factors that contribute to the increase in oil prices and some of the political consequences?

SCHORR: Well, international politics. Whenever you are in trouble with a country that has a lot of oil, you have to worry because the market reacts to that by raising the price of oil. In this case, it is Iran. Iran is a big oil supplier. The United States is now trying to get a Security Counsel resolution, in order to punish Iran for trying to get a nuclear bomb. And the market doesn't react to a nuclear bomb or any -- all they know is that one of the big suppliers may not be a big supplier at a certain point, and they proceed to then set the price based on that.

Iran, according to Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, Iran is probably going to hold back some of its oil and he says prices will go still higher. Well, he has an interest in saying that.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: But it is true. The world situation affects the oil price.

SIMON: I want to ask about the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao who, of course, was in Washington, D.C. this week. Summit meeting between the two presidents, they talked about reportedly trade issues, China's record on human rights, Iran, and North Korea. Did you discern in any of the statements released that there was any progress?

SCHORR: I discerned in the statements that were released that nothing happened. That it was basically a meeting of symbols. I think that the President of China, who is so busy trying to stabilize his position back in China, would like the idea of being shown on Chinese television, right there at the White House. Unfortunately, that went a little badly when the woman of the Falun Gong stood up and yelled at him.

That didn't get played on television in China.

SIMON: Yeah. That wasn't played in China. Yeah.

SCHORR: Yeah. That's right. And what does the President call this? Strategic competitors, whatever that means.

SIMON: Hmm.

SCHORR: China is there. It's big. It's important. It's responsible for an enormous trade deficit with the United States. I don't see anything concrete.

SIMON: I want to ask you about summits, if I could draw you out just a moment. Because it occurs to me you've covered so many various super power summits.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Or perceived super power summits over the years when certainly in the arc of the world was different. Are summit meetings important less for what it's agreed to, and we're often told that what's going to be agreed to has actually been ironed out in advance.

SCHORR: And frequently you get, the final communiqué is leaked to you even before the meeting at times.

SIMON: Right. So is it less important for the substance of those meetings, than the fact that you have two powerful officials in the habit of talking with each other on a personal basis?

SCHORR: I think that's exactly right. I mean, the first summit was a summit that Winston Churchill called a summit. He said we will meet at the summit, indicating the heads, the United States, Britain, Russia, were going to meet. And the word summit has remained in our language as something where very big people get together to do very important things.

SIMON: Hmm. And of course events in the Middle East, a suicide bomber attacked a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv on Monday. Nine people were killed and dozens of people were wounded. Hamas's official spokesman, they of course control the government now, said the attack was an appropriate response to Israeli military strikes.

SCHORR: Yes. And that is very bad. It makes it very difficult for Israel to deal. Israel was not going to deal with Hamas anyway, until Hamas was ready to recognize the existence of Israel. And to get now a big bomb like this, which they are not even willing to condemn, makes things very difficult. So Israel goes ahead building its wall and getting ready for a unilateral declaration of what Israel is, and what Israel isn't. And at the moment, things look not very helpful or happy there.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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