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Indonesia’s Most Active Volcano Erupts : NPR

Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, spews rocks and gas into Wednesday’s morning sky.

Agung Supriyanto/AFP via Getty Images

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Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, spews rocks and gas into Wednesday’s morning sky.

Agung Supriyanto/AFP via Getty Images

Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, erupted Wednesday emitting a river of lava into the mountain below and gas clouds into the sky.

The eruption set off the volcano’s longest lava flow since the danger level for Merapi was raised in November, Hanik Humaida, the head of Yogyakarta’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center, told The Associated Press. Sounds of the eruption could reportedly be heard almost 18 miles away.

The 9,737-foot Mount Merapi volcano sits on the densely populated island of Java. No residents were evacuated Wednesday morning, but officials are closely monitoring the volcano’s activity.

Agung Supriyanto/AFP via Getty Images

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The 9,737-foot Mount Merapi volcano sits on the densely populated island of Java. No residents were evacuated Wednesday morning, but officials are closely monitoring the volcano’s activity.

Agung Supriyanto/AFP via Getty Images

The 9,737-foot volcano sits on the densely populated island of Java and near the ancient city of Yogyakarta. It has repeatedly erupted recently, keeping local officials and residents living nearby on a state of alert.

In November, local authorities evacuated nearly 2,000 people who lived in the Java mountain districts of Magelang and Sleman after Merapi erupted. Earlier this month, authorities evacuated more than 500 people in Magelang after the volcano spewed hot clouds of ash.

No residents were evacuated as of 5:30 a.m. EST, but Indonesian authorities are closely monitoring the volcano’s activity. People were told to stay out of the 3-mile danger zone around the crater.

Merapi’s last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people.

Mount Merapi’s 2010 eruption killed 347 people.

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Juli Nugroho/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the ocean. That location leaves the country prone to earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tsunamis.

In August, Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located on Sumatra Island, spewed a plume of ash several miles into the sky posing health and aviation risks for days.

A series of eruptions in 2018 at the Anak Krakatau volcano, which also triggered a deadly tsunami, caused serious damage and forced authorities to reroute flights.

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Indian Farmers Protest In New Delhi, Storm Historic Red Fort : NPR

Protesting farmers riding tractors shout slogans as they march to the capital during India’s Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday in New Delhi.

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Protesting farmers riding tractors shout slogans as they march to the capital during India’s Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday in New Delhi.

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Tens of thousands of farmers rolled into India’s capital Tuesday on tractors festooned with Indian flags, overshadowing a traditional military parade on a national holiday. They broke through barricades, clashed with police and occupied the ramparts of the 17th century Red Fort – a tourist attraction and symbol of Indian power.

It was one of the biggest protests in New Delhi in living memory, posing a fresh challenge to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was reelected in 2019 in a landslide.

Farmers had been protesting on the outskirts of New Delhi for months. They’re demanding the repeal of three agriculture laws passed by Modi’s government in September that aim to deregulate wholesale produce markets. Farmers fear they’ll lose price guarantees, though the government insists that’s not the case.

About two-thirds of Indians work in agriculture, in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Many Indian families have roots in farming, and solidarity rallies have erupted across India.

“We came here for the farmers’ support! Because they’re not getting what they want,” said office worker Megha Mallick, who gathered with hundreds of other supporters on a cricket field in central Mumbai.

She and her friends were dressed in white, orange and green — the colors of the Indian flag.

Farmers and their supporters hoist flags over the historic Red Fort monument in New Delhi on Tuesday.

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Dinesh Joshi/AP

Tuesday’s violence happened on Republic Day, a national holiday marking 71 years since India’s post-colonial constitution took effect. The centerpiece of the holiday is a traditional military parade, over which Modi presided.

Farm unions had obtained permits for their tractor brigade, which was supposed to be held after the military parade. But some tractors deviated from the convoy route agreed upon with the government and broke through police barriers early.

Clashes broke out in which some farmers attacked empty buses set up as barricades. Police fired tear gas and water cannons and beat farmers with lathis — bamboo rods used by police in South Asia. Authorities temporarily cut off Internet access in some parts of the capital.

At least one farmer reportedly died.

Last week, the Indian government offered farmers a deal: an 18-month suspension of the three agriculture laws until a permanent compromise could be reached. But farm unions refused, demanding a permanent repeal of the laws.

After nightfall Tuesday, those unions called off the tractor rally. Farmers climbed down from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

But they did not go home. They returned only to their protest camps, on the outskirts of Delhi — from which they’re planning another march on the capital in less than a week.

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Biden, Putin Discuss Cyber Breach, Arms Control, In Phone Call : NPR

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden spoke on the phone Tuesday, discussing several tense issues facing the two countries.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden spoke on the phone Tuesday, discussing several tense issues facing the two countries.

Alexei Nikolsky/Alexei Nikolsky/TASS

In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin since taking office, President Biden pressed his Russian counterpart on the detention of a leading Kremlin-critic, the mass arrest of protesters, and Russia’s suspected involvement in a massive cyber breach in the United States.

Still, the two leaders did agree to begin to renegotiate the U.S.-Russia arms control deal, New START, which is set to expire soon.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden’s “intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have said the massive SolarWinds hack was likely committed by Russia; the Treasury Department sanctioned several Kremlin-aligned politicians and entities for their disinformation efforts during the 2020 campaign; and President Biden has asked the U.S. government to investigate reports that the Kremlin paid bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan. Russian officials have called the allegations they paid bounties for American troops a hoax.

Moscow’s report of the call focused on the need to normalize relations and to work together on the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to the New START deal.

The Kremlin described the call as “businesslike and sincere.”

New START deal

Biden has projected a more confrontational tone with Putin than his predecessor. During a campaign debate, Biden called Trump “Putin’s puppy” for refusing to criticize the Russian leader.

Putting aside what will likely be a complex relationship, the two leaders discussed a five-year extension to New START, the only remaining arms control agreement that caps U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration tried and failed to negotiate a new deal after attempting to include China and to push Russia to agree to more. Biden and Putin will have their teams work to complete an extension for the deal by Feb. 5.

Navalny arrest

The White House said the phone call with Putin included a discussion over the near-fatal poisoning and the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The White House didn’t provide details on what exactly Biden said about Navalny, and the Kremlin’s summary of the phone call didn’t mention it at all.

Mass demonstrations have erupted throughout Russia since Jan. 17, when Navalny was arrested upon his return to the country. He’d been recovering from a near-fatal poison attack in Germany. Doctors there said he was given a version of the Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok. Navalny has blamed the Kremlin for the poisoning, which Putin has denied.

The State Department demanded the release of both Navalny and more than 3,000 of his supporters who were arrested last weekend for protesting his imprisonment.

The State Department said, “Continued efforts to suppress Russians’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the arrest of opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, and the crackdown on protests that followed are troubling indications of further restrictions on civil society and fundamental freedoms.”

SolarWinds espionage

Biden also raised the massive hack of U.S. government computers, revelations of which were made public late last year.

An estimated 18,000 private and government users who unknowingly downloaded a tainted software update from the Texas company SolarWinds were compromised. Several U.S. agencies were also breached, including the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Energy, and Homeland Security.

With the hacked program as an entry point, hackers spent months exploring U.S. government networks and systems of private companies around the world. Investigators say no classified information was believed to have been accessed, but there are still concerns that other sensitive information was stolen.

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New Documentary Offers An Inside Look At ’90s Middle East Peace Negotiations : NPR


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who’s taking a well-deserved week off. There’s a song in the musical “Hamilton” called “The Room Where It Happens” about being with power players behind closed doors when a political deal is cut. Today’s guests take us inside rooms where some of the most intense, high-stakes negotiations in modern times took place – efforts to broker a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Dror Moreh is an award-winning Israeli documentary filmmaker and the director of “The Human Factor,” a new film which focuses on negotiations brokered by the Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and a series of Israeli prime ministers.

The film draws on candid interviews with veteran American diplomatic negotiators who tried to bring the parties to common ground. “The Human Factor” opened in a limited number of theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will open in other theaters as more resume operations. There’s hope for a broader release this spring.

One of the negotiators interviewed in the film is our other guest, Dennis Ross. He served four American presidents and was President Clinton’s Middle East envoy and point man when the two sides came closer than they ever had to an agreement to end the conflict. Ross wrote a memoir in 2004 about his experiences called “The Missing Peace.” His most recent book with David Makovsky is “Be Strong And Of Good Courage.” He joins us from his home in Bethesda, Md. Dennis Ross, welcome to FRESH AIR.

DENNIS ROSS: Nice to be with you. Thank you.

DAVIES: Dror Moreh was last with us on FRESH AIR to talk about his documentary film “The Gatekeepers,” based on interviews with all of the living heads of Israeli security agency Shin Bet, which earned an Academy Award nomination. He joins us from his office in Tel Aviv. Dror Moreh, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

DROR MOREH: Thank you very much. Very happy to be here.

DAVIES: You know, this is – things are pretty grim today for those who hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This film takes us back to a time in the Clinton years when there were dramatic breakthroughs in a time, I guess you could say, of hope and prospects never realized. I’m just going to ask you, before we go into the story, how you kind of regard that moment. Dror Moreh?

MOREH: Well, there was a brief moment of hope in the beginning of the process. That moment was shattered completely when Rabin was assassinated. And I think the assassination of Rabin and the consequences of that assassination is something that we live on until today. The Israeli society have not yet paid the price, the real price for – and not done reckoning, a soul reckoning and searching for the outcome of that assassination. And from that moment on, I think we are all downhill.

DAVIES: And that assassination was in November of 1995, right?

MOREH: 4 of November, 1995 – my birthday, yes, my birthday.

DAVIES: Dennis Ross, it was Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, who was at the heart of these negotiations when they were quite intense. Now, tell us a little about him and why he decided to approach this seriously. I mean, he was a guy who was a soldier, right? I mean, he was chief of staff of the army in the ’67 war.

ROSS: One of the most interesting things about Yitzhak Rabin is that he evolves as a person. He evolves as someone who sees what Israel needs. And one of the things that always characterized him was his complete commitment and devotion to the IDF. He built it, the Israeli Defense Forces. He built it as an institution. He kind of took an oath to himself after the war of independence in 1948 that he would never again let the army be as unprepared for war as it was in ’48. And he stays in the military as a result. But he also begins to see what the – what occupation is doing to the military.

The first intifada that begins the end of 1987, it surprises him in terms of how the Palestinians act and how they continue this. And he begins to see that there isn’t a military solution to the Palestinian problem. He begins to see there’s a consequence for the institution that he’s so devoted to that it will change the character. But it’s not a police force, and it’s being turned into one. And he feels that he has to find a way out of this problem. And it’s also combined with something else he feels about his responsibilities to the military.

He looks at everybody in the military as almost being like his grandson. And he feels the need – and I heard him say this – he has to be able to look in the eyes of the parents, of the soldiers who have been lost, and be able to say to them, there was no alternative. It wasn’t as if there was an alternative to war. He has to feel himself that he exhausted every possibility. So he changes, and he becomes a statesman, not just a military man.

DAVIES: So if we go back to the early ’90s, I mean, this was the time when Israel and the PLO didn’t recognize one another. And the United States couldn’t talk to the PLO, was regarded as a terrorist organization, of course. And the United – you know, Dennis, you and some other folks had been working on negotiations between Israel and Syria. And then it turns out that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Oslo have come up with a remarkable statement of principles. This was a huge breakthrough, wasn’t it?

ROSS: It was. You were taking a conflict, there was an existential conflict in the sense that you have two national movements competing for the same space. And they each deny each other. They deny the existence of the other because they somehow feel that undercuts their claims. So what Oslo represented was a historic breakthrough psychologically because it took what was an existential conflict and turned it into a political conflict.

DAVIES: Right. They were finally talking. It’s amazing to me. I didn’t realize this until I saw the film that that this was kind of done behind you, the American negotiators’ backs. Essentially, the Israelis and Palestinian negotiators agree on a declaration of principles on interim self-government. It doesn’t say what’s going to happen, but it does say we’re going to try and work this out and recognize each other. It’s a huge thing. The secretary of state tells you, Dennis, the president will love this. And so there’s going to be a big ceremony at the White House with Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat. And an interesting part of the film, Dennis Ross, is Rabin’s unease with Arafat. What was it going to be like to – seen in public with this guy? Could he shake his hand? Tell us a bit about that interaction.

ROSS: The amazing thing about Yitzhak Rabin is he was the most honest person, most honest leader I ever dealt with. And what I mean by that is, A, he couldn’t tell a lie. He physically couldn’t tell a lie. He was also intellectually honest with himself. And he couldn’t disguise what he felt. And he – his feelings towards Arafat were so ingrained, so deep because of acts of terrorism that Arafat had been responsible for that just stayed with him, emotionally stayed with him.

So when he gets to the White House, even before he gets to the White House, he wants to be sure Arafat’s not going to be in uniform. He has to be assured he’s not going to be – bring a gun. We tell him, don’t worry, we’re not letting anybody bring guns into the White House. But he is – everything is grudging with him towards Arafat because it’s so difficult for him to actually be there with him. And then the idea that he has to shake hands with him, it’s just – it physically, emotionally, viscerally is simply difficult for him.

MOREH: Can I add something to that?

DAVIES: Dror Moreh, go ahead.

MOREH: You know, I heard the process of making the movies – I heard all those amazing stories from Dennis and from all the others. And my challenge was, how do I create visual references to what they’re speaking about?

DAVIES: I was going to ask you about this because the visuals are amazing, the film and the stills. Yeah.

MOREH: Yeah. And amazingly, we discovered that all of those events which have been happening behind closed doors have been documented by the White House still photographers. And there is a lot. And they are almost invisible. So they are like a fly on the wall. And they document all those amazing moments that I only heard the stories from Dennis. And when I managed to create, to combine those moments that were told to me, like Arafat – Rabin sees Arafat for the first time and what Dennis had described now – and you have that visually in the film in front of you. So you see all those moments, all those amazing moments, in front of you in the film.

DAVIES: There’s dramatic tape on the South Lawn when the two leaders speak. Arafat speaks. It’s in Arabic. And it’s translated on the film. But we do have some tape of a bit of Yitzhak Rabin’s speech. Remember, it isn’t easy for him to shake Arafat’s hand. Here’s some of what he said to the crowd that day.


YITZHAK RABIN: Let me say to you, the Palestinians, we, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we say to you today, in a loud and clear voice, enough of blood and tears. Enough.


DAVIES: It was quite a moment, wasn’t it?

ROSS: Yeah. Look; it’s chilling for me even now, I have to say.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. Dennis Ross was a special envoy for President Clinton in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the 1990s. He’s one of several negotiators interviewed in the new documentary “The Human Factor,” directed by our other guest, Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh. “The Human Factor” opened in a limited number of theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will open in other theaters as more resume operations. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with Dror Moreh, n Israeli filmmaker and director of the new documentary, “The Human Factor,” about American negotiators trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders to an agreement to end their conflict mostly in the 1990s. Also with us is Dennis Ross. He was a special envoy for President Clinton and the point man in a lot of those negotiations.

So in 1993, we have what’s called the Oslo I agreement where the Israelis and the PLO say, we’re going to talk, we’re going to resolve to try and peacefully coexist. So what happens over the next two years? There’s a lot of really hard, detailed negotiations over what’s going to happen in the West Bank, what’s going to happen in Jerusalem between these sides. And the result two years later is what’s called Oslo II, where there’s going to – there are going to be some commitments and a timetable and maps. And that means there’s going to be another ceremony at the White House. And again, Rabin and Arafat have had a lot of time together working on this. And Rabin, initially so uncomfortable meeting Arafat, what’s it like now, Dennis, what – Ross? What’s – what did you see happen between these two men?

ROSS: I really have to say, it was a transformation from Rabin who, you know, couldn’t – literally, it was hard to shake hands with Arafat. Now, he actually, after the ceremony, he jokes with him. He – you know, Arafat gives a long speech. And he says, you know, we Jews are not necessarily known as great sportsmen. But we’re Olympians when it comes to speechmaking. And he says, Mr. Chairman, I think you must be part Jewish. And it’s just – everything is different.

And he has said to me before the meeting – Rabin says to me, you know, at least Arafat does things that are hard for him. And the one thing that Rabin frequently said to me is, I know we have to give up more because we’re the ones holding the land. We have to give up more than the other side. But I have to see that they’re prepared to do things that are hard for them, too. It can’t be only me. It can’t be only Israel that does things that are hard. And he felt that Arafat, unlike Assad of Syria, was prepared to do things that were hard for him.

DAVIES: You know, Dror Moreh, you know, you were in Israel when this was happening. And there were a lot of people that were terribly excited about this. And there were a lot of people that were furious – right? – I mean, who felt that they were – this was undermining Israeli security, cooperating with people who had been out to drive them into the sea. What was happening in the country in reaction to this process at the time?

MOREH: The problem was the suicide attacks. When – there was a moment where it started with a Jewish settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who massacred Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Up until that moment, the Hamas and the extreme Islamist were out of – they didn’t do suicide attacks. After that attack on the Cave of the Patriarch, they started the suicide attacks. And it literally shattered the peace process in terms of the public in Israel, who suffered a lot of casualties, a lot of death, started to lose faith in the process and started to lose faith in the ability of Rabin to bring this process to a good outcome with all the terrorist attacks that were occurring almost sometimes two, three a week.

And it was a tough time. I remember myself, you know, we were afraid to go out because the suicide attacks were all over. A lot of people died. And the right wing, especially Netanyahu – was then the head of the opposition – were trying to inflame the situation, which was already inflammatory as it was. And, you know, Dennis told me an amazing story, which started when Rabin just started as a prime minister, where he said that – Dennis asked him, what are you going to do? And he said, I’m going to go for peace with the Palestinians.

But I’m happy that all my guys in the military are with me because when I will get to the point where I have to give to the Palestinians what they need – what I need to have, I will leave my guys in the military. They trust me. And I trust them. And therefore – and in a way, he kind of predicted the chasm and the rift inside the Israeli society, which led, at the end, to his assassination by settler or Jewish extremist, right-wing extremists, who interpreted the incitement of the politicos in Israel and the rabbis as a excuse to kill the prime minister of Israel.

DAVIES: Dennis Ross, you were talking to Yitzhak Rabin while this was happening, where he was at the vortex of all of this fury and hatred. How was he handling it? How was it affecting him?

ROSS: He was so stoic. And he was so personally courageous that he was dismissive. So I would oftentimes come and see him at his home in Tel Aviv on Rav Ashi Street, especially on Shabbat afternoon, Saturday afternoons. And there were demonstrations outside his place. And one time, I came in. And I must have looked a little harried because he said to me, Dennis, don’t worry, it’s not about you. It’s about me. And I said to him, doesn’t it, you know – doesn’t it get to you? And he said – he basically said no. Part of it was, I think, his own just enormous sense of personal courage and conviction that what he was doing was right. But also, I think he really couldn’t conceive that, in the end, that he’d be the victim of Jewish violence.

DAVIES: Well, of course, not long after that ceremony at the White House, he was assassinated after giving a speech at a peace rally. And one of the more moving moments in the documentary is, Dennis, you describing hearing about this. I think you were with your kids coming back from a dentist appointment or something. And it’s hard to overstate the gravity of this event. Looking back on it, could this have succeeded if he had lived?

ROSS: You know, it’s hard to know. First, he himself wasn’t certain that he could do a permanent status deal with Arafat. He wasn’t certain that Arafat was up to that. He came to believe that you could do a lot, potentially, with Arafat. He didn’t know if you could do everything with Arafat, No. 1. No. 2, six months before he was assassinated, he asked me a question on one of these Saturday afternoons when I was at his place. And he said, who do you think is going to determine the next Israeli election? So I thought he was asking me about the internal politics of Israel. And so I said, the leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri. And he said, no, no. Guess again. And I said, no, you tell me.

And he said, look; Hamas. He said, two Hamas bombs and Netanyahu would probably defeat me. So we know that there were four Hamas bombs three months after his assassination. So we don’t know for sure what would have happened. But I will say this, whether Arafat could have done a complete deal or not with Rabin, he did view Rabin through a certain lens. He didn’t believe that Rabin was trying to somehow exploit him or exploit the Palestinians. He respected Rabin. And he looked at Rabin as being, in a lot of ways, what he admired.

He always used to say to me, I want to deal with the generals because he saw himself as a general. And he respected the generals. He once said to me – you know, this was at the time of – after Wye River in 1998. He said he would love to have a direct channel with Sharon. And it was very much the same thing. So I don’t know that if Rabin had lived that we would have had an outcome. I do think the chances of having produced maybe not an outcome while Rabin was still there, but having created a pathway to an outcome would have been much more likely.

DAVIES: Dror Moreh, you were living in Israel then. Was Rabin trying to do the impossible? Or could it have happened?

MOREH: Look; leaders matter. They do matter. And how they act matter. And how they respond to each other matter. And if there’s something that I learned from this project, with the tens of hours of interviews with each one of them, is the importance of the human factor and the importance of the relationship, the personal relationship, between leaders, between the leaders themselves, and the trust that they carry to each other. And in that sense, you know, the question of whether Rabin and Arafat would have managed to reach a final deal is a question that looms – I would say, something like that. There was a much bigger chance that Rabin and Arafat would have reached a final deal than all the others that came after Rabin. And, you know, at the end of the day, Rabin gave his life for this.

DAVIES: All right. I’m going to reintroduce you both because we need to take another break here. Dror Moreh is an Israeli filmmaker and director of the new documentary, “The Human Factor,” about American negotiators trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders to an agreement to end their conflict. Also with us is Dennis Ross. He was a special envoy for President Clinton in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We’ll talk more about the film and the chances for peace after this short break. I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off this week. We’re talking about the efforts of a core of American diplomatic negotiators to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in the Clinton administration, which seemed to hold genuine promise for peace, but which ultimately failed.

Our guests are Dennis Ross, a special envoy for President Clinton and the lead American negotiator, and Dror Moreh, an Israeli filmmaker whose documentary “The Human Factor” tells the story of the talks. “The Human Factor” has opened in a limited number of theaters in New York and Los Angeles. A wider opening is expected this spring when health conditions permit.

I want to move forward in the story a bit. I mean, after, you know, the peace process goes awry, after Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated, eventually Benjamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister. He and Arafat don’t have a great relationship. But Bill Clinton, the president, is deeply personally committed to try and make this happen, in part because of his grief over the death of Rabin. And there’s a moment, Dennis Ross, that you describe when these kind of efforts by Clinton are intense and he’s got to go to – fly to a meeting in Gaza, I guess, of the Palestinian National Council to try and keep the process going. But the Monica Lewinsky scandal has broken. Describe what you observed of him on this trip.

ROSS: So this was in the aftermath of reaching the Wye River Accord (ph) in late October of 1998.

DAVIES: That’s Wye River, Md., which sort of spelled out some details to try and keep the thing moving, right?

ROSS: That’s right. It was actually in another agreement. It was in another interim agreement. And one of the elements of it, there was a 12-week timetable for its implementation. At Week 6, he would go to the – to Gaza, inaugurate the airport there. And the Palestine (ph) National Conference would meet. And they would revoke in his presence – vote to revoke in his presence part of the Palestine covenant, the PLO’s covenant.

So we’re – you know, we’re flying down to Gaza. He’s been up all night. And, you know, this is after Monica Lewinsky, as you say – after the articles of impeachment have been voted by the House. And I’m – and first he tells me on the helicopter there he hasn’t slept a wink. We get down into a meeting with Arafat, and I’m sitting next to him. And on his yellow pad he’s written, focus on your job, focus on your job, focus on your job. What is amazing to me, even to this day, is not only how he performs in the meeting, he gives a speech, which is an unbelievably moving speech in which, by the way, I had done most of the drafting on. And he gets up there and he ad-libs it. and most of the people in the hall are crying, by the way, including me.

DAVIES: Can – you know, Dennis, I hate to interrupt you, but I brought a clip from that speech from the documentary because I think it is such a moment. So let’s just listen to a bit of this, and you can continue your discussion here of it. This is Bill Clinton speaking at this event in Gaza. And I will just note that this is from Dror Moreh’s documentary. And we’re going to hear a bit of Dennis Ross coming in to continue his commentary on it in the middle of the president’s remarks. Let’s listen to this – Bill Clinton.


BILL CLINTON: I was with Chairman Arafat. And four little children came to see me whose fathers are in Israeli prisons. Last night, I met some Israeli children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with Palestinians. If I had met them in reverse order, I would not have known which ones were Israeli and which Palestinian.

ROSS: A stunning speech – he is as much preacher as teacher in this speech.

CLINTON: We must acknowledge that neither side has a monopoly on pain or virtue.


DAVIES: And that’s Bill Clinton speaking in Gaza in 1998, I think. Right? Dennis Ross, this – after that, this is the second time in the film that we see tears in your eyes. What was the impact of this speech?

ROSS: The extraordinary impact was – for me, was to see – these were among the most hardened Palestinian nationalists, and they are asked to give an approval. But they stand up, and they’re literally moved by what Clinton has done. You know, they’ve seen an American president who can relate to them, but he’s also telling them, you have to relate to the Israelis. They have pain, too. You don’t have a monopoly on the pain. And this is how we’re going to get beyond both sides’ pain. It was so moving that it wasn’t just me, it was this whole audience of Palestinians, many of whom I can tell you I knew who came in cynical and questioning – and yet left there in a way that was totally different, including Nabil Shaath, who was one of the Palestinian negotiators, came up to me. And he hugged me. And he said, we’ve never had anybody speak to us like that. I mean, to this day, it moves me still.

DAVIES: Wow. There’s also a moment at the very, very end of the Clinton administration where, after the Camp David negotiations ended in failure, the Clinton team gets some principles and gives them to both sides, which the Israelis privately agree to adopt. And you have Arafat come in. There’s some hope that it might happen. It doesn’t. He wants to ask more questions. He wants to renegotiate. It can’t be done. Dennis Ross, do you think Yasser Arafat would ever have been able to close the deal? I mean, there’s this narrative that kind of grew out of this, that he would never be a partner from peace – for peace. What is your take?

ROSS: My take is he wasn’t able to do a final deal. That it was – it required too much personal redefinition for him. That is not to say that he wasn’t a partner for peace. You know, sometimes you can’t reach a complete agreement, but you can set the stage for it. Arafat capable of doing limited deals with Israel because Arafat was the kind of guy who could never foreclose an option. What made it hard for him to accept what we were asking were three words – end the conflict. Well, for him, end the conflict meant end the grievance, end the struggle, end the claims. That, he wasn’t prepared to do.

But I do think that he was capable, as he showed through these more limited agreements, of changing the landscape in a way that if he couldn’t have done the permanent status deal, a successor might have been able to do it. So I draw a distinction between whether Arafat could actually have ended the conflict himself versus whether Arafat could have been a contributor to setting the stage for that.

DAVIES: You spent an awful lot of time with Bill Clinton, and you saw him in public forums and in private conversations. Give us your assessment of his role as a negotiator.

ROSS: Look. He was passionate about this, and I think the reason for the passion goes back to his first meeting with Rabin, where he said to Rabin, you take risks for peace, and I – my job is to protect you from the risks. And when he was assassinated, he felt that he had a debt, he had an obligation. So he was driven himself with a sense of mission to try to achieve this. And he – that motivated him in one part.

But I think there was another part that people never fully understood. Bill Clinton is a very religious person. And I think in – there was a – almost a religious dimension to his commitment to this. I saw it, and I felt it. And, you know, he was a remarkable negotiator in terms of his capacity to connect and to know the minutest detail and show he understood why something was important to each side. He was – that was his strength as a negotiator. His weakness as a negotiator is that it was hard for him to do the tough love part of it, which is, in a high-stakes negotiation, always has to be part of it.

DAVIES: That is Dennis Ross. He served four American presidents and was President Clinton’s Middle East envoy and point man when the two sides came closer than they ever had to an agreement to end the conflict. Also with us Dror Moreh. He is an Israeli documentary filmmaker and director of the new film “The Human Factor” about American negotiators who tried to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders to an agreement. We’ll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we’re talking about the new Israeli documentary, “The Human Factor,” directed by Dror Moreh. Also with us is Dennis Ross, one of the key negotiators. He was a special envoy for President Clinton. He also served for three other American presidents. There was one more major effort to try and reach an all-encompassing deal to end the conflict when Ehud Barak was prime minister. And it appears that he was quite serious about doing not just an incremental deal, but a comprehensive deal with the Palestinians. Dennis, what was his approach and what were its limitations?

ROSS: Well, what’s interesting is he came in and – when he sees President Clinton for the first time, he says he wants to get two deals done within 14 months, meaning both Syria and the Palestinians. He wants to start with Syria because he feels they’re the bigger military threat, but also because he feels that will change the context in which he negotiates with the Palestinians. One of the things he does is he wants to refine or revise the deal we were just talking about, the – what was the Wye River accord, which I am resistant to changing because we actually negotiated it, and we undertook certain responsibilities for it.

DAVIES: Well, and maybe you should explain what it provided.

ROSS: So what the Wye River deal did is it extended significantly the amount of territory under Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Now, to implement it, what Barak wants to do is he wants to delay some of the implementation. And I think one of the things this does is it begins to build Arafat’s suspicions of Barak. But Barak has very ambitious plans. But he also has, in his mind, his own sense that he knows best how to do it.

DAVIES: Right. There was a certain inflexibility there, and he also had not cultivated a relationship with Arafat. We don’t have time for the whole story here but, Dror, there’s amazing footage that you get of all of these people assembled at Camp David – Arafat and his team, the Israelis and their team. And it sounds like all of the Americans didn’t think this was – there was much chance this could work. But it was Clinton’s last year, and better to try than not try. Dennis, it finally collapsed, right? Why?

ROSS: In the end, Arafat wasn’t prepared to move on anything. We made a proposal that, in a sense, we drew out of Barak, what was the kind of things that he could actually do. And Arafat doesn’t make a counterproposal, but he simply rejects it. He does – I will say he does go back to Gaza, and he goes back with the image that he defied Israel and the United States. The notion of defiance is very much a part of the historic Palestinian narrative. But at the same time that he is defying in public, he writes a letter in private saying, we’ve never achieved so much as we did at Camp David. Let’s have another summit.

DAVIES: Let’s talk about where things are today. You know, the Trump administration did have a policy of sorts – I mean, didn’t make much progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but we did have the recognition of Israel by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain late in the administration. How do you regard those moves, Dennis Ross?

ROSS: Look. I think the breakthroughs with the UAE, with Israel and Bahrain, now Morocco and Sudan, are very significant because what they show is that Arab states see an interest in having a relationship with Israel. They also signal that they’re not prepared to allow the Palestinians a veto over what they can do with Israel. It doesn’t mean they’re indifferent to the Palestinians because, after all, the UAE said they’ll do normalization provided there’s no Israeli annexation of the territories that were given to it under the Trump peace plan.

So what I see here is a new development that one can use to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians because Arab moves towards Israel can be accompanied by Israeli moves towards Palestinians and Palestinian reciprocation. There could be a brokering of that sort. What you had in the Trump administration was a kind of almost deliberate decision to distance from the Palestinians and not to address any Palestinian needs and to feel you could work around the Palestinians.

Now, part of what they did, in a sense, turned out to be right, not because they produced these breakthroughs, per se, but because the Arab states themselves began to see a real interest in working with Israel, given all the sort of challenges that they faced, not just in the security area. I do think we can build on these normalization agreements to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians, not because Arab states can deliver the Palestinians – because they cannot – but because they can offer moves to the Israelis – public moves to the Israelis that can also be used to get Israel to make some moves towards the Palestinians and then to trigger something from the Palestinians’ response. That’s the one new development that exists right now that I hope the Biden administration will be able to take advantage of.

DAVIES: Right. And it’s probably fair to note that one of the reasons for these new relations is the fear of Iran and that Israel is a natural ally with those Arab regimes in that area.

Dror Moreh, what’s your take on the Trump era? You know, there was also the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What was the significance and impact of that?

MOREH: Well, besides psychologically, I don’t think a lot. It’s a psychological move. And at the end of the day, also all what has been done with Sudan, with the UAE and with Morocco, it’s a deal. It’s kind of Trump way to do deals. So for the Moroccans, they got recognition about the East Sahara – or the West Sahara. The UAE got F-35s. Sudan was taken out of the list of states that harboring terror. So in a way, America kind of provided incentives for them to acknowledge the state of Israel to – and it’s good. It’s really amazing for the Israelis. But at the end of the day, the core of the issue of peace is between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel with Lebanon and Syria. And that’s the problems. And that’s where the hard choices has to be made. This is where the prices are dear for both sides. And there, regrettably, I don’t see in the near future or even in the horizon, something that will resemble an alternative to – or a way to reach peace. I don’t see that. Sorry.

I really agree with the conclusion of the movie at the end where I – regrettably, the two-states outcome is almost gone. And the fact – we spoke a lot about leaders and decisions of leaders. When you look at the horizon of the leadership in Israel and in the Palestinian or the Palestinian and the fact that the Palestinians are now divided into two sections – Gaza is controlled by the Hamas; the West Bank is controlled by the PLO – and what is going on in Lebanon now and what is going on in Syria, there is no, in the horizon of leaders, people who can carry the weight of reaching or the decision that needs to be carried out in order to reach peace.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We’re going to take another break here. Dror Moreh is an Israeli filmmaker and director of the new documentary “The Human Factor” about American negotiators who tried to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together. Also with us, Dennis Ross – he was a special envoy for President Clinton in those negotiations. We’ll talk more about the film in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we’re talking about the new Israeli documentary “The Human Factor,” directed by Dror Moreh. Dror Moreh is with us. It’s about American negotiators who tried to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders to an agreement to end the conflict in the 1990s. Also with us is Dennis Ross, one of the key negotiators. He was a special envoy for President Clinton. He also served for three other American presidents.

You know, Dennis Ross, I looked at your memoir in 2004, “The Missing Piece,” which is a reflection on some of these things that we’ve been talking about. And you say that it wasn’t a futile effort, that it did alter the landscape of the Middle East. And you also said – and this is a quote – “there is still an underlying desire for peace among both publics.” That is, Israeli and Palestinians. “There is an understanding among the mainstreams in the Arab world and Israel that continuing conflict is ultimately not an acceptable alternative.” You still think so?

ROSS: Well, I don’t feel as confident about those words today as I did when I wrote them because I do think there’s a lot of disbelief that has entered into the reality for both Israelis and Palestinians alike. But I do think had you not had the whole Oslo period, you wouldn’t be seeing the normalization now. It’s true what Dror said. These were deals. But the fact is the UAE has built a relationship with the Israelis over the last 10 years. That began as a result of Oslo. The idea – if the PLO could be dealing with Israel, then other Arab states could be dealing with Israel as well. And so there is a legacy there.

And one of the most interesting things about the UAE deal, it’s a warm peace. Seventy thousand Israelis have already gone to the UAE. The Emirates are enthusiastic about it. There are increasingly those throughout the Arab world who see that peace with Israel can actually serve their interests. Sooner or later, this can have an effect on the Palestinians. That’s what I was saying. I’m more – I remain hopeful. Firstly, it’s part of my nature. But I remain hopeful because I do think we have to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians. And I think we can use Arab states to help do that.

I think if the Saudis begin an outreach towards Israel, it won’t be in one move. It’ll be in several moves. But I think there can be some parallel moves that Israel takes towards the Palestinians. It’ll be easier for them to do that in the context of the Saudis reaching out to them. I think then you can begin to broker things. We’re not at a point where we can solve the conflict, but we could be at a point where we can restore belief and a sense of possibility which has been completely lost.

DAVIES: God, I have to say, I marvel at your ability to visualize moves on the diplomatic chessboard still.

MOREH: This is why I love him so much. The – you know, he’s still optimistic. I love him because of that, you know. We need optimistic people in order to solve problems in the world. And by the way, again, with the Trump administration, the value of diplomacy, the value of professional diplomacy and what that is and the team represents was completely out in – during the Trump administration. And real diplomats, real people that understand the region, understand the problems, they will come back now. And they are really, really important in order to reach those – hopefully peace process to resume itself.

DAVIES: One of the issues that’s raised in the documentary is that most of the members of the American negotiating team over this – the course of these conversations are Jewish, varying degrees of observance among them. And there’s a question of whether, you know, a Jewish – Dennis, you’re Jewish. I mean, the question of whether, you know, you just have an affinity for one side or an understanding that colors the way you do things. What’s your take on this?

ROSS: My answer to that is that we understood that there was no way to reach an agreement unless we took account of both sides’ needs. And that meant we had to really understand what the Palestinians needed. We had to really listen to them, which we did. And I will say this. I think that all of us who happen to be Jewish on the team, we all had a real passionate commitment to try to resolve the conflict. So if there was something that our Jewishness contributed to, it was a sense of mission about trying to resolve the conflict and do everything we could in that regard.

I – you know, we had varying views on our team. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t necessarily agree with me, not because I’m a saint, but because I realized they would think of things that I might not. We would thrash everything out on our side. But the one premise that guided all of us was not only a commitment to try to resolve the conflict, the other premise was we couldn’t achieve an outcome if we didn’t meet the essential needs of each side. So it wasn’t just satisfying one. It had to be finding a way to address the needs of both.

DAVIES: You dealt with this for decades. How do you personally deal with the disappointments?

ROSS: It’s not easy. You know, I mean, honestly, you know, it’s the sense of passion that drives me, that continues to drive me. I will tell you, one of the things that motivated me more than anything else was I met the victims on each side. I made a point of having conversations with the people of those who had suffered on each side. And I still, one of the things that still moves me to this day, I was coming back from Gaza after one of the negotiations and stopped at – there’s a kibbutz called Yad Mordechai just on the other side of the border in Israel. And an Israeli woman came up to me, and she took – put my hand within both of hers. And with tears in her eyes, she said to me, please succeed. And I have to say, to this day, that’s still a factor that moves me.

DAVIES: Dennis Ross, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ROSS: My pleasure.

DAVIES: Dror Moreh, good to talk with you again. Thank you for your time.

MOREH: Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.

DAVIES: Dennis Ross was a special envoy for President Clinton in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the 1990s. He’s one of several negotiators interviewed in the new documentary “The Human Factor,” directed by our other guest, Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh. “The Human Factor” opened in a limited number of theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will open in other theaters as more resume operations.

On tomorrow’s show, John Fasman of The Economist talks about increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology employed by many local police departments, often with little oversight, like small electronic devices that impersonate a cell phone tower so mobile phones within range link up and share their information. Fasman’s book is “We See It All.” I hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR’s executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I’m Dave Davies.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Indian Police Clash With Farmers Protesting Agricultural Reforms : NPR

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers protesting agriculture reforms drove tractors into New Delhi on Tuesday, clashing with police and overshadowing a military parade on a national holiday.


To India now, where two months of peaceful protests turned violent. Farmers are locked in a standoff with the Indian government over agriculture reforms, and today it came to blows in the streets of the capital, as NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It started like every annual Republic Day holiday in India – with a military parade in the capital.


FRAYER: But everyone knew what was coming. Tens of thousands of farmers on tractors – they’ve been protesting on the city’s outskirts for months, their anger percolating. They obtained police permits to enter the city today. They were supposed to wait until after the military parade was over, but some broke through barricades early and veered off the agreed-upon route. Locals cheered them on and threw flowers, but then…


FRAYER: Police fired tear gas from highway overpasses and beat farmers with bamboo rods. Farmers stormed the 17th century Red Fort, a tourist attraction and symbol of power in the heart of Delhi. They waved flags from the ramparts, and rallies spread across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

FRAYER: Hundreds gathered on a cricket field in downtown Mumbai, including Megha Mallick.

MEGHA MALLICK: We came here for farmer support because they are not getting what they want.

FRAYER: What they want is the repeal of three farm laws that deregulate produce markets. Farmers fear they’ll lose price guarantees, though the government insists they will not. It’s a dispute over quite technical pricing rules, but it’s become a rallying cry for people who want to honor India’s agrarian roots. Up to two-thirds of Indians still work in agriculture, mostly on small farms. Their profits are already meager, and COVID has plunged India into a recession. Economist R. Ramakumar says farmers fear the government is putting big corporations ahead of them.

R RAMAKUMAR: This is a fight for democracy. This is a fight for people, not a set of oligarchs or a set of multinational companies.

FRAYER: Others say Indian agriculture desperately needs some kind of reform. Seema Bathla is another economist. She supports the government’s laws.

SEEMA BATHLA: These laws will give farmers the choice – or, you can say, the freedom – to farmers to sell wherever they wish to sell.

FRAYER: The problem, she says, is that the government botched the rollout. It didn’t explain these laws well to the people whose lives they affect most, and so farmers’ fears have taken over, she says. Last week the government offered a compromise, an 18-month suspension of the laws. But farm unions refused. They want them scrapped forever.


FRAYER: After nightfall, farmers climbed down from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort, but they did not go home. They went back to their protest camps on the outskirts of Delhi, and they’re planning another march in less than a week.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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With Expensive U.S. COVID-19 Vaccines, Many Countries Look Elsewhere : NPR

The COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are too expensive and difficult to transport across the globe. So, many countries are turning to cheaper, easier-to-store options from Russia and China.


To end the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines will have to be distributed around the world. For most countries, the vaccines available in the U.S. right now are simply too expensive and too difficult to transport. As NPR’s Joe Palca reports, that is making vaccines made in Russia and China look attractive.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: There’s a good reason China could play a key role in ending the global coronavirus pandemic.

DEBORAH SELIGSOHN: China has an enormous vaccine production capacity.

PALCA: Deborah Seligsohn is a China watcher at Villanova University. That enormous capacity is at least in part because China is an enormous country. And since public health measures have largely kept the virus in check in China, that means some of that capacity can be used to send vaccines around the world.

SELIGSOHN: There are going to be huge advantages to these Chinese vaccines once they are, you know, fully tested and if they turn out to be effective.

PALCA: For one thing, they don’t require special refrigeration, and for another, they’ll be cheap. But there’s still that question of if they turn out to be effective.

ABIGAIL COPLIN: We just haven’t seen the full trial results published yet.

PALCA: Abigail Coplin is on the faculty of Vassar College. She keeps her eye on Chinese biotech companies. The technology behind the two leading Chinese vaccines is decades old. It’s an approach that was used successfully in the 1950s to make a polio vaccine. It involves growing the virus in a lab, then inactivating it with a chemical like formaldehyde and using that in a vaccine.

COPLIN: Their inactivated viral vaccine is based on research that they had conducted to develop a vaccine for SARS, and so that actually gave them a head start.

PALCA: SARS was a deadly outbreak in the early 2000s in China caused by a close relative of the COVID-19 coronavirus. But the virus causing SARS disappeared, so that vaccine got shelved. Coplin sees nothing nefarious about the delays in learning the results of trials of the Chinese vaccines. Since there’s very little virus circulating in China to test their vaccine, the Chinese have had to turn to countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey.

COPLIN: And so when you’re running that many trials internationally, it does take a lot of time to actually analyze that trial data.

PALCA: What’s more, the results that have come out on how well the vaccine works have varied widely from 50 to close to 90%. Without definitive results showing a vaccine works, why have apparently more than a dozen countries around the world signed deals to get one of these vaccines?

J STEPHEN MORRISON: It’s a measure of how desperate countries feel and how much uncertainty they face. J.

PALCA: J. Stephen Morrison is director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

MORRISON: Most countries are not throwing themselves hook, line and sinker into partnerships with the Chinese.

PALCA: That’s because there are other low-cost alternatives. A vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is also racking up lots of international customers, and it has been given some form of regulatory go-ahead in several countries, including India. That country is also likely to have a vaccine candidate that will be inexpensive and widely available. But Judyth Twigg says there’s already another major entrant into the international vaccine arena.

JUDYTH TWIGG: Back on August 11, the Russian government, with great fanfare, announced the first-in-the-world registration of a vaccine against COVID.

PALCA: Twigg is at Virginia Commonwealth University, and she follows Russian health policy closely. The Russian vaccine is what’s known as a viral vector vaccine, a somewhat newer technology than the two leading Chinese vaccines. The Russians chose Sputnik V as the name for their vaccine. Twigg says they did that for a reason.

TWIGG: They’re very deliberately invoking imagery of Russia reemerging as a great power status. We’re back. We’re at the scientific and technological top of the world.

PALCA: And we’re ready to start sharing our technology with everyone.

TWIGG: The problem there was that they had not only barely started Phase 3 clinical trials, they had barely started ramping up production.

PALCA: That was back in August. Twigg says production has ramped up. And Russia now claims its vaccine is more than 90% effective, although data for that claim haven’t been published yet for other scientists to scrutinize. Several countries are ready to try the vaccine, including Argentina, Mexico and India. One thing is clear – the world is going to need a number of vaccines to work if the global pandemic is really going to be brought under control.

Joe Palca, NPR News.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Residents Protest As China Demolishes Some Of Beijing’s Wealthy Suburbs : NPR

Beijing is demolishing parts of its wealthy suburbs, and their well-connected residents are protesting. It’s the latest sign of rising dissatisfaction with China’s government from unexpected sources.


Demolition is a common occurrence in China in its countryside and shantytowns, where people often live in poverty. But Beijing is now demolishing large swaths of its wealthy suburbs, whose well-connected residents are protesting. It’s the latest sign of rising dissatisfaction with China’s government from unlikely sources. NPR’s Emily Feng reports.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: The 3,000 or so families that chose to live in the Xiangtang villa community cherish the peace of the mountains nearby. Now their days are punctuated by the noisy reminder that Xiangtang will soon disappear.


FENG: Demolition crews and about 300 security guards circle the Xiangtang complex each day, knocking down the unoccupied houses while keeping those who refuse to leave indoors.

YUSUF ZHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Yusuf Zhang, one of those residents, gives me a tour of his tasteful, three-story stone house. The local government has already cut off his electricity and water to kick him out and then knock down his house without paying him. So Zhang has stored huge tanks of drinking water around his home. Boxes of dried noodles litter his marble floors. He’s prepared for a siege.

ZHANG: (Through interpreter) We bought dozens of fire extinguishers to use as weapons as we prepare to protest.

FENG: Zhang is not your average petitioner. He’s a cosmopolitan entrepreneur. And while the decades of China’s economic opening have been kind to him, the lack of checks and balances under the Chinese Communist Party scares him.

ZHANG: (Through interpreter) We are protecting the rule of law from the Communist Party since they won’t be reasonable. Only the Nazi fascists committed these kinds of crimes. We think our current government has gone mad. They’re out of control.

FENG: Xiangtang villas is one of more than 100 complexes Beijing wants to wipe out. Nearly 30 years ago, Beijing permitted the rural land to be developed into villas. They wanted to attract wealthy urban dwellers and their money to Beijing’s poor suburbs. And it worked. Xiangtang became one of the best-known villages. Famous actors and retired officials bought houses in the complex. Then in October, the same government posted the notices.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) The township government gave us three days to demolish our own homes. By December, the bulldozers have rolled in to demolish them for us.

FENG: This is another Xiangtang resident who quickly ushered us into her dark house. Her power has been cut off, too. She and her husband want to remain anonymous because they could lose their jobs in the Chinese military. This woman called the police, her local officials. Everyone simply ignored her. The district court refused to hear her case.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) How does our house become an illegal structure overnight with zero explanation or compensation?

FENG: In 2018, Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered the destruction of more than 1,000 villas built on environmentally protected land in the Qinling Mountains. Since then, these demolitions have grown and have been folded into a larger anti-corruption crackdown. But there’s a political cost – the loss of faith in the Communist Party leadership from influential members of China’s private sector and even government cadres.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) I can’t wrap my head around this. I never thought the Communist Party of China would treat us this way.

FENG: Others are adept at using the party’s own language against it. One of them is Yang Yusheng, a law professor at China’s state-run University of Political Science and Law. He argues defending his house is actually supporting the Communist Party’s goals.

YANG YUSHENG: (Through interpreter) Xi Jinping’s socialist thought is like a beautiful, fresh flower that must be allowed to bloom. The risk here through illegal demolitions is that the flower of Xi Jinping’s thought instead grows poisonous fruits.

FENG: Other residents have draped their houses with Chinese flags and pasted copies of China’s Constitution on their doors like political talismans to ward off destruction. Here’s Yang again.

YANG: (Through interpreter) We are lawfully guarding our rightful property. This completely coincides with Xi Jinping’s socialist thoughts on a rule-of-law society.

FENG: But Yang later admits that rule of law means nothing because the same government which sold him his house could also just take it away.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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In First Official Call, Biden And Putin Discuss Cyberattack, Arms Deal : NPR

In his first call with Russian President Vladimir Putin since taking office, President Biden agreed to extend a key arms control deal and pressed Putin on many issues, including the SolarWinds hack.


In a much-anticipated phone call, President Biden has spoken with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. On that call, they agreed to extend a key arms control agreement, but it was also a chance for Biden to raise a whole list of other concerns, according to spokesperson Jen Psaki.


JEN PSAKI: Including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and treatment of peaceful protesters by Russian security forces.

CHANG: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now to go through this very long list. Hey, Michele.


CHANG: All right. Let’s begin with this arms control deal. What exactly did Biden and Putin agree to?

KELEMEN: So they agreed to get their teams working right away to extend the New START agreement by five years. It’s an agreement that’s about to expire, so time was ticking. New START is the only remaining arms control deal that caps U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The Trump administration tried but failed to negotiate a new deal. First, they wanted China involved. Then they wanted a shorter extension to get more out of Russia. The Biden team came in and made clear, you know, let’s just extend this deal as it’s allowed under the treaty and get to work on the many other disagreements that the U.S. has with Russia.

CHANG: All right. Well, let’s talk about some of those. In her comments today, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden talked to Putin about Alexei Navalny. He’s the opposition leader who returned to Russia only to be detained there now. Is this a change in tone from the Trump administration?

KELEMEN: Yeah, it is. I mean, the Trump administration did criticize Russia for a nerve agent attack that almost killed Navalny. But Trump himself never publicly criticized Putin for anything. And the White House rarely said anything about repression in Russia. Now you have an administration that’s speaking out more forcefully. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who, by the way, was just confirmed today, was asked about Navalny last week at his confirmation hearing. Just listen to what he had to say.


ANTONY BLINKEN: It is extraordinary how frightened Vladimir Putin seems to be of one man. I think that speaks volumes.

KELEMEN: So the State Department was quick to respond to the Kremlin’s crackdown on Navalny supporters over the weekend. And today, the U.S. joined other G-7 partners in urging Russia to release the many Russian protesters who were arrested. And they called Navalny’s detention deplorable, so definitely a change in tone here.

CHANG: Interesting. Well, has Russia said anything so far about this call?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, the Kremlin did not mention Navalny in its readout, as you can imagine. Instead, it focused on the need to normalize relations, to work together on things like the coronavirus pandemic or the economy and the extension of New START, as we mentioned. The Kremlin said the two men discussed the Iran nuclear deal, the one Trump left, and it described the conversation – and this was the quote – as “businesslike and sincere.”

CHANG: All right. Let’s go back to some of the other issues that Biden raised in this phone call – the SolarWinds hack, for example. What is Biden doing about that?

KELEMEN: Mostly reviewing his options at the moment. A lot of experts see that hack as a successful espionage operation by Russia. So the Biden administration needs to figure out how much damage was done. Biden has asked his intelligence chiefs to review that and to review the reports that the Russians offered bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That’s another story that was sort of brushed off by the Trump administration but seems to be taken more seriously now. And I’ll just say one other thing. You know, when Mitt Romney ran against Obama, he called Russia America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe. He got a lot of flak for it from Democrats. Blinken told senators that Romney was prescient when it comes to the challenges posed by Russia, and this administration’s going to take it seriously.

CHANG: That is NPR’s Michele Kelemen.

Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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Some European Countries Move To Require Medical-Grade Masks In Public : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask after a press conference in Berlin last week. Germany has introduced new requirements for medical-grade masks to be worn on public transit and in shops.

Michael Kappeler/AFP via Getty Images

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask after a press conference in Berlin last week. Germany has introduced new requirements for medical-grade masks to be worn on public transit and in shops.

Michael Kappeler/AFP via Getty Images

A number of European countries have announced new mask recommendations and requirements, pushing aside fabric masks in favor of surgical masks or medical-grade respirators.

In Germany, the federal and state governments introduced measures last week making medical masks – identified as surgical masks or KN95 or FFP2 masks — mandatory in stores and public transit. It also issued a recommendation that medical masks be worn whenever there is close or prolonged contact with other people, particularly in enclosed spaces.

FFP2 is a European standard promising similar filtration as N95 or KN95 respirators.

The government said that in light of the new variants, medical masks “offer greater protection than normal cloth masks, which are not subject to any standards with regard to their effectiveness.”

“We must take the danger posed by this variant very, very seriously and we must slow the spread of this variant as far as possible,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The German state of Bavaria had already introduced rules requiring FFP2 masks on transit and in shops. The federal government earlier announced it would distribute millions of FFP2 masks to people over 60 or having chronic conditions.

Austria put similar rules into effect on Monday, now requiring FFP2 masks or the equivalent in settings including transit, carpooling, businesses open to the public, and indoor and outdoor markets. To ensure wide adoption of the new regulations, Austria said it would distribute 1.2 million free masks. Large supermarket chains will also hand out free masks in the first days of the new rules.

France’s High Council for Public Health announced last Thursday that it was now recommending people wear surgical masks in public, on the basis that they offer better protection than fabric masks.

“The recommendation that I make to the French people is to no longer use fabric masks,” said French Health Minister Olivier Véran, according to Reuters.

Véran said industrially made masks were preferable. “Artisanal masks that one makes at home, with the best intentions in the world … do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees,” Véran told France Inter last week.

The council now recommends that people wear Category 1 masks in public, rather than Category 2 which includes most cloth masks. Category 1 includes FFP2 masks, surgical masks and fabric masks that meet specific standards. Lepelletier discouraged the general public from using the FFP2 filter masks, though, warning that they are difficult to wear correctly, according to The Local France.

France’s National Academy of Medicine questioned the wisdom of the move, saying “the effectiveness of ‘general public’ masks has never been faulted when they are correctly worn.”

“Such a change in the recommendations concerning a practice with which the entire population had managed to become familiar risks creating misunderstanding and reviving doubts about the validity of the official recommendations,” the Academy wrote.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend the public use fabric masks, provided they have at least two layers. The CDC discourages the public from using medical masks or N95 respirators, saying they should be conserved for health care workers. Nonmedical disposable masks are fine for the public to use, the CDC says.

The World Health Organization recommends medical masks for certain groups of people beyond health care workers. Among those groups are people over age 60 and people with underlying health conditions including chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, as well as people with compromised immune systems.

The WHO says fabric masks are suitable for the general public under the age of 60 and who do not have underlying health conditions.

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COVID-19 Vaccines Are Not Being Distributed In A Just Way : Goats and Soda : NPR

Physician Ifeanyi Nsofor writes: "I was elated when the first COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be effective. However, my joy was cut short when richer Western nations began buying up the vaccine doses."

I began my global health career as a surveillance officer with Nigeria’s National Programme on Immunization.

So of course I’ve been following the vaccine news with a close eye.

I was elated when the first COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be effective late last year. Knowing how effective vaccines can be in ending epidemics, I was hopeful that the end of the pandemic was in sight.

However, my joy was cut short when richer Western nations began buying up the vaccine doses. As a result, COVID-19 vaccines will not likely be widely available in Africa until 2022 or 2023.

I am shocked that these wealthier nations think this is the best way to protect their people from a global pandemic that does not respect borders. The Igbo people of Nigeria — my ethnic group — are always practical. An Igbo proverb comes to mind, as popularized by the late author Chinua Achebe: Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya. “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.”

I am angry at African leaders who have let this happen again — always depending on richer Western nations to fund vaccinations on the continent. For instance, Norway has promised to eventually donate extra vaccines to less well-off countries. As commendable as this action is, it perpetuates the narrative that Africa is the poor relation, waiting for crumbs from the tables of wealthier nations.

I agree with Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who co-chairs the World Health Organization pandemic review panel. This month, she expressed her disappointment with the West’s handling of COVID-19 vaccines. The WHO pandemic review panel “is discouraged and frankly disappointed by the unequal plans for vaccine rollout,” she said.

WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, echoed the same sentiment. In remarks on January 18, he called the world’s vaccine effort a “catastrophic moral failure.” At that time, he said, there had been 39 million vaccine doses administered in wealthier countries, while in the world’s lowest income countries, there had been only 25 doses of COVID-19 vaccine officially administered — all in the nation of Guinea.

Tedros wanted to make sure he would not be misunderstood, stating: “Not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25.”

In epidemiological terms, this self-interested action by richer nations means that it would likely take until 2023 for Africa to achieve herd immunity. In global health security terms, it means richer Western nations would still be at risk of being reinfected if Africa is left behind.

As far as COVID-19 is concerned, the global community is as strong as its weakest link. Unfairly, vaccine nationalism is making Africa the weakest link despite the continent deploying better public health response to the pandemic than many of these richer Western nations.

I’m not completely pessimistic.

Last week, the chairperson of the African Union, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa announced that the African Union has secured 270 million doses for the continent. However, the rollout is slow. Fifty million doses are expected to arrive between April and June 2021 and the balance later in the year.

But I’m not optimistic either. Even once the doses arrive and are administered, what is 270 million doses for a continent of 1.2 billion people? At best, it would vaccinate just a little more than 1 in 10 Africans.

Other possible vaccine sources include COVAX, a coalition of global health groups (including WHO) that aims to provide equitable access to COVID-19 treatments, including vaccines. COVAX promises to deliver vaccines to cover 20% of Africans by the end of 2021. President Joe Biden has just signed an executive order which directs the U.S. to join COVAX. I wish vaccines from COVAX were being distributed and administered at the same time with Western nations. Sadly, despite this great attempt to ensure vaccine equity, many African countries may not be able to administer vaccines until early 2022.

But all this is still too little. Combined with the other doses, it helps cover about 30% of the population.

And in my homeland of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, we’re getting ready to receive the first 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To reiterate: 100,000 doses for a country of more than 200 million people! It’s like attempting to drain the ocean using a tablespoon. Indeed, the situation is so dire that the governor of Oyo state in southwest Nigeria is attempting to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers, bypassing national and continental efforts.

What can be done to ensure vaccine equity?

We must allocate the vaccines to those who are most vulnerable, not by country. First, vaccinate all frontline health workers globally. There are about 59 million health workers globally, according to the WHO global health workforce report. More than 7,000 health workers have died from COVID-19 while in the line of duty. Protect them so they can protect us.

Next vaccinate those who are age 65 and above. There are about 703 million people in that age group globally. This is almost the population of Europe. Indeed, Tedros of WHO said, “It’s not right that younger healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

Once these demographics are vaccinated, then other demographics that provide core social services to large segments of populations such as teachers, city cleaners, garbage collectors, workers on city water systems should be prioritized.

If all nations would join together, they would be stronger. I’m reminded of an Igbo word, igwebuike, which means there is strength in community. However, to work as a stronger global community, the well-off Western world must stop behaving as if poorer countries are invisible. And they must acknowledge how their plunder of these poor nations contributed to their poverty.

As it now stands, the selfish behavior by richer countries makes we wonder the kind of future my two daughters, now ages 11 and 8, would inherit as Africans. As a dad, I want my daughters to inherit a more equitable world — one that lifts and empowers the weak.

If my daughters were to ask me what is happening with the vaccine, I would have to tell them that richer Western nations are acting like ostriches, burying their heads in the sand.

And I would add that life can be unfair sometimes. So they must ensure that no one silences their voices. And they must keep demanding a fairer world.

Ifeanyi Nsofor is the director of policy and advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch and Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute.