News Brief: Israel After Khashoggi's Killing, Trump Signs Opioid Bill

22 hours ago
Originally published on October 24, 2018 11:12 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The killing of a journalist has put Israel at some risk of losing a bet.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's a bet on Saudi Arabia. For years now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not so quietly worked in tandem with the Saudis. Even if the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, they saw shared interests and a shared antipathy towards Iran. When President Trump was elected, he joined in, making his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia and leaning in to that relationship. Well, now Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman faces suspicion for a killing and cover-up after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So what does this mean for Israel?

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Jerusalem.

Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying?

ESTRIN: Well, almost nothing. A journalist asked him about this early last week, and Netanyahu said, quote, "I know about the Khashoggi affair as much as you do." But there is a lot of concern in Israel about this because Netanyahu has spoken a lot about a changing Middle East where some Arab states, which used to be Israel's enemies, are starting to be on Israel's side. And as you say, Netanyahu has taken a bet on Saudi Arabia.

I remember, I was in Washington earlier this year covering Netanyahu's meeting with Trump in the White House. And Netanyahu sat with reporters, and he gave a briefing. At the end of the briefing - he ended it with this kind of flourish. He took out this piece of paper. He said he had been working on this issue for some time; it had great importance. And he looked at this piece of paper and he read out this information which was that Saudi Arabia would be opening up its airspace so commercial flights could fly from India directly over Saudi Arabia to Israel.

And it was seen as this big step for Israel - being, you know, an accepted country in the neighborhood. And now with this Khashoggi killing, it's going to be a lot harder for Israel to take pride in pushing these relations with the Saudis.

INSKEEP: Is the Saudi-Israeli relationship, is it personalized in some way - by which I mean, has it become associated with the relatively new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman?

ESTRIN: Absolutely. MBS, as he's called, he's seen as the guy who has pushed this changing attitude towards Israel. People in Israel have believed that, you know - well, he didn't care much about the Palestinians. He'd be able to press the Palestinians to accept whatever peace plan President Trump presents for a peace deal with the Israelis. That's been the kind of accepted wisdom here. But one former Israeli diplomat I spoke to here said MBS now won't be the same. Even if he stays in power, he won't be in a good position within Saudi Arabia to push this new approach on Israel.

And also with Iran, you know, this is very important for Israel. Israel wants Saudi Arabia to lead this kind of coalition of Arab States to stand up to Iran. And the ambassador to Israel under President Obama, Dan Shapiro, has said - you know, what European diplomats are going to be sitting down with MBS now to talk Iran?

INSKEEP: Well, the Saudis have been big supporters of the Palestinians, though. How are Palestinians responding to Mohammed bin Salman's trouble?

ESTRIN: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has praised him. He's called MBS, Mohammed bin Salman - he said he has absolute confidence in him. Saudi Arabia gives the Palestinians a lot of money. And they believe that Saudi Arabia is kind of tilting away from whatever Trump wants to present with his peace plan and more openly supportive of the Palestinians.

INSKEEP: Are there a lot of different reactions throughout the Arab world toward this trouble for the Saudis?

ESTRIN: Well, if you watch Al-Jazeera, the Qatari channel, it's been broadcasting wall-to-wall coverage of this. But...

INSKEEP: Oh, of course - because they have this blockade going on - and rivalry and so forth.

ESTRIN: That's right, although other countries are supportive of Saudi Arabia.

INSKEEP: OK. All right, Daniel, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin.

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INSKEEP: Needless to say, it's a dangerous time to be a journalist. Jamal Khashoggi is one of many who've been killed in recent years. And in some ways, this may not be surprising. We are in a time of global debate over how much freedom citizens may have to criticize their governments.

GREENE: In this dark moment, a missing journalist has reportedly reappeared. Jumpei Yasuda is a Japanese freelance journalist captured in Syria three years ago. Well, now Japan's government says a man matching his description has been found in neighboring Turkey, and it's working to confirm his identity.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been covering this story and is on the line.

Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was this journalist's background in the Middle East?

KUHN: OK. He started freelancing in the Middle East in the early 2000s. This is actually his second time being taken hostage. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004...

INSKEEP: Wow.

KUHN: ...And then released. In 2015, he went in looking for one particular story, and that was about his own colleague, Kenji Goto. He was taken hostage in Syria by the Islamic State group that year, and he was beheaded. And then Yasuda was believed to have been captured by what was then called the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-affiliated group. And then in 2016, this video came out which appeared to show Yasuda. And he was wearing a beard, and he told his family he loved them. And then he said some things which sort of hinted at what he had been through. Let's hear...

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JUMPEI YASUDA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: So what he says is that, you know, when you are sitting alone in a dark room, you're in pain, you don't exist. You're invisible, and nobody cares about you.

INSKEEP: There would have been every reason to expect never to see this man alive when other journalists have been beheaded, Anthony Kuhn. But does it appear that he simply just reappeared out of the blue?

KUHN: Well, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, thanked Qatar for their role. They thanked Turkey for their role. It's not exactly clear how he was freed, but Tokyo is making it clear that they did not pay any ransom money, as the insurgents may have asked for. It's also quite touching...

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa - you just said Qatar.

KUHN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: I guess we should underline, Qatar has spent an amount of money in Syria, is associated with some of the groups there. Is that right?

KUHN: Yes, and they've also played a role in trying to spring some of the hostages.

INSKEEP: OK. So we don't actually know how he was freed, but the implication is that there was somebody working on getting him out in some way.

KUHN: That's correct. We should also note, though, that it's very interesting. There's been a debate about this. There are some people who have criticized journalists, saying that, you know, they're amateurs, they get in trouble in the Middle East, and then the government has to go fish them out. So there's some debate about the role of journalists in relation to the state and foreign policy.

INSKEEP: Has there been some debate about the role of Japan in international affairs, which is something that they had shied away from since World War II?

KUHN: Absolutely. The constitution doesn't allow them a military, and they are an ally of the U.S. But there is a debate about how much Japan should be involved in the Middle East.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much as always.

KUHN: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

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INSKEEP: All right. Today the federal government takes a step to address the opioid crisis.

GREENE: Yeah, this is a step to put money towards treatment. Almost a year ago, let's remember, President Trump declared a public health emergency, but he stopped short of declaring a national emergency. And that language matters because that distinction would have freed up federal money for treatment programs. Well, instead, Congress has acted, passing a bipartisan bill providing more than $8 billion to address the epidemic.

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ROB PORTMAN: This legislation is the turning point. It is a glimmer of hope. It's a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.

GREENE: That is Senator Rob Portman there, Republican of Ohio, speaking shortly before the Senate voted yes on this legislation 98-1.

INSKEEP: President Trump is expected to sign the bill today. And NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is covering this story.

Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What would this bill achieve?

RASCOE: There's a lot in this package. But basically, it focuses on four areas - treatment and recovery, prevention, helping law enforcement stop the flow of drugs and attempting to stop trafficking of the deadly drug fentanyl. This new law, it has measures that are supposed to expand access to treatment centers for addicts and to help create these comprehensive recovery centers. And it also focuses on trying to stop the addictions before they start so basically making changes to Medicaid and Medicare to attempt to limit overprescription of opioids and money for research of pain treatments that don't involve opioids. And there are also kind of provisions aimed at stopping foreign shipments of illegal drugs.

INSKEEP: So let me ask about this because this is a bipartisan measure. Virtually everyone voted for it. I believe Mike Lee of Utah, Republican of Utah, was the only no vote in the Senate, a handful of no votes and in the House - bipartisan legislation. But if I'm not mistaken, one of the disagreements was about how large it should be, how much money should be put on the table. Does it seem like $8 billion - which is on the lower end of what they debated - that that's enough?

RASCOE: A lot of experts and a lot of people working in this field say it's not enough and that, while this bill does a lot of good things as far as regulations and making changes to things of that nature, it just doesn't provide enough money. They say that you probably need tens of billions of dollars to address this issue. And they say it's a lot like the AIDS and the HIV crisis of the '80s and '90s, and you need that type of massive response to get it under control. And this epidemic is actually taking more lives each year than the AIDS crisis did at its peak.

INSKEEP: When we go into communities, as we do, and talk with voters and ask them what their concerns are, opioids or meth - those are often leading, very high-ranking concerns. I imagine politicians are happy to be doing something about this right in an election year.

RASCOE: Yes. And this is - remember - obviously, Congress hasn't been very good at passing big bills or passing major legislation, so this is something where they can go back to their districts and say that they did something. Both parties can point to this. And as you said, it's a big rural issue, big issue all over the country. And people are looking at it as a top threat. So this is something lawmakers can say that they actually did.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks very much. Good talking with you.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe on the opioid legislation that President Trump is expected to sign into law today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONIC YOUTH SONG, "PINK STEAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.