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Morning News Brief: Trump In Poland, Final Battles For Mosul, Venezuela Violence

Jul 6, 2017
Originally published on July 6, 2017 6:49 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is praising Poland as a staunch U.S. ally.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah, the president gave a speech in Poland. He is holding up Poland as an example for how to defend a democracy against outside threats, which is interesting because he also offered this criticism of Russia.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're working with Poland in response to Russia's actions and destabilizing behavior.

MARTIN: All right, we're joined now by Geoff Bennett. He covers Congress and all things political for us. Hey, Geoff.

GEOFF BENNETT: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the president giving some remarks from Warsaw, Poland - what was his message?

BENNETT: Well, he really tried to lay out sort of a broad vision for the U.S. relationship with Europe - and with Poland, in particular. But you played that clip with - about what he had to say about Russia. He also - during a Q&A, he refused to say that he believes Russia meddled in the U.S. election. This issue has come up before with him. He said he thinks it was Russia, but it could have been other countries. He says it probably was Russia, but nobody really knows. He more or less likened it to the ambiguity over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said that the meddling in the election has been going on for a long time. So that's really some interesting backdrop for his sit-down with Vladimir Putin tomorrow.

He also slammed news outlets, including CNN and NBC. He said that they were fake news. And then he stood by as the Polish president described why he's restricting Polish media outlets from covering Parliament. So this appearance in Poland was closely watched, in part because Poland's right-wing government has caused some anxiety, given its perceived crackdown on democratic institutions in that country.

MARTIN: And Poland's president - I mean, he's a fan of Donald Trump. This was friendlier territory for Donald Trump than other European countries have been for him in the past.

BENNETT: That's right. And it's one of the reasons why Trump chose to make Poland the first stop. He was more or less guaranteed a warm welcome. According to Polish media reports, the nationalist ruling party there bused in supporters to greet the president, guaranteeing a friendly crowd. It's a chance for him to look good on the world stage. But, you know, as you mentioned - more to your point, he - Trump is said to have a lot in common ideologically with Poland's political leaders because that party, the Law and Justice Party, rose to power by driving a populist movement.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BENNETT: You know, they stoked ethnic nationalism. They refuse to accept refugees. They muscled in on the media. And they've showed - they've shown, you know, disdain really for the European Union. So - and there was also a political calculation, too, for the reason why Poland is the first up. There are hundreds of thousands of Polish-American voters who live in battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

MARTIN: Which the president actually called out - he was like, thanks to all the Polish-Americans who turned out to vote for me.

BENNETT: Right. And yeah...

MARTIN: Let me - in our time remaining, let me just ask about the G-20 because there're a lot of one-on-one meetings happening. President Trump going to sit down with Angela Merkel. And, as you mentioned, he's going to have his first face-to-face with Vladimir Putin. Stakes are high for that meeting.

BENNETT: Stakes are high for that meeting. And there will be confrontations inside and outside the summit. I mean, tens of thousands of protesters are expected. Trump has angered a lot of European allies by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, for failing to back NATO's mutual defense pledge. So that will definitely be, you know, topics that are discussed. And then that meeting with the - with President Vladimir Putin that's now going to be an official bilateral meeting - even President Trump's top aides don't know precisely what he'll decide to say or if he's going to mention specifically...

MARTIN: Yeah.

BENNETT: ...Moscow's military aggression or its election meddling.

KELLY: Always fascinating when a president steps onto the global stage - and as you say, Geoff, there's the audience watching in Moscow; the audience watching in Europe, where he heads to Hamburg tomorrow; and then of course the audience watching back here at home in the U.S.

MARTIN: Here at home, yeah. Geoff Bennett, thanks so much for your time.

BENNETT: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: We've been hearing for months now that the Iraqi city of Mosul is about to fall, that ISIS is about to be kicked out.

KELLY: And just yesterday, Iraq's prime minister declared victory in Mosul. But the battle to retake the city isn't quite over yet. Civilians are still trapped. Pockets of ISIS fighters are dug into neighborhoods in the Old City. So what does this tentative declaration of freedom for Mosul mean for its people and for the bigger, broader fight against ISIS extremists?

MARTIN: Jane Arraf is going to help us answer that question. She is covering this story from Irbil, Iraq. Jane, what can you tell us about where the fighting does stand now? We've got complete - competing claims - Iraqis saying it's victory, others saying not yet.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: So here's the thing. It is a victory in a sense because we have to remember that ISIS came in almost three years ago. And the reason it managed to take Mosul was the army basically ran away. It fell under the weight of its own corruption. So for three years, Iraqi forces have been fighting and dying, and they have now reached that last half a square mile around the Old City, where they're fighting to dislodge the last of the ISIS fighters.

But we also have to remember that this is, in many senses - in Iraq, and in Mosul in particular - the last stand for ISIS. They're surrounded, so they have nowhere else to go. So for a couple of reasons - the fact that it's their last stand, the fact it requires a lot of coordination between competing forces, and the U.S. can't really use a lot of airstrikes there - it is going to be a very tough few days.

MARTIN: Can't use airstrikes because there are still so many civilians who are there. Any idea how they're faring and whether or not they are able to leave at this point?

ARRAF: They're not faring well, and that's been one of the tragedies of this. This is Iraq's third-biggest city. It would be as if Chicago, for instance, were being shelled and had explosions going on and had the Army in there and then there was still everybody living inside. So now they've gotten to the last part of Mosul. There are still believed to be several thousand civilians. Now, here is one of the big problems - the military, the Iraqi military, believes most of these are not just ISIS fighters but their families. But they are, in fact, women and children, no matter who they are. And groups like Doctors Without Borders says a lot of civilians are dying on the battlefield. It is very dire there.

MARTIN: So if we can assume that this battle is going to end, that Mosul will be rid of ISIS, what happens then? What happens for Mosul and the residents there? What happens to ISIS?

ARRAF: Well, ISIS is gone from Mosul for the most part, although not entirely. We're seeing suicide bombers coming out with civilians according to the Iraqi military. But they're still in those areas in western Anbar, where American forces fought al-Qaida for years, and they're still along the Syrian border. And when they are driven out of Mosul, it is going to leave a country that's even more divided, more divided than it has been in years. And that's part of the reason that ISIS was able to come in in the first place.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf covering the battle in Mosul from Irbil. Thanks so much, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Venezuela marked its Independence Day this week.

KELLY: But anti-government protests overshadowed the holiday and took another violent turn.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Spanish).

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Spanish).

KELLY: What we're hearing there is a TV reporter in the National Assembly building. And what was happening was masked protesters stormed in with sticks and metal bars and attacked lawmakers who oppose the president, Nicolas Maduro.

MARTIN: These clashes have obviously, Mary Louise, been happening for months now.

KELLY: Indeed.

MARTIN: So we're trying to figure out what exactly is the president's play, Nicolas Maduro. And to help us sort that out, we're joined by John Otis from the capital of Venezuela, in Caracas.

Hey, John. So what happened? The photos from this event are horrible. I mean, these people were brutalized. How did these - how did this mob even get inside the building?

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Well, you know, you - first up, you've got to remember that Venezuela's Congress - this is the only branch of government not controlled by the ruling socialist party. It's the only institutional voice of dissent in Venezuela. And President Nicolas Maduro, you know, he controls the courts, the - all the other branches of government. And so the Congress is really important.

It's normally supposed to be the national guard who's protecting these guys and surrounding the building. I mean, I've been down there before. And to get into the Congress, you usually have to pass through several layers of national guardsmen who check your ID and so forth. So they usually have security there. But on Wednesday, lawmakers were meeting there. They're trying to figure out what to do about President Maduro. He wants to write a new constitution, and they fear that's going to kind of lead to a power grab to give him more power. Then yesterday...

MARTIN: So the mob that went in there - they knew those conversations were happening. They were targeting specific lawmakers who'd been anti-Maduro.

OTIS: That's exactly right. They were specifically going after anti-Maduro lawmakers. And they surrounded the - they crowded up against the gates. And really, there were no guardsmen in sight. And they just pushed through, got in there and started going after opposition congressmen who were meeting in there. It was really scary. It was kind of like watching a lynch mob go to work.

MARTIN: So the guards were in cahoots, if they had just abandoned their posts?

OTIS: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, the guardsmen - it's one of the many institutions that has become very politicized in Venezuela, and they basically answer to President Maduro.

MARTIN: Wow.

OTIS: And so, you know, you've got these crowds of people, and they're quite organized. They're called colectivos, and they're pro-government mobs, And they kind of do the government's bidding in a way.

MARTIN: Well, in the big picture, what does this mean, John? I mean, the protests have been happening for a long time there in Venezuela. Protesters have been beaten; people have been injured. It feels different to have this security breach in the Parliament and to have these lawmakers bloodied.

OTIS: Yeah. You know, it really is a new level of violence, I think, as you say. And, you know, one of the lawmakers who was down there was saying, you know, this is like, you know, this - imagine this happening on Independence Day. You know, you might compare it to - you remember the gunman going after the congressional baseball game...

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.

OTIS: ...Say, that happening on the Fourth of July.

MARTIN: On Independence Day would be horrible. We're going to have to leave it there. John Otis from Venezuela, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.