Morning news brief
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The Doha Forum resumes today in Qatar. The yearly meeting brings together regional policymakers, and this year's gathering is being dominated by Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Qatar, a U.S. ally, is home to some Hamas political leaders. The Gulf nation played an active role in negotiating a dayslong pause in fighting that allowed the release of Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. And it is still trying to get the two sides to agree to another truce.
FADEL: Joining me now from Doha is NPR's Aya Batrawy. Hi, Aya.
AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Leila.
FADEL: Good morning. So tell us what you're hearing at this conference.
BATRAWY: Well, this forum is dominated by the war raging in Gaza, which is increasingly being seen as a threat to regional security and the key issue right now in the Middle East. And Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, he told the forum that the war is showing the size of the gap between those around the world demanding a cease-fire and those reluctant to even call for one. And Israel says this war to destroy Hamas could take another two months, but foreign ministers and others at this forum say that cannot happen. It's simply too destabilizing.
FADEL: Now, among the attendees is U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The U.S. vetoed his appeal to the Security Council to demand an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the war. What did he have to say?
BATRAWY: Well, he says he expects public order to break down soon in the Gaza Strip as hunger continues, Israeli bombardment and the spread of disease increases the possibility that Palestinians could be forced from Gaza into neighboring Egypt to seek refuge. And that is something Egypt vehemently opposes. Now, despite the U.S. veto, Guterres said he will not give up.
It's important to note the U.S. says it vetoed the resolution because it didn't condemn the October 7 attack by Hamas. But that vote by the Security Council on Friday really highlighted how increasingly isolated the U.S. position is becoming internationally. It was the only country to veto, with 13 countries voting in favor and the U.K. abstaining. Now, I asked the conservative chair of Britain's Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, Alicia Kearns, who's at the Doha Forum, if this abstention suggested a growing divergence between the U.S. and the U.K. on the war, and here's what she told me.
ALICIA KEARNS: I think there's a widening gulf when it comes to rhetoric. I'm very concerned at the lack of recognition of the fact that Israel does not have carte blanche. Occupying powers have responsibilities, and again, back to those basic laws, you know, of war about proportionality, distinction, you know, supporting civilians.
FADEL: Now, you point out that the U.S. seems to be more and more isolated. There's been a lot of frustration and anger from Arab leaders with the Biden administration's unwavering support for Israel's war. But was there any support for the Biden administration's stance on this war at the forum?
BATRAWY: Well, almost none. But one surprising advocate at this forum was Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, who, by the way, says he supports another Trump presidency. Now, he praised Qatar for its role in mediating during this war. He said there should be a two-state solution and insisted Hamas must be destroyed. And of course, the U.S. has provided weapons to Israel for that to happen. But he also seems to think the Biden administration can simply pick up where it left off before this war erupted and that basically Washington can still get Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic ties with Israel and by May, essentially in the next five months.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I am a Republican. I pledge in front of the world to help President Biden secure the votes in the United States Senate to make it possible for Saudi Arabia to have a defense agreement with us, which would then make it possible for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel.
BATRAWY: There were gasps in the audience at hearing this because this war is evoking a lot of emotions as people watch these images of mass displacement and the scale of the war, particularly thousands of Palestinian children killed by airstrikes. So it's not something that people in this region are likely to forget. And that is going to complicate how Arab governments interact with Israel from here on.
FADEL: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy joining us from Doha. Thank you, Aya.
BATRAWY: Thanks, Leila.
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FADEL: Donald Trump plans to avoid testifying for a second time in the New York civil fraud trial against him and his company.
MARTIN: His lawyers had said he would take the witness stand in his own defense today. But on the eve of the hearing, Trump posted on social media, I have already testified to everything and have nothing more to say.
FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case and joins us now from New York to explain what's coming next. Hi, Andrea.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: So what happened?
BERNSTEIN: Well, it may be true that when it comes to testifying, Trump really doesn't have anything more to say. For a while now, Trump's legal team has been saying that Eric Trump and Donald Trump would be among the trial's final witnesses. But first, Eric and then Donald Trump abruptly changed plans. One former Donald Trump lawyer, Ty Cobb, had even predicted last week on CNN that Trump wouldn't show up. Trump told me last night, that's because of the legal risk that the attorney general could cross-examine Trump on some of his lies and misstatements, which could hurt his legal strategies also in other cases.
That leaves the defense final witness as Eli Bartov, a New York University professor who testified last week that he saw no accounting fraud, and said of Trump's financial statements, quote, "I have never seen a statement that provides so many details and is so transparent as this statement. It doesn't exist."
FADEL: Now, Trump's lawyers say he was being made to unfairly testify while under a gag order. What is that about?
BERNSTEIN: Right from the beginning of this case, Trump started going after the judge's clerk, accusing her of bias. She received so many death threats, she can no longer take the subway to work.
BERNSTEIN: So Judge Arthur Engoron said to Trump, you can come after me, but not my staff. Trump did anyway, twice, and the judge fined him twice. Then Trump tried to get an appeals court to overturn the gag order. He was briefly successful, but it was reinstated, so Trump couldn't go after the judge's clerk from the stand. On Sunday, Trump's lawyer called this unconstitutional. The New York AG, Letitia James, is shrugging off Trump's cancellation, saying, quote, "Donald Trump already testified in our financial fraud case against him." She added, quote, "we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from that reality, the facts don't lie."
FADEL: Now, what happened when Trump testified the last time?
BERNSTEIN: So it went like this. In that last appearance, Trump was asked a yes or no question about property values. And he answered, you know, you sued me on the basis that Trump had no money and he wrote up phony statements and defrauded banks, even though they were represented by the biggest law firms in the world and the most sophisticated and best lawyers, and even though those banks were paid back in full. There was no harm. So that's his defense. It's not how a witness is supposed to testify.
I should add that under New York law, it doesn't matter if there was no harm. The law is clear - you cannot have a business model of persistent fraud. And of course, the judge admonished Trump's lawyers, saying this is not a political rally. So maybe Trump's lawyers concluded having the case end with Trump at odds with the judge wasn't the best way to go.
FADEL: So what do we know about what's next?
BERNSTEIN: So court resumes tomorrow with the cross-examination of the expert, two rebuttal witnesses - after that, written briefs in January, then arguments from each side on January 11, and after that, a verdict.
FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein in New York. Thank you.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
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FADEL: Argentina's newly elected far-right president, Javier Milei, was sworn into office over the weekend.
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PRESIDENT JAVIER MILEI: (Non-English language spoken).
MARTIN: The former TV personality and self-described anarcho-capitalist won in a landslide victory, promising to bring big changes to an Argentina struggling with nearly 150% inflation. He expressed admiration for former President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
FADEL: The Economist's Latin American correspondent Ana Lankes joins me now from Buenos Aires. Good morning.
ANA LANKES: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: Hi. So Milei ran on tackling the country's skyrocketing inflation, but he seems to have backed away from his campaign promise to scrap Argentina's peso in favor of the U.S. dollar. What changes can we expect to see?
LANKES: Yeah, so between winning the election in mid-November and taking office on Sunday, Milei backpedaled on many proposals, including the one you mentioned, dollarization, which was like his flagship proposal. And instead, his priority is going to be shrinking the size of the state. So in his inauguration speech yesterday, he said he'd cut public spending by around five percentage points of GDP, and he's expected to table a lot of reforms in Congress in the coming days, including cutting the number of government ministries, simplifying the tax system and maybe even privatizing some state-owned companies. So it's starting to sound a lot more like a conventional kind of liberal shock therapy program than the anarcho-capitalist platform he ran on in the campaign.
FADEL: So, I mean, as you point out, this was his flagship campaign promise and now he's backtracking. How will Milei's followers respond to this different approach, this softer approach, to reform?
LANKES: Yeah, that's a really good question because Milei's whole campaign was anti-establishment. He took pride in being this outsider who was coming to blow up the system, a bit like, you know, Trump draining the swamp. And instead, since winning the election, he has appointed a lot of moderate technocrats and establishment figures to the top jobs in his cabinet. So I think a lot of people close to Milei are a bit disappointed.
But despite the kind of shifting alliances at the top, he's trying to maintain a close connection to his followers. So, for example, yesterday he delivered his inauguration speech outside of Congress rather than inside Congress to legislators, as is customary. So I think that if Milei manages to fix Argentina's inflation problem in the next year, basically, his followers will forgive him. But if the situation gets really bad, I think he's going to be left with very little support.
FADEL: Now - but in his inauguration speech, Milei didn't promise a quick fix. He predicted things will get worse before they get better. What obstacles does he face in his first year in office?
LANKES: Yeah, that's right. So Milei was really frank in his inauguration speech. He said there's no alternative to austerity. And he also said, we know that in the short term, the situation will worsen. He's thinking about the next few months. And he's right, things are going to have to get harder in Argentina before they get better because that's what you have to do if you want to fix the country. So I'll give you an example. Currently, Argentina spends around 2% of GDP on electricity and transport subsidies. So that keeps prices low for consumers, but it costs the state a lot of money and money it doesn't currently have.
But if you start cutting subsidies, prices for transport and electricity will go up. And that will push inflation up, too. So in the short term, Milei is going to have rising inflation and he's going to have to cut spending. And none of those things are popular. And he only has a minority in Congress.
FADEL: Ana Lankes from the Economist talking to us from Buenos Aires. Thank you so much.
LANKES: Thank you.
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