This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In a strange way, Barack Obama and Bashar al-Assad find themselves in the same dilemma today: initiate military action that both would prefer to avoid or look weak, even hypocritical. The American president faces a chorus of criticism after he decided to wait for more proof that Syria's government has crossed his red line on chemical weapons, while Syria's president must now decide whether to respond to Israeli airstrikes on his capital or leave his supporters to wonder why not.
Update at 1:55 p.m. ET: White House Is "Highly Skeptical":
At the White House this afternoon, spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. is "highly skeptical" of the comments made over the weekend by international prosecutor Carla del Ponte, who said there are "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof" that rebels in Syria have used sarin gas.
We've been covering del Ponte's comments, and the reaction to them, through the day. Scroll down to see an earlier update and our original post.
Over the weekend in Philadelphia, the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro received an award for her gay rights advocacy. To understand the significance of Mariela Castro's honor, you have to go back to the 1960's when gay people were sent to forced labor camps.
This winter I walked 400 miles up the Rift Valley of Ethiopia in the company of three grizzled Afar nomads, two taciturn camels and a barrel of powdered milk.
The milk was a tragedy.
Early on, I had asked a friend from Addis Ababa, via satellite phone, to resupply us with food — scarce vegetables in particular. But he was a thoroughly modern African, an urbanite. His idea of the outdoors was absorbed largely from TV commercials. So he brought us instead a 10-quart drum of powdered coffee creamer.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. A story we have been closely following for months, the bloody war in Syria has taken a fresh turn. Syria is blaming Israel for a series of air attacks that rocked the Syrian capital, Damascus, over the weekend.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
Syria has accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law after a series of airstrikes on targets near the Syrian capital over the weekend. Now, Israel has not officially accepted responsibility, but Israeli sources say the targets included Iranian-made missiles bound for Hezbollah fighters in neighboring Lebanon.
Secretary of State John Kerry sets off for what he calls "a long overdue" trip to Russia on Monday, and Syria is likely to top the agenda.
But U.S.-Russian relations are frosty these days. The U.S. is imposing targeted sanctions on Russian human rights violators, while Moscow is preventing American families from adopting Russian children.
Emotions ran high as Germany's biggest terrorism trial in decades got underway Monday in Munich. The hearing is on the murders of 10 people who were the victims of a nearly decadelong neo-Nazi terror campaign against the Turkish community there.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (second from left) celebrates his victory with a prayer on election day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His National Front coalition won a simple majority in the general election.
The National Front coalition that has governed Malaysia for 56 consecutive years won a majority of parliamentary seats in a general election Sunday, extending its streak of victories that began in 1957.
Malaysian election officials reported a record voter turnout in Sunday's national election, as more than 10 million voters — or 80 percent of the electorate — cast ballots.
One day after being arrested over allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another, a senior British legislator says the accusations are without merit. Britain's House of Commons Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans says the claims were made by people "who until yesterday I regarded as friends."
The complaints made against Evans accuse him of abuse in a period from July 2009 to March of this year. The men who filed the complaints are believed to have been in their 20s in that time span. Evans says that the two men who made the accusations know one another.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF AN EXPLOSION)
MARTIN: A series of explosions shook the Syrian capital Damascus overnight. Syria's state news agency accused Israeli jets of carrying out the attack on a military research facility. There has been no official confirmation from Israel's government, though officials there have warned they will act to stop weapon transfers from Syria to Hezbollah. That's the Shiite guerilla movement based in Lebanon which is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime.
Who has the most to lose if the fighting in Syria continues and the country becomes a failed state? Host Rachel Martin poses the question to Rami Khouri, a columnist and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University in Beirut.
President Obama traveled to Central America this weekend, to Mexico and then to Costa Rica, where he met with other leaders from the region. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who attended the meeting.
Our perspectives on personal space — the distance we keep between the person in front of us at an ATM, the way we subdivide the area of an elevator — are often heavily influenced by the norms of the places we inhabit.
Jerry Seinfeld once focused an episode of his sitcom on the concept of personal space, giving us a new term: the "close talker."
An image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows an airstrike hitting the area around Damascus, Syria, early Sunday.
Israeli warplanes attacked a military research center near Damascus early Sunday, according to intelligence reports and Syrian state media. The attack prompted Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad to deem it a "declaration of war" by Israel, CNN reports.
The Obama administration says it's considering providing arms to rebels fighting to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad if the U.S. can confirm his forces did in fact use the debilitating nerve gas sarin in recent attacks. Coupled with news that Israel reportedly launched an airstrike at a target in Syria to prevent a shipment of missiles from reaching Hezbollah, these events could represent a game changer in the conflict-ravaged nation.
The wedding party poses at the Sun City resort in South Africa, on Wednesday. South Africa's government announced the suspension of a slew of officials and military personnel on Friday as it tried to limit the political and diplomatic fallout from the lavish Indian wedding.
Credit HO / Gupta Family via AFP/Getty Images
Vela Gupta is the niece of South Africa's influential Gupta brothers. Her wedding this week to Aaskash Jahajgarhia has the South African government scrambling to hold officials accountable for alleged security breaches and other special treatment for the wedding party
It's been dubbed Guptagate. The real-life story reads like a Hollywood — or Bollywood — script, and it's dominating the national conversation in South Africa.
It starts with a high-society wedding in South Africa, organized by three wealthy, well-connected and influential brothers named Gupta from India. Then the scandal begins: A private jet flies in 200 guests — including Bollywood stars — from India, landing at a restricted air force security base in Pretoria, allegedly without the appropriate clearance.
Protesters demonstrate against plans for a factory to produce paraxylene, a toxic chemical used to make fabrics, in China's Yunnan province on Saturday. In nearby Chengdu, planned protests were thwarted.
Credit Louisa Lim / NPR
Police in Chengdu, China, announced a "virtual combat exercise" over the weekend, which coincides with a planned protest authorities hope to thwart.
How do you prevent protests in China? Move the weekend.
That's the Orwellian step taken by local authorities in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. May 4 is a sensitive date commemorating an influential student movement in 1919. It's especially potent in Chengdu, where it marks the fifth anniversary of a protest against the construction of a $6 billion crude oil refinery and petrochemical facility in Pengzhou, 25 miles away.
A roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan killed five members of the U.S. Army Saturday, according to military officials. The International Security Assistance Force says an improvised explosive device was used in the attack.
Update at 5:15 p.m. EDT. Another Deadly Attack:
An Afghan National Army soldier "turned his weapon on coalition troops in the west, killing two in the most recent of so-called insider attacks, the AP reports. NPR has confirmed that both victims of that attack are American.
It's been 70 years since the letters of John Pryor were understood in their full meaning. That's because as a British prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, Pryor's letters home to his family also included intricate codes that were recently deciphered for the first time since the 1940s.
Pryor's letters served their purpose in World War II, as Britain's MI9 agents decoded the messages hidden within them — requests for supplies, notes about German activities — before sending them along to Pryor's family in Cornwall.
Employees scoop ice cream, which is topped with pistachios, at Bakdash's opening in Amman, Jordan, this week. Bakdash has been a landmark in Damascus, Syria, since 1895. But the war there has made it hard to get supplies, so the owners have set up a new shop in Amman.
Bakdash is a landmark in the Syrian capital, serving the Arab world's most famous ice cream since 1895. Manually churned with wooden paddles, loaded with milk, sugar and a generous coating of pistachios, Bakdash ice cream is memorable treat for any visitor to Damascus.
But, when a branch opened this week in Amman, Jordan, it was seen as another casualty of the Syrian war.
"It means there is no sense of security and safety in Damascus," says journalist Fahd al Kheytaan, "which forced the company to move some of its operation to Jordan."
Several thousand young Afghans are attending a music and arts festival of their own this week in Kabul. NPR's Sean Carberry sent this postcard from the third annual Sound Central Alternative Music and Arts Festival.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Chanting in foreign language)
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: While this is going on outside the French Cultural Center in Kabul...
In many ways, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is complicated and conditioned by the long and the bloody war on drugs. It's difficult to say exactly how many people have been killed in that war, but Mexican media have estimated that around 70,000 people have died since 2006; many thousands more have been disappeared. The United States has been closely involved, providing money, technology and intelligence to the Mexican government.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama is in Costa Rica today. He's talking with leaders of Central American nations about security and economic trade. Yesterday, the president wrapped up a two-day visit in Mexico, where he tried to steer the focus away from contentious issues like immigration and drug violence. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: During their quick visit, Presidents Obama and Pena Nieto stuck to their focus: the economy.
Expanding trade abroad is a high priority for President Obama. This week, he nominated a trusted adviser named Michael Froman to become the next U.S. trade representative. Froman is currently deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports on the challenges he would face as trade representative.