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News brief: Putin trip, Europe endures heat wave, Steve Dettelbach

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Leaders of two big oil producers meet today. Both are U.S. adversaries, and both are under U.S. sanctions.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Iran. He's meeting Iran's elected president and also the cleric who is Iran's supreme leader. The president of Turkey is also there, a U.S. ally, so this is not formally a meeting to plot strategy against the United States, but it brings together two nations in search of friends.

MARTIN: NPR's Charles Maynes covers Russia and joins us now. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Morning.

MARTIN: So explain what this three-way meeting is supposed to be about.

MAYNES: Well, you know, formally, these talks are an extension of the peace process for Syria. This is where Russia, Iran and Turkey have this uneasy alliance at best. The three don't really agree on much other than that they're against the Islamic State. But of course, the timing of Putin's trip comes against the backdrop of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine. It seems designed to show that Western efforts to isolate the Russian leader are doomed to fail and that the Kremlin is still a power broker in the Middle East despite sanctions.

MARTIN: So Russia is reaching out to Iran because of - what? - kind of shared experience in some way?

MAYNES: Well, yeah. You know, before Russia, Iran was the world's most sanctioned major economy. In fact, ahead of these talks, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was on Iranian TV saying that the two countries had a kind of brotherhood carved out of that experience. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMITRY PESKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So here, Peskov says, like Iran, Russia is also used to dealing with sanctions. Peskov went on to say it was a price they both had to pay for pursuing policies independent of the West. And he ended by quoting a familiar proverb, saying, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - in other words, the idea that their economies can adapt and thrive.

MARTIN: So Iran's drone industry has been getting in the headlines. Just last week, the White House said Russia was preparing to buy drones from Iran to replace those that they have lost in Ukraine. Is that something that we could expect to be on the agenda?

MAYNES: Well, you know, the Kremlin would only say it's a topic that won't be addressed by Putin. What will likely come up in these talks is oil. Faced with Western sanctions, you know, Russia has adapted by selling discounted oil to India and China. That's been really good for the Kremlin. The problem is it hasn't been very good for Iran. You know, selling sanctioned oil used to be their racket. You know, Putin does have something of a sweetener here to offer, though - Moscow is taking Iran's side in its negotiations to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal with the West.

MARTIN: So then there's Turkey, right? So Turkey's going to be there. Turkey's...

MAYNES: Yeah, a lot of players.

MARTIN: Turkey's a U.S. ally. I mean, explain the relationship between Russia and Turkey at this point.

MAYNES: Also very complicated. You know, Turkey has been trying to carve out something of a mediator role amid the conflict in Ukraine. It sells drones to Ukraine, but it's hosted peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv. It's also tried to broker a deal with the U.N. aimed at freeing up grain shipments from Russia and Ukraine that have raised all these concerns of a global food shortage. You know, Kremlin advisers says they're close to a deal where Turkey would oversee shipments through the Black Sea and onto global markets. Meanwhile, Putin is courting, you know, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. You know, and it's a constant irritant to Western powers in part because it cleaves at solidarity within NATO.

MARTIN: Right.

MAYNES: You know, we've seen this again recently over Erdogan's objections to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. Erdogan seems to be on board for now, but, you know, if Putin can somehow convince Erdogan to veto the alliance's expansion into northern Europe or maybe at least muck up the process of admission, that would be seen as a big win here in Moscow.

MARTIN: All right, we'll see how this all goes down. NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you so much, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Have you heard? It is very hot in Europe.

INSKEEP: Record highs are expected in the U.K., and authorities have declared a national emergency. They're warning of heat-related deaths even among fit and healthy people. Southern European countries face wildfires after a heat wave.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Esme, good morning.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What's it like in Berlin, where you are?

NICHOLSON: Well, It's only just starting to warm up here, Rachael. It's - and we're expecting highs in the mid-90s here today, so not as hot as elsewhere. But I've already shut all the windows and drawn the blinds because, like many here in northern Europe, we have no air conditioning.

MARTIN: I mean, this is really it, right? I mean, everywhere is getting hotter. In the U.S., too, it's expected to reach 111 degrees in Phoenix, Ariz., today. But especially in northern Europe, this is really dangerous.

NICHOLSON: Yeah, of course. And lack of air conditioning is just part of it. Northern Europe wasn't built for this kind of heat. And while well-insulated houses can keep out some of the heat as well as it keeps out the cold - as they keep out the cold, cities here are not designed to provide the kind of shade you find built into southern European cities. Then there's the issue of behavior. Northern Europeans don't take siestas and don't know how to pace themselves, myself included. And this is why weather officials in the U.K., for instance, as you mentioned, have issued a national emergency alert, as hospitals there are already overrun with an uptick in COVID patients.

MARTIN: And it's not just the north, right? What's going on in the southern half of the continent?

NICHOLSON: That's right. First of all, both Spain and Portugal have seen hundreds of heat-related deaths. Spain's health authorities say at least 510 people have died from heat over the past week alone. And while temperatures are dropping in some parts of southern Europe, this is having no impact at all on the wildfires currently raging in Spain and Portugal and France, parts of Greece, parts of northern Italy. Conditions are far drier than usual at this time of year, which means fires are spreading faster and burning for longer. And, Rachel, even here in Germany, firefighters as far north as Hamburg say dry conditions pose a major risk of wildfires.

MARTIN: So we can safely assume that these extreme conditions are just an example of what's to come, right? I mean, this is where the trend lines are moving. So how are authorities in Europe thinking about it in that long-term way?

NICHOLSON: Well, yeah, as you say, scientists say this is just the beginning. Global warming is driving up temperatures and changing the paths of weather patterns, which is why we're seeing droughts and forest fires in northern Europe. And not to mention the flash flooding that destroyed entire villages in western Germany exactly a year ago. So - and just last week, the federal disaster agency here in Germany warned that some parts of the country are on the verge of becoming uninhabitable because of the risk of extreme weather conditions. Yet at the same time, the German government, which is co-led by the Green Party, is scrambling to replace Russian gas.

Now, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres was here in Berlin yesterday, and he issued a stark warning, saying the world has a choice - collective action or collective suicide.

MARTIN: Reporter Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Esme, thank you. We appreciate it.

NICHOLSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives enforces gun laws, and for the first time since the year 2015, the ATF has a permanent director.

INSKEEP: Steve Dettelbach was confirmed by the Senate last week. He joins the agency just as gun violence has returned to the national agenda and just after Congress passed new gun legislation for the first time in years.

MARTIN: In the new job, Dettelbach met with NPR's Ryan Lucas, and Ryan joins us now. Good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What is the director's background?

LUCAS: So he worked at the Justice Department for years, served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration. So he has a lot of experience in federal law enforcement. And I know you've already said it, but it is worth repeating here - Dettelbach is the first person to be confirmed by the Senate in seven years to lead the ATF. A series of nominees put forward in recent years, including Biden's first pick for the post, didn't get confirmation, failed to do so often in large part because of opposition from gun rights groups. And that lack of leadership has contributed to instability and low morale at ATF. Now the agency finally has a confirmed boss.

This is also important because the Biden White House has made having a permanent director at ATF an important part of the administration's response to the surge in gun violence that we've been seeing in this country.

MARTIN: So what's that expected to look like? What can the ATF do to curb gun violence?

LUCAS: Well, it's no secret to Dettelbach that he's stepping into the job at a critical time. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

STEVE DETTELBACH: Crime is rising. Firearms crime is rising. Mass shootings are rising. Domestic extremism and the sort of undercurrents of violence in domestic extremist actions is rising. These are all public safety threats. Those are all things that are in the wheelhouse of ATF to address. And I hope to be able to work with ATF and the other partners to address them and try and make things better.

LUCAS: Now, how to do that, of course, is the tricky part. And Dettelbach says working with state and local law enforcement will be critical for ATF, but also knowing that what's driving crime is different from place to place in this country. So there isn't going to be, he says, a one-size-fits-all sort of answer to get a grip on the gun violence problem.

MARTIN: Did he address, in particular the string of mass shootings that we have seen in the past few weeks?

LUCAS: Right, the violence in Buffalo and Uvalde and Highland Park. Those shootings really do hang over this job right now. I asked him whether the country is going to have more mass shootings like that, and here's what he said.

MARTIN: Look; I'd be naive to say that those things aren't going to continue to happen. It's horrible. It's jarring. I hope people never get used to it. I certainly won't, and I know people at ATF aren't used to it.

LUCAS: And he said that these sorts of shootings just can't be accepted as an aspect of American life. But he also said something that I think is really important to remember - he said that more than a hundred people a day are dying from gun violence in this country. Most of those never make the news. And the government has a duty to protect all of those people as well.

MARTIN: How else does he see his role?

LUCAS: Well, he wants to help drive down gun violence. That's the primary thing, of course. But there's something else that he said that struck me. He said he wants to serve as an advocate for ATF, ensuring that the 5,000 or so men and women who work there get the support and resources that they need, but also making sure that the agency gets the respect that he says it deserves and that the public knows what ATF does. He told me that ATF was crucial in tracing the gun to help catch the Highland Park shooter a couple of weeks ago. Dettelbach said people need to know that. And to me, that kind of gets to the heart of what his job is now - helping keep the public safe but also helping lift up ATF and rebuild morale there.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.