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News Brief: Chauvin Trial, Reviving Nuclear Talks, U.K. Slowly Reopens

NOEL KING, HOST:

People call it the blue wall of silence when some police protect their colleagues who broke the law. There is no silence of that kind, though, for Derek Chauvin.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The former Minneapolis officer is accused of murdering George Floyd last year. And yesterday, the police chief, his former boss, testified against Chauvin. Medaria Arradondo fired Chauvin after the arrest that killed George Floyd. And on the witness stand, he said Chauvin violated policy.

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MEDARIA ARRADONDO: We have a duty of care. And so when someone is in our custody, regardless if they're a suspect, we have a obligation to make sure that we provide for their care.

INSKEEP: The defense team says Chauvin did what he was trained to do.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Minneapolis following this trial. Good morning, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: It is a very rare thing to see a chief of police take the stand as a prosecution witness. What else did Arradondo say yesterday?

CORLEY: Well, you're right. It's just very unusual. And I must point out that blue wall of silence that you were talking about - much different. Four officers testified, one simply offering logistical information. But the other three, including the chief, said what Derek Chauvin did, placing and keeping his knee on George Floyd's neck for several minutes, was against police policy. So here's the chief.

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CORLEY: That in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy, and it is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.

CORLEY: And Arradondo said he initially viewed video from a street surveillance camera, only saw the officers' backs and Floyd being lifted into an ambulance, so he didn't believe anything was wrong. And that would change.

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ARRADONDO: Probably close to midnight, a community member had contacted me and said, Chief, have you seen the video of your officer choking and killing that man at 30th and Chicago?

CORLEY: And Arradondo fired Chauvin and three other officers a day after George Floyd's death. And last summer, he called the incident a murder.

KING: So how does the defense try and diffuse testimony like that?

CORLEY: Well, Eric Nelson, just as the prosecutors did, had the police chief read aloud and explain sections of the department's policies, including the guidelines about use of force, de-escalation tactics and training. And he argues that Chauvin just followed protocol and did what he was trained to do. And at one point, he had the chief look at side-by-side videos from different angles in an effort to illustrate that Derek Chauvin's knee may not have been on Floyd's neck.

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ERIC NELSON: Would you agree that from the perspective of Officer King's body camera, it appears that Officer Chauvin's knee was more on Mr. Floyd's shoulder blade?

ARRADONDO: Yes.

CORLEY: And prosecutors said the video only lasted a few seconds and showed Chauvin right before he got up as paramedics placed Floyd on a gurney.

KING: OK. Also testifying yesterday was the doctor who pronounced George Floyd dead. He testified for the prosecution. What did he have to say?

CORLEY: So Dr. Bradford Langenfeld is an emergency physician who was on duty when paramedics brought Floyd into the hospital. And Langenfeld told the jury the most likely explanation for Floyd's death was asphyxia or lack of oxygen. Defense attorney Nelson, who says it was George Floyd's addiction to opioids and underlying health problems that caused his death, had this question.

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NELSON: So when someone ingests fentanyl, it can cause them to feel very sleepy because of an increased carbon dioxide level, agreed?

BRADFORD LANGENFELD: Correct.

CORLEY: Which the doctor agreed could dangerously suppress the respiratory system. But what exactly caused Floyd's death is a very contentious question.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Minneapolis. Cheryl, thanks so much.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

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KING: Today, talks start in Vienna aimed at bringing the U.S. back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

INSKEEP: This was the agreement made under former President Obama. Iran limited its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. sanctions - some sanctions anyway. Former President Trump withdrew the United States from that multinational deal in 2018. President Biden promises to revive it now, and Iran's leaders say they would like to, but the two nations do not agree on how to do that. And since Iranian diplomats declined at this time to sit in the same room as a U.S. representative, European diplomats will shuttle back and forth with messages.

KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul. He's been covering this agreement since the beginning. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So everyone wants a resolution, and yet representatives from Iran will not sit in the same room as representatives from the U.S. What is that about? This seems very fraught.

KENYON: Well, Iran's been saying for some time now the U.S. has no place at the table until it rejoins the deal and lifts sanctions. In Washington, the State Department is saying these are going to be difficult talks, not much chance of an immediate breakthrough. As you mentioned, they won't be in the same room in Vienna. The Iranians, the Russians and Chinese will be at the table with the Europeans along with the E.U. We'll see what kind of shuttle diplomacy can really happen with the Americans. But analysts such as Suzanne DiMaggio with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace say the maximalist positions are something that need to be toned down if there's going to be any progress. She talked about recent comments by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here's how she described it.

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: We did have the supreme leader saying just weeks ago that the Iranians would require verification of full sanctions relief before they would be willing to do a single thing. Now, that is a maximalist position. And clearly, if the Iranians stick to that position, we're not going anywhere.

KENYON: But she also thinks that's a negotiating position, not necessarily a bottom line. So we'll have to see how far these talks get towards reviving this 2015 deal, which, by the way, is just a step towards Washington's goal of extending that deal and then moving on to work with other issues such as Iran's missile program.

KING: Peter, top line, what would it take to get an agreement here?

KENYON: Well, the Biden administration would have to lift the sanctions, and the Trump administration made a point of slapping numerous sanctions and designations on Iranian officials. So undoing all that isn't simple. The sanctions have slashed Iran's oil revenues. They've kept banks from handling transactions. For Iran's part, the task would be to reverse its ongoing violations of the nuclear deal. And those have been getting more and more serious with each violation. So all the excess nuclear fuel has to be shipped out. Advanced technology has to be shut down. They have been getting closer and closer in their enriched uranium capacity but nowhere near having nuclear capability yet, nuclear weapons capability.

KING: OK, so a lot still needs to get done in order to get an agreement. How long are these talks lasting, and what can really get done in a limited amount of time?

KENYON: It's kind of a wait and see how well they go. They might keep going longer, in other words. If they make progress toward clear steps both sides are going to take and an agreement to meet again soon, that would be a good start, some say. And soon is important because presidential elections are coming up in Iran this June and hard-liners who don't like the nuclear deal are in good position to take the presidency. So time may not be on the side of those trying to make this deal work.

KING: I see there's a deadline. NPR's Peter Kenyon. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Noel.

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KING: After months of being on lockdown, the U.K. is slowly reopening.

INSKEEP: Shops, gyms, hair salons and pubs that have outdoor beer gardens, among other businesses, will reopen on Monday in England. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready.

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PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Monday the 12, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips.

INSKEEP: Irreversibly. There are also plans to pilot vaccine passports to control admission to larger venues.

KING: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt is following all of this. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So over the last year, the U.K. has had the highest death toll in Europe. Why is the government confident that now is the time to open up?

LANGFITT: Well, what they're saying is basically the vaccine program has gone very well, which is true. More than 31 million Britons have received their first vaccine dose. I got my first one last month. I'm going to get my second in June.

KING: Nice.

LANGFITT: Yeah. And it's not just the numbers. You hear this from everybody you talk to around the U.K., that it is working. And deaths now are averaging about 47 a day, down from 1,300 earlier in the year. And so he wants to basically begin to try to revive the economy and move out of lockdown slowly. That said, scientific modelling shows that the United Kingdom could get hit by a third wave with a resurgence in hospital cases and deaths. And part of that is because they're not clear yet how much the vaccine can halt transmission. So there are concerns about reopening.

KING: And in the meantime, we have now been introduced to the concept of vaccine passports, right? So these have been controversial in the U.K. Can you tell us why and what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is saying about them?

LANGFITT: Sure. He's very - he was speaking yesterday in a news conference. He was very cagey about it. He doesn't even like the word passport. He calls them COVID-19 certificates and says it couldn't be - it's not just maybe proof of vaccination. It could be if you've had a negative test or a positive antibody test in the last six months. And he was very clear that when shops and outdoor beer gardens, like Steve was saying, reopen on Monday, they're not going to require these. But there's also - if you look at the fine print, it does say in the government documents that it will - it's likely to become a feature of British life, at least for the next few months. And the government is going to begin testing these out at larger venues in May. And this is what Johnson said at the press conference.

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JOHNSON: Big events like, you know, getting 20,000 people into Wembley on May the 15, getting people back into a theater.

LANGFITT: And, Noel, what he's referring to is the FA Cup final, the annual English soccer tournament in the middle of May at Wembley Stadium here in London.

KING: A big one. Because they are controversial, I imagine that lawmakers in Parliament have something to say about vaccine passports.

LANGFITT: They do. There's a lot of opposition. In fact, more than 70 both in Johnson's party and the opposition Labour Party are against them. This one member of the House of Lords - her name's Shami Chakrabarti, she's with the Labour Party - she says passports are discriminatory and could turn the country into check point Britain. This is what she said to ITV last week, the British broadcaster.

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SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: A segregated society, which is what is being mooted by internal passports, is a recipe for discrimination, for bullying. Every bouncer or employer or shopkeeper could decide who comes in and who doesn't.

KING: OK, so some real debate there. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much for your reporting. We appreciate it.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.