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Negotiators at a major global climate summit in Bali say they’re close to reaching a compromise. Talks have stalled this week over the Bush administration’s rejection of several key provisions, including a pledge to cut emissions levels up to 40 percent by 2020. Observers expect a weak compromise deal if White House objections stand. The final day of talks follows increasing criticism of the US. On Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore drew wide applause from the Bali conference when he called the Bush administration the main obstacle to an agreement.
Al Gore: "I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali... And it really is up to you. I don’t know how to tell you how you can find the grace to navigate around this enormous obstacle, this elephant in the room that I’ve just been undiplomatic enough to name."
European Union nations have vowed to boycott a US-backed climate summit in Hawaii next month over the Bush administration’s stance. The Honolulu gathering of industrialized nations is part of a process organized by the White House to sidestep the UN. Portugal environmental minister Humberto Rosa said the meeting would be pointless if the Bali talks fail.
Portugal environmental minister Humberto Rosa: "If we would have a failure in Bali, it would be meaningless to have the major economies meeting, which has been agreed that is to look also to what happened to the Bali road map. So, without the road map and without the destination, the Commission said it would be senseless."
The Bali meeting is convening to reach a new to deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The US is the only industrialized nation to reject Kyoto, which requires a modest five percent reduction below 1990 levels by the year 2012. The Bush administration has also rejected proposals that would provide financial support to poorer countries most affected by climate change. Professor Richard Odingo of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the stance could have devastating effects for Africa.
Professor Richard Odingo: "If you look at the temperature projections, nobody can stand a temperature increase of five degrees centigrade, which we are projecting. And when they arrive, the future will be so uncomfortable, people will be running away from Africa. And the European powers, for example, they don’t want Africans to go to Europe now to look for jobs, but this will happen more and more. We’ll have environmental refugees.”
As the Bush administration continues to reject binding pollution cuts, new figures show this year has been one of the warmest on record. A British study says 2007 was the second-warmest ever in the Northern Hemisphere. The eleven warmest years on record have all occurred within the last thirteen years.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has approved a new energy bill without key provisions opposed by the Bush administration and major corporations. Republicans had threatened a presidential veto over measures including $21 billion in taxes on the oil and gas industry and requiring utility companies to draw 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by the year 2020. In a major victory for those companies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a new version of the bill omitting the corporate tax package.
In other news from Washington, the House has approved an intelligence bill barring the CIA from using harsh methods including waterboarding and mock executions while interrogating prisoners. The White House has threatened a veto. The measure now goes to the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a contempt citation against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House aide Karl Rove. Rove and Bolten have refused congressional subpoenas for testimony and documents in the firing of federal prosecutors. The contempt vote will go before the full Senate.
In Somalia, the Ethiopian government is denying involvement in a deadly attack on civilians in the capital Mogadishu. At least seventeen people were killed Thursday when mortars tore through the city’s main shopping market . Another forty people were injured. Ethiopia and Somali government troops have been implicated in several bombing attacks on civilian areas over the past year. The conflict in Somalia is widely considered Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis. An estimated 6,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the clash between US-backed Ethiopian forces and Somali fighters.
A US delegation is trying win Russian backing this week for the Bush administration’s controversial plans for a missile system in eastern Europe. The US wants to host the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The White House continues to insist the system is needed as protection against Iran, despite last week’s own conclusion from US intelligence that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program. In Budapest, Acting Under Secretary of State John Rood said Iran’s threat is growing.
Acting Under Secretary of State John Rood: "We have seen a large growth in the missile capabilities of countries like North Korea and Iran in recent years. This is a threat that we think is real and growing and one that it is prudent to take steps to deter and to defend against through means like missile defense."
The Bush administration has already launched talks aimed at a settlement with North Korea. Critics of the missile system call it a first-strike option for the United States.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a rare policy statement criticizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a new report, the Red Cross says the Israeli government is denying millions of Palestinians “their human dignity.” The Red Cross cites Israel’s continued system of closures, settlements, checkpoints, bulldozings and military attacks. Three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Thursday.
Argentina is rejecting US accusations of a Venezuelan plot to influence its elections. Four people were arrested in Miami this week on charges of trying to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. She was elected in October to succeed her husband Nestor Kirchner. On Thursday, Fernandez dismissed the allegations and accused the US of interference in Argentine affairs.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner: "Argentina never needs someone telling us who our friends are, just as we never tell other countries who their friends should be. We have a strong conviction in the auto-determination of nations. This president may be a woman, but she is not going to let herself be pressured. I will continue firming our relations with all of the friendly nations of Latin America and with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner began her term on Monday. The four Miami suspects have been charged with failing to register as agents of the Venezuelan government.
The Bush administration has been handed another defeat in its efforts to prosecute suspects accused of plotting terror attacks in the United States. A Miami jury has acquitted one of the seven Miami men accused of planning to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. A mistrial was declared for the other six defendants after the jury deadlocked. The case had appeared to rest entirely on one suspect’s conversation with an FBI informant posing as a representative of al-Qaeda. The FBI later described the alleged plot as “aspirational rather than operational.”
In New Jersey, lawmakers have approved a measure to abolish executions in the state. Democratic Governor Jon Corzine has said he will approve the measure next week. This will make New Jersey the first state in the United States to abolish the death penalty in forty years.
The Justice Department has announced the FBI is investigating the top official overseeing corruption and abuse in the US-led reconstruction of Iraq. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen is under suspicion for a series of improprieties including tampering with employee emails. Bowen’s investigations have indicted several American officials on corruption charges, documented wasteful and inept work by large contractors, and found the Pentagon did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons given to Iraqi troops. The Bush administration tried to close down his office last year but backed off following congressional opposition.
And in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate of the year Thursday, just weeks before the first primary vote. Congress member Dennis Kucinich was excluded despite having the same polling numbers as three other candidates both nationally and locally in Iowa. Also excluded was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. In a campaign first, Gravel has released a rap video criticizing his exclusion. The song samples John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Give Peace a Chance.”