With a strong push from the Obama administration, the United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over its alleged nuclear program. The resolution calls for measures against Iranian banks abroad, expands a UN arms embargo, and calls for setting up a cargo inspection regime similar to one in place for North Korea. President Obama praised the Security Council vote.
President Obama: "This resolution will put in place the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government, and it sends an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. For years, the Iranian government has failed to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has violated its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has ignored UN Security Council resolutions. And while Iran’s leaders hide behind outlandish rhetoric, their actions have been deeply troubling."
Turkey and Brazil voted against the resolution, arguing they saw no reason for imposing more sanctions against Iran. Iran recently reached a deal with Turkey and Brazil to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for low-level nuclear fuel to run a medical reactor.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva: "Sadly, this time it was Iran who wanted to negotiate, and those who didn’t want to negotiate were those who think that force resolves everything. I think that taking this decision was a mistake. I think the Security Council threw out a historic opportunity to negotiate calmly on Iran’s nuclear program and also to discuss in a deeper way the deactivation in countries with nuclear bombs."
Iran responded to the UN vote by threatening to reduce its ties to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to continue its uranium enrichment program.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the the IAEA: "No matter how many resolutions are passed, Islamic Republic of Iran will not stop its enrichment activities, which is in full accordance with its right under the statute of IAEA and NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]."
The Louisiana Department of Health is reporting at least seventy-one people have suffered health problems believed to be caused by the BP oil spill and the widespread use chemical dispersants. The sick include twenty-nine oil spill cleanup workers and twenty-one workers on oil rigs in the Gulf. Symptoms reported by workers have included throat irritation, cough, chest pain, headaches and shortness of breath. Another fifteen illnesses have been reported in Alabama. On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York has compared the plight of the Gulf cleanup workers to the men and women who worked at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney: “The health of far too many of those who worked on that toxic pile, they suffered long-term health consequences. Now in the Gulf, men and women are once again being exposed to a toxic sea of elements. After just forty-some days, there are already reports that workers have suffered from exposure to the oil. And this cleanup will go on for years. The time to address the issue of the health of the cleanup workers is now, before they lose it.”
In Washington, the Texas shrimper and activist Diane Wilson was arrested on Wednesday for pouring fake oil on herself during a Senate energy hearing. Wilson took the dramatic action while Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was questioning Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Diane Wilson, CodePink: "We are tired of the bailouts, and we are tired of being dumped on in the Gulf. I’m a commercial fisherma’am from the Gulf Of Mexico, and we’re tired of being dumped on!"
In other spill news, the McClatchy Newspapers is reporting US government regulators warned a decade ago about the dangers of a major deepwater oil spill in the Gulf. The warning said such a spill could start with a fire on a drilling rig, prove hard to stop, and cause extensive damage to fish eggs and wetlands because there were few good ways to capture oil underwater. The disaster scenario was contained in a May 2000 offshore drilling plan for the Shell Oil Company. The 2000 warning indicates that some federal regulators were well aware of the potential hazards of deepwater oil production in its early years. Part of the 2000 report warned that not all the spilled oil would rise to the surface and that the spill would likely cause toxic subsea oil "plumes" similar to the ones scientists have identified in the BP spill.
Earlier this week, the federal government acknowledged the BP oil spill has created large underwater oil plumes. Scientists at the University of South Florida say oil plumes now stretch forty-two miles northeast of the Deepwater Horizon well site and 142 miles southwest. Despite the scientific studies, BP is still claiming the plumes don’t exist. On Wednesday, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles appeared on Good Morning America.
Doug Suttles: "There has yet to be anyone who’s found any significant quantities below the surface, whether that’s just below the surface or at deep levels. We’re going to continue to monitor and look for those."
Elizabeth Vargas: "We’re hearing scientists say there are huge plumes below the surface. Are you denying that, still?"
Doug Suttles: "Well, what I can tell you is no one’s yet found any concentrations that measure below the parts per — or higher than parts per million. So I think it may be depending on how you’re defining this. But what I can tell you, and I’ve looked at this data, is that we have not found any significant concentration of oil below the surface."
President Barack Obama met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday. The meeting came nine days after Israeli commandos killed nine activists aboard a humanitarian boat bound for Gaza. Obama urged the Israeli government to loosen its blockade of Gaza.
President Obama: "We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory. But we also think that it is important for us to explore new mechanisms so that we can have goods and services and economic development and the ability of people to start their own businesses and to grow the economy and provide opportunity within Gaza."
President Obama also announced $400 million in assistance for the Palestinians, but the New York Times reports the pledge includes just $70 million in new money. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza.
Mahmoud Abbas: "And we also see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people, the need to open all the crossings, and the need to let building material and humanitarian material and all the necessities go in to the Palestinian people. And also we appreciate the attention given to the formation of an investigation committee that would investigate what happened in the latest events, the events of what we call the Freedom Flotilla or the Freedom Fleet."
The McClatchy Newspapers has obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade of Gaza not as a security measure but as a form of "economic warfare." Sari Bashi, the director of the Israeli group Gisha, said the documents prove that Israel isn’t imposing its blockade for its stated reasons, but rather as collective punishment for the Palestinian population of Gaza.
In Afghanistan, at least forty people have died after a suicide bomber attacked a wedding party in Kandahar province. Dozens of people were wounded in the blast. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s former head of intelligence services says President Hamid Karzai has lost faith in the US strategy in Afghanistan and is increasingly looking to Pakistan to end the Taliban insurgency. The Guardian newspaper reports Amrullah Saleh believes Karzai lost confidence some time ago in the ability of NATO forces to defeat the Taliban. Saleh resigned from his post last week.
The Associated Press reports a Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s choice for national intelligence director could be delayed into the fall because of questions about whether the nominee would be too close to the Pentagon. The nominee, James Clapper, is a retired Air Force general who currently serves as undersecretary of defense for intelligence. From 2001 to 2006, Clapper headed the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In that position, Clapper played a key role in promoting the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 invasion. In October 2003, Clapper said it was unquestionably true that Iraq moved WMDs to Syria ahead of the war. The website ThinkProgress reports former Bush adviser Karl Rove has cited Clapper’s theory to defend claims by the Bush administration that it believed Iraq posed an imminent security threat to the United States.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to vote today on a controversial measure to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation is sponsored by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. At least four Democrats, including Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, have indicated they will support the measure. The White House is threatening to veto the bill if it is passed.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats are working to scale back a Wall Street tax increase already approved by the House. The deal will affect the tax rate paid on profits by managers of hedge funds, private-equity funds, venture capital firms and other business. Last month, the House adopted a tax rate of about 35 percent. The Senate is proposing lowering the tax rate to between 31 and 33 percent.
A former Brooklyn College student has been sentenced to fifteen years in jail after pleading guilty to providing what prosecutors called military gear to al-Qaeda. Syed Fahad Hashmi plead guilty after being held in twenty-three-hour solitary confinement for nearly three years. The government’s case against Hashmi rested on the testimony and actions of an old acquaintance of Hashmi’s who turned government informant after his own arrest. Prosecutors allege Hashmi knowingly allowed the informant to store waterproof socks, ponchos and sleeping bags at his house for two weeks. The rain gear was allegedly later delivered to al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. On Wednesday, Hashmi addressed the court for twenty minutes. He attributed his "many, many mistakes" to a misunderstanding of Islam and being manipulated by others. One of Hashmi’s defense attorneys, Sean Maher, spoke to reporters after the sentencing.
Sean Maher: "To finally be able to say something to the judge, I think, was very moving for Mr. Hashmi. Those who were in court saw how his voice quavered, how he had real emotion. He had to stop a few times because of the emotion that welled within him. I think people saw his true remorse come across. I think people also heard his very legitimate criticisms of US government foreign policy and the treatment, the inhumane treatment, that this government has utilized against Muslim prisoners who are charged with what we’d call political crimes."
In labor news, more than 12,000 nurses in Minnesota have begun a twenty-four-hour strike over staffing, pay and benefits. Fourteen hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area will be affected. The strike was called by the Minnesota Nurses Association, part of the newly formed National Nurses United union. The union has described the action as the largest strike in US nursing history.
Efforts to force the New York City Police Department to release its surveillance records in the lead-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention have been dealt a major setback. A panel of federal judges ruled Wednesday the city can keep secret some 1,800 pages detailing how undercover police officers infiltrated protest groups across the country. The ruling reverses a lower court decision.
The Los Angeles City Council has approved spending $500,000 to settle a series of lawsuits filed by journalists who were injured when police violently crushed an immigrant rights rally on May Day in 2007. The city has already paid out $13 million to settle other lawsuits stemming from the protest.