The Obama administration has reportedly offered Israel upgraded military weaponry in exchange for delaying an attack on Iran until next year, after the November elections. The Israeli newspaper Maariv reports the deal was presented to Israel during President Obama’s talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week. The U.S. offer reportedly included advanced bunker-busting bombs and long-range refueling planes. The bombs in question are said to be more powerful than Israel’s current arsenal of bunker-busting weapons, granting Israel additional capability to strike Iranian facilities below ground. According to Reuters, an Israeli official confirmed Thursday that Israel has made a request for bunker-busting bombs and refueling planes from the United States. Speaking at a news conference in Vienna, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Soltanieh, called for Israel to be sanctioned at the United Nations for making threats against Iran.
Ali Soltanieh: "Israel is continuously violating this resolution [Resolution 533], therefore violating [the] United Nations Charter. And according to that resolution, in fact, the United Nations Security Council has to immediately act upon condemning Israel and work on this matter [Israel’s threat of attack] to prevent escalation, threatening and threat of attack."
The latest news on U.S.-Israel military talks comes as the Iranian government faces pressure over its recent decision to allow fresh nuclear inspections. Western officials say they have received intelligence Iran is seeking to "clean up" its Parchin military complex ahead of a new visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Robert Wood, the head of the U.S. mission to the IAEA, called the reports "disturbing."
Robert Wood: "I don’t want to get into, you know, intelligence issues or anything like that, but certainly there have been reports out there that Iran has been so-called 'sanitizing' the Parchin site. That would be—if that’s really happening, that’s of great concern to us, and I think it kind of makes sense why Iran denied the agency access and was very concerned about providing access to the agency. So, I don’t know what’s going on there at Parchin, but the reports are very disturbing."
Speaking in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States hopes to resolve the Iran nuclear issue diplomatically. But in a potential nod to the threat of U.S. or Israeli military action, Clinton said it’s more urgent to resolve the issue now than it has been in the past.
Hillary Clinton: "We are hoping that the Iranians will come to the table, prepared to have the kind of serious and sincere discussion we have been looking for for several years. We think it is even more pressing and imperative today than it has been in the past, and we would like to see diplomatic progress, which we support."
Syrian opposition activists are rejecting calls from former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for dialogue with the Syrian government. Annan, now the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, warned against military intervention on Thursday and said a resolution to the Syria conflict lies in a "political settlement." But Syrian dissidents have rejected Annan’s comments as a "disappointment," saying there’s no room for dialogue as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carries on with attacks on opposition strongholds. Also Thursday, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos spoke of witnessing widespread devastation during her brief tour of the former rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs.
Valerie Amos: "The devastation there is significant. That part of Homs is completely destroyed, and I’m concerned to know what has happened to the people who lived in that part of the city. It’s a very interesting country. Of course I was devastated by what I saw in Baba Amr yesterday."
Greece has convinced the vast majority of its private investors to forgive more than $132 billion in debt, paving the way for European finance chiefs to approve a second bailout to the debt-stricken country. Finance leaders are expected to discuss the bailout package, worth more than $171 billion, today.
Hundreds of people rallied across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday to support an imprisoned Palestinian woman who is on hunger strike to protest her detention by the Israeli government. Hana Shalabi is on the 23rd day of refusing to eat since her arrest last month. She is being held without charge or trial. The rallies were held to coincide with International Women’s Day. Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi called Shalabi a symbol of Palestinian resistance.
Hanan Ashrawi: "The women’s movement, in general, all formal and informal parties, see Hana Shalabi, a prisoner held without any evidence or trial, as a symbol of Palestinian resistance, an extraordinary symbol of the spirit of Palestinian women."
The Democrat-controlled Senate has rejected a Republican measure to speed up an approval decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial project that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. President Obama took part in lobbying against the resolution, personally calling senators to seek their votes. The Republican effort marked a challenge to Obama’s attempt to delay a decision pending additional review — and also until after the 2012 elections.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed the Justice Department is reviewing the New York City Police Department’s widespread surveillance of Muslims in the northeastern United States. Testifying before a Senate panel, Holder said he was disturbed by reports of the spying outside of New York City, which included the monitoring of mosques and Islamic student groups in neighboring New Jersey.
Eric Holder: "There are various components within the Justice Department that are actively looking at these matters. I talked to Governor Christie, actually. I saw him at a reception, I guess a couple days or so ago, and he expressed to me the concerns that he had. He has now publicly expressed his concerns as only he can. And I think at least what I’ve read publicly, and again, just what I’ve read in the newspapers, is disturbing, and these are things that are under review at the Justice Department."
Holder’s remarks follow strong criticism of the NYPD by the top FBI agent in New Jersey, who said NYPD monitoring in the state had damaged relations between law enforcement and Muslims.
In the latest development, the Associated Press has revealed the New York City Police Department kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans simply because they were Muslim. Records show plainclothes officers were assigned to target the region’s Syrian population and to "focus" on Muslims. More than 400 faculty members across the country have signed a petition condemning the spying and calling for New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne to resign.
A private contractor is accusing Bank of America of deliberately blocking aid to struggling homeowners by preventing loan modifications while still receiving government assistance under the the federal Home Affordable Modification Program. The contractor, Gregory Mackler, says he witnessed the practice while working with Bank of America executives at Urban Lending Solutions, a company contracted by the bank to handle some of its loan modification business. According to Mackler, Bank of America officials regularly pretended to have lost homeowners’ documents, failed to credit payments during trial modifications and intentionally misled homeowners about their eligibility for government help. On Thursday, members of the group CodePink were arrested at a Bank of America branch in New York City while protesting the company’s foreclosure practices.
The Georgia State Senate has approved a measure that would require adults to pass a drug test before they could receive welfare benefits. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has condemned the bill, calling it unconstitutional. Similar laws in Michigan and Florida have been blocked in court. The Georgia bill now heads to the State House.
In Haiti, hundreds have marched in the capital Port-au-Prince calling on the United Nations to pay reparations for the cholera epidemic that’s killed more than 6,000 people. Some 450,000 Haitians have also been sickened since the cholera outbreak erupted in October 2010. This week, former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, acknowledged that the outbreak likely originated with a battalion of Nepalese troops with the U.N. peacekeeping mission.