The 107th Congress convened yesterday. Among those sworn in was Hillary Rodham Clinton. The new Democratic senator from New York becomes the first lady to hold elected public office. Shortly before Congress convened, Gore delivered a pointed message to the Congressional Black Caucus. He said, “We must all respect and, wherever possible, help President-elect Bush. You have to do your best to reach across party lines, but you must also have to know when to draw the line.”
Yasser Arafat sought support from Arab governments today amid deep reservations in the Arab world toward U.S. peace proposals the Palestinian leader is said to have accepted as a basis for talks with Israel. Arafat first briefed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on his talks this week with President Clinton in Washington. Arafat then met Arab foreign ministers gathered at the Arab League in Cairo. Many in the Arab world have spoken out against a major concession in the U.S. proposals surrendering the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes in Israel. The Syrian foreign minister, whose state media repeatedly denounced the U.S. proposals in recent days, reportedly opened the Arab League meeting by saying the plan should not even be discussed. The Lebanese foreign minister, among those meeting with Arafat today, said the day before that the right to return was sacred. Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said yesterday that Arafat, who has not spoken publicly on the U.S. ideas, would only make a final answer to the U.S. plan after the talks at the Arab League meeting.
Meanwhile, an Israeli official announced today that the Central Intelligence Agency will join the Mideast peace talks. CIA chief George Tenet will represent the United States in a trilateral committee with Israel and the Palestinians. The spokesperson said it was President Bill Clinton’s idea to form a security committee between the CIA, Israel and the Palestinians. He claimed that the committee would renew security cooperation to help end the violence, which erupted in late September, and the vacuum created by deadlocked peace talks.
And this news from London: A former U.N. humanitarian chief in Baghdad today condemned Britain’s policy in Iraq, accusing ministers of churning out “fabricated and self-serving disinformation to keep sanctions in place.” Hans von Sponeck accused Britain of painting an outdated picture of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and exaggerating the level of international support for the 10-year embargo.
This news from Prague in the the Czech Republic: At least 50,000 Czechs came out into the cold last night to give their support to striking television journalists who are trying to preserve their independence from political pressure. Some 50 TV journalists have barricaded themselves in the newsroom since December 23rd in protest of the appointment of Jirí Hodac as general manager of the station. The protesters have tried to put out rival newscasts. Hodac is considered too close to the leader of the conservative party. He denies political bias but has tried to discharge 30 of the dissident journalists. As the journalists occupy the station, they have protested bannings as well as his appointment. Hodac, the new director of Czech Television, was chosen as new director after serving another position at the radio station. The president, Václav Havel, has also opposed the new director of Czech TV.
And this news from Albany, New York: The Governor, George Pataki, yesterday called for the easing of New York’s tough Rockefeller Drug Laws. A person found guilty of a single four-ounce sale of a controlled substance can face a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life — the same penalty as someone convicted of second-degree murder in New York. Currently, more than 21,000 prisoners are serving time for drug-related offenses, out of New York’s 70,000 prisoners. The Governor said, “However well-intentioned, key aspects of those laws are out of step with both the times and the complexities of drug addiction.” As he gave his seventh annual State of the State address, he offered no details about how to ease the drug laws, except that he wants to do so dramatically. Outside of the State of the State address, scores of people held signs, on them the names of their sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers who remain in prison for decades for nonviolent drug offenses. Meanwhile, White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey issued his final anti-drug report, stressing the need for President-elect George Bush to maintain the national strategy he has pursued. McCaffrey is to appear at the White House today to release the report before stepping down as head of President Clinton’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.