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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has apparently confirmed for the first time that Israel has nuclear weapons. On Monday, during an interview on German television, Olmert listed Israel among countries with nuclear arms. Olmert’s comment came as he was asked about Iran’s alleged nuclear program.
Ehud Olmert: “Israel does not threaten any country with anything. Never did. The most that we tried to get for ourselves is to be able to live without terror. But we never threatened any nation with annihilation. Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to write Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel, Russia?”
After the interview, an Israeli government spokesperson denied Olmert intended to suggest that Israel has nuclear weapons. Last week in Washington, incoming U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates shocked many when he said Israel had nuclear arms. Gates said it is a leading reason why Iran may be seeking its own nuclear weapons.
Robert Gates: “And I think that while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons — Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf.”
Israel is believed to have over 100 nuclear warheads, but it has never publicly acknowledged it.
In Iraq, at least 57 people have died after a pair of car bombs exploded in Baghdad. Targeted in the attack was a group of day laborers seeking work.
In Anbar province, 18 marines have been injured after their helicopter was forced to make a hard landing. Three U.S. aircraft have gone down in the Anbar province in the past two weeks. The Pentagon also announced the death of three more soldiers in Iraq. Forty-six U.S. soldiers died in the first 10 days of the month, putting December on pace to be one of the deadliest months of the war for U.S. forces.
On Monday, President Bush spoke at the State Department after meeting with advisers about Iraq.
President Bush: “I appreciate the advice I got from those folks in the field. And that advice is an important part, an important component of putting together a new way forward in Iraq. Like most Americans, this administration wants to succeed in Iraq, because we understand success in Iraq would help protect the United States in the long run.”
Today the president is planning to hold a video conference with U.S. military commanders in Baghdad and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. He is also expected to meet with Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi in Washington.
Meanwhile, a new CBS poll found that just 21 percent of Americans approve of President Bush’s handling of the war — it is the lowest number he’s ever received.
Outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan accused the United States of abandoning its ideals as it fights its so-called war on terror. Annan’s comments came in an address in Independence, Missouri, at the library of former President Harry Truman.
Kofi Annan: “As President Truman said, 'The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world.' He showed what can be achieved when the U.S. assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the U.S. remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky’s the limit.”
Kofi Annan also said human rights and the rule of law are vital to global security and prosperity.
Kofi Annan: “More than ever, today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world’s peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition.”
In the Indonesian province of Aceh, a former independence leader appears set to become governor after winning an historic election. Irwandi Yusuf is a former spokesperson of the pro-independence Free Aceh Movement, or GAM. The elections were the first to be held since the Indonesian government and the GAM signed a peace agreement last year. Yusuf said he never expected to become governor of Aceh.
Irwandi Yusuf: “My response is, this is the dream of the Acehnese people being fulfilled, and they want fundamental change in all aspects of life and governance. It will be a hard work for me.”
Irwandi Yusuf was jailed in 2003 for opposing the Indonesian government. He escaped in 2004 when the tsunami flooded his jail.
In Chile, a funeral is being held today for former dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died on Sunday at the age of 91. Street celebrations continue in Santiago to mark the death of the man who brutally ruled the country for 17 years. Supporters of Pinochet lined up for hours on Monday to pay respects for the former dictator. Over 10,000 people filed past his coffin at Santiago’s Military Academy. Meanwhile, street clashes between supporters and opponents of Pinochet continue. Over 100 people have been arrested. On Monday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called for calm.
Michelle Bachelet: “In the last hours, we have seen gestures of division which we do not like, but I know that we have, as a country, as a society, ethical strength to rediscover each other. That is the greatness of a country. The greatness is the intimate will of rediscovery based on historical truth. And the presidents of Chile should think of everyone in our past, in our future.”
Bachelet also said Chileans should not forget what happened under General Pinochet. She said, “Only then will we have a constructive vision of our future, guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of all Chileans.” Bachelet has decided not to attend today’s funeral. She was once jailed and tortured by the Pinochet regime. The Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who led a campaign to bring Pinochet to justice, also spoke on Monday.
Baltasar Garzon: “Thanks to a Spanish procedure with the Riggs Bank, we have recuperated $9 million that are being given to the victims through the Salvador Allende Foundation. I think that’s an example of what justice can do when acting without borders and in coordination with the different countries involved.”
In Britain, The Observer newspaper reports that Cabinet ministers have been told by the Foreign Office to stop using the phrase “war on terror.” The British government said it wanted to avoid using language that could be counterproductive. The White House coined the phrase shortly after the 9/11 attacks, but many British officials now feel the term has inflamed opinions worldwide.
In Iran, a group of students disrupted a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday. It marked the first major public protest against Ahmadinejad since he took office. The students screamed death to the dictator, set photographs of the president on fire and threw firecrackers at him. Ahmadinejad cut his speech short. As he left, students kicked at the car that carried him away. The president’s guards did not remove the students or use force to stop the protests. Meanwhile, Iran is hosting an international conference questioning whether the Holocaust occurred. Holocaust deniers from around the world are attending, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who claimed that the gas chambers in which millions perished actually did not exist.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has sharply criticized Israel for blocking the United Nations from investigating the recent killing of 19 Palestinians in Gaza. Tutu was scheduled to head a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun, but Israeli officials failed to grant him the necessary travel visas.
Desmond Tutu: “We find the lack of cooperation by the Israeli government very distressing, as well as its failure to allow the mission timely passage to Israel. This is a time in our history that neither allows for indifference to the plight of those suffering nor a refusal to search for a solution to the present crisis in the region.”
An Israeli government spokesperson said Israel was concerned about the mission’s platform, saying it “advances a biased anti-Israeli agenda.”
Congressmember Dennis Kucinich is planning to announce today that he will run again for president. The Ohio Democrat accused the leadership of his party of not pushing hard enough to end the Iraq War.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “Our president does not seem to understand the necessity to get out of Iraq. Thus it is imperative Congress do the one thing the Constitution of the United States provides for. Congress must cut off future war funds and demand the president use current funds in the pipeline from the October 1st $70 billion appropriation to bring the troops home.”
Dennis Kucinich spoke on Monday at a hearing featuring the authors of the recent Lancet study that found as many as 660,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the war in Iraq.
In environmental news, scientists are warning that within 30 years the Arctic will almost be completely ice-free, making it possible for ships to sail to the North Pole. Global warming has caused sea ice in the Arctic to shrink at a record pace.
A new study out of South Africa has found that the country’s life expectancy has dropped by 13 years since 1990 because of the AIDS epidemic. The average South African now only lives to be 51 years old.
A prominent Republican lawmaker is coming under criticism for apparently endorsing the assassination of Cuban President Fidel Castro. A new documentary called “638 Ways to Kill Castro” features a brief interview with Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: “I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.”
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was recently tapped to become the top Republican on the House International Relations Committee. She accused the filmmakers of splicing together her words, but she admitted to the Miami Herald that she can’t rule out that she ever mentioned Castro and a potential assassination. Ros-Lehtinen said, “If someone were to do it, I wouldn’t be crying.”
In Britain, a series of anti-nuclear protests were held Monday to protest Tony Blair’s push to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. Two protesters managed to unfurl a banner inside Parliament that read “Sane Government, Not More Missiles.” Twenty-eight protesters were arrested in a series of actions across the country.
And in media news, the FCC appears to be a step closer to approving the multibillion-dollar merger of AT&T and Bell South. On Friday, the FCC’s general counsel ruled that Republican FCC Chair Robert McDowell can vote on the merger. For the past year, McDowell has been largely prevented by ethics rules from participating in proceedings in which his former employer, CompTel, had been a party.