The Washington Post is reporting Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent letter to President Bush with new overtures for direct negotiations. According to the Post, the White House has ignored these requests, despite the conclusion of intelligence experts that Ahmadinejad’s letter was a major overture. Several anonymous officials said the Bush administration is coming under pressure from government experts to respond to Iran’s letter. Paul Pillar, who served as the senior Middle East intelligence analyst with the CIA until last year, said: “There is no question in my mind that there has been for some time a desire on the part of the senior Iranian leadership to engage in a dialogue with the United States.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in the United States for his first official visit since winning national elections in March. On Tuesday, President Bush embraced Olmert’s proposal to unilaterally redraw Israel’s boundaries in the occupied West Bank. Olmert’s proposal would remove around 60,000 Israelis from isolated settlements but would annex to Israel larger settlements that house some 200,000 Israelis, excluding East Jerusalem. Meanwhile Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh repeated Hamas’ offer of a long-term ceasefire if Israel withdrew from all the land occupied in the 1967 war.
In Afghanistan, ongoing clashes have led to the deaths of dozens of people. The Afghan military says 60 insurgents and four troops were killed in fighting late Tuesday. The fighting reportedly involved airstrikes from US-led coalition forces. There was no word on the civilian toll.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into Monday’s US-led airstrike that killed dozens of people. The dead included at least 16 civilians. In a statement, Karzai expressed concerned over what he called the US bombing of civilian areas. The U.S. military has denied reports of civilian casualties and claimed that all of the dead were Taliban members.
General Michael Hayden has moved a step closer to becoming the next head of the CIA. On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to recommend Hayden’s confirmation. Four Democrats joined the committee’s Republican members in supporting Hayden’s nomination. During his confirmation hearing, Hayden staunchly defended the Bush administration’s domestic wiretap program he oversaw as director of the National Security Agency. In a statement, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, one of the three Democrats to vote against, said: “General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge.”
The Federal Communications Commission says it won’t investigate whether the National Security Agency has obtained access to the telephone records of millions of US citizens. Calls for an investigation followed a USA Today report that three major telecom countries handed over customers’ phone data to the NSA. The FCC says it cannot investigate because of the classified nature of the NSA’s activities. Democratic Congressmember Ed Markey, one of several lawmakers who had requested the probe, said: “The FCC has abdicated its responsibility to protect Americans’ privacy to the National Security Agency without even asking a single question about it.”
The FCC’s decision comes as activists around the country are planning protests outside the offices of major telecom companies across the country today. The protests will focus on the companies’ involved in the NSA spy program and ongoing lobbying efforts against net neutrality. The protests are being organized by the group SaveAccess.Org.
A member of the US National Guard has been sentenced to military prison for refusing to serve in Afghanistan. Specialist Katherine Jashinski announced her conscientious objection last November. She was sentenced to 120 days in prison. She has already served 53 days.
In Burma, 800 ethnic Karen have been displaced in one of the government’s biggest military offensives in years. The Karen have been fighting for independence from the Burmese government, which has re-named its country Myanmar.
Amnesty International marked the release its annual report on human rights Tuesday by comparing US policies on torture to regimes well-known for human rights violations.
In its report, Amnesty slammed the Bush administration for holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and at secret black sites across the globe. Amnesty echoed a call from a UN panel last week for the US to close its prison facility at Guantanamo.
In Iraq Tuesday, at least 40 people were killed in violence around the country. In Baghdad, 11 people were killed and nine wounded in a bombing near a Shiite mosque.
In other Iraq news, the New York Times is reporting an internal military review of the Pentagon’s propaganda efforts has called for an end to the payments of Iraqi journalists to promote US policies. The review was ordered following the disclosure the US government had contracted the Washington-based company the Lincoln Group to plant pro-US articles in Iraqi newspapers. The Pentagon’s investigation did not mention the Lincoln Group, but did say the planting of articles raises the question of whether the US is paying to: “undermine the concept of a free press” in Iraq.
And former US senator and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen has died at the age of 85. In 1988, Bentsen ran for Vice President on the ticket of Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. He is best known for his remarks during a debate with then-Republican nominee Dan Quayle after Quayle compared himself to John F. Kennedy.
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