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President Bush wrapped up a three-day Mideast summit Wednesday with a pledge to increase the US role in future peace talks. Bush spoke at the White House after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Bush: “It’s very important for the international community to support these two leaders during the bilateral negotiations that will take place. And one thing I’ve assured both gentlemen is that the United States will be actively engaged in the process, that we will use our power to help you as you come up with the necessary decisions to lay out a Palestinian state that will live side by side in peace with Israel.”
The Annapolis summit launches a new round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he’ll seek a two-state settlement to avoid an apartheid-like dilemma. Olmert said, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert has yet to accept a longstanding Arab League offer for a two-state agreement on Israel’s internationally recognized borders. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on Israel to accept the deal.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa: “There is a message. Of course there is a message in our presence here, that we mean business. We are ready for peace, if you are ready for peace. We are ready to shoulder all our obligations and responsibilities as Arab countries, including normalization, but in the right context and when we are convinced that Israel is serious, because until this moment we are not convinced.”
The Bush administration appears to be focusing efforts on shaping the Palestinian security forces. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed retired Marine General James Jones to coordinate security arrangements in the Occupied Territories.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, dozens of people were arrested when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces raided a funeral in the city of Hebron. The victim was killed in protests to the Annapolis talks. Funeral-goers threw rocks at police, who in turn opened fire to disperse the crowd. In Ramallah, a group of Palestinian journalists rallied against a series of police raids. Al Arabiya correspondent Khaled Al-Qassem criticized Abbas’s forces.
Khaled Al-Qassem: “I do believe that all journalists agree with having law and order, but also all journalists support freedom of news coverage. What happened yesterday was crossing the red line by the security system, which dealt with protesters or journalists.”
In Iraq, family members of an exiled Iraqi journalist have publicly emerged to discount his claim that Shia assassins took their lives. The journalist, Dia al-Kawaz, said this week gunmen killed eleven relatives in their family home. In an appearance on Iraqi television, several family members suggested Kawaz invented the story for political reasons.
Former President Bill Clinton is under scrutiny for claiming he opposed the Iraq war “from the beginning.” Clinton made the claim Tuesday while campaigning for his wife Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Iowa. But a look at Clinton’s public statements from 2002 on reveal he never unequivocally opposed the war and at times voiced nuanced approval. In March 2003, Clinton criticized France for opposing the invasion and defended British Prime Minister Tony Blair for taking part. Meanwhile, a former senior administration official is now claiming White House officials personally briefed Clinton in the lead-up to war and that Clinton voiced his support. The official, Hillary Mann Leverett, is the former White House director of Persian Gulf affairs. She says she was “shocked” and “astonished” at Clinton’s claim to oppose the war. Leverett says former administration official Elliott Abrams emerged from one pre-war meeting “glowing” after Clinton promised he would publicly support an Iraq invasion.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he’s cut off ties with Colombia as long as his counterpart Alvaro Uribe remains head of state. Relations soured last week when Uribe ended Chavez’s involvement in hostage talks with Colombian rebels. Uribe says Chavez ignored his demands that he not contact the Colombian military directly. On Wednesday, Chavez accused Uribe of “barefaced lies.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “That’s why I said to the world what I said to the world. While Uribe is the president of Colombia, I won’t have any kind of relationship with him or the country. I can’t. I can’t because of dignity.”
Chavez went on to criticize Uribe’s close ties to the US, calling him “a pawn of the empire.” Earlier in the day, Uribe appeared to address the dispute without mentioning Chavez by name.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe: “Heads of state have to think not about their own grudges, not about their own vanities, but in the primary need of respecting the people who they represent.”
Venezuela has withdrawn its ambassador to Colombia.
In Argentina, an incoming lawmaker is set to make history when she takes office next week. Twenty-eight-year-old Victoria Donda will join Congress as the first member born to political prisoners during Argentina’s so-called dirty war. Donda’s parents were disappeared shortly after her birth in Argentina’s most infamous torture center, ESMA. They had been arrested for their involvement in leftist political groups. Donda only discovered her past four years ago, with the help of the victims’ rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
Victoria Donda: “For me, more than feeling pride, I feel a big responsibility in representing the Grandmothers. Being a recovered granddaughter is being the living result of the struggles of the Grandmothers. On December 5, I’m going to assume office with my father and mother present, but also with a bunch of elderly women waiting for me to do the right thing.”
Donda was speaking right outside the ESMA prison, where she was born. She is one of an estimated 400 people born to women political prisoners in Argentina.
In Bolivia, opposition groups staged a general strike Wednesday in six of Bolivia’s nine provinces. At issue are several government-backed constitutional changes opposed by oil-rich areas. Bolivian President Evo Morales says the plans will give Bolivia’s indigenous and poor communities a greater voice in running the country. The proposals will go before a national referendum in the coming months. Speaking from the presidential palace in La Paz, Morales urged his opponents to cooperate with his plans.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I hope that tomorrow morning these five governors are here to have a dialogue. I hope that in five or nine of our departments that we can lay down new social policies, together, for Bolivia, because this is a government for all Bolivians, not a government for just one sector of them, as some of our companions have said.”
Morales made the call as he approved a law establishing a guaranteed pension for Bolivia’s elderly. Oil revenues from Bolivia’s richer provinces will fund the monthly stipend.
In Saudi Arabia, a lawyer for a gang-rape victim sentenced to prison has filed a lawsuit against the Saudi judiciary for revoking his license and defaming his client. Abdul Rahman al-Lahem lost his license after a Saudi court sentenced the woman to six months in jail and 200 lashes. The woman was kidnapped and gang-raped by at least seven men. She was convicted of violating Sharia law on contact between men and women. A Saudi court upheld the ruling last week.
Back in the United States, Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani is facing new questions over hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable billing expenses during his time as mayor of New York City. The Politico newspaper is reporting Giuliani billed several obscure agencies for costs related to his visits to the Hamptons, where he began his affair with future wife Judith Nathan. Hotel, gas and other expenses were charged to city agencies tasked with aiding the disabled, providing public defenders, and regulating loft apartments. Giuliani’s campaign denies he tried to hide the expenses.
A government agency has reversed seven rulings denying endangered species protection after a probe found evidence of political interference from a former senior Interior Department official. Julie MacDonald, a former a deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, was found to have pressured agency scientists to alter their findings. MacDonald stepped down last May. In addition to pressuring scientists, she was also found to have leaked agency information to industry groups.
And curtains up on Broadway. Broadway stagehands and theater producers have reached an agreement after a more than two-week strike. Shows resume this evening.