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North Korea has agreed to freeze the reactor at the heart of its nuclear program and allow international inspections in exchange for more than $300 million in fuel aid. The agreement was reached earlier today in Beijing after a week of six-nation talks. The deal marks the first concrete plan for disarmament in more than three years of negotiations. North Korea agreed to a similar deal in 1994 but eventually reneged on its promise.
In Lebanon, three people have died and 20 were wounded after a pair of bus bombings in a largely Christian area outside of Beirut. Today’s attack comes a day before the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
New questions are being raised over the Bush administration’s claims that the Iranian government is sending sophisticated roadside bombs into Iraq. On Monday, Gen. Peter Pace, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has seen no evidence of any links between explosives killing Americans and top Iranian officials.
Gen. Peter Pace: “We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this. It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”
An Israeli cabinet minister is warning that Israel might decide on its own to confront Iran in order to halt its alleged nuclear weapons program. Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “Israel cannot remain with its arms folded, waiting patiently for Iran to develop non-conventional weapons.” At the United Nations, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei warned against any such action.
Mohamed ElBaradei: “I don’t see a military solution of the Iranian issue. First of all, as far as we know, what Iran has now today is the knowledge. We do not know that Iran has the industrial capacity to enrich uranium. We don’t know, we haven’t seen indication or concrete proof of a nuclear weapons program. So I don’t see that people talk about a military solution. I don’t know what they mean by that. You cannot bomb knowledge, as I said before. I think it would also be completely counterproductive.”
On Capitol Hill, the House is beginning a marathon three-day debate today on a nonbinding resolution opposing the escalation of the Iraq War. The resolution says Congress will continue to support and protect the U.S. troops in Iraq, but disapproves of Bush’s move to deploy more troops. Republican critics said the resolution weakens U.S. troop morale.
In Vermont, state legislators are voting on its own Iraq War resolution. Vermont could become the first state in the nation to pass a legislative resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
In news from Iraq, at least 139 people were reported killed across the country on Monday. Earlier today, 16 people died in a suicide bomb attack in central Baghdad. The blast occurred outside a food warehouse used to distribute subsidized food rations.
Also on Monday, an Iraqi tribunal sentenced the country’s former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, to death by hanging.
Syria has imposed new restrictions that could prevent many Iraqi refugees from entering the country. Syria had been the last Arab country welcoming large numbers of Iraqi refugees. On Monday, more than 5,000 Iraqis lined up in Damascus to register with the U.N. refugee agency. Iraqis fear Syria could order a mass deportation of refugees living in the country illegally. Since the war began, an estimated 1.8 million refugees have fled Iraq. The United Nations estimates up to 50,000 Iraqis continue to flee the country each month. But now the refugees have dwindling options of where to go.
In political news, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has suggested he would increase the Pentagon’s budget if elected president. Obama made the comment during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said that because the Iraq War has depleted our military, “there’s probably going to be a bump under an Obama presidency in initial spending just to get back to where we were.”
The former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says the U.S. still has no intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The official, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, told CNN, “The intelligence has gone cold on Osama bin Laden.” His comments came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting the region. On Monday, Gates met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Gates vowed U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Robert Gates: “After the Soviets left, the United States made a mistake. We neglected Afghanistan, and extremism took control of that country. The United States paid a price for that on September 11, 2001. We won’t make that mistake again.”
The Pentagon is reportedly planning a spring offensive against the Taliban. Meanwhile in Pakistan, four vehicles were damaged on Monday after a bomb exploded at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. No one was hurt.
Attorneys for Jose Padilla have asked a federal judge to put off a hearing set for Friday to determine whether their client is competent to stand trial. Padilla’s lawyers say he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation. The Bush administration jailed him without charge after initially accusing him of plotting a dirty bomb attack. The Bush administration held Padilla in extreme isolation without almost any human contact for about 1,300 days in a Navy brig in South Carolina. He was denied seeing an attorney for 21 months. His lawyers say interrogators used hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.” When Padilla left his cell, guards covered his ears with sound-canceling headphones. His eyes were covered with blacked-out goggles. One staff member at the brig told attorneys that Padilla’s temperament became so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of “a piece of furniture.” The U.S. Bureau of Prisons ruled last week that Padilla is fit to stand trial.
Britain’s attorney general, Lord Peter Goldsmith, has renewed his call for the Bush administration to close Guantanamo. He criticized the new rules for military trials at the base. He said, “The changes made are too little and too late.”
In news from Africa, the president of Guinea has declared martial law in an attempt to squash a series of popular protests against his rule. He has ordered the army to take all necessary measures to restore order. A nationwide curfew has been in place, and residents are now only allowed to leave their homes for four hours a day. In addition, demonstrations, marches and protest meetings have been prohibited. For the past month, the Guinean government has violently crushed the union-led protest movement. At least 100 demonstrators have been killed.
Palestinian officials are urging the international community to lift economic sanctions following last week’s power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh: “I say to the Quartet and to the European Union and others that this is the will of the Palestinian people, and they should respect it and respect this agreement, and they should work to end the status of siege that the Palestinian people have suffered for a long time.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem next week. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Olmert is refusing to discuss several major issues, including the status of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines.
In Salt Lake City, a gunman shot and killed five people at the Trolley Square shopping center. Police have not yet identified the gunman, who was shot dead by city police. Meanwhile, an armed man in Philadelphia opened fire during a company board meeting yesterday and killed three men. He then shot himself.
A major new scientific study on medical marijuana has just been released. The study found that AIDS patients suffering from debilitating nerve pain got as much or more relief by smoking marijuana as they would typically get from prescription drugs — and with fewer side effects. The study appears in the journal Neurology.
And over 50 peace activists are going on trial Wednesday on charges stemming from their arrest on Capitol Hill last September while protesting the Iraq War. The protests were organized by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance.