The Bush administration has announced it will take part in talks with Iran and Syria at two international meetings on Iraq. This would mark the highest-level contact with Iranian officials in more than two years. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed the plans during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “This initial meeting will be followed perhaps as early as the first half of April by a ministerial meeting. I would note that the Iraqi government has invited Syria and Iran to attend both of these regional meetings. We hope these governments seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq, and to work for peace and stability in the region.”
The announcement comes just weeks after the Pentagon accused Iran of supplying bombs targeting U.S. troops in Iraq.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the Pentagon has admitted to botching a controlled explosion in Ramadi. Flying shrapnel and glass injured 31 people, including several children. The announcement followed an unconfirmed report more than a dozen children were killed in a large explosion. In Baghdad, Iraqi police say they recovered least 30 bodies on Tuesday. The Pentagon also announced the deaths of five more U.S. troops.
The Bush administration has announced it will reject any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. Twenty-six Americans have been ordered to stand trial for Omar’s abduction on the streets of Milan more than three years ago. Omar was flown to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
The International Criminal Court has unveiled the names of suspected war criminals in Sudan who have played a role in the mass killings in Darfur. Named on Tuesday were Sudanese government minister Ahmed Mohammed Harun and another man accused of being a militia leader. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the announcement from The Hague.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “The attackers did not, did not, target any rebel presence. Rather, they targeted civilian residents based on the rationale that they were supporters of the rebel forces. This strategy became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution and mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict.”
The Sudanese government immediately rejected the announcement.
Sudanese Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi: “We believe that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese. We maintain our position that the crimes committed in Darfur fall under the jurisdiction of the Sudanese judiciary, which carries out investigations and weighs the evidence and presents it to the independent and impartial court that issues verdicts on them.”
Hamas has given new indications it’s prepared to reach a negotiated settlement with Israel. On Tuesday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for an end to the international boycott on the Palestinian government, saying: “This will create a political climate that could open a political prospect in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Meanwhile in the Occupied Territories, Israel is continuing a military siege of two towns on the West Bank. Three Palestinians were killed today in Israeli raids in the city of Jenin. Street clashes followed between rock-throwing Palestinian youths and Israeli military vehicles. Meanwhile, Israeli troops have re-entered the city of Nablus. Tens of thousands of residents have been confined to their homes for days as Israeli troops conducted house-to-house raids. A popular local television station has been off the air since its manager was arrested and its equipment seized on Monday. The station, Sanabel, is the only channel to broadcast out of Nablus.
In Egypt, an appeals court has overturned the one-year sentence of a newspaper editor jailed for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak. Ibrahim Eissa heads the weekly newspaper al-Dustour. He had been convicted under an Egyptian law that allows third parties to sue others for defaming government officials. On Tuesday, an appeals judge overturned the jail sentences but upheld the third-party law. Eissa criticized that decision after the verdict was read.
Ibrahim Eissa: “I believe that this verdict is one of the signs of the restrictions placed on the press in Egypt, and it opens the doors of hell for Egyptian journalists, because anyone — any citizen, any lawyer or any member of a political party — can bring a court case against any writer or any newspaper about any news item, and it will result in endless harassment (in court) of Egyptian journalists, irrespective of whether they are opposition journalists or otherwise.”
Back on Capitol Hill, newly appointed Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking in a hearing on global threats, McConnell singled out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell: “In Venezuela, [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez is using his popularity to undercut the opposition and eliminate checks on his authority. He is among the most strident anti-American leaders anywhere in the world and will continue to try to undercut U.S. influence in Latin America and internationally.”
McConnell went on to strongly suggest he believes Cuban President Fidel Castro will not live to see next year.
His statement came as Castro made his first comments in a live broadcast since he was hospitalized last July. In a phone call to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s radio program, Castro said he is recuperating and “gaining energy.”
In Miami, a Cuban-American married couple was sentenced Tuesday in a case that saw them accused of spying for the Cuban government. Carlos and Elsa Alvarez are both employees at Florida International University. They were sentenced on reduced charges they received as part of a plea deal. Carlos, a professor, was sentenced to five years. His wife Elsa was given a three-year term. Both deny the spying charges and say they were trying to open dialogue with Cuba.
In Mississippi, a grand jury has decided not to issue an indictment in the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. Till was abducted, beaten and shot after he allegedly whistled at a white female store clerk named Carolyn Bryant. Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury. The two later confessed to Till’s murder but have since died. Carolyn Bryant was among 12 people facing indictments before the jury’s decision.
This news comes as the FBI has announced it’s reopened about a dozen unresolved murder cases from the civil rights era. The cases are among an estimated 100 ongoing investigations.
At the United Nations, a group of leading scientists made a new appeal Tuesday for immediate action on global warming. This is Dr. John Holdren, a member of the scientific expert group on climate change and sustainable development.
Dr. John Holdren: “Our specific conclusions are that if the world were to go past the point of an increase above pre-industrial temperatures greater than two to two-and-a-half degrees Celsius, we would be in a regime where the danger of intolerable and unmanageable impacts on human well-being would rise very rapidly. And it is therefore essential, in our view, that the world agree on a target on not exceeding two to two-and-a-half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial. It is important to understand we’re already at about point-eight degrees Celsius above pre-industrial.”
And former Food and Drug Administration head Lester Crawford has been sentenced to three years of supervised probation and a $90,000 fine. Crawford pleaded guilty last year to conflict of interest and false reporting of ownership of stock. Prosecutors say he lied about his ties to several companies regulated by the FDA.