There are new hopes of an agreement with North Korea today as international talks resume. Earlier today, a North Korean envoy said North Korea is prepared to discuss first-stage measures toward nuclear disarmament. There is speculation North Korea will propose to freeze nuclear activities and resume inspections in exchange for energy aid and normalized relations with the United States.
The court-martial of the first U.S. Army officer to refuse to fight in the Iraq War has ended in a mistrial. On Wednesday, a military judge halted the case against First Lieutenant Ehren Watada over possible inconsistencies in a pretrial agreement Watada made with prosecutors. A new court-martial has been set for next month. More on this story later in the broadcast.
In Iraq, the Pentagon has confirmed the deaths of seven U.S. soldiers in Wednesday’s helicopter crash near Baghdad. The deaths come as the Pentagon disclosed another crash — this time a helicopter belonging to an unnamed security firm in Baghdad last week. Six U.S. helicopters have now been downed in the last three weeks.
In other news from Iraq, Iraq’s health minister has been arrested as part of the new U.S.-Iraqi crackdown on Baghdad. The minister, Hakem al-Zamili, is part of anti-occupation Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political bloc. Military officials say Zamili helped move weapons using Iraqi ambulances. Sadr’s group says the U.S. military is trying to provoke confrontation.
As U.S. and Iraqi forces step up raids throughout Baghdad, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani described the crackdown as the last chance for the U.S. occupation.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani: “This plan is the last-ditch effort by the U.S. administration and the new Iraqi political system. If the plan failed, the Iraqi project of the U.S. administration would fail, and the whole Iraqi political project would fall to pieces.”
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi government has asked Parliament to take legal action against the pan-Arab satellite news network Al Jazeera. In a statement, Iraq’s cabinet said Al Jazeera’s coverage is contributing to “spreading death and destruction in Iraq.” The move comes two years after the Iraqi government banned Al Jazeera from reporting in Iraq. In response, Al Jazeera editor-in-chief Ahmed Sheikh said: “The Iraqi government is looking for a scapegoat to justify their failure in bringing security and stability to Iraqis.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has issued a new appeal for more international support in Iraq’s worsening refugee crisis. Antonio Guterres spoke Wednesday in Jordan.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres: “When you have almost four million people displaced, half of it inside the country, half of it in the countries around, you are facing a humanitarian disaster, and it’s very important to mobilize the international community to fully support the people in need, but also to fully support countries that have very generously accepted them, like Jordan, like Syria, like others, and that need massive solidarity from the international community.”
An estimated two million Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries — more than half to Jordan and Syria.
In Italy, a U.S. soldier has been ordered to stand trial for the deadly shooting of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari in Iraq. Calipari was escorting the Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena out of Iraq following her release from a month-long abduction. The soldier, Mario Lozano of the 69th Infantry Regiment in New York, is likely to be tried in absentia. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Giuliana Sgrena welcomed the trial, saying: “It is important because Italy showed its sovereignty in the face of the impunity of American soldiers. It’s not only a symbolic trial but an important trial for me because I think we can find out the truth.”
In Mecca, leaders of the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas say they are moving forward in talks on ending internal fighting.
Nabil Amr, media adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “I cannot say we really reach final agreement about all issues, but we are on the way to reach this agreement. The atmosphere here in Mecca encouraged the Palestinians to go ahead, and I’m sure that maybe we will reach a conclusion within 48 hours maximum.”
More than 90 people have been killed in less than two months of Palestinian factional violence.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has reached an agreement with striking miners over a tax increase on the mining industry. On Wednesday, Morales said the tax will only apply to large companies.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Just as you have heard me, friends, to strengthen and give power to all the work sectors, because this government is for all the social movements — as one of you explained, we have been part of the process of change, and we must continue.”
Back in the United States, seven Republican senators who voted to block discussion on the nonbinding measure opposing the escalation of the Iraq War are now claiming they will use all measures to ensure an open debate. In a letter released Wednesday, Senators John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and five others said they would attach their pledge for debate to any proposal hitting the Senate floor in the coming weeks.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday. In a controversial moment, Rice denied ever seeing an Iranian proposal calling for dialogue with the United States on issues including nuclear activity and possible recognition of Israel. The 2003 overture was revealed by The Washington Post last year. Former administration officials, including one of Rice’s aides, have said the proposal was rejected. Rice was also asked about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really destroying his own country economically, politically, and this is a place with which we had traditionally good relations and would like to continue to have good relations.”
In Washington, Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s defense has received a major blow from both a key witness and a recording of Libby’s own words. Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff is accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury during the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. On Wednesday, NBC News correspondent Tim Russert testified he did not tell Libby about Plame’s identity. Russert’s testimony came after the jury heard a recording of an exchange in which Libby tells special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald he did not know of Plame’s identity until he spoke to Russert. On the tape, Libby describes to Fitzgerald what he says Russert told him.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby: “'Did you know that his wife works at the CIA?'”
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald: “And you said?”
Libby: “'No, I don't know that.’”
Fitzgerald: “And his response?”
Libby: “'Yes' — something like, 'Yes, yeah, all the reporters know.'”
Fitzgerald: “And your response?”
Libby: “'No, I don't know that.’”
The retail giant Wal-Mart is among a new alliance of businesses and labor unions to call for universal healthcare. On Wednesday, Wal-Mart joined with AT&T, Intel, the Service Employees International Union and others to call for universal coverage by the year 2012. They did not give specific policy proposals. Wal-Mart says businesses are paying an unfair share of healthcare costs. Despite the alliance, the Service Employees International Union says its funding of the group Wal-Mart Watch will continue. In a statement, another watchdog group, Wake Up Wal-Mart, said: “If Wal-Mart is truly serious about universal health care, we challenge [it] to provide universal health care to all of its uninsured employees [and] make universal health care a litmus test for its political contributions. … We await their answer.”
And the Pentagon has cleared five servicemembers recently accused of abusing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But critics are pointing to one problem: Investigators didn’t speak to any of the alleged victims. The probe was ordered after a Marine sergeant made public allegations of abuse she says she heard directly from the soldiers who carried it out. Marine Corps Sergeant Heather Cerveny said five servicemembers told her they regularly beat Guantanamo prisoners. The investigator, Col. Richard Bassett, says he conducted 20 interviews with “suspects and witnesses.” The military has not explained why prisoners were excluded. Col. Bassett recommended no disciplinary action against the accused guards. He did however accuse the whistleblower — Sergeant Cerveny — of filing a false statement during his investigation.