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The Bush administration has dismissed suggestions its presence at an international conference on Iraq could lead to direct talks with Iran and Syria. Hopes were raised after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed the U.S. would join a regional meeting called by the Iraqi government. But on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the administration has not dropped its precondition that Iran abandon nuclear activities. Iran says it’s weighing the Iraqi invitation. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made some of his first public comments since the announcement of the upcoming talks on Iraq.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "The arrival of foreign forces and the intervention of the hegemonic system in the affairs of the people of this country is the root cause of the problems in Iraq."
Ahmadinejad spoke as he began a two-day visit to Sudan. He is expected to sign a series of economic agreements to boost ties between Tehran and Khartoum.
Meanwhile, a review of American casualties in Iraq has further undercut the Bush administration’s claim that Iran is supplying bombs to Shiite insurgents that have targeted U.S. troops. McClatchy Newspapers is reporting 90 percent of U.S. casualties have come in Sunni areas. Some of those deaths were caused by explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs. The administration had suggested the EFPs were being used almost exclusively by Iranian-backed Shiite groups.
As the Bush administration dismisses the significance of the upcoming talks alongside Iran, the State Department has announced a meeting next week with North Korea. The talks will focus on normalizing relations with North Korea under the initial nuclear deal reached last month. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack warned against expecting a major breakthrough.
State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack: "I think a big part of the meeting is just going to be organizational issues — how is this working group going to meet, what are the modalities of it. Don’t expect anybody is going to come out the front door and wave a piece of paper with some breakthrough agreements. That’s just not the kind of meeting that this is going to be."
The talks come as the Bush administration is now softening its position that North Korea has pursued a nuclear weapon through the enrichment of uranium. The charge was first made nearly five years ago. North Korea followed by throwing out international inspectors and increasing the plutonium stockpile behind its first nuclear test last year. Critics say the administration’s revised stance raises new questions about the initial decision to confront North Korea and about intelligence on foreign weapons programs in general.
The Guardian of London is reporting top U.S. military advisers are warning they have only six months to win the war before a further collapse of political and public support here in the United States. The advisers are said to be in charge of carrying out President Bush’s troop increase announced earlier this year.
In the Occupied Territories, the Israeli military siege on Nablus is in its fifth day. Earlier today Israeli forces traded gunfire with Palestinian militants in a mosque in the Faraa refugee camp. Dozens of people have been arrested while the Nablus television station has been shut down. Meanwhile in Jenin, hundreds of Palestinians gathered Wednesday for the funeral of three Palestinians killed earlier in the day. Israel says two of the dead were responsible for a failed suicide bombing attempt on Tel Aviv last week. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Israel is trying to disrupt the Palestinian unity agreement.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh: "It has become clear that this Israeli escalation, whether through the repeated incursions on Nablus or the assassination of Palestinian leaders of the resistance, is directly tied with the Israeli refusal of the Mecca agreement which cemented the national unity government on the basis of Palestinian consensus."
Back in the United States, a federal judge has ruled Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial on charges of aiding al-Qaeda. Padilla’s attorneys had asked the court to order treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. A forensic psychologist had also testified Padilla may be suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, in which captives identify with their captors. The Bush administration jailed Padilla without charge after initially accusing him of plotting a dirty bomb attack. Padilla was held in extreme isolation without almost any human contact for about 1,300 days and denied an attorney for nearly two years. A trial is set to begin in two weeks.
In new developments in the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the Army Times is reporting soldiers stationed at the U.S. Army’s top medical facility have been told they are no longer allowed to speak to the media. One soldier in the Medical Hold Unit said many troops believe the media ban is a form of punishment for the whistleblowing that led to last month’s disclosure the hospital is in major decay.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports today top officials at Walter Reed have heard patient complaints about poor treatment for more than three years. The officials include Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the former head of Walter Reed and the current Army surgeon general. The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to hold hearings on the conditions at Walter Reed next week.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders have announced plans to seek testimony from several prosecutors who lost their jobs in a wave of dismissals from the Bush administration. The attorney firings — and their replacements — have raised allegations of judicial interference. The House will vote today on whether to subpoena four former prosecutors.
On the campaign trail, Senator John McCain has confirmed he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. McCain made the announcement Wednesday on the Late Show with David Letterman.
David Letterman: "Are you thinking seriously of running? Are you running? Are you going to announce that you’re running?"
Sen. John McCain: "The last time we were on this program, and I’m sure you remember everything very clearly, but you asked me if I would come back on this show if I was going to announce I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States."
McCain says he will formally enter the race after he visits Iraq next month.
A new census has estimated the nation’s homeless population at three-quarters of a million people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development says that’s about 300,000 more than the number of available beds in shelters and temporary housing. Around 60 percent of the homeless population are people of color.
Here in New York, the City Council has approved a ban on the use of the N-word. The symbolic vote was passed unanimously.
The first U.S. marine to suffer a critical injury in Iraq is speaking out against the ban on openly gay and lesbians in the military. The marine, Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, lost his right leg after stepping on a land mine. Alva, who is gay, says his injury led him to come out so could he seek the same rights for all servicemembers regardless of sexual orientation.
And finally, Arthur Schlesinger has died at the age of 89. Schlesinger was a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and key figure in the Kennedy White House. He was an early supporter of the Vietnam War, but in his later years an opponent of the invasion of Iraq. In his memoirs, Schlesinger expressed regret for helping suppress a New Republic story that showed the Kennedy administration was training Cuban mercenaries before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Arthur Schlesinger: "The First World War and the Second World War were collaborative wars, and that’s why we won them. The fact that only Britain has made a serious military contribution to the unilateralist action of the United States has been one source of trouble. I think no one can defend the evident mess. It’s like the [Vietnam] quagmire re-enacted."
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