The U.S. and Iran have held their first face-to-face talks in nearly 30 years. On Monday, the U.S. and Iranian ambassador to Iraq met in Baghdad to discuss the Iraq War. The talks did not touch on other issues, including the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities. U.S. officials say they pressed Iran on supporting Shiite militias inside Iraq.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki: “We definitely believe that the withdrawing of foreign troops (Americans) and the cooperation of regional countries with the elected government of Iraq are the main keys and final solution for solving the problems in Iraq.”
The talks came as the U.S. continued a series of naval exercises in the Gulf sea off Iran’s coast. The fleet of nine U.S. military ships includes two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
U.S. Navy Commander Kevin Quinn: “We are conducting operations in support of our coalition troops on the ground in Iraq right now. Our aircraft are flying missions up there on a daily basis in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are also doing training operations. We’re here along with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group. We are doing a series of defensive-oriented training events, such as defending against simulated air threats, surface threats, sub-surface threats.”
Back in Iraq, at least 23 people have been killed and 68 wounded in a car bombing in Baghdad today. An earlier car bombing killed 15 people. Meanwhile, three German contractors have been kidnapped from the Iraqi Finance Ministry.
In other Iraq news, the private security firm Blackwater USA is facing more scrutiny following the disclosure its guards were involved in at least two shooting incidents last week. According to The Washington Post, a Blackwater employee shot and killed an Iraqi driver on Thursday. Blackwater employees say they fired to avoid a possible attack after the driver ignored repeated warnings. But witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked. The attack led to a standoff with Iraqi police after the Blackwater guards refused to divulge their names or provide details. One day earlier, Blackwater guards traded gunfire with Iraqi insurgents after their convoy came under attack in Baghdad.
In Lebanon, aid groups are warning of an ongoing humanitarian crisis in a Palestinian refugee camp where Islamic militants have been fighting the Lebanese army.
U.N. refugee agency director Richard Cooke: “We have been extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation of the refugees, obviously, ever since Sunday morning. But particularly we are concerned about those that remain in Nahr al-Bared camp. We have been seeing a continuous flow of people out of the camp since Tuesday evening. And so now we have, we believe, in the region of 24,000 or 25,000 of the inhabitants have left the camp.”
Some 10,000 people remain behind amidst shortages of vital supplies. Sporadic clashes have resumed since both sides reached a truce last week.
Most Lebanese groups have supported the military, but on Friday Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah offered criticism of both sides.
Hassan Nasrallah: “The army is a red line and should not be trespassed. And whoever killed its officers and soldiers should be tried and have a fair trial and should not be forgiven. But at the same time Nahr al-Bared camp is a red line with Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. We cannot accept or cover a camp war of this kind.”
In Venezuela, thousands of supporters and opponents of the television network RCTV took to the streets this weekend in counterdemonstrations during the station’s final hours on air. The Venezuelan government decided not to renew RCTV’s television license earlier this year. Supporters like Caracas resident Mercedes Ramirez say Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is silencing the network over its criticism of his government.
Mercedes Ramirez: “These are the voices of the people who have risen to be against a decision that is arbitrary and which we cannot accept. Channel 2 (RCTV) is the heritage of all Venezuelans, and we are going to rescue it for the Venezuelans.”
Venezuela says it canceled RCTV over its support for the coup that briefly overthrew Chavez five years ago. RCTV broadcast footage falsely blaming Chavez supporters for violence, applauded coup leaders as they overthrew the government and then refused to report that Chavez had returned to power following mass protests. Venezuela says it will create a new public-service network in its place.
Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto: “Finally this frequency will return to the people, and we are going to bring forth a television station with a social character. What does this mean? A television station produced by independent producers.”
The Bush administration is expected to announce new economic sanctions against Sudan over the violence and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. The White House is also preparing to seek U.N. Security Council approval of an arms embargo on the Sudanese government and a ban on Sudanese military flights over Darfur. The Washington Post reports the announcement could anger U.N. diplomats who have reported progress in talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Sudan’s state news agency is reporting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has agreed to visit Sudan to negotiate a deal on a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force. More than 200,000 people have been killed and two-and-a-half million displaced since the conflict broke out in 2003.
A new report shows U.S. intelligence agencies warned top White House officials invading Iraq would likely spark a deadly sectarian conflict and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Intelligence analysts also warned an attack on Iraq would likely lead Iran to increase its regional influence and encourage a surge of political Islam and increased funding for militant groups.
Meanwhile, a former senior adviser to Senator John Kerry has disclosed Kerry voted for the 2002 Iraq War measure based on the election advice of his future campaign manager. In a forthcoming book, veteran Democratic Party strategist Robert Shrum says the campaign manager, Jim Jordan, warned Kerry he wouldn’t win the presidency unless he sided with President Bush.
A leading U.N. investigator says the U.S. practice of interrogating prisoners and using counterterrorism laws to limit immigration are both likely violations of international law. In a new report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N. rapporteur on rights in countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, says U.S. interrogation practices amount to a form of torture or inhumane treatment. Scheinin also criticized U.S. laws including the 2001 PATRIOT Act for what he says is an untenable expansion of the definition of a terrorist act.
In education news, the University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill is facing a new threat to his job after the school’s president recommended his dismissal. Churchill became the center of a debate over free speech and academic freedom over controversial comments he made on the 9/11 attacks. Churchill has been accused of research misconduct and plagiarism in his writings on Native American history. Churchill has vigorously denied the charges and maintains he is being punished for his outspoken views.
In Mississippi, a former sheriff’s deputy is set to go on trial in a civil rights murder case dating back more than 40 years. James Ford Seale has been charged in connection with the 1964 murders of 19-year-old African-American hitchhikers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The two were beaten and dumped alive into the Mississippi River. Their bodies were not found for another two months. Seale’s family claimed he was deceased after investigators reopened the case seven years ago. But efforts by one of the victims’ brothers revealed Seale was alive and still living down the road from where the kidnappings occurred.
The peace activist Cindy Sheehan has announced she is stepping down from her role as a leading campaigner against the Iraq War. Sheehan rose to prominence after staging a camp-out to pressure President Bush to meet her as he vacationed at his Crawford estate in August of 2005. Sheehan named it Camp Casey in honor of her son who was killed in Iraq the previous year. In a letter released on Memorial Day, Sheehan said she is stepping down in part because of hostility from Democrats who she’s criticized for supporting the war. Sheehan also cited repeated threats on her life, strains on her health and family, and divisions inside the peace movement. Writing of her son, Sheehan says: “I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months.” Sheehan goes on to write: “I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the [U.S.] … but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. … I am getting out before it totally consumes me or any more people that I love and the rest of my resources.”
And Israel is continuing its nearly two-week assault on the Gaza Strip. On Monday, Israeli aircraft destroyed a Hamas-run sports club in northern Gaza. Four people were wounded, including a woman and a child. Israeli strikes have killed at least 13 civilians and 35 militants. Two Israeli civilians have been killed and 20 wounded in Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. Meanwhile in Israel, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak will square off in a run-off vote with former internal security chief Ami Ayalon in the race for leadership of Israel’s Labor Party. Ayalon has backed a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, while Barak has supported Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank. Defense Minister Amir Peretz was a distant third with 22 percent.