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The United Nations has set a January date for peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel opposition. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the gathering on Monday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “The Geneva conference on Syria will take place on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. At long last and for the first time, the Syrian government and opposition will meet at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield.”
Despite the announcement, the opposition Syrian National Council says it will maintain its precondition for negotiations that excludes President Bashar al-Assad from any political transition. It is also unclear if Syria’s key ally, Iran, will be invited to the talks. Speaking earlier today, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran is prepared to attend if invited.
President Obama struck back at critics of the Iran nuclear deal Monday with a speech in San Francisco. Top Republicans and the Israeli government have denounced the agreement since it was reached Saturday night. Obama said opponents of the deal champion “tough talk and bluster.”
President Obama: “If Iran seizes this opportunity and chooses to join the global community, then we can begin to chip away at the mistrust that’s existed for many, many years between our two nations. None of that — none of that’s going to be easy. Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
Despite Obama’s stance, Senate Democrats said Monday they have not ruled out taking up new sanctions against Iran when Congress reconvenes next month. Iran has warned that any new sanctions would scuttle the Geneva agreement.
The Obama administration has warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai over his plan to delay signing of a security pact that would preserve a long-term U.S. occupation. In Kabul, National Security Adviser Susan Rice personally delivered an ultimatum Monday that U.S. troops could fully withdraw in 2014 if Karzai does not add his signature before the end of the year. A council of elders approved the U.S.-Afghan pact, but now Karzai is seeking to continue negotiations. According to a spokesperson, Karzai wants an end to U.S. raids on Afghan homes as well as the release of all prisoners from Guantánamo Bay.
Protests are continuing in Pakistan against the U.S. drone war. On Monday, dozens of lawmakers marched on the U.S. consulate in KPK province to deliver a petition calling for an end to drone strikes.
Siraj ul Haq, KPK minister of finance: “Drone attacks are a violation of the U.N. Charter. Today, these members of the National Assembly, Cabinet members and members of the Provincial Assembly have gathered here on behalf of hundreds of thousands of residents of KPK province, and indeed on behalf of millions of Pakistani people. We have handed a memorandum demanding an immediate end to drone attacks on our sacred soil.”
Sit-ins were also held Monday in parts of the KPK to block NATO supply routes used for the Afghan War.
The Washington Post has confirmed earlier reports the CIA will continue to oversee the U.S. drone war, despite stated plans to hand over control to the military. An emerging White House plan would see the CIA handle the bulk of drone operations and involve someone in a U.S. military uniform in the final stages.
At least 12 people have been killed in an air strike in Yemen. The Yemeni government says the victims were suspected al-Qaeda militants in southern Abyan province. It is unclear if the attack was carried out by the Yemeni government or the United States.
In Iraq, at least 17 people were killed and 37 wounded on Monday when a pair of bombs struck a Baghdad café. Iraq is suffering its worst spate of violence in five years. More than 150 people have died in nationwide violence over the past week.
Israel has announced yet another round of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. On Monday, the Israeli government confirmed plans for building more than 800 new homes on Palestinian land. Palestinian political leader Hanan Ashrawi said Israel is seeking to punish Palestinians for the international nuclear deal with Iran.
Hanan Ashrawi: “It is a challenge to the whole world, the international law, the international community and especially the United States. It comes in the context of the American and Iranian talks on the nuclear weapons and power in Iran, which means Israel is looking for a price tag policy and to respond to the United States through the violations against the Palestinian side in order to foil the attempt to have a peace agreement in the region.”
Election officials in Honduras say right-wing ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández has an insurmountable lead over Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted president Manuel Zelaya, in the presidential race. With a third of votes yet to be counted, Hernández has 34 percent of the vote while Castro has 29 percent. But Castro and her supporters have rejected the results, alleging fraud. Former President Zelaya said they will peacefully challenge the results in the streets.
Manuel Zelaya: “If necessary, we will take to the streets to defend our rights, as we have always done when necessary. Secondly, we are pacifists. We don’t use violence. And the martyrs and the murdered are on the side of the resistance, not the power. And we are willing to continue with the process of reconciliation, but that does not mean to give up on justice. Never.”
Hundreds of Castro supporters have already been gathering to protest the results.
President Obama continued his public campaign for an immigration reform bill Monday with a speech in San Francisco. During his remarks, Obama engaged with an audience member who interrupted him to call for an end to deportations. What made it unusual was this young man was one of the people who was chosen to stand behind Obama, so he was almost on mic. Obama turned around to address him directly.
Ju Hong: “Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 undocumented immigrants in this country right now. We agree that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the same time. You have a power to stop deportations for all undocumented families in this country.”
President Obama: “Actually, I don’t. And that’s why we’re here. … The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won’t be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done.”
Obama’s comments come days after House Speaker John Boehner ruled out a House vote on immigration reform before the end of the year. In one of several actions nationwide, activists are now in the third week of a “Fast for Families” encampment on the National Mall. Participants are on a hunger strike in a bid to pressure Congress to pass reform.
Four school officials have been charged in connection with the cover-up of a rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, last year. The case sparked a national controversy following the emergence of images and social media postings from the night of the assault, including one picture of the defendants holding the victim over a basement floor. On Monday, the superintendent of Steubenville schools was charged with evidence tampering, obstruction of justice, and falsification. Two coaches and a school principal were also charged. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said holding the suspects accountable would help bring closure.
Mike DeWine: “This community has suffered a great deal. This community has suffered so much. I personally feel for the good citizens of this community and for what they have endured. And I know they desperately need to be able to put this matter behind them. What we must take away from these incidents is this: All of us, all of us, no matter where we live, owe it to each other to be better neighbors, better classmates, better friends, better parents, better citizens.”
Another school official was indicted with evidence tampering last month.
The European manufacturer of an emergency contraceptive pill identical to its U.S. counterpart says the product does not work for women who weigh over 176 pounds. HRA Pharma says its drug begins to lose effectiveness at preventing pregnancy in women who weigh more than 165 pounds. The drug is identical the popular Plan B One-Step and other emergency contraceptives sold in the United States, where the average woman weighs 166 pounds — potentially too much to take the drug effectively. The European firm is adding a warning to its packaging. U.S. regulators are now evaluating whether to require similar labels.