A proposed global arms treaty has stalled in talks at the United Nations. On Thursday, Iran, Syria and North Korea blocked adoption of the first international pact to regulate the arms trade, citing a failure to ban weapons sales to armed rebel groups. Despite the three countries’ objections, the treaty is expected to come up for a vote in the General Assembly next week. The U.N. talks marked the latest effort to craft a global standard for regulating the arms trade after the Obama administration blocked an agreement last summer.
Tensions are continuing to mount between the United States and North Korea. The North Korean regime says it has ordered its rocket units on standby for an attack on regional U.S. military bases after the United States flew nuclear-capable stealth bombers over South Korea. It was the latest threat by North Korea in the standoff over U.S.-South Korean military drills and U.S.-backed Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rejected assertions the South Korea flights are a provocation.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: “We have security issues here that we have to protect, and commitments and our security interests. So, no, I don’t think we’re doing anything extraordinary or provocative or out of the — out of the orbit of what nations do to protect their own interests and assure, as the general said, especially not only to our South Korean ally, but to our other allies in that region, that we must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we’ll respond to that.”
Police in Connecticut have unsealed key findings of their investigation into the shooting massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman, Adam Lanza, had a massive arsenal of weapons at home, including swords, knives and guns. Other findings at Lanza’s home included a newspaper clipping of another school shooting, several books on autism, a report card from when he attended Sandy Hook, and a certificate from the National Rifle Association bearing Lanza’s name. Lanza used 30-round magazines to fire 154 times at Sandy Hook, killing 26 people in less than five minutes. In a statement, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said the fact Lanza opted for the high-capacity magazines instead of the smaller ones he had at home underscores the need for an assault weapons ban.
President Obama invoked Newtown on Thursday at a news conference Thursday to reaffirm his push for gun-control legislation on Capitol Hill. Flanked by a group of gun-control activists, including mothers who have lost children to shootings, Obama said, “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten” the Newtown victims. Obama vowed to continue his efforts despite heavy opposition from gun-control foes.
President Obama: “There are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, or their assumption is, is that people will just forget about it.”
The Senate is facing an upcoming vote on a new gun-control law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already excluded an assault weapons ban from the overall legislation, but it could still come up for a vote as an amendment.
Defense attorneys for hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are accusing military officials of imposing harsh conditions in a bid to halt their protest. An emergency motion filed in federal court says guards are denying prisoners water and keeping camp temperatures at “extremely frigid” levels to increase their discomfort. The prisoners have refused food for nearly two months over intrusive searches and their continued detention without charge. At least three prisoners were hospitalized for dehydration earlier this week. The allegations come as the International Committee of the Red Cross has begun a fact-finding mission at Guantánamo to evaluate conditions for the hunger-striking prisoners.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to unveil new federal standards today for cleaner gasoline and vehicles. The rules will reduce sulfur in gasoline by two-thirds and impose pollution limits on all cars by 2017. The Obama administration says the standards will be equal to taking 33 million cars off the roads. They have been held up for well over a year amidst political opposition led by oil industry lobbyists. At least 16 congressional Democrats have signed on to a Republican demand for the rules to be delayed.
Fifteen people were killed in Syria on Thursday when bombs hit a building on the campus of Damascus University. The Syrian government says all of the victims were students, blaming rebels for the attack.
The U.N. Security Council has approved a new military force to launch operations against rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force’s mandate is unprecedented in explicitly assigning “offensive” capability to a peacekeeping force under the United Nations. The force would target the rebel M23 and other groups operating in the DRC’s border regions with Rwanda and Uganda.
A Bahraini court has cleared 21 medics charged and in some cases jailed for treating demonstrators during anti-government protests two years ago. The medics were swept up in the U.S.-backed monarchy’s crackdown on political opposition, sparking an international outcry. Three medics arrested in the case remain behind bars. The jailed Bahraini human rights activists Zainab Alkhawaja and her father Abdulhadi meanwhile have reportedly resumed drinking water, but are continuing their hunger strike against the detentions.
Concern is growing for the health of former South African President Nelson Mandela after his hospitalization for a lung infection. Mandela spent a second night in the hospital Thursday, his third hospital admission in four months. At the White House, President Obama extended his well wishes for Mandela’s recovery.
President Obama: “Obviously we’re all deeply concerned with Nelson Mandela’s health. He’s a hero, I think, to all of us. I’m sure that I speak for the other leaders here. And, you know, we will be keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, and his entire family. He is as strong physically as he’s been in character and in leadership over so many decades, and hopefully he will — he will come out of this latest challenge.”
The South African government says Mandela is in good spirits and is making progress.
The nation’s largest labor unions say they have made progress in behind-the-scenes talks on the status of foreign guestworkers as part of overall immigration reform. The AFL-CIO and other groups are taking part in negotiations on the pending immigration overhaul undertaken by a bipartisan group in the Senate. A dispute between unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on pay for immigrant guestworkers in low-wage jobs has reportedly held up talks over the past week. The two sides have now apparently settled on a solution to establish a wage standard similar to current U.S. law.
A U.S. Army veteran has been detained on charges of fighting alongside an al-Qaeda group battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The soldier, Eric Harroun, reportedly took part in attacks on Assad’s forces earlier this year. He was arrested after returning to the United States.
Dozens of protesters marched on government buildings in Detroit on Thursday to oppose the appointment of emergency managers across the state. The rally came one day after a coalition of civil rights and religious groups filed a lawsuit challenging emergency managers in Detroit and five other Michigan cities. The managers are granted broad powers, including overruling elected officials, in a bid to turn around struggling finances. The new lawsuit accuses Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law of imposing “a new form of government” in the state. The emergency manager law has disproportionately effected African Americans, with over half of African Americans in Michigan now living under unelected leadership. Speaking at the federal courthouse in Detroit, the Reverend Al Sharpton called the Michigan issue a national struggle.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “This is a local issue, but a national struggle. What Governor Snyder has done is nullify the voters of this city, interposed his own will, something that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke against 50 years ago this year.”
Detroit’s new emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, began his tenure this week