A senior official in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says neither side is capable of winning Syria’s civil war and that peace talks should lead to a ceasefire. Speaking to The Guardian, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said: “Neither the armed opposition, nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side. This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.” Jamil’s comments come as the U.N. Security Council prepares to take up a measure that would enforce the U.S.-Russian agreement on destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal. Ahead of his visit to the United Nations for the annual General Assembly, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Security Council should pass a resolution next week.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “The Security Council must be prepared to act next week. It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons. So, I would say to the community of nations: Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know. Instead, we have to recognize that the world is watching to see whether we can avert military action and achieve through peaceful means even more than what those military strikes promised.”
At the United Nations, Kerry is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi over the convening of a possible peace conference. The United States and Russia remain at odds over the Obama administration’s refusal to allow Iran’s involvement.
The Iranian government is reportedly seeking a sweeping agreement that would end crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions. The New York Times reports Iranian leaders decided on the strategy after President Obama’s recent letter to the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, promised a relief from sanctions in return for cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview this week, Rouhani said Iran has no nuclear ambitions and called for renewed cooperation with the West. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave a cautious welcome to Rouhani’s comments.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “It has long been the position of President Obama, since he was a candidate and this was a matter of debate during the Democratic primaries in 2008, as well as during the general election, that he would, as president, be willing to have bilateral negotiations with the Iranians, provided that the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community’s insistence that they give up their nuclear weapons programs. That is the position that we hold today. Now, there have been a lot of very interesting things said out of the — out of Tehran and the new government, and encouraging things, but actions are more important than words.”
Carney also said it is possible President Obama will meet with Rouhani when the two attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.
House Republicans are moving ahead with a vote tying the aversion of a federal government shutdown to ending “Obamacare.” Congress faces an end-of-the-month deadline to pass a new government funding bill or see at least a partial shutdown of federal agencies. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said he will proceed with a vote today to link funding to the gutting of the Affordable Care Act.
House Speaker John Boehner: “'Obamacare' is driving up the cost of healthcare. It’s destroyed millions of American jobs. It is a train wreck. It has to go. We’ve done everything humanly possible over the last two-and-a-half years to make our point, and we’re going to continue to make our point.”
President Obama has vowed to veto the House measure, and it has no chance of passing the Senate. On Thursday, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York urged moderate Republicans to reject Boehner’s move.
Sen. Charles Schumer: “If enough mainstream Republicans will come together with Democrats, we can make the hard right irrelevant. Democrats want it, the White House wants it, and in their heart of hearts, the Republican leadership wants it, too.”
Republicans have also vowed to link the upcoming debate on extending the Treasury’s borrowing limit to an “Obamacare” repeal. The United States is facing a deadline of around mid-October to expand the debt ceiling or face a default on its debts.
On Thursday, House Republicans passed sweeping cuts to the nation’s food stamp program, reducing spending by $40 billion over 10 years and imposing new work requirements. The Congressional Budget Office says the measure would strip nearly four million people of food stamp benefits starting next year, followed by another three million for every year after. In a speech on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California held up steak, vodka and caviar to mock Republicans who want to cut food stamps while charging expensive meals to taxpayers during trips overseas.
Rep. Jackie Speier: “In my district, California 14, we have about 4,000 families who are on food stamps, but some of my colleagues have thousands and thousands more. Yet they somehow feel like crusaders, like heroes, when they vote to cut food stamps. Some of these same members travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business. They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar. They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals.”
The House measure sets up a showdown with the Senate and likely will delay passage of a new farm bill until at least next year.
Up to 13 people have been shot in a park on Chicago’s South Side. The victims include a three-year-old boy in critical condition. A report this week from the FBI says more than 500 people were killed by gun violence in Chicago last year.
The financial giant JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $920 million in fines to U.S. and British regulators for the so-called “London Whale” trades that cost the bank more than $6 billion and derailed financial markets worldwide. A Senate probe earlier this year accused JPMorgan Chase of misleading the public, manipulating documents and ignoring warnings from within its own ranks as the losses piled up. The settlement resolves a civil case, but a criminal investigation is still ongoing. In a statement, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said: “The whole issue of misinforming investors and the public is conspicuously absent from the SEC findings and settlement.” In a separate case, JPMorgan has also agreed to pay $80 million in fines and return $309 million to customers for charging fees for a “credit protection” scheme even if people had not signed up.
The oil giant Halliburton has pleaded guilty to destroying evidence following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Halliburton will pay the maximum fine of around $200,000 and remain on probation for three years. A former Halliburton manager is also facing a new charge of destroying computer simulations conducted after the blast. Halliburton says its own liability for destroying evidence has now been resolved. In a statement, the watchdog group Public Citizen criticized the plea deal, saying: “Rather than rubber stamp the plea agreement, the court should have rejected the bargain-basement deal because it fails to hold the corporation accountable for its criminal acts and will not deter future corporate crime.”
Around 30 people have been killed in a pair of attacks on the Yemeni military in southern Yemen. The group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is being blamed for both incidents.
Japan has ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to decommission all six of its nuclear reactors, instead of the four previously planned. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday the plant should focus on containing leaks of radioactive water instead of working to bring the reactors back online.
The Russian coast guard has commandeered a Greenpeace ship protesting oil exploration in the Arctic and arrested all 25 people on board. Greenpeace had previously tried to scale a Russian oil platform in a bid to shut down operations. The Greenpeace ship is being taken to a Russian port.
The Obama administration is set to unveil new regulations today to set strict limits for the first time on the amount of carbon pollution generated by any new U.S. power plants. The new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines are expected to make it more difficult for new coal-fired power plants to be built.
Pope Francis has signaled a historic shift in the Vatican’s long-held doctrines. In an interview with an Italian Jesuit publication, Pope Francis said the church has been unfairly “obsessed” with issues including abortion, contraception and gay marriage, and called for a more inclusive church that would be a “home for all.” Pope Francis said: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” The pope added: “We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.” In a homily today, the pope described money as the root of all evil.