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The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed on the language of a resolution that would eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. The deal breaks a lengthy diplomatic stalemate and potentially averts a U.S. military strike backed by President Obama. The council could vote on the measure today. The deal comes just weeks after an apparently offhand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry about how Syria could avoid a military strike by quickly surrendering its chemical stockpiles. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said it establishes a “new international norm.”
Samantha Power: “This resolution will require the destruction of a category of weapons that the Syrian government has used ruthlessly and repeatedly against its own people. And this resolution will make clear that there are going to be consequences for noncompliance. This is very significant. This is the first time since the Syrian conflict began two-and-a-half years ago that the Security Council has imposed binding obligations on Syria, binding obligations of any kind.”
According to The Washington Post, a confidential assessment by U.S. and Russian officials has found Syria’s entire arsenal could be destroyed in roughly nine months, with most of its stores consisting of “unweaponized” precursors.
The United States and Iran have held their highest-level official diplomatic meeting in decades to discuss Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart joined diplomats from several other countries on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the group agreed to meet again in Geneva next month. John Kerry called the meeting “constructive” and said he and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also held their own meeting on the side.
John Kerry: “We’ve agreed to try to continue a process that we’ll try to make concrete and find a way to answer the questions that people have about Iran’s nuclear program. Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn’t answer those questions yet, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons during a nuclear disarmament meeting at the United Nations. He invoked the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and said there are no “right hands” for nuclear weapons to be in.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: “Almost four decades of international effort to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East has regrettably failed. Urgent practical steps toward the establishment of such a zone are necessary. Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join there, too, without any further delay.”
During his speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe called on the United Nations to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 8,000 Haitians and sickened more than 600,000. The disease strain has been traced to U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal who deployed after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, but the United Nations has refused to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation sought by victims and family members. Outside the United Nations, dozens of people gathered to condemn the U.N. role.
Jimy Mertune, protester: “With the cholera in Haiti, where the issue was already a poor country, it became worse because we didn’t have the infrastructure. And it’s crazy that the water that we consider as life has become something that we fear to drink because we don’t have clean water. So, the effect — the implications are even more, more than what we even put in the media, because certain things we cannot record. It’s definitely a crisis in this country where 6 percent of this nation is being affected by this epidemic.”
The world’s top climate scientists have unveiled their strongest warning to date about the disastrous consequences of human-caused climate change if drastic efforts are not adopted to slash greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, the International Panel on Climate Change formally endorsed a limit on emissions, saying no more than one trillion tons of carbon can be burned if humanity hopes to avoid a global temperature increase of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Already, more than half that amount has been emitted since the Industrial Revolution, and the world is on pace to burn its trillionth ton of carbon in less than three decades. The IPCC expressed even more certainty than ever before that humans are responsible for global warming, saying there is a 95 to 100 percent chance most warming in recent decades has been caused by humans.
A federal audit has revealed the FBI has been operating drones inside the United States since 2006 at a cost of more than $3 million. In total, the Justice Department has spent nearly $5 million on drones, according to the report, which was issued by the agency’s inspector general. That includes funds to several local police departments, which auditors said the department has failed to track. The report urged officials to develop new guidelines to protect privacy, saying drones raise “unique concerns about privacy.” Drones currently operate under the same rules as manned surveillance planes.
The Senate is set to approve a funding bill that would avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday after eliminating a House-approved provision to defund the Affordable Care Act. But during a press conference Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner signaled House Republicans will continue their bid to use the budget battle to advance their agenda and slash government spending.
Reporter: “Speaker Boehner, in light of bringing this debt limit bill to the floor, will you now accept a clean CR from the Senate to avoid a government shutdown?”
John Boehner: “I don’t — I do not see that happening.”
House Republicans also set the stage for another battle over a looming deadline to increase the debt ceiling, laying out possible conditions for raising the limit, including a one-year delay of the healthcare law, a rollback of financial and environmental regulations, and construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Top U.S. intelligence officials appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday to defend the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of domestic phone logs. The NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, dodged questions from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon about whether the NSA had used cellphone signals to collect data on the location of U.S. citizens. General Alexander also faced questions from Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado.
Sen. Mark Udall: “Is it the goal of the NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans? You talk about building a haystack.”
Gen. Keith Alexander: “Yeah, yeah.”
Sen. Udall: “Do you want the haystack to be the ultimate size?”
Gen. Alexander: “I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox, that we could search when the nation needs to do it, yes.”
Sen. Udall: “So we would collect all those records.”
Gen. Alexander: “And the reason — and the way we do it and the way we comply would ensure better security for this nation.”
Senators Udall and Wyden are backing a bill that would ban the NSA’s massive collection of phone records. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia are drafting a rival bill that would preserve the NSA program.
An international appeals court has upheld a 50-year prison sentence for former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Taylor was found guilty last year of overseeing crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery and drafting child soldiers. He was the first African head of state to be found guilty in an international court and the first head of state convicted since World War II. U.S. officials have previously confirmed Taylor worked for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies during his emergence as a warlord in the 1980s.
In Florida, an African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at a wall near her abusive husband will get a new trial. Marissa Alexander’s sentence drew claims of racial bias and comparisons to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. A Florida appeals court ordered a new trial, saying the jury for her case had received faulty instructions. But the court upheld an earlier judge’s ruling blocking Alexander from using the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law in her defense.
George Zimmerman’s estranged wife, Shellie, is expressing doubts about claims Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he killed Trayvon Martin. Shellie Zimmerman has filed for divorce and recently called 911 to report George Zimmerman had threatened her and assaulted her father. She was interviewed by NBC’s Matt Lauer.
Matt Lauer: “So you now doubt his innocence, at least the fact that he was acting in self-defense on the night that Trayvon Martin was killed?”
Shellie Zimmerman: “I think anyone would doubt that innocence, because I don’t know the person that I’ve been married to.”
A former Montana high school teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student who later committed suicide has been released from prison after completing his 30-day term. Stacey Rambold’s month-long sentence sparked a national outcry, particularly after Judge Todd Baugh claimed Rambold’s 14-year-old victim was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her perpetrator. Judge Baugh later apologized for his remarks, admitting they were “demeaning of all women.” Montana prosecutors are appealing Rambold’s sentence, saying he should have received a minimum of two years under state law. For now, Rambold will remain free.
The Texas lawmaker who mesmerized the country when she rose to her feet for a nearly 11-hour filibuster against an anti-choice bill will run for governor of Texas. Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis is due to make the announcement next week, but Democrats have confirmed her candidacy to media outlets.
LGBT groups are calling for a boycott of Barilla pasta after its president told an Italian radio program he would not portray non-straight couples in the company’s ads because they diverged from his idea of the “classic family.” Guido Barilla suggested LGBT people who do not like the ads or the pasta could try another brand. He has since apologized for his remarks.
A new Guardian report details the life-threatening conditions faced by migrant laborers in Qatar as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2022. This summer, Nepalese workers reportedly died at a rate of one per day in Qatar. Many were young men who had sudden heart attacks. Workers in Qatar fall ill from squalid living conditions and are denied wages and access to drinking water by employers who routinely confiscate their passports. The Guardian found evidence of forced labor at a World Cup-related construction project which is being managed by a California-based firm. According to the International Trade Union Congress, construction for the World Cup will leave an estimated 4,000 migrant workers dead. Qatar has the world’s highest proportion of migrant workers with 90 percent of the workforce coming from outside of the country.
An activist on hunger strike in solidarity with prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and in the California prison system has staged a second public force-feeding. Andrés Thomas Conteris was fed through a nasal tube in front of the Oakland headquarters of the California Department of Corrections while surrounded by supporters. Conteris has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and has lost nearly 60 pounds. He staged an earlier force-feeding outside the White House earlier this month.
The independent, daily half-hour news program Free Speech Radio News is airing its last edition today due to funding shortfalls. According to its website, FSRN is looking into the possibility of restructuring its organization in the future.
Former Black Panther Herman Wallace, held in solitary confinement for more than 40 years in Louisiana, now reportedly has just days to live. Supporters say his terminal liver cancer has taken a turn for the worse, and his request for compassionate release has so far gone unanswered by Governor Bobby Jindal. Wallace and two others, known as the Angola Three, were placed in solitary in 1972 following their conviction for murdering a prison guard. They say they were framed because of their political activism. Wallace is 71. In other Angola Three news, another member of the group who remains in prison, Albert Woodfox, says he has been subjected to strip searches and anal cavity searches as often as six times a day — even though his wrists and ankles are shackled together when he is outside of his cell. Woodfox is 68 years old. The searches had been declared unlawful in the 1970s by Louisiana District Court Judge Daniel LeBlanc. Guards reportedly resumed the searches almost immediately after LeBlanc died in May. Woodfox’s legal team requested a restraining order to put a hold on the invasive searches, but a hearing on the motion has been delayed. We’ll have more on the Angola Three next week when we broadcast live from New Orleans on Monday and Tuesday.