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Iran: Time for Talks Now

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is expanding its efforts to enrich uranium in open defiance of the UN.

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GOOD NEWS

Al Gore’s global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, last night won two Academy Awards for Best Documentary and Best Original Song.


STATE WATCH

MARYLAND: The state legislature is revisiting a bill that would grant in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants.

TEXAS: “Lower-income residents could be among the top beneficiaries” of an effort to expand wireless Internet access in Houston.

VIRGINIA: Virginia yesterday became the first state to apologize for slavery.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Defense trust hails Scooter Libby as a “loyal soldier in the war on terror.”

POLITICAL ANIMAL: Inaccurate U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (2003) and Iran (2007).

IRAQ SLOGGER: “Sadrist Web site: U.S. Undermining Maliki Govt?”

ERIC UMANSKY: On how Shaq is like President Bush.


DAILY GRILL

“If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we’ll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people.”
— Vice President Cheney, 2/21/07

VERSUS

“If you go back and see what Vice President Cheney has said for the last three or four years concerning Iraq, his batting average is abysmally low. He hasn’t been right on hardly anything…and obviously this is not playing into the hands of al Qaeda.”
— Former President Jimmy Carter, 2/25/07


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 February 26, 2007
Time for Talks Now
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Time for Talks Now

“In open defiance of the United Nations, Iran is steadily expanding its efforts to enrich uranium,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found in a report released Thursday. The IAEA revealed that Iran is “now operating or about to switch on roughly 1,000 centrifuges, the high-speed devices that enrich uranium, at its nuclear facility at Natanz.” Although the findings are “very serious,” the report also “appeared to confirm that the Iranian government was somewhat behind schedule in its nuclear ambitions,” leaving the international community with “some time to pursue options before Iran is even capable of building a nuclear bomb.” Nevertheless, rhetoric and actions from both the United States and Iran have created an environment in the Persian Gulf comparable to the security situation at “the height of the Cold War.” “In a hazy, hair-triggered environment, careless rhetoric and military movements…can be misinterpreted as preparations for military options,” Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) warned in a speech last week. “The risk of inadvertent conflict because of miscalculation is great.” In response to the IAEA’s findings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has reiterated the administration’s opposition to direct talks with Iran unless the country suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities. But as the Iranians press ahead on their quest for nuclear technology and regional tensions rise, the time for tough diplomacy is now.

IAEA REPORT SHOWS THERE IS STILL TIME: The IAEA report came as a “mild surprise to outside experts.” Its findings highlight “many areas where, in addition to defying the Security Council, Iran has been dragging its feet or refusing to comply with IAEA requests.” “For instance,” Foreign Policy reports, “Iran has ‘declined to agree at this stage’ to remote monitoring at the Natanz enrichment plant, a safeguard the IAEA deems crucial.” However, the report also “highlights the slow, incremental nature of nuclear technology development.” The IAEA report “confirms that the Iranians are moving carefully and slowly; they still probably have fewer than 500 centrifuges running,” though they say they have almost finished installing another 300 or so. (If all these centrifuges “were running at full speed it would take about six years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb.”) Iran has long maintained that it will install 3,000 centrifuges by March, a goal it will not meet if it continues at its previous rate.” Many nuclear experts believe “the frenetic activity at the desert enrichment plant in Natanz may be mostly about political showmanship.” (Eric Hundman of the Center for Defense Information has a more detailed look at other “dim glimmers of hope” in the IAEA report here.)

TIME HAS COME FOR DIPLOMACY: The administration’s demand that Iran halt enrichment before direct talks can take place is wasting valuable time. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.'” This means offering a country both incentives and disincentives for renouncing nuclear arms. “The Bush administration states it wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge diplomatically,” Center for American Progress National Security analyst Andy Grotto writes. “If so, it has to be willing to engage Iran directly.” The calls for direct talks have grown louder recently. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair — who has criticized the administration for its refusal to talk with Iran — said last week that it is “important is to pursue the political, diplomatic channel.” Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) called for “wise statecraft to redirect deepening Middle East tensions toward a higher ground of resolution.” 

COOKING UP A ‘RECIPE FOR MISCALCULATION’: Recent news reports only serve to heighten tensions in the region. The BBC revealed the U.S. military had drawn up “contingency plans for air strikes on Iran” that “extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure.” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh reports that “special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.” American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities inside Iran “to gather intelligence and…have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.” In addition, some in the military think the carriers groups now stationed in the region — the Eisenhower and the Stennis — “may be ordered to stay in the area” after new carriers arrive to relieve them. The commanding officer of the Stennis, Captain Bradley Johanson, said the presence of the carrier groups is not part of an “escalatory posture at all with Iran.” Yet the worry is that their mere presence could — as Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) put it — “accidentally set something off in there.” “Britain’s most senior naval officer in the Gulf,” Commodore Keith Winstanley, told the U.K. Telegraph, “There have been a series of Iranian exercises in the northern Gulf to the point that it’s a bit like with the Russians at the height of the Cold War. … We just have to hope that’s not a recipe for miscalculation.

Under the Radar

MIDDLE EAST — REP. BACHMANN RETRACTS CLAIM THAT SHE KNOWS OF SECRET IRAQ PARTITION PLAN: In an interview earlier this month, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that she knew of a secret plan by Iran to partition Iraq and turn half of the country into a “terrorist safe haven zone” called the “Iraq State of Islam.” Bachmann, who famously clung on to President Bush at the State of the Union, claimed there was “already an agreement made,” but she “did not say how she knew about this plan, nor with whom Iran has made this deal.” (Listen to Bachmann’s comments.) After a local paper picked up on her remarks, Bachmann said in a statement that coverage of her Iran comments had been “misconstrued.” Bachmann claimed she was actually talking about widely-discussed plans to partition Iraq among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, and her fear that Iran would overtake the Shiite region. On Feb. 9, Bachmann had said: “There’s already an agreement made” by Iran and some other unspecified party to create an Iranian-controlled zone in which terrorism would flourish. The new statement replaced that with: “It is difficult to ascertain Iran’s intentions towards Iraq.” Bachmann is no stranger to conspiracy theories. She continues to insist that there is a link between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Iraq, despite the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that there was “no credible evidence” of any connection.

HEALTH CARE — GOVERNORS PROTEST BUSH’S CUTS IN CHILDREN’S HEALTH CARE:
Governors in Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association winter conference “appealed yesterday for the Bush administration and Congress to provide more money for a health-care program that insures millions of children,” the Washington Post reports today. The program is responsible for providing health coverage to those families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but are unable to afford insurance. “Coverage for 6 million people, overwhelmingly children,” is at risk unless the federal government appropriates an estimated $745 million dollars to “keep the program afloat through October.” Governors also requested changes to the President’s proposed budget. As the Center for American Progress notes, “Since 2000, 6.8 million people have lost health coverage, but SCHIP and Medicaid ensured that the proportion of low-income children without health insurance actually declined during this period, from 20 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005.” Bush’s 2008 budget would reverse this positive trend. He has proposed slashing the programs by at least $77 billion over the next five years, and $280 billion over the next ten. While the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would receive $5 billion more in funding over five years, in reality, its funding is being cut. The Congressional Research Service estimates that “$15 billion would be needed to cover everyone who now receives benefits.”

SCIENCE — ADULT STEM CELL STUDY CITED BY CONSERVATIVES CONTAINED FLAWED METHODS AND RESULTS: A panel of scientists from the University of Minnesota has found that “a 2002 study that suggested adult stem cells might be as useful as embryonic ones was flawed and its conclusions may be wrong.” The original paper, by Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Nature, concluded that adult stem cells taken from mice bone marrow could regenerate into a variety of tissue, including heart, brain, lung, and liver tissue. According to the panel, the process used by Verfaillie was “significantly flawed, and…the interpretations based on these data, expressed in the manuscript, are potentially incorrect.” Additionally, other researchers have been unable to duplicate Verfaillie’s results, a scientific litmus test for any study. The scientific establishment has long known that adult stem cells are inferior to their embryonic counterparts, but Bush administration officials have often falsely claimed otherwise to justify their opposition to embryonic stem cell research. Last year, senior Bush aide Karl Rove claimed that “recent studies” show that researchers”have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells.” Subsequently, the White House “could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove’s views on the superior promise of adult stem cells.”


Think Fast

President Bush has sent “an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies,” Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But the “tough message” is about what others will do: Bush has warned “that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda.”

200,000: Number of U.S. veterans who are homeless, including approximately 500-1,000 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate will begin debate today on a binding resolution to rescind the 2002 Iraq resolution granting Bush war authority. Bob Novak reports that Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will oppose the resolution, while Gordon Smith (R-OR) indicated he might favor it.

“Exotic animals,” such as “spindly orange sea stars” and “roving sea cucumbers,” have been “spied off the Antarctic coast in an area formerly covered by ice,” which has disappeared from global warming. “Since 1974, 5,213 square miles of ice shelves have disintegrated in the Antarctic Peninsula.”

Escalation update: “U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers and officials, and Baghdad residents say the plan is hampered because security forces cannot identify, let alone apprehend, the elusive perpetrators of the violence. … ‘I don’t know who I’m fighting most of the time,’ said Staff Sgt. Joseph Lopez.'”

Lawmakers have continued to take trips paid for by outside groups since the House voted last month to restrict who can pay for such travel. “House travel records show that 19 members since Jan. 5 have accepted airfare, meals and lodging from special interests, including groups that employ lobbyists.”

Governors in Washington at the National Governors Association meeting warned that President Bush’s escalation in Iraq will put an unbearable burden on an already overstretched Guard and Reserve. “Currently, we don’t have the manpower or the equipment to perform that dual role” of responding to both state and federal needs, said Gov. Michael F. Easley (D-NC).

“The Rev. Al Sharpton, the prominent civil rights activist, is descended from a slave owned by relatives of the late senator and one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond, a genealogical study released Sunday reported.” Sharpton said the news was “probably the most shocking thing of my life.”

TXU Corp., Texas’s largest electricity producer, has agreed to be sold to a group of private-equity firms in what could be the largest private buyout in U.S. corporate history. Environmentalists are hailing the buyout, since the prospective new owners say they will cancel eight of 11 proposed coal plants and back national legislation for mandatory reduction in global warming pollution.

And finally: Nuts over “truck nutz.” A Maryland lawmaker has proposed legislation to ban the “outsized plastic testicles that truckers dangle from the trailer hitches of their pickups.” Said delegate LeRoy E. Myers, “I think it’s a pretty serious problem. You have body parts hanging from the hitches of cars. We’ve crossed a line.” His bill would prohibit motorists from displaying anything resembling or depicting “anatomically correct” or “less than completely and opaquely covered” human or animal genitals. The offense would carry a penalty.