By Michael Luo NY TIMES

Facing a crush of reporters today just outside the Senate chamber, Senator James Webb declined to comment on specifics of the case in which a close aide was arrested Monday trying to carry a loaded handgun into a Senate office building.

But he used the opportunity for a riff about the right to bear arms and “defend myself and my family.”

“Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think there has been an agreement that it has been a more dangerous time,” he said. “You look at people in the executive branch, the number of people defending the president. There is not that kind of protection available for people in the legislative branch. We are required to defend ourselves. I choose to do so.”

The aide, Phillip Thompson, 45, who served 12 years in the Marines, has worked with Mr. Webb since he began his successful underdog campaign for the senate. Like Mr. Webb, he is an author, publishing an account of his service in the first Gulf War, as well as fiction. He was to be arraigned today on felony charges of carrying a pistol without a license and possessing an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition.

A 9 mm handgun and two magazines were found in his bag after he put it through an X-ray machine at the entrance to the Russell Senate Office building, the authorities said.

It remains unclear who exactly the weapon was registered to, but Mr. Webb said his aide “completely inadvertently took the weapon into the Senate yesterday.” Mr. Webb added that it happened in the scramble among his staff to prepare for a trip he took to New Orleans on Friday.
“We had three cars on Friday that were being moved about because of my trip and that is probably a piece of how this inadvertent situation developed,” he said.

Mr. Webb added he has “never carried a gun in the Capitol complex” and “did not give the weapon to Phil Thompson.”

He repeated several times his defense of the 2nd Amendment: “I believe wherever you see places where people are allowed to carry, generally the violence goes down.”

This is not the first time police manning checkpoints into congressional buildings have stumbled upon weapons. In 1986, a bodyguard for Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was arrested when he entered a Senate building with two submachine guns and a pistol.


March 27, 2007 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

US Senate Republicans Say They Will Not Block Iraq Bill

By VOA News
27 March 2007

“Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate say they will not try to block passage of an Iraq war-spending bill, even if it includes a troop withdrawal deadline.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says his party’s goal is to pass the bill quickly, because he knows President Bush will veto it. He predicts Democrats will then be forced to redraft the bill without conditions.

The U.S. Senate is debating a $122 billion bill this week to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would set a non-binding goal of March 31, 2008, for the removal of most U.S. combat troops from Iraq. The measure also calls for a gradual redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, beginning in four months.

The debate in the Senate comes as the House of Representatives passed a war-funding bill Friday that would require all U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of August 2008.

The Senate is likely to vote on its own version of the bill sometime this week. Then the two versions would need to be reconciled. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that would restrict his management of the war. Neither the House nor the Senate is expected to have the votes needed to override the president’s veto.

The vote in the House passed with broad support by Democrats and only two Republicans voting for it.

The Democrats won a majority in both houses of Congress in elections last November, but their majority is narrower in the Senate.”

John McCain referring to the pork filled bill (which includes 2 million for capital tours) said that by supporting it – it showed that democrats were “more interested in the of the capital than the tours of the men and women in the military”.

March 27, 2007 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

Iraq backs Britain over captured sailors


The Iraqi government today waded into the row over the detention by Iran last week of 15 British sailors and Marines, demanding their release and insisting that they were seized in Iraqi waters, not Iranian waters as maintained by Tehran.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, made the comments after speaking yesterday to his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, whom he urged to free the British troops. Mr Zebari told Mr Mottaki that the personnel were operating as part of the US-led coalition, with the consent of the Iraqi Government and in line with UN resolutions.

“The minister stressed that they (the British naval personnel), according to Iraqi authorities’ information, were detained inside Iraqi territorial waters,” a statement from Mr Zebari’s ministry said.

They are part of the multinational forces (based in Iraq) with the approval of the Iraqi Government and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolution.”

The comments will add pressure on Tehran, which has vehemently kept to its stance that the sailors and Marines violated Iranian territory, even though both Britain and the United States insist that the 15 were seized on Iraqi waters.

Yesterday, Mr Mottaki accused the captured Britons of having committed an act of “blatant aggression”, only hours after Tony Blair appealed for their release.

Today, Iran showed few signs of changing its position, with the Deputy Foreign Minister saying that his nation had sufficient evidence to prove its claims and the Britons were being interrogated as to whether their alleged foray into Iranian waters was “intentional or unintentional”.

“When it becomes clear, a decision will be made,” said Mehdi Mostafavi, adding that he held the British Government accountable for the incident.

According to state television, Mr Mostafavi also denied reports suggesting that Iran was hoping to trade the Britons for five Iranian officials being held in northern Iraq on suspicion of helping to provide arms and money to insurgents.

Nonetheless, in what appeared to mark marginally less hostile tones, the Iranian Foreign Ministry told the British ambassador in a meeting that it was working to resolve the situation as soon as possible, insisting the 15 were “fit and well”.

In the hour-long meeting, Geoffrey Adams, the British envoy to Tehran, pressed for details of where exactly the troops were being held, also asking for consular access to them – demands which have yet to be met.

March 26, 2007 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

Northern Ireland Rivals Reach Deal


Published: March 26, 2007

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, March 26 — The leaders of Northern Ireland’s dominant rival groups, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and the Protestant leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, met today for what was billed as their first face-to-face talks, agreeing to form a joint administration for the province on May 8.

The deal was hailed by Britain and Ireland as a historic breakthrough, more than four years after Northern Ireland’s local government was suspended in October, 2002, after a dispute over espionage activities by the Irish Republican Army.

“Today the clouds have lifted and people can see their future,” said Peter Hain, Britain’s Northern Ireland minister.

British officials depicted the agreement as different from previous false starts because the two main parties had made the deal themselves in direct talks that broke the province’s taboos on such direct and public encounters.

If implemented, the agreement means Britain will formally hand back responsibility for running many of Northern Ireland’s internal affairs to an administration composed of Protestants and Catholics, probably with Mr. Paisley, the leader of the biggest party in the province, as First Minister and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, as his deputy.

The deal was announced by Mr. Adams and Mr. Paisley as they sat close together at a diamond-shaped table in the Stormont Parliament building.

It was a sight that would have seemed impossible in the days when Mr. Paisley labeled Mr. Adams and his followers terrorists because of Sinn Fein’s affiliation with the I.R.A.

While the province’s leaders failed to meet a March 26 deadline set by Britain and Ireland to restore local government, the fact that the two men named a date themselves — and sat together to say so — was taken to be what Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain called “a very remarkable coming together of people who, for very obvious reasons, have been strongly opposed in the past.”

Indeed, the sight of the two men, once sworn enemies, sitting feet apart was all the more striking when seen in contrast to the once-familiar images of bloodshed that scarred Northern Ireland for decades.

Some 3,600 people died in three decades of sectarian strife that ended with an I.R.A. ceasefire 10 years ago and the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

After reading statements in front of a live television camera, Mr. Adams and Mr. Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionist Party, shuffled their papers but did not shake hands.

Nonetheless, in prepared statements, they struck similar, reconciliatory themes.

“We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered,” Mr. Adams said. “We owe it to them to build the best possible future. It is a time for generosity, a time to be mindful of the common good and of the future of all our people.”

A few minutes earlier, Mr. Paisley, who had insisted on the delay until May 8, had said: ”We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future. In looking to the future we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging.”

When the Good Friday agreement was first struck in 1998, Mr. Paisley’s party rejected the very notion of sharing power with Sinn Fein.

In elections five years later, his Democratic Unionists became Northern Ireland’s biggest Protestant party. Since then, in a series of halting negotiations, Mr. Paisley has begrudgingly nudged towards agreement on power-sharing in return for major concessions.

In 2005, the I.R.A. pledged to put its weapons beyond use and to pursue its goals by political means, not armed struggle.

Right up until the last few weeks, Mr. Paisley pressed Sinn Fein for further concessions, including acceptance of the province’s policing arrangements, traditionally dominated by Protestants.

At a meeting last October in St. Andrew’s, Scotland, Britain and Ireland laid out a timetable that foresaw the power-sharing administration being revived today.

Britain had threatened to restore full direct rule of Northern Ireland if that deadline was not met. But a British official said today: ”If there’s a consensus about the way forward the British government isn’t going to stand in the way of that consensus.”

The St Andrew’s agreement also provided for elections earlier this month, in which both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists strengthened their positions as the two most powerful parties in the province.

In London, Mr. Blair said: ”This is a very important day for the people of northern Ireland, but also for the people and history of these islands. And in a sense, everything we’ve done over the last 10 years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election.”

“They have said they want peace and power-sharing and people working together and the political leadership has come in behind that and said: Well, we’ll deliver what the people want.”

The two sides remain divided in their basic aims, however, with Sinn Fein pressing for a united Ireland and the Democratic Unionists seeking continued links with mainland Britain.

“This won’t stop republicans being any less republican or nationalist, or making unionists less fiercely unionist,” Mr. Blair said. “But what it does mean is that people will come together, respecting each other’s point of view, and share power, make sure politics is only expressed by peaceful and democratic means.”

The agreement is particularly important for Mr. Blair since he plans to step down in the summer and wants to put in place a legacy that will include an agreement on Northern Ireland, ending a conflict whose roots date to the 17th century settlement of north-eastern Ireland by Protestants from Scotland and England.

The restoration of Northern Ireland’s local administration would also fulfill an electoral promise to create local government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Adams, whose party is also competing for electoral advantage in the Irish Republic, said Monday’s agreement “marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island.”

The two sides said that between now and May 8 they would hold meetings on the details of restoring the power-sharing executive and would jointly press the British government for an improved package of incentives to boost the province’s economy, which is heavily dependent on government subsidies.

Referring to his own party, which is affiliated to the I.R.A., and to Mr. Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, Mr. Adams said: “There are still many difficulties to be faced but let it be clear — the basis of the agreement between Sinn Fein and the D.U.P. follows Ian Paisley’s unequivocal and welcome commitment to support and participate fully in the political institutions on May 8.”

It is not totally clear why that date has been chosen. It would place the restoration of power-sharing government in Northern Ireland between local elections in Scotland and Wales and a national election expected several weeks later in the Irish Republic.

Eamon Quinn reported from Belfast and Alan Cowell from London

March 26, 2007 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

Bush Vows to Veto Bill to Withdraw U.S. Troops From Iraq by Fall 2008


WASHINGTON — House Democrats called for a new direction in Iraq on Friday, passing a measure ordering President Bush to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2008.

Bush vowed to veto the measure if it makes it to his desk.

“A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job,” Bush said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room while joined by family members of veterans and troops in combat.

Bush called on Congress to fund the troops, saying the current bill contains “too much pork, too many conditions.”

“The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq.”

High-ranked senators also vowed Friday to strip the language from the bill that requires troop withdrawal.

Democrats won passage by a 218-212 vote on the $124 billion war spending bill, which will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today, this Congress faces a historic vote. A vote to truly change the direction of the Iraqi conflict,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., just before the vote.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, also called the vote “historic,” urging colleagues to vote against the measure.

“Our troops are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing their duty to protect freedom and to end tyranny,” House Minority Leader Boehner said. “They’re there watching this debate we’re having in the House today and wondering, ‘Will Congress do its duty? Will Congress stand up and support he mission that I’m in?’ ”

The vote puts Congress closer to a showdown with the White House over Bush’s Iraq policy.

Bush will veto the bill, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters at Friday’s briefing.

“Look, the president’s going to veto this bill, and he’s going to veto it because even though it provides some funding, it also puts handcuffs on generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, privates, and everybody else,” Snow said.

Most Republicans opposed the Democrats’ plan, which also included budget requests not related to war spending.

“What we got instead was a poorly assembled wish list of non-emergency spending requests, wrapped in a date-certain declaration of defeat — a confirmation to our enemies that, if they hang on just a bit longer, we’ll be out of their way soon,” said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told fellow lawmakers a vote against the bill would be a vote against funding for the troops, health care and military families.

“You’re voting against supporting the troops if you’re voting against the money that goes to the troops,” Murtha said.

Bush urged Congress to approve the bill without a timeline during a meeting Thursday with his Iraqi civilian reconstruction team.

“The Congress owes you the money you need to do the job, without any strings attached,” he said. “Congress needs to get their business done quickly, get the monies we’ve requested funded and let our folks on the ground do the job.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that if Congress fails to pass a measure funding the war efforts by April 15, it will slow down training of troops scheduled for future deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates says it would also delay repair of equipment.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a $121 billion version of Bush’s emergency war spending request, but bucked the White House by putting in language that sets a date-specific timeframe for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

The Senate bill sets a March 31, 2008, goal for withdrawing all combat troops out of Iraq. The legislation, which also gobs on billions in special projects at home, now heads to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., issued a statement Friday chafing at the administration’s veto threat. The Appropriations Committee chairman said the White House was ignoring homeland security problems and the needs of veterans and hurricane victims.

“The president continues to warn that we are a nation at grave risk of terrorist attacks, but he failed to request a single dime for homeland security priorities. The American people are sick and tired of Bush administration bellicosity. The White House ought to stop worrying about its political future, and instead should work with Congress to guarantee the security and economic future of this nation,” Byrd said.

The full Senate likely will take up the bill next week, and a number of high-ranked senators said they aim to strip out the withdrawal language through an amendment they will offer Tuesday.

“We’re not prepared to tell the enemy, ‘Hang on, we’ll give you a date when we’re leaving.’ We’re not prepared to micromanage this new strategy … and surge that’s succeeding in Iraq. We’re not ready to hamstring our military leaders and not let them carry their responsibilities,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is co-sponosoring the amemdment.

Joining him, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, “Deadliens set by Congress in war are deadlines for defeat.” McCain and Lieberman were joined by Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s standalone measure to set a timeline for the withdrawal of troops failed last week by a 50-48 vote.

The House measure is unlikely to get through the Senate unchanged, where many Democrats oppose a timetable on the war.

FOX News’ Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report

March 24, 2007 at 5:53 pm 3 comments

Iraqi Vice President: U.S. Troop Pullout Benefits Neither Iraq or West

TOKYO —  A quick withdrawal of American troops would not benefit Iraq or Western interests, Iraq’s vice president said Saturday, hours after the Democratic Party-led U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a cutoff deadline for the Iraq war.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said the U.S.-led coalition troops operating in Iraq should not be withdrawn before the country’s own armed forces are functioning autonomously and professionally.

“Many of the Democrats are now pushing the White House for a quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This is not going to benefit either Iraqi or Western interests,” al-Hashimi said.

“If troops are pulled out on short notice, it will create a security vacuum in Iraq that cannot be filled by troops that have not been trained well enough and are not available in sufficient numbers,” he said.

The comments from al-Hashimi, who was wrapping up a four-day visit to Japan, came after the U.S. House agreed in a 218-212 vote — mostly along party lines — to pull combat troops out by next year.

The legislation, which faces an uphill battle in the Senate and is unlikely to be signed by President George W. Bush, would require that combat troops come home from Iraq before September 2008 — or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain conditions.

Al-Hashimi said a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition forces does have to be set if “forces of resistance” are to be drawn into dialogue aimed at achieving reconciliation and national unity.

But he rejected any calls for an immediate pullout.

“That could lead to chaos, and chaos to civil war,” al-Hashimi said. “Any withdrawal should be conditioned … tailor-made to the reform of our armed forces.”

March 24, 2007 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

Iran: British Sailors, Marines Confessed to Illegally Entering Waters

TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian military questioned 15 detained British sailors and marines Saturday and said they had confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters in an act of “blatant aggression.”

Britain has demanded the return of the sailors and marines and denied they had strayed into Iranian waters while searching for smugglers off Iraq’s coast.

The eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines were brought to Tehran for questioning, and a a top military official, Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, said they “confessed to illegal entry into Iran’s waters.”

“The said personnel are being interrogated and have confessed to aggression into the Islamic Republic of Iran’s waters,” Afshar was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA and the semiofficial ISNA news agency. He did not say what would now be done with the sailors.

The British marines and sailors, who included at least one woman, had just searched a merchant ship when they and their two inflatable boats were intercepted by Iranian vessels Friday at around 10:30 a.m. near the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, U.S. and British officials said. The Iranian vessels surrounded them and escorted them away at gunpoint.

The seizure of the British sailors came at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and over allegations that Iran is arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq. Still, Britain was treating it as a mistake rather than a provocation.

In London, the British government summoned the Iranian ambassador for the second time, demanding the safe return of the sailors and Royal Marines.

Lord Triesman, a Foreign Office under-secretary, spent more than an hour with Rasoul Movahedian, and sought assurances about the group’s welfare and consular access, the British government said.

The European Union also called for the “immediate liberation” of the captured sailors.

Iranian hard-liners called for the 15 Britons to be held until Iran wins political concessions from the West.

Several conservative student groups have called on the Iranian government not to release sailors until five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this year are freed and U.N. plans for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program are canceled. Some 500 Iranian students gathered on the shore near where the soldiers were captured, shouting “Death to Britain” and “Death to America,” the Fars news agency reported.

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to vote Saturday on new sanctions against Iran over its refusal of U.N. demands that it suspend uranium enrichment. The U.S. and other nations suspect Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that and insists it will not halt the program.

With tensions running high, the United States has bolstered its naval forces in the Persian Gulf in a show of strength directed at Iran. U.S. officials have expressed concern that with so much military hardware in the Gulf, a small incident like Friday’s could escalate into a dangerous confrontation.

In his comments on the sailors, Afshar added a warning that the United States would not be able to control the consequences if it attacks Iran.

“The United States and its allies know that if they make any mistake in their calculations … they will not be able to control the dimensions and limit the duration of a war,” Afshar said.

In June 2004, six British marines and two sailors were seized by Iran in the same waterway. They were presented blindfolded on Iranian television and admitted entering Iranian waters illegally, then released unharmed after three days.

Earlier this week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, warned this week that if Western countries “treat us with threats and enforcement of coercion and violence, undoubtedly they must know that the Iranian nation and authorities will use all their capacities to strike enemies that attack.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini accused the British of “violating the sovereign boundaries” of Iran, calling the entry a “blatant aggression.”

He accused Britain of trying to cover up the incursion, saying it should “refrain from putting the blame on others.”

The seizure of the Britons took place in an area where boundaries between Iraqi and Iranian waters have long been disputed. A 1975 treaty set the center of the Shatt al-Arab — the 125-mile-long channel known in Iran as the Arvand River — as the border.

But Saddam Hussein canceled the 1975 treaty five years later and invaded Iran, triggering an eight-year war. Virtually all of Iraq’s oil is exported through a terminal near the mouth of the channel.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said the Royal Navy personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were seized. Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain also said it was “very clear” they were in Iraqi waters.

“We’ve been on operations there for several years,” Aandahl said. He said coalition vessels respect the 1975 treaty.

The sailors, from the frigate HMS Cornwall, are part of a task force that maintains security in Iraqi waters under authority of the U.N. Security Council.

The Cornwall’s commander, Commodore Nick Lambert, said he hoped the detention was a “simple mistake” stemming from the unclear border.

But the Iraqi military commander of the country’s territorial waters said the British boats may not have been in Iraqi territory.

“We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control,” Brig. Gen. Hakim Jassim told AP Television News in the southern city of Basra.

“We don’t know why they were there,” he said.

The news agency Fars said navigational equipment on the seized British boats “show that they (sailors) were aware that they were operating in Iranian waters and Iranian border guards fulfilled their responsibility.”

March 24, 2007 at 5:50 pm 3 comments

Older Posts Newer Posts


  • Blogroll

  • Feeds