Western leaders demand Iran open nuclear site

PITTSBURGH: US President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain said Friday that the existence of a previously secret Iranian nuclear facility ups the ante on Tehran in international talks next week, declaring that Iran must cooperate on its suspected weapons development ‘or be held accountable.’

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran has until December to comply or face new sanctions.

‘We will not let this matter rest,’ said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who accused Iran of ‘serial deception.’

‘The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law,’ said Obama.

Their dramatic three-way statement opened the G-20 economic summit here.

Obama urged Iran to fully disclose its nuclear activities and said the International Atomic Energy Agency must investigate the newly revealed site.

Iran has kept the facility, 160 kilometres southwest of Tehran, hidden from weapons inspectors until a letter it sent to the IAEA on Monday, which was publicly disclosed for the first time Friday.

But the US has known of the facility’s existence ‘for several years’ through intelligence developed by US, French and British agencies, a senior White House official said.

Obama decided to gather allies to talk publicly about it after Iran’s letter made clear it had become aware that Western intelligence knew of the project, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to let the statements from Obama and the leaders remain the focus.

The plant would be about the right size to enrich enough uranium to produce one or two bombs a year, but inspectors must get inside to know what is actually going on, the official said.

Obama hopes the disclosure will increase pressure on the global community to impose new sanctions on Iran if it refuses to stop its nuclear program.

Beyond sanctions, the leaders’ options are limited and perilous; military action by the United States or an ally such as Israel could set off a dangerous chain of events in the Islamic world. In addition, Iran’s facilities are spread around the country and well-hidden or buried, making an effective military response logistically difficult.

The leaders did not mention military force. But Sarkozy said ominously, ‘Everything, everything must be put on the table now. We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running.’

The disclosure comes on the heels of a UN General Assembly meeting at which Obama saw a glimmer of success in his push to rally the world against Iranian nuclear ambitions. And it comes just days before Iran and six world powers are scheduled to discuss a range of issues including Tehran’s nuclear program.

Germany is one of those six powers, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Friday that her country views the revelation of the second nuclear site as ‘a grave development’ and called on Iran to answer IAEA questions about it ‘as quickly as possible.’

She said Germany, Great Britain, France and the United States had consulted on the issue and agreed to a joint response. Merkel did not appear with Obama, Sarkozy and Brown because she had an already-scheduled meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the same time.

She said ‘we will see’ about the reactions of Russia and China, which also are part of the group of six but always more reluctant to take a firm line on Iran.

Earlier this week, Medvedev opened the door to backing potential new sanctions against Iran as a reward to Obama’s decision to scale back a US missile shield in Eastern Europe. But it’s unclear if that will translate into action.

The senior administration official said Obama told Medvedev about the facility during their meeting this week in New York. The Chinese were informed about 48 hours ago and are ‘just absorbing these revelations,’ the official said.

Before the scheduling of the October 1 meeting, the US had long avoided direct talks with Tehran over its nuclear program.

‘Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow,’ Obama said.

Sarkozy and Brown struck an even more defiant tone. ‘The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand,’ Brown said.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made no mention of the facility while attending the UN General Assembly in New York this week. But he insisted that his country has fully cooperated with international nuclear inspectors. Iran denies that it is enriching uranium to build a nuclear bomb – as the West suspects – and says it is only doing so for energy purposes.

However, Iran is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment at what had been its single publicly known enrichment plant, which is being monitored by the IAEA.—AP


‘Stop artillery attacks on civilians’, HRW asks Sri Lanka

NEW YORK: A leading international watchdog has asked the Sri Lankan government to “immediately cease” its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Vanni region and review its policy of detaining displaced persons in internment camps.

In a report released on Saturday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said since early January 2009, civilian casualties have skyrocketed in the fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The 45-page report, HRW said, is based on a two-week fact-finding mission to Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka in February. The government has prohibited journalists and human rights monitors from going to the battle zone in the Vanni, making access to information difficult.

“This ‘war’ against civilians must stop,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there.”

Human Rights Watch also called on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the war zone, stop shooting at those who try to flee to government-controlled territory, and cease deploying forces near populated areas.

Human Rights Watch said that both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were responsible for the dramatic increase in civilian casualties during the past month, approximately 2,000 killed and another 5,000 wounded, according to independent monitors on the ground.

source : jang.com.pk

Oil mixed in Asian trade

SINGAPORE: Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Thursday ahead of a report expected to show a build-up in US crude inventories during the recession, dealers said.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for March delivery, eased a penny to 34.61 dollars a barrel, within sight of the 32.40 dollars hit on December 18, when prices hit their lowest point in nearly five years.

Brent North Sea crude for April delivery was 36 cents higher at 39.91 dollars.

source : jang.com.pk

NYC marriage bureau rebuffs same-sex couples

NEW YORK – Hundreds of same-sex couples seeking to wed were turned away from the city marriage bureau Thursday, part of a nationwide protest aimed at recent decisions restricting the right to marry to a man and a woman.

Wearing signs that said “Just Not Married,” the activists were part of a wave of demonstrations expected throughout the day at marriage bureaus or county clerks’ offices from New York City to California, in communities large and small.

Matt Flanders, 37, of Brooklyn, participated with his 29-year-old partner, Will Jennings. Both wore gold engagement rings.

When he was denied a marriage license, Flanders said he told officials: “‘I should be able to marry the person I love.’ And they said, `We can only offer you a domestic partnership.'”

Micah Stanek, 23, stood outside in a floor-length wedding veil after he and his partner were rejected. He said he moved to New York from San Francisco after gay marriage was outlawed in California on the November ballot.

“New York is especially important because the rest of the country follows what happens here,” he said.

Outside the bureau, protesters sang “Love and Marriage” and chanted, “What do we want? Marriage! When do we want it? Now!” One man held a sign that read: “Love your husband? Let me love mine!”

The protests, part of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, were considered more important than ever this year because they come in the wake of California’s Proposition 8 vote that overturned gay marriage and just as New Yorkers look to their state Senate to pass legislation that could lead to legalized gay marriage.

Some of the largest gatherings were expected in California, where the state’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 5 over whether to restore California same-sex marriages. The court could render a decision as early as June.

In New York, same-sex marriages cannot legally be performed. However, Gov. David Paterson has issued a directive requiring that all state agencies recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith has suggested that he and his fellow Democrats lack the votes needed to pass a same-sex marriage bill this year. However, Smith said several days ago that he and fellow legislators are “committed to pursuing its passage.”

The line at the New York City‘s marriage bureau also included straight engaged couples.

“They didn’t bother us on our big day and they have a right to protest,” said King Lau, 30, as his bride-to-be, Cheryl Zhang, 25, nodded in agreement.

Freedom to Marry events around the country are listed on Web sites, including those run by two major organizations behind the protests — Join the Impact and the national grass-roots organization Marriage Equality USA.

source : news.yahoo.com

Asian markets crude prices steady

SINGAPORE: Oil prices remained steady near $40 a barrel in early Asian trade Tuesday ahead of an US economic stimulus package expected to be approved this week.

Light sweet crude for March delivery slid 1 cent to $39.55 a barrel at 10.00 a.m Singapore time. On Monday the contract settled down 61 cents at $39.56 a barrel in New York. London Brent crude rose 2 cents to $46, maintaining a rare premium against US prices.

Investors and governments worldwide are keeping an anxious eye on US plans to stimulate its economy and rescue its banks on Monday, hoping the world’s largest economy can lead the way out of a global crisis.

source : jang.com.pk

UN chief to set up panel to probe Israel’s bombing in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has informed the Security Council of his intention to establish a commission to look into Israel’s bombing of UN facilities in Gaza, the Council’s president said Monday.

The UN chief made the announcement in a closed-door briefing to the Security Council about his recent overseas visit to Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, Council president for February, Japan’s UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, told reporters in New York.

Ban said that he will inform the Council of the panel’s composition in the next few days and that a report will be presented to the Council on the its findings, Takasu said.

Palestine’s UN observer Riyad Mansour told reporters that the commission will be composed of four individuals and a member of the Secretariat and will be headed by Ian Martin, a former president of Amnesty International and the current special representative of the secretary-general in Nepal for the UN Mission there.

“The fact that the secretary-general will report back to the Council is another indication that the Council will remain engaged on this phase of investigation of the crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian people and the properties of the United Nations, and the crimes against humanity,” Mansour said, adding that Ban’s move is “a step in the right direction of investigating crimes committed by Israel.”

When the commission submits its report to the Security Council, it will be the responsibility of the Council to decide what to do with it, he said. Mansour also said that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which had also decided to establish a commission, “may be in the final stages of putting that commission together to go and have a larger scope investigation.”

source : jang.com

‘Dexter’ brother and sister are husband and wife

NEW YORK – They play brother and sister on “Dexter.” Now in real life, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter are husband and wife. Hall’s spokesman, Craig Bankey, said on Friday that the couple eloped in California on New Year’s Eve. They’ll walk the red carpet together at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday — the first time publicly acknowledging their relationship.

Hall, 37, and Carpenter, 29, just finished the third season of “Dexter,” the Showtime series in which Hall plays the murderous title character. They’ve been quietly dating for about a year and a half.

At their wedding, Carpenter’s grandfather’s wedding band was attached to her bouquet of white roses.

source : news.yahoo.com


Gaza civilian toll rises to 23

GAZA CITY: Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire and said it won’t stop its crippling 10-day assault until “peace and tranquility” are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire.

Israeli forces seized control of high-rise buildings Tuesday and attacked smuggling tunnels and several mosques in a relentless campaign against Hamas militants that took an increasing toll on civilians. The United Nations said over 500 people were killed in the Gaza fighting, about a quarter of them civilians.

In fighting that raged Tuesday, at least 23 more Palestinians were killed in shelling up and down the strip, local hospital officials said.

Israel also suffered casualties. Three Israeli soldiers were killed by what Israeli officials said was an errant tank round from one of its own guns. Three rockets fired from Gaza fell in southern Israel, but there were no reported casualties.

Arab delegates met with the U.N. Security Council in New York, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the attacks and a permanent cease-fire. At the same time, diplomats and European leaders traveled the region in an effort to stop Israel’s expanding ground and air offensive.

In a serious urban clash, Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought a gun battle on the outskirts of the crowded Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaiyeh, Israeli defense officials said. Details also emerged of an unsuccessful attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began with a withering round of artillery fire.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu told reporters that assault was going according to plan with forces sweeping through Palestinian rocket launching locations near the border.

Gaza health officials reported that since the campaign began on Dec. 27 more than 550 Palestinians have been killed and 2,500 wounded, with over 100 civilians. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes put the Palestinian toll at 500, with about 125 of them civilians.

source : jang.com.pk

Rainbow Room to close restaurant, citing economy

NEW YORK – The recession has reached the ritzy Rainbow Room, the special-occasion spot that overlooks midtown Manhattan from high above the tourist-attracting Rockefeller Center skating rink.

WNBC-TV reports that the owners plan to shutter the Italian-themed Rainbow Grill restaurant temporarily while keeping the establishment’s bar, banquet space and dinner-dancing going on the 65th floor of the RCA building.

The Rainbow Room has symbolized glamour since it opened in 1934, during the Great Depression.

Cipriani International chief operating officer John Higgins told WNBC the decision was “due to the current economic crisis” and a lease dispute.

A spokeswoman for landlord Tishman Speyer didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment Saturday.

source : news.yahoo.com