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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Cardin: Iran Deal Must ‘Snap Back’ UN Sanctions Upon Violation, Not Just Congressional

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A leading Democratic senator said an acceptable deal with Iran wouldn’t just “snap” back congressional sanctions when the deal is violated — but would require that UN sanctions return as they were, as well.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions in the last Congress, told MSNBC today that “the best case is to have an effective arrangement with Iran where they give up their nuclear weapon ambition.”

“If they don’t, sanctions will be tightened. We will continue to isolate Iran as much as we can. We hope to have the type of cooperation from those who have been with us in these negotiations, to make sure that we not only have all of the sanctions and that we would have a snap back to what the — the relief we’ve already given Iran. But we would pass stronger sanctions in the United States Congress and we would hope the international community would follow us,” Cardin said.

Congress, he said, has “a responsibility to be involved in the oversight that agreement,” should the P5+1 and Iran arrive at a deal.

“It was Congress that imposed the sanctions. Only Congress can permanently remove the sanctions,” Cardin stressed. “But I think there’s two parts to this. First, we want to make sure that the agreement itself would prevent Iran from breaking out to a nuclear weapon in any short period of time. And secondly, that there is enforcement,that there is transparency in inspections and that if Iran does not follow its commitments, we have an immediate snap back, not only the U.S. sanctions, but the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.”

The prospect of the administration taking a deal to the United Nations first is drawing some heated objections from lawmakers.

“We respect the fact that the administration has the right to do whatever they wish with the U.N. Security Council sanctions that were imposed on Iran. That’s an executive activity. We respect the fact that there are executive sanctions they put in place,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last week.

“Congress put in place a whole host of congressionally mandated sanctions that really brought Iran to the table. And so what we’re saying is, look, we want a good deal negotiated. But before you start unraveling the ones that Congress put in place, we want to make sure that you show us the deal. That we have access to those classified annexes. That we understand how we’re going to have accountability, enforceability and transparency. We want to know that those things are going to exist. And before you alleviate our sanctions, which means the entire sanctions regime basically unravels, we want to be able to say grace over that,” Corker told CNN.

“I think that’s a responsible place for the United States Senate and I would think that the administration, if they’re going to do a deal that will stand the test of time, move beyond their administration, they would want buy-in from the American people. We represent the American people.”

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Who Attacked the NSA? Two Men in Women’s Wigs Ram Gate, Hit in Shootout

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

One person was killed and another injured this morning when a car tried to go through the security checkpoint at the National Security Agency gate.

According to a statement from NSA Director for Strategic Communication Jonathan Freed, a vehicle with “two individuals attempted an unauthorized entry” just before 9 a.m.

“The vehicle failed to stop and barriers were deployed,” Freed said. “The vehicle accelerated toward an NSA Police vehicle blocking the road. NSA Police fired at the vehicle when it refused to stop. The unauthorized vehicle crashed into the NSA Police vehicle.”

“One of the unauthorized vehicle’s occupants died on the scene. The cause of death has not been determined. The other occupant was injured and taken to a local hospital.”

Freed said one NSA Police officer was also hurt and taken to the hospital.

“The incident was contained to the vehicle control point area on the perimeter of the secure campus,” he added, noting that the FBI is taking the lead on the investigation.

The FBI quickly said they didn’t believe the attack was linked to terrorism.

TV footage from the air showed the incident at a gate off Interstate 295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The exit is reserved for NSA entry only and is marked with highway signs.

The Baltimore Sun reported that a “firefight” took place and the injured attacker was shot in the chest. The two occupants of the black SUV were reportedly men dressed as women, including wigs. TV footage showed what appeared to be a black wig on the ground.

“The president has been briefed on this morning’s incident at the National Security Agency and will be updated as appropriate,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “Further questions at this time should be directed to NSA.”

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Harf: ‘Absolutely’ There Can Be Iran Deal If They Don’t Ship Out Uranium Stockpile

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf insisted this morning that Iran never backed away from a key provision to send its uranium stockpile outside of the country, as reported by the New York Times, because the Islamic Republic never agreed to it in the first place.

“The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad,” senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi is quoted in the NYT speaking to Iranian media. “There is no question of sending the stocks abroad.”

“Well, unfortunately, the details in that story actually aren’t accurate,” Harf told MSNBC this morning. “Obviously stockpile and what happens to it and how Iran gets rid of it is a key part of this possible agreement we’re trying to get to. But the notion that we had some agreement, that in the last 24 hours Iran has backed away from, just is factually inaccurate. There’s never been an agreement on that. We’ve been talking with them about a couple different ways they could do it. And we’ll see if we can get to agreement in the next 24 hours or so.”

Harf said the State Department has always stressed “that all of the details of this agreement are interrelated to each other.”

“And what we have also said is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” she said. “So on that specific issue of whether their stockpile will be shipped out to another country or will be diluted in country, we and Iran have not come to agreement on that, even tentatively. So the notion that in the last 24 hours there was some breakdown in that agreement on that issue just isn’t accurate.”

She said it wasn’t “assumed” by U.S. negotiators that Iran was in agreement with this provision.

So how is Iran going to get rid of its stockpile to push breakout time to a year, as the administration says is the goal?

“One way they can do that is shipping that overseas and another way they can do it is diluting it inside the country, as they’ve been doing under the joint plan of action. So we’ve been talking to the Iranians about what different versions of that might look like and how that might play out, but we don’t assume anything in these negotiations until we have agreement. I think people would probably agree that’s the right thing to do here,” Harf said.

Harf replied that there can “absolutely” be a deal if Iran refuses to ship its stockpile out of the country.

“. . . So we really need to see from the Iranians if they’re willing to get to yes here. We have put on the table proposals and ideas that meet our bottom lines, that should be acceptable to them, if, as they say, they only want a peaceful nuclear program. We don’t know if they can get to yes here, though.”

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Iran Threatens U.S. and Israel, Vows ‘Salvation of the Nations from Backwardness’

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The regime in Tehran marks Islamic Republic Day on April Fool’s Day, and Iran said today that its plans to spread its “salvation” across the globe are proceeding apace as it is poised to crush perceived threats to the Islamic Republic from the U.S. and Israel.

Tomorrow is the deadline for a nuclear negotiations framework between the P5+1 and Iran, who are at the table for marathon talks in Switzerland. Reports indicate that Iran has moved the goalposts again, backing off on a provision to ship their enriched uranium stockpile out of the country.

“The exit of enriched uranium from the country has never been and will never be on our agenda,” senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told the Iranian media Sunday night. “There is no question of sending the stocks abroad.”

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported today that the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces issued a statement noting it’s ready “to defend the values and ideals of the Islamic ruling system” with experience gained from enemy confrontations over the past 37 years.

“The Armed Forces will give a firm and remorsing response to any practical threat by the enemies, specially the US and the Zionist regime, in proportion to the level and type of the hostile attempts and within the framework of threat-against-threat,” the statement said in advance of the April 1 holiday.

“37 years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the nations and communities have waken up and the Islamic awakening movement and flags of right-seeking and freedom-seeking have opened new horizons for the future of humanity; a future that will pave the way for the salvation of the nations from backwardness as well as political, economic and cultural captivity of the oppressing powers.”

Araqchi told reporters Sunday that the teams are “negotiating on two issues; confidence-building about Iran’s nuclear program which is demanded by the other side and respect for Iran’s nuclear rights and removal of sanctions which is demanded by us.”

“The negotiations have reached the final stage in terms of achieving solutions,” he said. “The negotiations are still continuing on two or three issues on which we have not reached a solution yet.”

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Boehner: You Try Winning with a Name That Looks Like ‘Boner’

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

If you think House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) 13 terms in office have been easy, he said, try running a campaign with a name that looks like “boner.”

Boehner was asked Sunday morning on CNN about the 2016 presidential landscape and the knock-down, drag-outs within the GOP that could leave their candidates much more bruised than Hillary Clinton.

“I think competition is a good thing,” Boehner said. “You know, I used to sell corrugated boxes. And they could buy the box from me or from 25 other people. It’s the same box. But it was — it was tough. But let me tell you what. It made all of us better, you know? It caused innovation, caused people to think outside the box. And so I’m a big believer in competition. I have 11 brothers and sisters, all right?”

He stressed that “when you go through a primary process and you have to compete… if you win, you’re ready.”

“Listen, I went through a primary my first race for the statehouse, went through a big primary my first race for Congress. You know, when your name looks like ‘Beaner,’ ‘Bonner,’ ‘Boner,’ people aren’t going to vote for you if they can’t say your name,” Boehner said.

“In my first race for Congress, my opponent was Tom Kindness. Now, you try to have a name that looks like ‘Boner’ running against a guy named Kindness. It’s a miracle I won.”

So, the speaker concluded, “competition is good.”

“In addition to that, you know, they have tightened up the primary season, the Republican National Committee has, and changed the schedule for debates. And I just think it’s going to be — while a lot of competition, it’s going to be handled in a much better way,” he said.

Asked about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) presidential campaign and the senator taking public health insurance since his wife is taking leave from her job at Goldman Sachs, Boehner punted: “I have got a big job to do here doing real work. And I think I will just keep doing my job.”

He said he’ll continue to want to be speaker “until I have had enough of it,” and called stories of attempted coups against his leadership “laughable.”

“Listen, I have got great relationships with our members and great relationships with our members across the aisle,” Boehner said. “I treat them all fairly, honestly, and I think they appreciate the work that I do for them.”

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Netanyahu Speaks with McConnell, Reid About ‘Dangerous for Humanity’ Iran Deal

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Warning that the P5+1 agreement unfolding in Switzerland must be stopped, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he conferred with Senate leaders about the way forward.

“I have just come from a conversation with US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Over the weekend I spoke with US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid,” Netanyahu said at the start of today’s cabinet meeting, according to his office. “I heard from both of them about strong and continuing bipartisan support for Israel and of course this is very important.”

“I expressed to them our deep concern over the agreement being formulated with Iran in the nuclear talks,” he added. “This agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on his Facebook page that parties in the nuclear talks “have made progress in reaching acceptable solutions, but we still have to work on some important issues; the key to striking an agreement lies in this strategic choice that the other side should make: pressure and sanctions or interaction and agreement by the other side.”

Over the past few weeks, everyone from Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator to most of Iran’s legislative body to Ayatollah Khamenei himself have insisted that they will not sign a deal unless all sanctions are lifted first.

“In negotiations, both sides must show flexibility. We are ready to make a good deal for all. We wait for our counterparts’ readiness,” Zarif tweeted Saturday.

Netanyahu noted that “even as meetings proceed on this dangerous agreement, Iran’s proxies in Yemen are overrunning large sections of that country and are attempting to seize control of the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straits which would affect the naval balance and the global oil supply.”

“After the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis, Iran is carrying out a pincers movement in the south as well in order to take over and conquer the entire Middle East. The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous for humanity and needs to be stopped,” he said, referencing the Swiss city hosting the nuclear talks.

Even though the White House vehemently opposes two key pieces of Iran legislation — the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill and the Corker-Menendez bill to require congressional approval of a deal — Reid has repeatedly said that he’s not encouraging the Democratic caucus to vote one way or the other. Reid originally held up Menendez-Kirk at the request of the White House, yet announced Friday he’s retiring at the end of the 114th Congress. His choice for the next Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), signed on as a Corker-Menendez co-sponsor Thursday.

Congress just began a two-week spring break and is expected to take up Corker-Menendez after returning.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is heading to Israel this week.

“There are serious issues and activities going on in the Middle East, and I think it’s critically important for members of Congress to hear from foreign leaders, other governments, other parts of their government to get a real handle on the challenges that we face there,” Boehner told CNN this morning. “…And, frankly, part of my goal in going to Israel is to continue to strengthen the relationship that we have between America and Israel.”

“I think the animosity exhibited by our administration toward the prime minister of Israel is reprehensible,” Boehner said. “And I think that the pressure that they have put on him over the last four or five years have, frankly, pushed him to the point where he had to speak up. I don’t blame him at all for speaking up.”

The “one goal” in inviting Netanyahu to speak before Congress, the speaker added, “was to make sure that the American people heard and the Congress heard about the serious threat that Iran poses not only to the Middle East, but for the rest of the world, including the United States.”

“The president doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk about the threat of radical Islam and the fact that he has no strategy to deal with it,” Boehner said. “And when you begin to see all these leaks that have — that probably came out of the White House in terms of what the Iranian deal was starting to shape up to be, there’s a lot of concern in Congress on a bipartisan basis. And I’m glad that he was here. And, frankly, the speech that he gave was the clearest speech I have heard in 25 years about the real threats that face our country.”

He promised to move “very quickly” on Iran sanctions if there is no deal. “Frankly, we should have kept the sanctions in place, so that we could have gotten to a real agreement. And the sanctions are going to come, and they’re going to come quick.”

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Kerry: Reid Led ‘Most Important Period of Progressive Legislating Since The Great Society’

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Let’s just print Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in full:

History will remember Harry Reid for leading the Senate through the single most important period of progressive legislating since The Great Society.

None of what he has accomplished was easy or preordained, but again and again, in his own unique way, without flash or puffery, Harry just went out and found the strategy and the votes — even when everyone said it couldn’t happen.

He’s a Senator’s Senator and one of the most accomplished Senate leaders in modern times.

There’s much to celebrate about Harry Reid, and much that will be remarked on today, whether it’s his only-in-America journey from Searchlight to the Senate’s leadership, his famously direct, blunt, and candid leadership style, his Lazarus-like underdog victories in election after election, or his devotion to family.

Every bit of it is admirable.

But I particularly hope that in these years where we’ve witnessed the retirements of people like Barbara Mikulski and Chris Dodd and Dick Lugar, that people will really pause and reflect on what Harry’s meant to the Senate, and what his work has meant to his state and to the country.

It’s a roadmap for all the Senators who will come along now with big shoes to fill. He’s a master tactician and it really counts: the fact is – because of Harry Reid’s time as Leader – more people in our country have good health care, the tax code’s a little more fair, gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, and we’re investing more than ever in clean energy.

That’s a record of a lifetime, and that’s Harry Reid.

Since I became Secretary of State, I’ve been particularly grateful for his tireless efforts to reinstate bipartisanship in foreign policy.

In working to give us time and space to try to find a peaceful resolution to the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, in confirming our Ambassadors who maintain America’s presence in the world, in fighting for the State Department budget, Harry Reid has long been a strong advocate for our diplomats worldwide.

I am grateful for Harry’s leadership and his friendship. We still have two years to work together, and so much work to do.

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Guess Which Senator Reid Wants to be Democratic Leader After He Retires?

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After an all-night budget battle in the upper chamber, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced in a video statement today that he had time to “ponder and to think” after his recent accident and subsequent eye surgeries, and would not be running for re-election.

“We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again,” Reid said. “And I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the caucus, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Reid already knows who he wants to replace him at the head of the Democratic caucus: not current No. 2 Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), but Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” Reid told the Washington Post, noting the potential leapfrogging No. 3 Dem is “extremely smart.”

Schumer, whose current title is Vice Chair of the Conference and Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, issued a statement calling Reid “one of the best human beings I’ve ever met.”

“His character and fundamental decency are at the core of why he’s been such a successful and beloved leader,” Schumer continued. “He’s so respected by our caucus for his strength, his legislative acumen, his honesty and his determination. He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him.”

The final choice will be up to the Democratic caucus at the beginning of the 115th Congress, leaving Schumer and Durbin lots of time to jockey for position in the leadership brawl.

“Harry Reid is one of the ablest leaders of the Senate Democratic caucus in modern history—he has served our country and the people of Nevada with a tenacity and passion rarely seen,” Durbin said in a statement. “The former boxer from Searchlight never forgot his roots and never went down without a fight.

“…The Senate will miss his leadership and I will miss his friendship, but with the 114th congress only just underway, Leader Reid and Senate Democrats have a lot of work to do on behalf of working families in this country. I will be by his side every day in that fight.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) could also find herself in leader contention. “All of our children and grandchildren will grow up in a country that is more just, more tolerant, and offers more opportunities because of Harry Reid’s hard work and service to our nation,” the Democratic conference secretary said.

“…He has asked me to take on some tough jobs over the years, but I have always appreciated the trust he placed in me, the work he did to make sure I had the space I needed to get the job done, and the knowledge that, no matter what, Harry had my back and was going to fight for what was right.”

President Obama praised Reid as a “fighter” for “good jobs, a safer environment for our kids, and affordable health care for all” during his five terms.

Obama said Reid has “never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy.”

“Time and time again, Harry stood up to special interests and made sure every one of his constituents had a voice in their nation’s capital,” he said. “Above all else, Harry has fought for the people of his beloved state of Nevada. The son of a miner and a maid from the tiny town of Searchlight, he never forgot where he came from, and he never stopped working to give everyone who works hard the same shot at success that he had.”

“As the leader of the Senate Democrats during my time in office, Harry has become not only an ally, but a friend. I’m proud of all we have accomplished together, and I know the Senate will not be the same without him.”

Reid stressed he’s going to be around Congress for another 22 months.

“And you know what I’m going to be doing? The same thing I’ve done since I first came to the Senate,” he said.

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What’s Behind That 100-0 Iran Sanctions Vote — and Why Obama Should Worry

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Every member of the Senate last night went on the record supporting what could be described as an Iran sanctions-lite amendment to the budget.

The language from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author of the tough Iran sanctions bill still pending with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), establishes “a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to reimposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions against Iran for violations of the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive nuclear agreement.” It was co-sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The non-binding amendment, getting senators on the roll call, passed 100-0.

Menendez-Kirk imposes crushing sanctions if Iran does not agree to a deal by June 30. Another bill from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Menendez, which is coming to committee early next month, requires congressional approval of any deal. Both are vehemently opposed by the White House.

Democrats who oppose those bills and support the administration said the amendment reaffirmed the White House reasoning that sanctions can be turned back on if Iran violates an agreement. Menendez has warned, though, that sanctions can’t be turned on and off like a spigot.

The amendment actually pulled language directly from the Kirk-Menendez bill, the Illinois Republican said. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), though, claimed in an interview with Politico that it was inspired by her White House-approved legislation — which reinstates sanctions if President Obama says Iran violated the agreement. The final amendment says reimposed and new sanctions will come if Obama “cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying.”

“By passing the bipartisan Kirk-Brown amendment to impose sanctions on Iran, the Senate voted for the security of the United States and Israel and against making dangerous nuclear concessions to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” Kirk said in a statement. “The unanimous vote for the Kirk-Brown amendment signals the Senate’s strong support for the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill, which stands ready now for a full Senate vote.”

That bill has 52 co-sponsors, including Democrats Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Gary Peters (Mich.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

The Corker-Menendez bill’s co-sponsors include Democrats Michael Bennet (Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with the Dems. Blumenthal and Donnelly are also co-sponsors.

And Schumer signed on Thursday. “We must do everything to prevent a nuclear Iran and so any potential agreement must prevent Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon,” the senator said in a statement carried by Israeli media but receiving little press in the U.S. “Congress played a lead role in crafting the tough-and-effective sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table, and Congress should have a role on how those sanctions are altered in any final agreement with Iran.”

“This issue is far too important – for the United States, for Israel, for the entire Middle East – for Congress not to have any ability to review a nuclear deal with Iran.”

Twelve Democrats wrote to Obama on Jan. 26 in support of Kirk-Menendez, vowing to act if Iran “fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement.”

Menendez charged yesterday that the latest report out of talks in Switzerland indicates “we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet.”

The Associated Press cited officials saying the United States “is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”

“We have pivoted away from demanding the closure of Fordow when the negotiations began, to considering its conversion into a research facility, to now allowing hundreds of centrifuges to spin at this underground bunker site where centrifuges could be quickly repurposed for illicit nuclear enrichment purposes,” Menendez said. “My fear is that we are no longer guided by the principle that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ but instead we are negotiating ‘any deal for a deal’s sake’.”

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Sen. Paul, Democrats Introduce Bill for Police Body Cameras

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

On the cusp of launching his expected presidential campaign, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who visited Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, joined with Democrats to introduce police body camera legislation this week.

The Police Creating Accountability by Making Effective Recording Available (Police CAMERA) Act of 2015 would establish a grant program to equip departments with body cameras “in order to deter excessive force, improve accountability and transparency of use of force by law enforcement officers, assist in responding to complaints against law enforcement officers, and improve evidence collection.”

Paul joined with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to introduce the bill in the upper chamber, while Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) have introduced the legislation in the House.

“Body cameras will benefit the brave men and women who serve in our police force and the people they protect,” said Paul, who has been focusing on criminal justice reform with the other side of the aisle. “The use of body cameras helps officers collect and preserve evidence to solve crimes, while also decreasing the number of complaints against police. The Police CAMERA Act will help state and local police departments access this new tool, while ensuring that the privacy rights of every civilian is respected.”

Ellison said that “after the tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Robert Saylor and Tamir Rice, a stronger bond must be forged between our communities and police forces.”

“The pilot program created by the Police CAMERA Act empowers law enforcement officials who want to do better for the people they protect and serve,” he said. “Body cameras alone won’t stop the next tragedy, but we should take every common-sense step we can to increase accountability and protect both civilians and police officers.”

The bill is backed by the NAACP and the ACLU. Built into the bill is a study after two years of the program’s operation to determine if the body cameras make a difference.

Paul begins his “Stand with Rand” tour April 7 in Louisville, Ky., with stops afterward in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada.

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GOP Chairman, Top Dem to Ambassador Power: Don’t Abandon Israel at UN

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have jointly asked UN Ambassador Samantha Power to not throw Israel under the bus.

The Obama administration — everyone from anonymous officials to spokesmen to President Obama himself — have said since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory that the U.S. will “re-evaluate” how it approaches two-state solution efforts. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle fear this could include not having Israel’s back at the United Nations when the Palestinian Authority tries to declare a state.

Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Power this week that they have “deep and abiding” support for U.S. efforts in the Mideast peace process “with the understanding that any lasting solution will be decided by the parties themselves.”

“We are concerned by reports that the Administration is ‘re-evaluating’ United States policy toward Israel. In the wake of comments that Prime Minister Netanyahu made during Israel’s election last week—that he has now contextualized—the Administration appears to be considering new steps at the United Nations that could depart from our nation’s historic and principled defense of Israel at the United Nations against biased and one-sided resolutions,” they wrote.

Netanayhu has clarified that a two-state solution cannot happen while Hamas is in a unity pact with Fatah, along with other longstanding conditions about the recognition and security of Israel. This week, though, Obama said “even if you accept it, I think the corrective of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s in subsequent days, there still does not appear to be a prospect of a meaningful framework established that would lead to a Palestinian state, even if there were a whole range of conditions and security requirements that might be phased in over a long period of time, which was always the presumption.”

“And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen, at least in the next several years,” Obama said. “That is something that we have to — for the sake of our own credibility, I think we have to be able to be honest about that.”

Engel and Royce noted that “for decades, the U.S. has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Israel from undue pressure at the world body, which has historically exhibited selective and unjustified bias against Israel.”

“We join in the Administration’s efforts to encourage the parties to return to the negotiating table and take steps to assure the other side of their commitment to a more peaceful and secure future. However, it is difficult to see how such a shift in U.S. policy at the United Nations would bring the parties closer to peace,” they continued. “Both Republican and Democratic Administrations have recognized that efforts to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not a substitute for direct negotiations between the parties, and in fact, can undermine these negotiations.”

“Given the serious threats facing both the United States and Israel, cooperation is needed now more than ever. We continue to support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward a two-state solution and will oppose any effort to turn to the Security Council for imposing the terms of this process. Only a solution negotiated directly between the Israelis and Palestinians can result in a lasting peace.”

Royce and Engel ask Power for her assurance “that the United States will veto resolutions at the United Nations that are biased and one-sided against Israel.”

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Menendez: U.S. ‘Leaping with Both Feet’ Toward Iran Demands, ‘Any Deal for a Deal’s Sake’

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A leading Democratic skeptic of the White House’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said the latest report out of talks in Switzerland indicates “we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet.”

The Associated Press cited officials saying the United States “is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”

“The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway,” said the AP report. “In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.”

Menendez, whose Iran sanctions legislation and bipartisan bill have drawn veto threats from the Obama administration, has previously accused the White House of moving the goalposts to tempt Iran into a deal.

“We have pivoted away from demanding the closure of Fordow when the negotiations began, to considering its conversion into a research facility, to now allowing hundreds of centrifuges to spin at this underground bunker site where centrifuges could be quickly repurposed for illicit nuclear enrichment purposes,” he said in a statement moments ago. “My fear is that we are no longer guided by the principle that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ but instead we are negotiating ‘any deal for a deal’s sake’.”

“An undue amount of trust and faith is being placed in a negotiating partner that has spent decades deceiving the international community; denying the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its facilities; refusing to answer questions about its nuclear-related military activities; and all the while, actively destabilizing the region from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen,” Menendez continued.

“A good deal must meet our primary negotiating objective – curtailing Iran’s current and future ability to achieve nuclear weapons capability. If the best deal Iran will give us does not achieve this goal, it is not a good deal for the United States or its partners. A good deal won’t leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

Menendez, the target of what many have noted is a conveniently timed Justice Department investigation, also sent a letter to President Obama asking what he plans to do about Bashar al-Assad’s latest use of chemical weapons — a deadly chlorine gas attack.

Last week, the towns of Sarmin and Qmenas were hit with chlorine bombs by Assad forces, video reviewed and confirmed by human rights groups. The Syrian Coalition said six were killed, including three children, and about 70 were injured, 13 seriously. Assad has been using chlorine since crossing Obama’s “red line” with other chemical agents.

“Bashar al-Assad and those forces backing his regime, including the government of Iran and its proxy force, Hezbollah, are once again challenging the world and testing the boundaries of the will of the international community to respond. As the Syrian civil war enters its fifth year, I urge you to reenergize the broad international coalition that is committed to a Syria without Assad. This includes exposing and targeting the tools of Russian and Iranian support for Assad’s bloody regime, and working with like-minded partners to increase pressure on him and his allies,” Menendez wrote.

“…Only a month ago, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2209 by a vote of 14-1 with the agreement of all permanent members including Russia. The resolution states that the use of chlorine gas is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and any future use would result in the imposition of Chapter VII measures. UN Chapter VII punishments could include additional sanctions and the use of force to prevent future attacks.”

The senator stressed that Obama’s deal to dispose of Assad’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles “has not prevented the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, nor has international pressure changed Assad’s calculus with respect to murdering his own people.”

“Worse, Assad’s supporters, including the Iranian regime, the Russian government, and Hezbollah have actually increased their support for the regime as these attacks have continued and increased in nature and scope.”

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GOP Senators: Obama’s ‘Obsession’ with ‘Placating’ Iran Led to ‘Mideast on Fire’

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Decrying that President Obama’s policies have pushed the Middle East to a “tipping point,” Republican senators accused the commander in chief of not acting against Iran’s aggression in Yemen and other places because of his “obsession” with placating the Islamic Republic during nuclear talks.

“Operation Decisive Storm,” launched at midnight Saudi Arabia time, bombarded Yemen’s Houthi rebels with the power of 100 Saudi fighters jets, 150,000 soldiers and naval units in the operation. The United Arab Emirates pitched in 30 fighter jets, Bahrain contributed 15, Qatar sent 10, Kuwait deployed 15 and Jordan contributed six. Even North Africa got into the game, with Sudan sending three fighter jets, Egypt supplying four warships and air support, and Morocco sending six fighter jets. Pakistan also provided naval and aerial support in the attack on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The White House said the U.S. provided “logistical and intelligence” support.

But it was revealed today that Pentagon officials were told about the coalition operation just a few hours before the Saudis struck. The Saudi ambassador to Washington announced the attack at their embassy in D.C. shortly after the military found out.

“The reality is that countries in the region no longer have confidence in or are willing to work with the United States of America,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) somberly noted at a press conference on the Hill moments ago.

“Look at where we have come from — our closest allies in the region no longer trust us that they wait to tell us a few hours before they begin a major military operation,” McCain said. “I understand why these countries did not notify us or seek our coordination. That’s because they believe we are siding with Iran.”

The Saudis launched the operation as the U.S. sat down with Iran in Switzerland for the latest round of negotiations. The Associated Press published an exclusive today revealing that Washington “is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) told reporters that the administration is making a huge mistake by keeping Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and spread of influence through backing Shiite rebels in key countries off the negotiating table.

“You cannot divorce the two of them,” Ayotte said, stressing that “Iran’s backing of the Houthis has caused this situation to devolve where we had to evacuate from Yemen.”

She noted that another Iran target is home of America’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain. “They are backing Shia groups that are trying to undermine the government in Bahrain,” the senator said. “This will continue to spread further.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stressed that Obama’s “leading from behind” policy left the region poised for a “bloodletting between Sunnis and Shia that we haven’t seen in 1,000 years.”

“We’re on the verge of a full-scale proxy war in Yemen between Iran and Arab states” that threatens to spill over into the entire region, Graham said. “The Mideast is on fire and it’s every person for himself.”

All three senators made clear that they support the Saudi-led offensive — “the Saudis did the right thing,” McCain said — but, in the words of Graham, “categorically reject President Obama’s foreign policy that we believe has substantially contributed to this mess.”

Graham backed an international operation that would take out the Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at the same time. “We’re not in the Sunni-Shia debate here,” he said.

“I think it’s fine that they did it themselves; the question is, what’s the reason for that?” McCain asked, adding it’s “unacceptable that we’re negotiating a bad nuclear deal and at same time turning a blind eye to Iranian aggression.”

McCain said he does not believe that the Saudis launched the offensive to derail the P5+1 talks.

“The saddest things about this whole series of events that have taken place over the past several years is we predicted every single thing that would happen,” he said, ranging from the effects of an Iraq pullout to a refusal to assist the Free Syrian Army in the early days of the war to the non-enforcement of the red line drawn by Obama when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his people.

Graham saw the red line as a “defining moment” as Obama “failed to act in a way the region saw as meaningful.”

“ISIS will never be destroyed on his watch,” Graham predicted. “…He’s afraid to disrupt negotiations by taking on [Iran's] puppet Assad.”

He further predicted that the Arab coalition “will probably not stop in Yemen and Iran will probably push back — God help us all.”

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The ISIS Tax: Budget Amendment Would ‘Temporarily’ Hike Taxes to Fight Islamic State

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Senate is plowing through a slew of amendments today expected to last until midnight, dubbed the “vote-a-rama” that precedes the budget vote.

One of those amendments would create an ISIS tax.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), backed by Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), proposed a “temporary surtax” to help cover the cost of military operations against ISIS.

That would be discontinued, his office said without offering more details, “once relevant military operations have concluded” against the Islamic State.

According to yesterday’s congressional record, the amount collected would be $8,800,000,000.

“As our nation’s Armed Forces continue their critical mission to degrade and destroy ISIS, which is already months underway, we need to consider another part of our strategy–paying for the war. This is not a new concept. Our nation has a long history of paying for our military missions. In fact, every war since the Revolutionary War, to the first Gulf War, was paid for,” Coons said on the Senate floor last night.

“Through each of our nation’s armed conflicts, new revenue streams not only provided the resources our military needed, they reminded the American people that our country was at war and we all needed to contribute to the effort. But after 14 years and 2 wars that have cost our nation trillions of dollars, I fear we have forgotten this important lesson from our history,” he continued. “We cannot write another blank check for a war. Paying for a war against ISIS is the right thing to do. It is fiscally, morally, and militarily responsible. As we continue to debate this war authorization in Congress, we need to be honest with the American people and each other about what it will cost our nation. That is why, as we debate the budget this week, I have offered an amendment that requires us to raise the revenue to pay for the fight against ISIS. The American people deserve no less.”

“I urge my colleagues to join me on this amendment to pay for a critically important war against ISIS and ensure we fight this battle together as one country.”

Sanders said the GOP “has to end their hypocrisy with regard to deficits and the national debt.”

“They are going to have to be honest with the American people. Wars are enormously expensive, not only in terms of human life and suffering, but in terms of the budget,” Sanders said. “If the Republicans want another war in the Mideast, they are going to have to tell the American people how much it will cost them and how it will be paid for.”

UPDATE: The amendment failed this evening, but not by a lot — 46-54.

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Graham: ‘No Military Member…Should Expect Our Country to Release Hardened Terrorists to Secure Their Release’

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is a colonel in the Air Forces Reserves focusing on military law, was opposed to the trade of five high-ranking members of the Taliban for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the moment it happened last May.

But he’s also opposed to the administration reasoning that, after Bergdahl’s five years in captivity, they had no choice because they couldn’t leave a man behind.

“No military member, up to and including a Medal of Honor recipient, should expect our country to release hardened terrorists to secure their release,” Graham said in a statement Wednesday after the Army announced Bergdahl would face charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. “There is a general understanding that the mission and national interest come ahead of any individual.  This is particularly true while hostilities are still raging as they are today in Afghanistan.”

Graham, who is considering a run for the White House in 2016, called the swap “a politically motived maneuver designed to help achieve the Obama administration’s goal of emptying the Guantanamo jail of some very dangerous terrorists.”

“My concerns about the swap were never related to the quality of Sergeant Bergdahl’s service, but to the nature of the transfer and how it undermined the war effort,” the senator said. “President Obama’s ill-conceived decision to release the ‘Taliban 5’ put our men and women in uniform at increased risk. I have no doubt that in the future the ‘Taliban 5’ will return to the fight against the United States.”

Graham told CNN he has “nothing but disgust” for the deal.

“This undermined the war effort. These people are going to go back to the fight. And what do you tell a family member that may be killed by one of these guys down the road?”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a Air Force pilot who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, told Fox that he was told in survival training “your country will never leave you behind, and we take a lot of heart in that.”

“But it’s a two-way street. Your country will not leave you behind but you can never leave your country behind either. A lot of people, probably even in Bowe Bergdahl’s unit, that looked at the mountains and truly wanted to leave base and go out and explore but, at the end of the day, they knew they had a bigger obligation,” Kinzinger said. “…Look, if we had had sent a Special Forces team in to rescue him or something like that, that’s one thing. But trading five of among the biggest enemies of the United States. And by the way, we are getting reports that at least three of them are starting their kind of pre-confinement activities again.”

The White House, however, stands by the swap despite the desertion charges.

“The commander in chief will not allow a member of the United States armed forces to be left behind,” press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN.

“It was an important message for this president to deliver to the American people, but also to people all around the world, that the United States and their commander in chief stands squarely behind our men and women in uniform and with the commitment we have made to not leave them behind,” Earnest said.

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Rubio: Republican Party ‘Blessed’ with Caliber of 2016 Candidates

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said his colleague’s entrance into the 2016 presidential race only makes the field stronger, and the party is “blessed” to have strong candidates.

Rubio told Fox last night that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) “will be a very strong candidate.”

“You can see in the past he has made a lot of people excited about the things he stands for. We are blessed as a party. We have a lot of really good candidates,” Rubio said. “The Democrats are struggling to come up with even one. I think our country will be better for it at the end.”

It hasn’t been possible to view Cruz’s interaction on the floor with his colleagues — and potential challengers — since his Monday announcement. Cruz has not shown up for any votes this week as the Senate works through hundreds of budget amendments.

Rubio said he understands the date is approaching when he needs to announce his own 2016 decision.

“As I said, we are getting closer to that date and we understand that if I decide to run for president it’s going to take time and energy to do it. So we will make an announcement here fairly soon,” he said.

How soon?

“Probably not months, but certainly multiple weeks. And that’s important,” Rubio said. “Like soon means when we are ready to make the decision. There is a lot that goes into something like that and a lot this to announcing whatever direction we go.”

“But it’s something I’m increasingly excited about and look forward to sharing with you and others here fairly soon.”

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Issa on Yemen: Obama ‘Must Acknowledge’ Any ‘Real Settlement with Iran is Impossible’

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The “Operation Decisive Storm” coalition that bombarded Yemen overnight now has full control of the country’s airspace, said Saudi officials, who unleashed 100 fighters jets, 150,000 soldiers and naval units in the operation.

The only regional country that stayed out of the fight was Yemen’s neighbor Oman. The United Arab Emirates pitched in 30 fighter jets, Bahrain contributed 15, Qatar sent 10, Kuwait deployed 15 and Jordan contributed six. Even North Africa got into the game, with Sudan sending three fighter jets, Egypt supplying four warships and air support, and Morocco sending six fighter jets. Pakistan also provided naval and aerial support in the attack on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told MSNBC this morning that the Saudis decided “on their own” to launch the attack, “and the reason is simply that Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a long border.”

“And they have enlisted the support of other partners and allies of theirs in region, and they have asked the United States for some intelligence support that we can provide. And the president has agreed to that request and we are providing them support,” he said. “But the Saudis are in the lead in this military action they are taking to protect the interest they have along their border with Yemen.”

The White House has been urging a UN-backed diplomatic solution to the Houthi overthrow in Yemen.

But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made clear that it was the administration’s policies that allowed this mess in the first place.

“The takeover of large swaths of Yemen by Iranian-backed Shia militants has forced our Saudi allies to take military action. Months of fairy tale negotiations and appeasement by this administration have led Iran to believe that it can act with impunity on an international scale,” Issa said in a late-night statement as the Saudis bombarded targets.

“Now, more than ever, it is clear that any real settlement with Iran is impossible, and the president must acknowledge this fact,” he said. “The continued easement or outright removal of sanctions against this rogue state will only further embolden Iran and facilitate its belligerent behavior. We must make it clear that we will support our allies and punish our enemies through steadfast resolve and decisive action.”

Earnest said this morning that the Iran-fomented instability and Saudi reaction shouldn’t affect nuclear negotiations in Switzerland. “There’s no doubt that we believe that it’s in the best interest of the United States, our allies in Israel, and our partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia, for us to try to find a diplomatic resolution to the concerns that the world has about Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), though, stressed to Fox that “this is about Iran, again, the source of instability in the region and many parts of the world.”

“These are Shia militias and Shia rebels making advances there. They are equipped, protected and supported by Iran. It’s part of their strategy to become the dominant regional power. It’s part of encircling Saudi Arabia, Sunni country. So you see their presence in Yemen. They basically invaded Iraq. Obviously, their influence they have in Lebanon. They control Assad in Syria. So, slowly but surely they are carrying out their master plan of regional dominance and Yemen is the latest piece of that puzzle,” Rubio said.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said “clearly, the Saudis and their gulf partners have determined the situation in Yemen presents further danger to regional stability and their own territorial integrity.”

“I hope their intervention helps to restore some sense of security, but I fear Yemen may be too far gone to prevent an all-out civil war,” Burr said.

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French Prosecutor: Germanwings Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed Plane Into Alps

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz in a photo from his Facebook page

French prosecutors said that the 28-year-old co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that plowed into the French Alps deliberately crashed the plane.

Lufthansa officials confirmed in a press conference moments ago that an analysis of the black box recording shows that the pilot left the cockpit for a few, then was unable to get back into the cockpit as the door was locked. The Airbus has a keypad where flight crew can enter a code to gain access to the cockpit, unless a “lock” switch on the console is manually activated by someone inside the cockpit.

The pilot is heard trying to kick the door down as the breathing of the co-pilot continues, and passengers are heard screaming just before the plane hit the mountain.

The co-pilot was identified as Andreas Lubitz, a German who was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 with inclusion in the “prestigious”FAA Airmen Certification Database with others “who have met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.” He joined Germanwings in September 2013 after graduating from the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen.

Officials said he left his training for a short time but returned. The French prosecutor said his religion was “unknown.”

“We hear the flight attendant asking the copilot to start taking the commands and then we hear a door closing after a chair has been moved. So we assume that he left the cockpit in order to use the restroom. So at this point, the copilot is the only one in the cockpit. So it’s while he’s alone that he has somehow manipulated the buttons on the flight monitoring system to manage the descent of the plane,” Marseille Public Prosecutor Brice Robin told reporters at a news conference.

“So again, I repeat, he was alone at the helm of this plane in the Airbus 320. Again, I’ll repeat. The copilot was the one who was manipulating the flight monitoring system, who managed the descent of the plane. So again, all of these actions were completely voluntary. Then we hear the pilot calling, asking to regain access into the cockpit. This is through a certain type of phone between cabins. So again, we can assume he was identified, however, the copilot just didn’t respond. He’s knocking. He’s asking to be let in. Zero response from the copilot. We hear human breathing within the cabin, and we hear this breathing up until the final point of impact, which we assume means that the copilot was living, was alive, in the cockpit,” Robin continued.

“Then we hear contact from the control tower in Marseille, however, there was zero response from the copilot. So air control traffickers start asking for a distress signal. Again, zero response. This means that this flight became a priority compared to every other flight at the time. Control tower even asked other planes to try and signal, contact this Airbus. Again, zero response. So after that, alarms were put into place to try and alert the people to how close the plane was to the ground. Then we start hearing banging, someone trying to actually break the door down. That’s why the alarms were let off, because these were protocols put in place to prevent any terrorist attacks,” he said.

“So alarms start ringing and right before the final point of impact we hear something that we assume was some kind of first point of impact. So we assume that the plane actually glided a little bit on some kind of slope before it actually finally hit the mountain. Again, zero distress signal. Zero signal of emergency, zero ‘help me’ or SOS. Nothing of this sort was received by any air traffic controllers. Nothing like ‘help me, help me, SOS,’ nothing was received by the air traffic controllers. And no response, no response. There was zero, zero response to any of the air traffic controllers’ attempts to contact the people inside the plane.”

Robin called it “some kind of deliberate action and willingness to destroy this plane.”

He said the “completely human, classic, normal” breathing heard on the recorder shows the co-pilot wasn’t “in the middle of having a heart attack, for example. He uttered not one word. Complete and total silence.”

Robin said Lubitz was an ethnic German with “no prior terrorist history.”

He stressed that the co-pilot wouldn’t have been able to program the descent by passing out. “The button to lever that you turn, you turn several times according to how much altitude you want to lose. It’s a deliberate thing. It can’t be done automatically. So, well, if his head was to hit it, maybe it would move by a quarter of a turn, but it won’t do anything. It won’t turn it 15 times.”

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr was asked if he would brand the crash as suicide. When you take down a plane full of people with you, Spohr said, “another word should be used, not suicide.”

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Saudis Unleash Strikes on Yemen After White House Promotes UN-Led Negotiations

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes into Yemen a short time ago, with the Saudi ambassador in Washington telling reporters that the aim is to “to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis.”

“The Gulf Cooperation Council countries tried to facilitate a peaceful transition of government in Yemen, but the Houthis have continuously undercut the process by occupying territory and seizing weapons belonging to the government,” Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said in a statement. “…The Houthis have reneged on every single agreement they have made and continue their quest to take over the country by violent means.”

“Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the Kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC, launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government.”

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates said in a joint statement that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government had asked for help in battling the Iran-backed Houthis.

Reports Al-Arabiya:

Warplanes of the Royal Saudi Air Force bombed the positions of Yemen’s Houthi militia, destroying an airbase in Sanaa and most of the militia’s air defenses, Al Arabiya News Channel reported early on Thursday, citing Saudi sources.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered the airstrikes on the Iran-backed Houthi militia on Thursday at 12 am Riyadh time, the news channel reported, adding that the kingdom’s air force was “fully in control of the Yemeni airspace.”

Shortly afterwards Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir announced that the kingdom had launched a military operation involving air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters who have tightened their grip on the southern city of Aden where the country’s president had taken refuge.

Al-Jubeir told reporters that a 10-country coalition had joined in the military campaign in a bid “to protect and defend the legitimate government” of Yemen President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling,” Jubeir said.

Al-Arabiya also reported a cyberwar component, saying that several Houthi websites had crashed.

Yesterday, while appearing in Riyadh with the British foreign secretary, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal hit at Iran and the Houthis.

The prince stressed that “it is not possible to grant Iran an undeserved deal” in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations.

On Yemen, he said, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s “aim is to provide the vehicle for the president to return peacefully to Yemen and provide the leadership as required to bring this country back.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the “takeover of southern Yemen by the Iranian-supported Houthis has led to chaos, threatening the national security interests of our regional partners and the United States.”

“Regional states, led by Saudi Arabia at President Hadi’s request, are taking action from the air,” Royce said. “The United States should support our Saudi and Gulf partners with appropriate logistical and intelligence support to combat this threat.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement late Wednesday that President Obama “has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations.”

“While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support,” Meehan said. “At the same time, the United States continues to closely monitor terrorist threats posed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and will continue to take action as necessary to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.”

“We strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue. The international community has spoken clearly through the UN Security Council and in other fora that the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition – long sought by the Yemeni people – can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.”

The strikes came as the Obama administration resumed talks with Iran, which backs the Houthis, in Switzerland.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was pressed at the briefing earlier today on whether they still consider Yemen a model for counterterrorism success.

“What the United States considers to be our strategy when confronting the effort to try to mitigate the threat that is posed by extremists, is to prevent them from establishing a safe haven. And certainly in a chaotic, dangerous situation like in Yemen, what the United States will do and has done is worked to try to support the central government, to build up the capacity of local fighters, and use our own technological and military capabilities to apply pressure on the extremists there,” Earnest replied.

“There’s no doubt that we would like to see a functioning central government in Yemen. We don’t see that right now. And that is why we’re supportive of the U.N.-led process to try to put an end to the violence and instability; to bring the sides, you know, all sides together to the table to try to resolve their differences; to build up the capacity of the central government; to build up the capacity of local forces; and to continue to apply pressure to extremists.”

But, Earnest maintained, “We do continue to enjoy the benefits of a sustained counterterrorism security relationship with the security infrastructure that remains in Yemen.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged earlier today that Saudis “have legitimate concerns about the possible impact of current events in Yemen to their security, given their proximity.”

On Yemen as a success, she said “we have had success working on counterterrorism operations, and we expect and hope that will continue.”

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Bergdahl Charged with Desertion, Misbehavior Before the Enemy

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could face life behind bars for walking away from his unit and into the hands of the Taliban, the Army announced today.

Bergdahl, who has been pulling desk duty at Fort Sam Houston since last summer, was charged with counts of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Taken in 2009, Bergdahl was the only American POW held by the Taliban. They received five high-level Guantanamo prisoners in exchange for his return.

Bergdahl will now face an Article 32 proceeding similar to a grand jury where the charges will be weighed. There was no word on whether Bergdahl’s defense team would try to work out a deal.

“This case has been made more difficult by the administration’s failure to follow the law surrounding the release of the Taliban 5,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement. “But, Sgt. Bergdahl’s conduct should be considered under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as would any other service member’s, and I trust it will be.”

Qatar agreed to keep the Taliban 5 for a year, which will be up in a couple of months.

“I don’t have anything to discuss about it at this point in time. As you mentioned, it’s a couple of months from now. Obviously, we’ll continue consultations, as will many in the United States government, but I don’t know,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said today when quizzed about that looming date.

“As you know, the incidents of recidivism have dropped dramatically over the last couple of years,” she added. “We work closely with the government of Qatar on these issues. But I don’t have any predictions for you on what will happen several months from now.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked whether the administration knew the charges would come today, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed a joint session of Congress.

“I’m not aware of any plans for them to do that, but this is a process that’s being run by the United States Army, so I’d direct you to the Pentagon for an answer,” Earnest said.

President Obama threw a White House Rose Garden ceremony last May with Bergdahl’s parents to laud the sergeant’s release. Members of Congress, though, fumed that they weren’t notified of the trade. The administration said they had to move forward without notification as required by law because they feared Bergdahl’s life was in danger.

A week later, National Security Advisor Susan Rice defended the swap, as well as her defense of Bergdahl. “I realize there has been lots of discussion and controversy around this,” Rice said. “But what I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing.”

In January, the White House said the Bergdahl swap didn’t qualify as negotiating with terrorist groups.

“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters.

“As you know, this was highly discussed at the time, and prisoner swaps are a traditional end of conflict interaction that happens,” the spokesman said. “As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. The president’s bedrock commitment as commander in chief is to leave no man or woman behind. That’s the principle he was operating under.”

Then, he said the Taliban — hosts of al-Qaeda camps, suicide bombers, throwers of acid on schoolgirls — didn’t qualify as terrorists.

“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. This was the winding down of the war in Afghanistan. And that’s why this arrangement was dealt,” Schultz continued. “Our view is, as the president said at the time, which is, as the commander in chief, when he sends men and women into armed combat, he doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. That was the commitment he was following through on this.”

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Ghani Tells Congress Afghanistan Seeks Self-Reliance, Not to be ‘Lazy Uncle Joe’

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In a warmly received address to a joint session of Congress today, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reassured lawmakers that his country wants nothing more than to be safe and self-reliant, and will not “be the lazy Uncle Joe” who won’t get a job.

“We owe a profound debt to the 2,350 servicemen and -women killed and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded in service to your country and ours… I want to thank the American taxpayer and you, their representatives, for supporting us,” Ghani said, reiterating remarks he made Monday to servicemen and women at the Pentagon.

“Veterans will always be welcome in Afghanistan. Our deepest hope is that the time will come when Americans visiting our country see the cultural heritage and natural riches… Not as soldiers, but as parents showing their children the beautiful country where they served in the war that defeated terror,” he said. “On behalf of my entire country, when that day comes, you will be our most welcome and honored guests.”

Ghani reflected on how he was in his office at the World Bank when planes leveled the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The Columbia University graduate — along with his Christian Lebanese wife, Rula — recalled fondly eating “corned beef at Katz’s, New York’s greatest, meatiest, pickle-lined melting pot.” That was one of many lines that drew applause from the chamber; Afghan media counted 20 standing ovations.

“Close friends were working near the Trade Center. My children were born in New York, and my daughter was living in New York when the Twin Towers fell. I visited Ground Zero that very week. Seeing firsthand the tragedy and devastation drove home the realization that after 9/11, the world would never be the same. I went home knowing that America would seek justice, and I began to write the plan for our national reconstruction,” the president continued.

Ghani stressed that despite “thankfully rare, but nonetheless tragic” green-on-blue attacks, “the overwhelming majority of Afghans continue to see the partnership with the United States as foundational to our future.”

“We have made great sacrifices, we Afghans, but then, it’s our patriotic to do so. You, on the other hand, had a choice. And when it came to a fork in the road, chose to do the right thing. Thank you.”

While the Taliban banned girls from attending school, today more than 3 million are in class, Ghani said. “Their parents thank you.”

“In 2002, when the allies built their first clinics, the average life-span of the ordinary Afghan was 44 years. Today, it’s over 60. Their children thank you.”

Afghanistan, he said, “contrary to wide perception, is well-suited to democracy.”

“Like Americans, Afghans are individuals. None of us defers to anyone else. We have neither had caste nor class, so persuading each other is an art form,” Ghani said. “Our key characteristics are our openness and hospitality. We believe in equality. Even in the most traditional parts of the country, our leadership must earn rather than inherit their position. There’s a strong public conscience. People are expected to act for the common good. We love debate.”

Ghani acknowledged ISIS as “another, darker cloud that is making its way towards our country.”

“The promise of the Arab Spring gave way to the emergence of Daesh terror and collapse of states. But the changed ecology of terror could have not formed without some states tolerating, financing, providing sanctuary and using violent, nonstate actors as instruments of shortsighted policies,” he said. “…From the West, the Daesh is already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to push our vulnerabilities. To the south, Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations in which more than 40,000 people have already died are pushing the Taliban from South Waziristan towards Afghanistan’s border regions.”

Afghanistan, he stressed, “is carrying forward everyone’s fight by containing this threat.”

“Properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism. We have none of the historical inferiority complexes that choose resentment across Western domination. After all, we defeated most of the empires,” he said. “…Ordinary is what has escaped us, and we’d really like to be leading ordinary lives, to go to school and to come back. To shop without being blown up. To play volleyball without being attacked.”

Ghani spent a substantial portion of his speech outlining plans to advance women’s rights, and to highlight gains already made.

“No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away, uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity and drive to national development… educating women is not solely a matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity,” he said, stressing “a mental and cultural revolution must take place over treatment of women in and by our society. There is no point talking about how much we respect woman’s honor if we let rape go unpunished or allow harassment in our streets.”

The president said he is “meeting frequently women who are entertaining the idea, seriously, the idea of becoming the first woman president of Afghanistan, and we will support them.” Four women have been appointed to his cabinet for a 20 percent share — “still too low, but at least fulfillment of our promise.”

Vowing Afghanistan “will be the graveyard of al-Qaeda and their foreign terrorist associates,” Ghani said that “although we may be poor, we’re very proud.”

“Our goal of self-reliance is no pipe dream… we want your know-how, the business skills of your corporations, the innovation of your startups and the commitment of your NGOs,” he said. “But we don’t want your charity. We have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to get out and find a job. We are not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe.” Lawmakers laughed; Vice President Joe Biden was sitting behind Ghani as he spoke.

“Together, our two countries will finish the job that began on that clear, terrible September morning almost 14 years ago. We have the way, and we have the commitment that will anchor our country into a community of peaceful, democratic nations.”

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Obama Marks 5-Year Obamacare Anniversary: Where’s the ‘Death Panels, Doom’?

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said at a White House ceremony today marking the fifth anniversary of Obamacare that the healthcare law is “working better than many of us, including me, anticipated.”

“I mean, we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case: death panels, doom,” he said, sparking laughter from the healthcare “leaders,” in the words of a White House official, comprising the audience. “A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress,” Obama quipped, arousing more laughter.

“The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of the uninsured in America. And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with their own alternative has proven to be difficult,” he said. “First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it based on conservative, market-based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress, and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect. If they want to take credit for this law, they can. I’m happy to share it.”

“And second, it’s because health reform is really hard and the people here who are in the trenches know that. Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.”

Only three congressional Democrats were at the event; the rest were in a joint session of Congress listening to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Obama said that “for folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law, you’ve got to explain how kicking millions of families off their insurance is somehow going to make us more free.”

“Or why forcing millions of families to pay thousands of dollars more will somehow make us more secure. Or why we should go back to the days when women paid more for coverage than men. Or a preexisting condition locked so many of us out of insurance,” he added.

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Kasich: ‘I Have a Right to Define What It Means to be a Conservative’

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he’s “not playing cat and mouse” and “not being evasive” about his 2016 presidential plans.

“I just don’t know yet,” Kasich told Fox from early primary state New Hampshire. “…And as one guy told me, who wanted to run for president and didn’t, you are the governor of Ohio, take your time, decide what you think is best for yourself and for the country and go from there.”

Kasich said his focus on issues that affect the poor stems from his belief that the GOP “can certainly reach out and help people who live in the shadows.”

“So what we want is we want the mentally ill not to be in our prisons. We want the drug addicted to get rehab so they can get on their feet. And we want the working poor to have incentives to become independent,” he said. “…We want the employers in the welfare office. We want them to be trained for a job that exists and we want them to be independent.”

“So you know a lot of times people say are you a compassionate conservative? That sounds like we just help people. We want to help them but we want to help them to get on their feet so they can be independent…I think it is important that everyone in our country, black, white, everyone feels as though they have a stake in America, that America can be a land of promise for everybody.”

Kasich touted his gubernatorial record of starting with an $8 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus.

“I think the Republican Party says that we need to have solutions that don’t involve government because they can be more specialized. Government sometimes is a blunt object. I think Democrats, not all of them, but many liberals say if we just create more government or pour more money in, we will fix things. There is a partnership between the government and private sector to address some of our problems. Frankly, what is too similar between Republicans and Democrats is they are just all fighting with one another,” the governor said.

“…We can fight for a while but, at the end of the day, like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did, you have a drink and you say we are going to have put the country first. That, to me, is most important in terms of getting America back on track again. End the polarization, end the division, and you can do that without losing your principles.”

Kasich stressed that “after being the governor of Ohio for two terms, a chairman of the Budget Committee in Washington that got the budget balanced for the first time since we walked on the moon, I think I have a right to define what it means to be a conservative.”

“To me, a conservative is to give everybody an opportunity to be successful,” he said. “Look, if we ignore the mentally ill and we let them go into prison, how is that helping? How is it helping if we just ignore the drug addicted and tell them to fend for themselves and they end up sleeping under bridges or they are in our local jails? That’s not conservatism. Conservatism is getting to the root of the problem, personal responsibility and accountability, and getting them on their feet. To me, that’s the defense of conservatism.”

“And at the same time, of course, we can’t ignore the fact that we can’t punish the successful.”

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Kerry: Ben Franklin ‘Could Never be Confirmed by the Senate Today’

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry quipped at a dinner with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that founding father Benjamin  Franklin wouldn’t get through a GOP-controlled Congress.

Kerry was hosting the Tuesday evening event in the State Department dining room named after the onetime minister to France and Sweden.

“We are really delighted to welcome everybody here to the Ben Franklin Room, which you all know well — most of you know very, very well — named after the gentleman in the portrait down there at the end, Ben Franklin, who was allegedly our first diplomat. And everybody here knows, knowing his life, that he could never be confirmed by the Senate today,” Kerry said.

“He had a lot of wise sayings, and one of them was everybody should go to bed early. But knowing how much he ignored that advice himself, we don’t expect anybody to do that tonight. We want to have a good time,” he added.

Attendees at the dinner included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and David Petraeus.

And, being a Kerry introduction, he worked in a personal anecdote.

“At our reception earlier, you all had a chance to hear a Kennedy Center performance from two years ago by the Afghan National Institute of Music. And on my very first day as secretary of State, purely by serendipity, I had the privilege of speaking to members of that orchestra who, with the help from the United States and other donors, are preserving their country’s rich musical heritage,” he said. “As a onetime aspiring guitarist in a high school rock band, frankly, I am in awe of those who actually know how to make good sounds come out of their instruments.”

Ghani asked Petraeus, who was brought down by a sex scandal with his biographer, “Are you getting any more sleep than you got in Kabul?”

“Vastly more,” the onetime commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan replied.

“No, because General Petraeus slept in a very small room and hardly slept,” Ghani said. “And it was an example that is shared by General Campbell and all the distinguished generals.”

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Jindal: Next President Should Want to ‘Do Something, Not Just be Somebody’

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox he’s “not at all” upset about not being the first GOP candidate out of the gate in the 2016 presidential race, stressing that he has a legislative session to finish first.

But, he noted, “We need a president who wants to do something, not just be somebody.”

The legislative session in his state ends June 11, so Jindal expects to make a decision after that.

“Here’s what I’ve been doing that I don’t think any other potential candidate has been doing. I know a lot of them are focused on fundraising, polling, consulting. I spent the last year and a half, I created a think tank called America Next to think about specifically what should the next president do,” the governor said.

“We put out detailed policies. I’m the only one who’s put out a plan how you actually repeal and replace Obamacare. A plan for energy independence. A plan for education school of choice. A plan for foreign policy. How do we invest in the Pentagon, reinvest our military, how do we repair the foreign policy mistakes of this president?”

Jindal added he’s “surprised others aren’t doing that.”

He said the best GOP nominee would be “a reform-minded, a conservative governor, somebody who has got a proven track record.”

“I think this election’s about the future. I think what people want to hear is a candidate that’s going to say I’m going to take on the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Forget the political correctness. We need a candidate that says I’m going to cut the size of government. Not just slow down the rate of the growth, actually balance the budget,” he continued.

“We need a candidate that says I’m going to get rid of all of Obamacare. Some of the Republicans are already saying we’ll keep some of the tax increases, some of the spending. We don’t need to keep any of it. We need a candidate that’s going to say here is how we restore the American dream for our children and grandchildren, good paying jobs, jobs that allow them to join the middle class.”

Jindal said the GOP needs “an authentic conservative who will push back when the liberal media — when Democrats come at them.”

“I think we can win this election. We need to win this election, not just for the Republican Party, for the sake of our country. We can’t afford four more years. We need a major course correction.”

He stressed that “when you do speak the truth, the reality is the media pushes back against you.”

“So, when I — when I talk specifically about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, they said I was racist. When I did a Christian event called The Response for people in Louisiana to come together, to pray for our country, the media tried to criticize me,” Jindal said. “When I stood up for Phil Robertson when he used his free speech rights, the media comes after you. As conservatives, we need to stand our ground, push back. I think the American people want to see us fight for our principals. They want an authentic conservative.”

Asked how he’s better than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jindal replied, “Well, look, the voters get to decide. I know D.C. insiders would like us to clear the field, to have no debates. That’s nonsense. The voters get to decide that. I’ve been saying for a while that I’d like to see our nominee be a conservative reform governor, but the good news is, the insiders, we don’t get to decide, the potential candidates don’t get to decide. The voters get to decide who our nominee is.”

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Hoyer: U.S. Not So Innocent as It Accuses Israel of Spying

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was notable among the lower chamber’s Democratic leadership for enthusiastically applauding during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress this month, suggested that the anonymous White House allegation of Israel spying on the Iran deal could be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

At a session with reporters on Tuesday, Hoyer was asked about the Wall Street Journal article alleging that Israel spied on Iran nuclear talks and fed information to Congress in an effort to influence opposition to the nuclear deal.

The article said the “espionage” upset the White House because Israel was allegedly sharing “inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program.”

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” the WSJ quotes an unnamed senior U.S. official.

A senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded, “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

Hoyer said he was “not aware” of the allegations.

“I’ve heard about it. I have not read the article. I don’t know a lot about it,” he said, asking, “Did it say who they theoretically talked to?”

“Members of Congress,” he was told.

“Oh, members of Congress,” Hoyer replied. “I don’t anything about it, enough to comment.”

Pressed on whether the allegations matter, he said “it would depend upon what was done.”

“I mean, I don’t know whether they (Israel) talked to some of the other negotiators in their, their six countries represented on our side…. I don’t want to get too deeply in until I see what it alleged to have happened,” Hoyer continued.

“But I will say this: All nations try to get as much information as they can about what’s going on that affects them. Including the United States of America, as we know. Yes.”

Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the top lawmakers at the House Intelligence Committee — Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — all said Israel didn’t feed them intelligence about Iran.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) quipped to reporters that he “kind of felt left out” by not getting the supposed Israeli intel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he learned nothing from Israelis that Congress didn’t already know, then told reporters, “I hope we’re spying on the Iranians.”

Hoyer told MSNBC earlier this month that he’s been “urging the administration to follow its original premise, no nuclear armed capability by the Iranians. Period.”

“And I think that that view is shared by everybody in the Middle East, other than Iran. So, this is — and it’s shared by the United Nations. So, this is a view that is expressed by the world, and the P5+1 ought to accomplish that objective. And if we can’t, frankly, there ought not be a deal.”

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Reid: I’ve Gotten No Iran Intelligence from the Israelis

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that he didn’t receive intelligence from the Israelis about Iran’s nuclear program.

“All the intelligence information I’ve gotten has come from America,” Reid declared to reporters outside of a caucus meeting on the Hill.

Reid confirmed that he’s met with the Israeli ambassador “over the years.”

“And we’ve heard his public — anything I’ve heard from him has been no different than his public pronouncements,” he said. “They don’t like the deal.”

Reid has recently said that he’s not discouraging Democrats from supporting bipartisan Iran bills under veto threat from the White House.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters today he was “shocked” to read a Wall Street Journal article alleging that Israel spied on Iran nuclear talks and fed information to Congress.

“I read that story this morning and, frankly, I was a bit shocked because there was no information revealed to me whatsoever,” Boehner said outside a closed caucus meeting.

The article said the “espionage” upset the White House because Israel was allegedly sharing “inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program.”

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” the WSJ quotes an unnamed senior U.S. official.

Israel called the allegations “utterly false.”

So far, no lawmaker has said they got any classified information with Israel.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told CNN he was also “shocked” by the report as he did not receive information from the Israelis. “If they were sharing information it wasn’t on our side of the aisle,” Nunes said.

Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted that he had a “number of meetings with Israeli officials” and in “none of those cases” did the Israelis discuss anything he deemed to be classified.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki today called it “an absurd notion that Congress would have to rely on any foreign government to gain insight into the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

“I think we’ve spoken in the past to our concern in the past has been about leaks of certain sensitive information. And obviously, we’ve taken steps to ensure that the negotiations remain private,” Psaki said. “But we still have ongoing conversations that are continuing with Israel and a range of countries Undersecretary Sherman has met over the past month with.”

A reporter told Psaki that the reason behind the administration’s “anonymous whining” isn’t understood.

“Well, I can’t speak to the reasoning or the motivation of an anonymous source. I think in the past, we’ve expressed steps we take in order to ensure that the talks remain private. We continue that,” Psaki replied. “…If I had the anonymous source, I’d be happy to have them up here. I don’t have any more information on the anonymous source quoted in the story.”

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Obama: Netanyahu Relationship Not Matter of ‘Let’s All Hold Hands and Sing Kumbaya’

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama didn’t want to comment today on the allegations of unnamed White House officials that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been spying on the United States to undermine a nuclear deal.

“As a general rule, I don’t comment on intelligence matters in a big room full of reporters, and I think I’ll continue that tradition,” he quipped at a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

But he was ready to throw out some more soundbites in regard to how he feels about Netanyahu.

“With respect to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, I think it’s important to understand that the issue here is not what I believe, but it’s what the Palestinians and the parties in the negotiations and the Israeli people believe is possible. That’s the most important issue,” Obama said. “You know, I’ve said before and I’ll simply repeat, you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu in the election run-up stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was prime minister.”

“And I took him at his word that that’s what he meant. And I think a lot of voters inside of Israel understood him to be saying that fairly unequivocally,” he added.

Netanayhu has clarified that a two-state solution cannot happen while Hamas is in a unity pact with Fatah, along with other longstanding conditions about the recognition and security of Israel.

“Afterwards, he pointed out that he didn’t say never, but that there would be a series of conditions in which a Palestinian state could potentially be created, but, of course, the conditions were such that they would be impossible to meet any time soon,” Obama continued.

“So, even if you accept it, I think the corrective of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s in subsequent days, there still does not appear to be a prospect of a meaningful framework established that would lead to a Palestinian state, even if there were a whole range of conditions and security requirements that might be phased in over a long period of time, which was always the presumption.”

The president said nobody envisioned “that overnight you suddenly have a Palestinian state right next to Jerusalem and that Israel would not have a whole range of security issues that had to be met and that it would be phased in over a long period of time.”

“The question is, do you create a process and a framework that gives the Palestinians hope, the possibility, that down the road they have a secure state of their own, standing side by side with a secure, fully recognized Jewish state of Israel? And I think — it’s not just my estimation, I think it is hard to envision how that happens, based on the prime minister’s statements.”

His “re-evaluation” won’t focus on security cooperation, Obama said, adding he’ll “continue to do whatever I need to do to make sure that our friends in Israel are safe.”

“But I am required to evaluate honestly how we manage Israeli-Palestinian relations over the next several years… with some common sense, and we could resolve what has been a vexing issue and one that is ultimately a threat to Israel as well. And that possibility seems very dim. That may trigger, then, reactions by the Palestinians that, in turn, elicit counter-reactions by the Israelis, and that could end up leading to a downward spiral of relations that will be dangerous for everybody and bad for everybody.”

Obama said he’ll be talking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to gauge their feelings on the issue, but “what we can’t do is pretend that there’s a possibility of something that’s not there.”

“And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen, at least in the next several years,” he said. “That is something that we have to — for the sake of our own credibility, I think we have to be able to be honest about that.”

Obama added that he’s “obviously” heard lots of “commentary” about his relationship with Netanyahu, and insisted that they have a “very businesslike relationship.”

“So the issue is not a matter of relations between leaders. The issue is a very clear, substantive challenge. We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability. That’s our view and that continues to be our view. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach. And so, this can’t be reduced to a matter of somehow let’s all, you know, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. This is a matter of figuring out how do we get through a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and for the region. OK.”

On when that re-evaluation takes place, and if it may take the form of not backing Israel at the United Nations, Obama replied, “We’re going to partly wait for an actual Israeli government to form.”

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Boehner ‘Baffled’ by Allegation Israel Fed Iran Information to Congress

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters today he was “shocked” to read a Wall Street Journal article alleging that Israel spied on Iran nuclear talks and fed information to Congress.

“I read that story this morning and, frankly, I was a bit shocked because there was no information revealed to me whatsoever,” Boehner said outside a closed caucus meeting.

The article said the “espionage” upset the White House because Israel was allegedly sharing “inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program.”

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” the WSJ quotes an unnamed senior U.S. official.

A senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded, “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

Boehner said he was “shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress.”

“I’m not aware of that at all,” he said. “…I’m baffled by it.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told CNN he was also “shocked” by the report as he did not receive information from the Israelis. “If they were sharing information it wasn’t on our side of the aisle,” Nunes said.

Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted that he had a “number of meetings with Israeli officials” and in “none of those cases” did the Israelis discuss anything he deemed to be classified.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one of the co-sponsors of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 also known as the Corker-Menendez bill, told MSNBC that he didn’t have any knowledge of Israel spying and feeding information to lawmakers. King was going into a closed-door Intelligence Committee briefing but said all he knew about the “somewhat disturbing” allegations is what was in the article.

“It’s a real shame that we’re spending so much time and energy arguing with our strongest ally in the region,” King said. “I just — I think everybody has got to take a little bit of a deep breath here and step back.”

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Paul on Cruz: I’ve Got ‘Winnability’ on My Side

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is advising voters to consider the winnability factor when weighing the candidacy of his colleague in the upper chamber.

Paul said he “didn’t find much” he “disagreed with” in Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2016 campaign announcement yesterday at Liberty University, but he was “traveling and busy” and only saw a clip. Paul was on the Senate floor Monday for a 5:30 p.m. vote but Cruz was not.

“But I kind of remember those days I went to Baylor University and we were all required to go to convocation,” Paul said on Fox last night of the Liberty students who showed up to the Cruz announcement wearing “I Stand with Rand” T-shirts. “So, all these kids are required and some of those who were required wanted to make sure that just by having to be there they weren’t expressing their support. But we were glad to see them there and organized and, you know, excited about the possibility of me running.”

Paul said his voting record is “very, very similar” to Cruz, but “what makes us different is probably our approach as to how we would make the party bigger.”

“And I’m a big believer that you should stand on principle and be true to your principles. But I also think that we should take those principles and try to bring in new people with them. So I’ve spent the last couple years trying to go places Republicans haven’t gone,” he said. “And maybe not just throwing out red meat but actually throwing out something intellectually enticing to people who haven’t been listening to our message before.”

Paul said he’s “thinking about” running for president and will have “some kind of announcement April 7.” As that date will kick off a five-state tour, that’s expected to be a presidential announcement.

“I try to get along with all the wings of the party. But I also am able to take the message of liberty and bill of rights and take it to Howard University, to their Urban League, to NAACP, to Ferguson, to Berkeley and try to bring new people into the party. So, it isn’t just about rousing the base. It’s about exciting the base by being for the principles of liberty but then taking those principles of liberty, not diluting them and taking them to new people and bringing them into the party. That’s the way you win general elections,” the senator said.

“…Right now I’m the only one that beats Hillary Clinton in certain purple states. I’m the only one that also scores above all the other republicans in whether or not I can beat her. So there will be a lot of conservatives. Ted Cruz is a conservative. But it also goes to winnability.”

Paul said the nominee needs to “aggressively go after the Clintons” for “their corruption.”

“We won’t win unless we do aggressively combat [Hillary Clinton] and make sure that she has to explain her record as well,” he added.

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Jackson Lee: If You Want to See Confederate Flag or Study Its History, ‘Turn to a Book’

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments on whether Texas should allow a vanity license plate with a picture of the Confederate flag, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee said the plate “is not the way we should honor our American veterans who fought for a unified America.”

Justices heard arguments yesterday in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg musing whether, if it’s a free speech issue, states should be compelled to offer plates bearing swastikas or the word “jihad.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans replied yes, “speech that we hate is something that we should be proud of protecting.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the group can find other ways to remember the Confederate past.

The congresswoman held a meeting with her state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Board back in November 2011, and said in a lengthy statement that it’s “unfortunate” it’s gone to the Supreme Court in 2015.

“To many of us it would be more appropriate to honor the nation’s soldiers who supported the survival of America by celebrating the flag of the United States of America. All of us would support placing the United States flag on our license plate,” she said.

“…No one wishes to deny our history as a state. But we as leaders should take every opportunity to support that which unites our citizenry – not that which divides us. Reminding those among us of their painful past has no place in celebrating our great state.”

Furthermore, Jackson Lee argued, the vanity plate designs are supposed to “promote tourism and commerce, to create positive identity and awareness, and to showcase those riches that make our state unique.”

“The Confederate flag, long recognized in our generation as a symbol of slavery, racism, and defeat, accomplishes none of those purposes. Those wishing to study the historical significance of this flag and our Confederate past should instead turn to a book,” she said.

“This issue has been visited many times over. African Americans in South Carolina have taken offense to the rebel flag flying over its statehouse, prompting its removal in 2000. To date, it remains a sore spot. Confederate theme-images have caused the same debate at numerous colleges and schools nationwide and even locally. Texas does not need to go down that road.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took the position that the license plate is offensive, but filed an amicus brief arguing “that the First Amendment prohibits Texas from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its specialty license plate program, which is best understood as a forum for private speech.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas says it is “preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.”

“Ill-intended or not, why would Americans want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape and mass murder?” Jackson Lee said.

“Our nation has taken pride in honoring those who fought and died in battle and welcomes those who want to observe the recognition of the Civil War; but there are many other ways to pay tribute to the dead and the cause for which they died,” she said. “Those that desire to honor the Civil War’s Confederate effort can do so in many private ways but not through a state of Texas issued license plate that represents the affirmation by the entire state of Texas of a symbol that equals fear, intimidation and oppression and the maintenance of the bondage of other human beings.”

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Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator: Lift All Sanctions First, No Concessions

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator has stressed yet again that there is no deal with the P5+1 unless all sanctions on the Islamic Republic are lifted first.

In fact, there are “no concessions” on Iran’s part forthcoming, he said.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi said early this month that Tehran’s “principle position is that all sanctions are lifted at once.”

Last week, 260 lawmakers in the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly wrote a letter demanding that all sanctions be removed as a prerequisite for signing a nuclear deal.

“As a guarantee for implementation, in case of any violation of obligations by the opposite side, the agreement will be declared null and void and enrichment will be resumed at any required level,” the lawmakers wrote.

And over the weekend, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will ultimately sign off on or reject any nuclear deal, tweeted his agreement. “We reject US fraudulent offer of reaching a deal w first then lifting sanctions. Lifting sanctions is a part of deal not its outcome,” Khamenei tweeted.

Now today, with more than two weeks of negotiations having passed since his original comments, Araqchi is reiterating that “Tehran’s confidence-building measures and removal of sanctions by the powers are the objectives of the ongoing nuclear talks between the two sides,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Fars reported that Araqchi stressed “Iran is not to give away any concessions”:

He described the present phase of the talks as “sensitive”, and said it was natural for certain people to make some remarks to influence the process of the negotiations.

However, Araqchi said, Iran is not to grant any concessions.

Commenting on the recent remarks of the US President Barack Obama who said Iran has not provided enough concessions yet, he said the American president is making the remarks to affect the negotiations.

He said none of the parties is expected to offer concessions, specially Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said today at the Council on Foreign Relations and on the Senate floor that the Obama administration trying to repeal Iran sanctions at the UN and not coming to Congress would be met with a bipartisan “violent response.”

“The Iranians are going to demand immediate sanction relief, and I hope we’ll say no. Until the IAEA verifies what they’ve been doing in the past, I think it would be ill-advised to relieve the sanctions,” Graham said at the CFR event. “They’re going to ask for a research-and-development capability. That scares the hell out of me, and I hope we’ll say no. If they demand immediate sanctions relief, the deal probably falls. Then we’ll be in no-man’s territory. Just, we don’t know what will happen next.”

“And that’s the most dangerous time, because that’s when they’re most likely to break out. Whether they believe that Obama would use force to stop their breakout, after drawing the red line with Assad, I doubt it. Whether they believe that P5+1 would do it as a group, I doubt it after the way we’ve handled Russia and the Ukraine.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that they “have made pretty clear… that this deal will be predicated on serious commitments from the Iranians about resolving the international community’s concerns with their nuclear program and a commitment that they will comply with intrusive inspections.”

“And those are the kinds of commitments that we’re going to insist on before we even contemplate any sort of sanctions relief,” Earnest said. “And what we would envision is a demonstrated commitment to the — to compliance with the agreement before phasing the sanctions relief.”

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These Syrian Townspeople Brilliantly Called Out Kerry and Power

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Obama administration frequently notes that it made Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get rid of his chemical weapons, a deal struck with the help of Assad ally Russia after the ghastly 2013 attack on Ghouta.

That attack crossed the red line established by President Obama to take action to help the Syrian people, and once he struck the weapons disposal deal he considered it a most welcome line through an unpleasant confrontation on his to-do list.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough held the deal up during his speech to J Street today as a “political arrangement” where congressional approval is not needed, such as what they’re trying to achieve with Iran. “It’s how we—peacefully—removed Syria’s entire declared stockpile of chemical weapons,” McDonough said.

Despite the ambiguity of “declared” in a country where the majority is a strict no-go zone for weapons inspectors, Assad has continued his chemical weapons attacks with chlorine gas.

Last week, the towns of Sarmin and Qmenas were hit with chlorine bombs by Assad forces, video reviewed and confirmed by human rights groups. The Syrian Coalition said six were killed, including three children, and about 70 were injured, 13 seriously.

“Once again the Assad regime has used the chlorine gas against civilians in flagrant violations of the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2209 which bans use of chlorine gas in Syria,” Syrian Coalition Vice President Hisham Marwa said. “The UN Security Council must take all necessary measures that ensures the enforcement of the resolution No. 2209, which rules that chlorine gas is toxic and a chemical weapon, and that using it militarily represents a gross violation of international law and a flagrant violation of Resolution 2118.”

Secretary of State John Kerry put out a statement Thursday saying the administration was “deeply disturbed” that Assad used chlorine gas weapons “again.”

“What is clear is that the Assad regime continues to flout international standards and norms, including, if these latest allegations are verified, the Chemical Weapons Convention. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to such barbarism. As has been well documented, the Assad regime continues to terrorize the people of Syria through indiscriminate airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, murder, and starvation. The Assad regime must be held accountable for such atrocious behavior,” Kerry said.

“…The Assad regime’s horrifying pattern of using chlorine as a chemical weapon against the Syrian people underscores the importance of investigating this allegation as quickly as possible, holding those who perpetrated such abhorrent acts in violation of international law accountable, and continuing to support the complete elimination chemical weapons in this volatile region.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t have “any predictions” on what holding Assad accountable might entail.

“Reports and video out of #Syria utterly horrific. Civilians, including kids, victims of an apparent chlorine gas attack,” UN Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted that day. “This is why #UNSC passed res affirming the weaponization of chlorine as viol of CWC&UN res. Long past time for attribution&consequences. Asad regime is only power with helos. Reports again are that gas attack came from the air. If it flies like a duck…”

That was enough for Syrians who have been bearing the brunt of these attacks.

 

 

The northwestern Syrian fig-and-olive-producing town of Kafranbel huddled together fairly early in the war and decided the best way to get their message to the outside world would be to pen signs in English, then spread them through the Internet and social media. Their signs have included see Obama as Pinocchio and a genocide enabler.

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White House Chief of Staff at J Street: ‘Occupation’ by Israelis ‘Must End’

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough today called for an end to Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians and vowed that the Obama administration won’t “pretend” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t make his campaign remarks about no two-state solution.

McDonough thanked the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” — as J Street bills itself — and pro-Palestinian lobbying group for the “important work you do around the country,” calling it “an organization that, in the best tradition of the American Jewish community, shares a set of values about the type of country that we are – a democracy where all of our people can access opportunity.”

“President Obama asked me to convey his deep appreciation to all of you for your partnership and your work on behalf of the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially building support for our efforts to advance a two-state solution,” he said.

McDonough spent much of his speech, though, on issues other than the Mideast: solar energy, the auto industry, job growth, energy independence, and the fifth anniversary of Obamacare. He also spent significant time taking shots at the new Republican budget.

“Of course, our relationship with Israel isn’t defined by numbers in a budget. Ours is a deep and abiding partnership between two vibrant democracies. We saw that democracy in action when Israelis of all backgrounds—Jewish and Arab, religious and secular–cast their ballots last week. At the heart of any democracy is the right of all citizens to participate equally,” he said. J Street lobbied heavily against Netanyahu and the Likud party.

McDonough said in Thursday’s congratulatory call from Obama to Netanyahu the president “committed to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“No matter who leads Israel, America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waver,” he said, noting money allocated by Congress and approved by the administration to spend on the Iron Dome missile defense system and next year’s delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“We continue to believe that the best way to safeguard Israel’s long-term security is to bring about a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians—two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in security and peace,” he said, adding that’s why Netanyahu’s “comments on the eve of the election—in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister—were so troubling.”

“After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”

Netanyahu clarified his comments to note that the conditions for a two-state solution currently do not exist as Fatah remains allied with Hamas and they refuse to recognize Israel or stop incitement.

“In recent days, some have suggested our reaction to this issue is a matter of personal pique,” McDonough told the crowd. “Nothing could be further from the truth. America’s commitment to a two-state solution is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. It’s been the goal of both Republican and Democratic presidents, and it remains our goal today. Because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

That’s why, he said, Obama now wants to “re-evaluate our approach to the peace process and how we pursue the cause of peace – because, like all of you, we care deeply about Israel and its future.”

“In the end, we know what a peace agreement should look like. The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. Each state needs secure and recognized borders, and there must be robust provisions that safeguard Israel’s security. An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”

McDonough said the “truth” is “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely.”

He insisted that Israel accepting a two-state solution “would deal a knock-out blow to calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions” and “would undercut efforts to isolate Israel in the international community and roll back de-legitimization efforts.”

The White House chief of staff also delivered the standard administration line on Iran negotiations, saying they won’t accept a bad deal but stressing that they’re pursing a deal that’s “both realistic and achievable.”

“Congress should not seek to undermine negotiations before a deal is reached,” McDonough said. “…I’m sure you heard about the letter some Republican senators addressed directly to Iran’s leaders.  It was a blatant political move—as the president said, that is not how America does its business.”

He called the letter “critically flawed in its legal reasoning” as the administration is “pursuing a political arrangement with Iran that does not require congressional approval.”

“Some senators have also proposed legislation that would torpedo diplomacy by suggesting Congress must vote on any deal and by stripping the President of his existing authorities to waive sanctions. Let’s be very clear about what this would do. It would embolden hard-liners in Iran. It would separate the United States from our allies,” McDonough said, adding “it would set a damaging precedent by limiting the ability of future presidents to conduct essential diplomatic negotiations.”

“…If a deal is reached, we will share the details and technical documents with Congress, at which point we welcome a full debate—after all, only Congress could terminate U.S. statutory sanctions on Iran during the duration of the agreement.”

McDonough was the administration representative to the annual conference, facing a much more friendly crowd than National Security Advisor Susan Rice did weeks ago at the AIPAC mega-conference.

 

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367 House Members Send Letter to Obama on Iran’s ‘Pathway to Bomb’

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama just got a letter from 367 members of the House stressing that Iran must have no pathway to a nuclear weapon.

On Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said there were 360 signatures on the letter. The next day, as it was sent to the White House, there were a few more.

Engel and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) began circulating the letter around Congress earlier this month.

The letter to Obama notes that “of the 12 sets of questions that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been seeking, Tehran has answered just part of one. Just last week, the IAEA reported that it is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military related activities, including designing a nuclear payload for a missile.”

“The potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program should be treated as a fundamental test of Tehran’s intention to uphold the final agreement. Unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s past program it will be impossible for the international community to judge Iran’s future breakout time with certainty.”

The letter notes Iran’s “decades of deception” and said “any inspection and verification regime must allow for short notice access to suspect locations, and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.”

The hundreds of lawmakers also said the administration cannot split Iran’s “destabilizing role in the region and state sponsorship of terrorism from the nuclear deal.”

“Iran’s Supreme Leader has also called for an expansion of his country’s ballistic missile program, yet another dimension of the potential threat posed by Iran,” the letter continues. “Iran’s role in fomenting instability in the region — not to mention Iran’s horrendous repression at home — demonstrates the risks of negotiating with a partner we cannot trust.”

The lawmakers promise that only if “convinced” that a final deal’s terms “foreclose any pathway to a bomb” will Congress “consider permanent sanctions relief.”

“The United States has had a longstanding interest in preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.  Over the last twenty years, Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation imposing sanctions on Iran to prevent that outcome, ultimately forcing Iran into negotiations. Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation. In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the letter, which was notably sent to Obama as J Street opened its conference in Washington. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is scheduled to speak to the pro-Palestinian lobbying group tonight.

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