Iran denies US claims of meeting

Iran denies US claims of meeting

Iran has denied that a meeting took place between their main representative at an international conference on Afghanistan and a senior US official.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said that Richard Holbrooke and Mohammad Mehdi Akhoondzadeh had an informal but “cordial exchange”.

She said the US had given the Iranian delegates a letter, but Iran’s foreign ministry “categorically” denied this.

The US had welcomed Iran’s presence at the meeting as a “promising sign”.

On Tuesday, Mrs Clinton said that Mr Holbrooke and Mr Akhoondzadeh had had a brief meeting on the sidelines of the conference in the Hague.

She said the meeting had been unplanned but that the men had agreed to “stay in touch”.

‘No letter’

But on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told Iran’s Mehr news agency: “No meeting or talk, be it formal or informal, official or unofficial between Iran and US officials took place on the sideline of this conference.”

“We categorically deny the reports published in this regard,” he said.

Mr Ghashghavi said that as no meeting had taken place, “naturally no letter was handed to Iran from the American side”.

Mrs Clinton had said the letter was about the welfare of three US nationals in Iran.

Mrs Clinton’s comments came at the end of a one-day meeting of delegates from 70 countries and other organisations interested in rebuilding Afghanistan.

It was called by the UN amid widespread concern that not enough progress has been made since the US-led invasion in 2001.

Iran’s presence at the Hague had been described by Mrs Clinton as “a promising sign that there will be future co-operation”.

Tehran gave a guarded welcome to US plans at the meeting to increase regional co-operation over Afghanistan.

 

 

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Taliban say U.S. reconciliation offer “lunatic idea”

Taliban say U.S. reconciliation offer “lunatic idea”

Wed Apr 1, 2009 1:17pm BST

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents rejected on Wednesday a U.S. offer of “honourable reconciliation” as a “lunatic idea” and said the withdrawal of foreign troops was the only way to end the war in Afghanistan.

With the Afghan conflict now in its eighth year, NATO-led forces and the Taliban are locked in a bloody stalemate with violence set to rise further this year as more U.S. troops arrive and seek to contain the insurgency ahead of August elections.

President Barack Obama is redoubling U.S. efforts with more troops, more diplomatic effort and more economic assistance, but he has also already spoken of the need for an “exit strategy.”

If the U.S. plan fails to show results, analysts say, time is on the Taliban side.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international conference on Afghanistan Tuesday that those members of the Taliban who abandoned extremism must be granted an “honourable form of reconciliation.”

“This matter was also raised in the past,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, referring to comments by Obama last month who spoke of reaching out to moderate Taliban.

“They have to go and find the moderate Taliban, their leader and speak to them. This is a lunatic idea,” Mujahid said by telephone from an unknown location.

The 21,000 extra U.S. troops ordered by Obama to join the 70,000 foreign soldiers now fighting insurgents in Afghanistan showed the United States wanted the war to continue, Mujahid said, and the Taliban would keep fighting till they left.

“There is no other way. We want our freedom and respect for our independence,” Mujahid said.

Swiftly ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda after the September 11 attacks, the Taliban regrouped and have steadily spread their attacks from their traditional support base in the south and east to areas closer to the capital.

STALEMATE

NATO commanders admit that mainly British, Canadian and Dutch troops are locked in a stalemate in the south, unable to stop insurgent roadside and suicide bomb attacks without the active support of the population, while Taliban militants are incapable of overcoming Western troops in head-on battle.

Most of the new U.S. troops will be deployed in the south in an effort to break that stalemate, but while U.S. commanders say their forces, mainly in the east, are making progress against the insurgency, violence has risen steadily there too.

As Obama unveiled his new strategy he focussed on the fight against al Qaeda and not allowing Afghanistan to again become a base for Osama bin Laden’s group to attack the United States.

By doing so, Obama effectively changed the measure of success in Afghanistan from the Bush administration’s goal of also defeating the Taliban and installing Western-style democracy.

Despite the Taliban’s harsh rhetoric against foreign troops, the Islamist movement says it does not need al Qaeda support and has also toned down its criticism of the Afghan government.

The shifting stances offer a glimpse of what a possible peace deal may entail: Taliban repudiation of al Qaeda in return for a pledge to withdraw foreign troops.

But while moderate former Taliban officials have been involved in Saudi-sponsored talks to explore ways of opening dialogue with the insurgents, the Taliban are unlikely to engage in negotiations as long as they feel they are winning the war.

Strong indigenous security forces are a key to success in counter-insurgency, U.S. military doctrine states, and Obama said his new strategy would increase efforts to train Afghan forces and bring the Afghan army and police up to strength by 2011.

That date also coincides with the time by which, diplomats say, the Obama administration is likely to want to see results in Afghanistan — a year before the next U.S. presidential election.

The Taliban meanwhile, do not have to win the war, analysts say. All they have to do is survive and wait for their opponents to lose the will to keep fighting.

‘New York Times’ Spiked Obama Donor Story

The New York Times building is shown in New York on June 2008. The Times pulled a story about Barack Obama’s campaign ties to ACORN. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Congressional Testimony: ‘Game-Changer’ Article Would Have Connected Campaign With ACORN

By Michael P. Tremoglie, The Bulletin
Published:

Monday, March 30, 2009

A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a “a game changer.”

Heather Heidelbaugh, who represented the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in the lawsuit against the group, recounted for the ommittee what she had been told by a former ACORN worker who had worked in the group’s Washington, D.C. office. The former worker, Anita Moncrief, told Ms. Heidelbaugh last October, during the state committee’s litigation against ACORN, she had been a “confidential informant for several months to The New York Times reporter, Stephanie Strom.”

Ms. Moncrief had been providing Ms. Strom with information about ACORN’s election activities. Ms. Strom had written several stories based on information Ms. Moncrief had given her.

During her testimony, Ms. Heidelbaugh said Ms. Moncrief had told her The New York Times articles stopped when she revealed that the Obama presidential campaign had sent its maxed-out donor list to ACORN’s Washington, D.C. office.

Ms. Moncrief told Ms. Heidelbaugh the campaign had asked her and her boss to “reach out to the maxed-out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN.”

Ms. Heidelbaugh then told the congressional panel:

“Upon learning this information and receiving the list of donors from the Obama campaign, Ms. Strom reported to Ms. Moncrief that her editors at The New York Times wanted her to kill the story because, and I quote, “it was a game changer.”’

Ms. Moncrief made her first overture to Ms. Heidelbaugh after The New York Times allegedly spiked the story — on Oct. 21, 2008. Last fall, she testified under oath about what she had learned about ACORN from her years in its Washington, D.C. office. Although she was present at the congressional hearing, she did not testify.

U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., the ranking Republican on the committee, said the interactions between the Obama campaign and ACORN, as described by Ms. Moncrief, and attested to before the committee by Ms. Heidelbaugh, could possibly violate federal election law, and “ACORN has a pattern of getting in trouble for violating federal election laws.”

He also voiced criticism of The New York Times.

“If true, The New York Times is showing once again that it is a not an impartial observer of the political scene,” he said. “If they want to be a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, they should put Barack Obama approves of this in their newspaper.”

Academicians and journalism experts expressed similar criticism of the Times.

“The New York Times keeps going over the line in every single campaign and last year was the worst, easily,” said Mal Kline of the American Journalism Center. “They would ignore real questions worth examining about Obama, the questions about Bill Ayers or about how he got his house. Then on the other side they would try to manufacture scandals.”

Mr. Kline mentioned Gov. Sarah Palin was cleared by investigators of improperly firing an Alaska State Trooper, but went unnoticed by The Times.

“How many stories about this were in The New York Times,” he asked.

“If this is true, it would not surprise me at all. The New York Times is a liberal newspaper. It is dedicated to furthering the Democratic Party,” said Dr. Paul Kengor, professor of Political Science at Grove City College. “People think The New York Times is an objective news source and it is not. It would not surprise me that if they had a news story that would have swayed the election into McCain’s favor they would not have used it.”

ACORN has issued statements claiming that Ms. Moncrief is merely a disgruntled former worker.

“None of this wild and varied list of charges has any credibility and we’re not going to spend our time on it,” said Kevin Whelan, ACORN deputy political director in a statement issued last week.

Stephanie Strom was contacted for a comment, and The New York Times’ Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Catherine Mathis replied with an e-mail in her place.

Ms. Mathis wrote, “In response to your questions to our reporter, Stephanie Strom, we do not discuss our newsgathering and won’t comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama.”

Michael P. Tremoglie can be reached at mtremoglie@thebulletin.us

The Age of Obama: It’s the April Fool’s Day that never ends.

Seriously: “Send in the Clowns” on Queenzbop playlist

By Michelle Malkin  •  April 2, 2009 09:06 AM

My kids love those Kidzbop music CDs. I hope the Queen of Englad is enjoying the Queenzbop playlist our cheesy president chose for her iPod.

JWF points out that the most fitting tune ever is on the playlist:

“Send in the Clowns.”

The Age of Obama: It’s the April Fool’s Day that never ends.

Hillary’s Assault on the Second Amendment

Hillary’s Assault on the Second Amendment

By Claude Cartaginese
FrontPageMagazine.com | 4/2/2009

According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mexico’s raging drug war is largely the fault of the United States. As she tells it, illegal drugs have been flowing from Mexico into the U.S. to feed “our insatiable demand” for those substances. In exchange, American weapons—including a variety of military assault-type munitions—have been streaming south into Mexico. “Our [America’s] inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians,” Clinton said last week. On Friday she elaborated:

“The guns that are sold in the United States, which are illegal in Mexico, get smuggled over our border and arm these terrible drug-dealing criminals so that they can outgun these poor police officers along the border and elsewhere in Mexico. So we’ve got to help out here. We can’t stand by and say, Well, you know, you guys just do the best you can, when we, unfortunately, are the market for drugs, when a lot of the money is laundered in the United States back into the hands of the drug kingpins, and when the weapons have come from our country. So I think recognizing the co-responsibility is just stating the obvious.”

There’s only one problem with Clinton’s version of the story: it’s nonsense.

How many American guns are in fact headed south to the Mexican cartels? If prominent Democrats are to be believed, nearly all of them. Thus, according to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, “70% of the weapons in the hands of the drug cartels are coming from the U.S.” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who contends that restricting gun availability in the U.S. would help prevent violence in Mexico, cites an even higher figure of 90%. (Notably, Feinstein got a concealed carry permit for herself and once vowed to defend herself from a terror group called the New World Liberation Front by stating that if its members tried to harm her, she “was going to take them with me.”) Not to be outdone, Nita Lowey, the far-Left congresswoman from New York, states that fully 97% of all weapons find their way to Mexico via the U.S. Those are indeed staggering numbers. But there is reason to doubt their accuracy.

William Hoover, assistant director of field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, argues that no such volume of American-made weapons are headed south. Says Hoover, “The investigations we have, that we see, for firearms flowing across the border don’t show us individuals taking thousands of guns a day or at a time flowing into Mexico.” His claim is buttressed by the fact that Mexican authorities have refused to provide U.S. law-enforcement officials with the serial numbers of weapons confiscated from drug cartel members—a likely indicator that the weapons were obtained not from American gun shops but rather from illegitimate sources elsewhere.

And what of Mexico’s role in the violence? Before Felipe Calderon became president and called on the military to crack down on drug traffickers, the Mexican government’s attempts at eradicating the drug trade were laughable. In 1997, for example, the Bill Clinton administration announced that it had made the Mexican government a “full ally” in the war on drugs. President Clinton enlisted the assistance of Mexican General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, who at the time was the head of the Mexican National Institute to Combat Drugs. Rebollo was invited to secret meetings at the White House and participated in high-level conferences with the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was fêted as a “man of absolute unquestioned character.”

Unfortunately, the honeymoon was short-lived, as Rebollo was thereafter arrested for taking bribes from one of the largest Mexican drug cartels. Despite Calderon’s efforts to combat such corruption, it remains a hallmark of the Mexican government—from the low-level law-enforcement officer who moonlights as a hit man for the drug cartels, right up to highly placed politicians on the cartel’s payroll. This is no secret. Our law-enforcement knows it. The average Mexican citizen knows it, too.

Here’s another example. Last week, a rogue soldier/drug-gang leader named Octavio Almanza Moreles killed retired Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñones and 10 other military men. Quiñones had recently been hired by the Cancun city government to help weed out corruption and revamp the local police force. When Almanza and several others were arrested, the operation netted 23 assault rifles, 20 handguns, 23 grenades, two grenade launchers, and a rocket launcher, among many other items.

It is likely that little, if any, of that arsenal originated in the United States. Assault rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, etc. are not available in American gun shops for purchase by the general public. The Mexican drug cartels, with all of their money and sophistication, would be disinclined to risk smuggling small arms from the U.S., especially when they can easily purchase far more potent weaponry on the black market, or from sundry countries around the world (such as Venezuela or Iran), or from Hezbollah-type terror groups wishing to destabilize North America. For that matter, they can easily “procure” their weapons from less-than-savory elements within the Mexican military—weapons that, in all likelihood, did originally come from the U.S., but through legal channels.

Moreover, the drug cartels can afford to transport their purchased weaponry into Mexico from overseas using their own fleet of aircraft, ships, and submarines, which can land unimpeded on the cartels’ own remote airfields or docks. The notion that all of this military-type weaponry is somehow finding its way into Mexico via the southern United States is simply not logical.

Hillary Clinton surely comprehends this, and her statements need to be understood in context. She is a key player in a presidential administration that is passionately opposed to gun rights. The President himself is quietly launching an assault on the Second Amendment. This is the same President who formerly served on the board of the anti-gun Joyce Foundation; who supported a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns; who proposed a 500-percent increase in the excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to discourage the purchase of those items; who voted in support of legislation that would have banned privately owned hunting shotguns and target rifles in Illinois (where he was a state senator); who voted, in 2004, against legislation intended to protect homeowners from prosecution in cases where they used a firearm to thwart a home invasion; and who appointed Attorney General Eric Holder, who helped craft the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” of 1994 which banned the sale of numerous models of semi-automatic firearms for ten years. (Holder, it should be noted, now seeks to reinstitute that ban.)

The Obama administration has turned the Mexican government’s gun-violence problem into a “blame-America-first” crisis in order to advance a gun-control campaign that will be spearheaded by the likes of Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton. The gun-control lobby fully understands this and consequently has lauded Obama’s quest to prevent civilians from obtaining so-called “assault weapons” (which, as noted above, are often nothing more than semi-automatic shotguns). American citizens at large also understand this instinctively, as evidenced by the frenetic pace at which they have been purchasing guns and ammunition ever since Obama was elected President last November.

When Hillary Clinton laments that America’s “incapacity” to limit gun access has “unfair[ly]” led people to hold “the Mexican government and people responsible” for the violence of its drug cartels, she is merely laying the groundwork for further encroachment on Americans’ right to bear arms. Her modus operandi is to depict the U.S. as the cause of gun violence in Mexico, and to characterize her mission as a pure-hearted quest to save innocent lives.

But in reality, the Clinton-Obama approach will have a number of undesirable consequences. It will hurt the United States by imposing ever-stricter gun-control laws, thereby making it increasingly difficult for law-abiding Americans to protect themselves. It will be ineffective in curbing the violence of the Mexican drug cartels, who clearly can obtain the guns they desire from a host of sources. And, ultimately, it will hurt Mexico by failing to pressure the Mexican government to acknowledge the real cause of its problems and to institute meaningful reform.

Finally, there is the absurdity of Hillary’s recent assertion that it is “not right” to hold the Mexican government accountable for the security of Mexico. Mexico is not Lebanon; it isn’t supposed to have roaming paramilitary groups terrorizing people within its borders. If it is unable to gain control over such groups, it is by definition a failing state, however many weapons may enter the country by way of the U.S.


PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama tax pledge up in smoke

 
PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama tax pledge up in smoke
Apr 1 12:55 PM US/Eastern
By CALVIN WOODWARD
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – One of President Barack Obama’s campaign pledges on taxes went up in puffs of smoke Wednesday.The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama’s promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning under $250,000 or individuals under $200,000.

This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich.

To be sure, Obama’s tax promises in last year’s campaign were most often made in the context of income taxes. Not always.

“I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

He repeatedly vowed “you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime.”

Now in office, Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similarly steep increases.

The extra money will be used to finance a major expansion of health insurance for children. That represents a step toward achieving another promise, to make sure all kids are covered.

Obama said in the campaign that Americans could have both—a broad boost in affordable health insurance for the nation without raising taxes on anyone but the rich.

His detailed campaign plan stated that his proposed improvement in health insurance and health technology “is more than covered” by raising taxes on the wealthy alone. It was not based on raising the tobacco tax.

The White House contends Obama’s campaign pledge left room for measures such as the one financing children’s health insurance.

“The president’s position throughout the campaign was that he would not raise income or payroll taxes on families making less than $250,000, and that’s a promise he has kept,” said White House spokesman Reid H. Cherlin. “In this case, he supported a public health measure that will extend health coverage to 4 million children who are currently uninsured.”

In some instances during the campaign, Obama was plainly talking about income, payroll and investment taxes, even if he did not say so.

Other times, his point appeared to be that heavier taxation of any sort on average Americans is the wrong prescription in tough times.

“Listen now,” he said in his widely watched nomination acceptance speech, “I will cut taxes—cut taxes—for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class.”

An unequivocal “any tax” pledge also was heard in the vice presidential debate, another prominent forum.

“No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama’s plan will see one single penny of their tax raised,” Joe Biden said, “whether it’s their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax.”

The Democratic campaign used such statements to counter Republican assertions that Obama would raise taxes in a multitude of direct and indirect ways, recalled Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think a reasonable person would have concluded that Senator Obama had made a ‘no new taxes’ pledge to every couple or family making less than $250,000,” she said.

Jamieson noted GOP ads that claimed Obama would raise taxes on electricity and home heating oil. “They rebutted both with the $250,000 claim,” she said of the Obama campaign, “so they did extend the rebuttal beyond income and payroll.”

Government and private research has found that smoking rates are higher among people of low income.

A Gallup survey of 75,000 people last year fleshed out that conclusion. It found that 34 percent of respondents earning $6,000 to $12,000 were smokers, and the smoking rate consistently declined among people of higher income. Only 13 percent of people earning $90,000 or more were smokers.

Federal or state governments often turn for extra tax dollars to the one in five Americans who smoke, and many states already hit tobacco users this year. So did the tobacco companies, which raised the price on many brands by more than 70 cents a pack.

The latest increase in the federal tax is by far the largest since its introduction in 1951, when it was 8 cents a pack. It’s gone up six times since, each time by no more than a dime, until now.

Apart from the tax haul, public health advocates argue that squeezing smokers will help some to quit and persuade young people not to start.

But it was a debate the country didn’t have in a presidential campaign that swore off higher taxation.

___

On the Net:

Gallup study: http://tinyurl.com/9u9mbf
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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