Entries in United States (14)


US Officials Emphasize ‘De-escalating’ Gaza Violence

State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- As news reports emerged Tuesday of a ceasefire or truce to end the crisis in Gaza, American officials made it a point not to use either of those terms.

Instead, U.S. officials were talking about “de-escalating” the violence in Gaza as a step toward a long-term resolution.

Briefing White House reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes repeatedly said “de-escalation” was the goal for ending the violence in Gaza and Israel.

When asked if he was avoiding using the term “ceasefire,” Rhodes said, "No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation.” He added, "Our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. ”

At the State Department briefing earlier in the day, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was also using “de-escalation.”

Nuland was asked several times why she was using that term instead of “ceasefire” or “truce.”  She indicated it was because the State Department did not want to get into characterizing acceptable terminology.  “I’m not going to characterize X is acceptable, Y is not acceptable. That’s a subject for negotiation,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, “because the parties are talking, we’re going to be part of that, and we’re not going to negotiate it here from the podium. We’re not going to characterize it here from the podium.”

The message she did want to get across was that “any de-escalation is a step forward.”

Of the long-term aims of Secretary of State Clinton’s last-minute mission to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, Nuland said you “obviously start with a de-escalation of this conflict.”  From there, “we have to see an end to the rocket fire on Israel. We have to see a restoration of calm in Gaza. And the hope is that if we can get through those stages, that will create space for the addressing of broader issues, but I don’t want to prejudge. This is obviously ongoing and live diplomacy.”

Before her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton too avoided using the term “ceasefire.”

After describing America’s commitment to Israel’s security as “rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said, “That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.”

Clinton said that the rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza “must end and a broader calm restored.”  She added that the focus was on "a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House to Review Online Secession Petitions

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Living up to its crowdsourcing promise, the White House says it will review online petitions from states that say they want to secede from the United States.

In the days since President Obama was re-elected, visitors to the site "We the People" have submitted a wave of petitions calling on Obama to allow 36 states to peacefully secede from the United States.

As a practice, the White House says it will review and respond to petitions that obtain more than 25,000 signatures. Three secession petitions, from Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, have passed that threshold. Texas leads all petitions, with 82,799 online signatures, which the White House confirms through email.

And the White House said it would follow this procedure now.

“Every petition that crosses the threshold is reviewed and receives a response,” a White House official said when asked about the secession petitions. "As a rule, we don’t comment on the substance of those responses until we’ve issued them to the petitioners."

That said, the White House has been known to dodge. While it sometimes responds in several hundred words written by the relevant policy officials, others (such as  this one) amount to explanations of why the White House can’t or won’t comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Political Corruption: 8 States Earn Failing Grades

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- From pay-to-play politics to dismal campaign disclosure requirements, America’s fifty state governments have been weighed, measured and found wanting when it comes to ethical lawmaking.

Not a single state earned an "A" grade for ethics in the State Integrity Investigation, an analysis of states’ transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms released Monday by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Eight states -- Georgia, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming -- got failing grades. Only five earned "B's":  New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska.

Despite extensive laws limiting campaign donations, lobbyist influence and revolving-door politics, Georgia ranked dead last in the integrity survey. Southern lawmakers in the Peach State are experts at dodging these ethics laws and taking full advantage of the plethora of loopholes, said the analysis, especially when it comes to accepting gifts from state vendors.

From 2007 to 2008 more than 650 Georgia officials “accepted sports tickets, speaking fees, fancy meals and other gratuities,” according to the study. Yet it has been more than a decade since the state fined a vendor for failing to disclose such gifts.

It was much the same story in Michigan, where the report said abysmal election finance transparency or lobbyist spending disclosure requirements have let special interests shovel big money into state elections with little or no oversight or reporting requirements.

And in the rural plains of North Dakota, which has a statewide population of about 684,000, there is a belief that ethics are self-policed because of the neighborly nature of the state’s politics.  The state has no ethics commission, no limits on how much individuals can donate to campaigns and no disclosure requirements for how that campaign cash is spent.

In contrast, the survey said, New Jersey has implemented a take-no-prisoners, iron-fist approach to political integrity. After years of political wheeling and dealing left New Jersey with a dismal reputation for political corruption, recent reforms and strict anti-bribery laws have made it the No. 1 state for political ethics.

But the state still earned a "B" for failures in campaign finance disclosure requirements.

As Heather Taylor, a spokeswoman for the good-government group Citizens Campaign, told the State Integrity Investigation, “There’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rick Santorum Says America Should Apologize for Afghanistan Shooting

ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK(BILOXI, Miss.) -- Rick Santorum said Monday that if a U.S. soldier shot and killed 16 civilians, as U.S. officials have suggested, then the Afghan people deserve an apology.

After an energy conference here, Santorum told reporters that the incident needs to be investigated further, calling it a “horrible situation.”

“If it turns out to be the case that this person did a horrible wrong and it was a deliberate act, a deliberate act by an American soldier and that is something we should clearly say was something that we should apologize for,” Santorum said. “That it’s not a mistake, it wasn’t something that was inadvertent. This was something that was deliberately done by an American soldier to innocent civilians. It’s something that the proper authorities should apologize for, for not doing their job in making sure that something like this wouldn’t happen, something like this should not happen in our military period.”

Santorum has repeatedly condemned President Obama for “apologizing” for America, including most recently the apology the president offered Afghans for the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers. The burning caused riots in the country.

The former Pennsylvania senator said earlier Monday that the president’s 2014 withdrawal timeline for Afghanistan made a “winnable operation very, very difficult.” The timeline was actually set by NATO leaders in November 2010.

The pace of the withdrawal will depend on several factors, but Obama spokesman Jay Carney would not comment Monday on whether Sunday’s shooting was among them.

Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday to offer condolences to the Afghan people, according to a statement from the White House. He also pledged to investigate the incident and “hold fully accountable anyone responsible.”

On election matters, the Santorum campaign released a delegate memo a day before Mississippi and Alabama vote that basically amounted to a rebuttal of the Romney campaign’s argument last week that the nomination was all locked up and that Santorum needed 65 percent of the delegates in each contest going forward. In Biloxi, Miss., Santorum stressed that it will be “difficult” for any of the candidates to get to that 1,144 number.

“I think you’ve been listening to math class and delegate math class instead of looking at the reality of the situation,” Santorum told reporters. “The reality of the situation is that…it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to get to the number of delegates that is necessary to win with the majority at the convention. I think that’s what the math is pretty much showing.”

He admitted that the race for this state and Alabama, which also votes Tuesday, will be “tough.” The race is tight among Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in both states, according to several polls. The candidate said he’s been “playing catch-up” here because the other campaigns have “been running ads longer” and campaigning here more than he has.

Santorum had a significant financial disadvantage over his opponents at the beginning of the primary, especially Romney.  But that is no longer the case.  The campaign raised $9 million to Romney’s $11.5 million in February and he has a super PAC working on his behalf as well.

A slimmed-down campaign with less of the trappings of a traditional one, including spending less money on advertising and a smaller team, is a hallmark of their operation. Santorum told voters here and in Alabama that if they want a “conservative nominee” they should “make it a two-person race,” making it clear he thinks if he is the victor in these Southern states, it will edge Newt Gingrich permanently out of the running.

Santorum jabbed the president during his address at the Gulf Coast energy summit, calling opposition to offshore drilling and increased regulation of oil production here “politicization of science.”

This region was devastated financially and environmentally by the 2010 Gulf oil spill. He also called climate change “politicization,” and while he believes the “earth does warm, the earth does cool,” it’s because “it always has, it always will.

“The idea that one particular factor is the driving force behind it that would cause cataclysmic effects is unscientific and therefore we’re not going to support any type of dramatic and vague changes to our laws that even those who support those changes will tell you is not going to have any impact on the so-called man made global warming,” Santorum said. “So this is simply folly, folly in the sense that putting forth proposals that don’t even solve the problems that they say that exist, which is speculative at best.”

He said he could point reporters to “a whole host” of sources and scientists to back up his claims.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama: Country Is Safer than It Was 10 Years Ago

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) -- Reflecting on the 9/11 anniversary, President Obama told NBC News Sunday morning that there is no doubt the United States is safer now that it was 10 years ago.

The president said this is a consequence of more effective homeland security and the U.S. taking the fight to al Qaeda.

Obama warned that Americans must remain vigilant because there are still people who want to attack the U.S.  He also discussed the specific and credible -- but unconfirmed -- terror threat surrounding the 9/11 anniversary, saying this particular threat was so specific that he felt it necessary to inform state and local partners to prepare.

On Saturday, the president visited the graves of U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  NBC’s Brian Williams asked the president what he took away from the trip.

“It’s a reminder that our way of life is dependent on the incredible courage, the incredible patriotism of a whole host of people,” Obama said.

Obama added that he was struck by how young all the fallen heroes were.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Downplays US-Israel Tensions After Meeting With Netanyahu

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed disagreements between their two countries as they met Friday amid a backdrop of chilly relations that many observers believe were exacerbated by Obama's Mideast policy speech Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after their long meeting, Obama sought to diffuse the tensions, saying that differences will "happen between friends."

The president's call Thursday for Israel's and Palestine's borders to be based on pre-1967 lines caused outrage among supporters of Israel.

"There are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that's going to happen between friends," the president said. "But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats and that Israel's security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal."

More telling, however, was Netanyahu's response. Talking directly to Obama, Netanyahu asserted that any border based on lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War would be "indefensible" and a threat to Israel's security. Netanyahu also refused to work with any Palestinian government that would include Hamas in the negotiations, calling the group the "Palestinian version of al Qaeda."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


White House Releases President Obama's Birth Certificate

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- White House lawyers passed out copies of President Obama’s “long form” birth certificate to reporters Wednesday morning before the president called an impromptu gathering in the briefing room to discount claims that he was born somewhere outside the United States.

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” the president told reporters Wednesday. “We have better stuff to do. I have better stuff to do.”

In addition to the birth certificate, White House officials distributed correspondence between White House Counsel Bob Bauer and the state of Hawaii, where the president was born.

Conspiracy theorists have long questioned where the president was born and the rumor has been given voice most recently by Donald Trump as Trump considers running for the White House. A recent USA Today polls indicates that 38 percent of voters said they are not convinced President Obama was born in the United States.

Trump, who arrived Wednesday morning in the early campaign state of New Hampshire, said, "Today, I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished what nobody else" was able to do.

"Our president has finally released a birth certificate," he said. Trump said Obama "should have done it a long time ago. Why he didn't.... I don't know."

The release comes as the legal challenge over the president's birth certificate is scheduled to return to federal court in California on Monday. The lawsuit, brought by a coalition of 40 American "birthers,” including former Ambassador and presidential candidate Alan Keyes, contends Obama "has never provided proof of his legitimacy" to be president and that "ample evidence" exists to show he may be illegitimate.

A copy of the president's birth certificate can be viewed on the White House blog.

UPDATE: A number of Republicans and potential presidential candidates have issued responses:

“This has long been a settled issue," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "The Speaker’s focus is on cutting spending, lowering gas prices, and creating American jobs.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tweeted, "What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan.”

Sarah Palin tweets that the media should “stay focused” and not get distracted by the president’s birth certificate announcement. “Media: admit it, Trump forced the issue. Now, don't let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Working the Phones: Obama Calls Turkish, Qatari Leaders on Libya

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (file)(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- As President Obama continues his five-day South American trip, so do his calls with international leaders on the conflict in Libya. The president, traveling on Air Force One, called the Emir of Qatar to thank him for contributions to the international coalition in Libya.

President Obama also called Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday evening “to continue their consultations on the situation in Libya,” the White House said, emphasizing appreciation for Turkey for facilitating the release and safe passage to Tunisia of four New York Times journalists who had been detained in Libyan custody.

The White House said that both leaders reaffirmed their full support for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, in order to protect the Libyan people.

Turkey, the only Muslim nation in NATO, has expressed concern about the military action against the Libyan government.  The Turkish foreign minister said the objective should be "not to launch a large-scale war.” But Turkey is helping the U.S., U.K., Italy and Australia with diplomatic functions within Libya.

Edrogan on Monday told deputies of his party that Turkey will not be a part of the military operation and “would never ever be a party to pointing weapons at the Libyan people."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Adm. Mullen: US Pursuing 'Limited Objectives' in Libya

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is focused on "limited objectives" as part of the coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, and will take a "supporting role" in the coming days, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said Sunday.

"The French were the first ones in yesterday, in terms of starting to establish the no-fly zone. The United States is taking the lead in terms of the coalition," Mullen told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour. "And we look to, in the next few days, transition that to a coalition leadership."

Mullen said getting the no-fly zone in place "has been successful so far," taking out Libya's air defenses, and limiting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's ability to fly planes or continue marching forces toward the rebel-held Benghazi.

"We're very focused on the limited objectives that the president has given us and actually the international coalition has given us, in terms of providing the no-fly zone so that he cannot attack his own people, to avoid any kind of humanitarian massacre, if you will, and to provide for the humanitarian corridors, humanitarian support of the Libyan people," Mullen said.

Mullen did not say that removing Gadhafi from power was a direct objective of the no-fly zone, and would not speculate on the length of time needed for coalition forces to operate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Treasury Dept.: $30 Billion in Libyan Assets Frozen

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government has blocked $30 billion in Libyan assets since President Obama imposed sanctions on Friday, the largest amount ever frozen, the Treasury announced Monday afternoon.

The $30 billion is a total of all of the assets that have been blocked, including assets of the government of Libya, the Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan Investment Authority. David Cohen, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, was unable to provide details as to how much belonged to the Gaddafi family versus the government and could not say which U.S. financial institutions were involved.

Asked about evidence of withdrawals in the days prior to the sanctions, Cohen explained, “I don’t want to suggest that it certainly has not occurred, but we have not seen evidence that there was an effort to liquidate these accounts in the days preceding the execution of the executive order.”

Obama issued an executive order on Friday freezing the assets of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his children, as well as the government of Libya and its agencies. On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which froze the assets of Gadhafi and his five children. The U.K. then adopted complementary sanctions on Sunday, and on Monday the European Union announced they are in the process of adopting their own sanctions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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