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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fwd: News 03-30-11

White House debates idea of arming Libya rebels

The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to Libyan rebels, senior officials said Tuesday, with some fears that doing so would deepen U.S. involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have al-Qaida links.

By Mark Landler, Elisabeth Bumiller and Steven Myers

The New York Times


An armed Libyan youth jumps from a destroyed                     tank of pro-Gadhafi forces Tuesday at the site of a                     NATO airstrike on the outskirts of Benghazi.

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An armed Libyan youth jumps from a destroyed tank of pro-Gadhafi forces Tuesday at the site of a NATO airstrike on the outskirts of Benghazi.


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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to Libyan rebels, senior officials said Tuesday, with some fears that doing so would deepen U.S. involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have al-Qaida links.

The debate — in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon — has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about a ragtag band of rebels from a base in eastern Libya long suspected of supplying terrorist recruits, the officials said.

"Al-Qaida in that part of the country is obviously an issue," a senior official said.

The fears surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when NATO's commander, Adm. James Stavridis, told a Senate hearing that there were intelligence reports about the presence of al-Qaida and Hezbollah members among the rebels. No full picture of the opposition has emerged, Stavridis said. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in the late 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to al-Qaida.

The French government, which has led the international charge against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, has increased pressure on the United States to provide greater assistance to the rebels. The question of how best to support the opposition was the focus Tuesday in London at an international conference attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other coalition leaders.

While Clinton said the administration had not decided whether to transfer arms, she reiterated the United States had a right to do so, despite an embargo on Libya, because of the U.N. Security Council's broad resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians.

But some administration officials argue supplying arms would entangle the country further in a drawn-out civil war because the rebels would need to be trained to use any weapons, even relatively simple rifles and shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons. This could mean sending trainers. It was not clear how that debate was breaking down, although the Pentagon has been most reluctant about any military action in Libya.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has experience in the unintended consequences of arming rebels: As a CIA official in the 1980s, he funneled weapons to Islamic fundamentalists who ousted the Soviets from Afghanistan. Some later became the Taliban.

President Obama on Tuesday said he would not preclude the possibility of arming the rebels. Pressed on the issue in an interview with NBC News, Obama said, "I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in."

"We are still making an assessment about what Gadhafi's forces are doing," the president said.

In a series of interviews with the three major television networks, Obama emphasized that his decision to deploy U.S. forces in Libya should not be applied to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. He told NBC that his policy on Libya should not be construed as an "Obama doctrine" that can be applied in a "cookie-cutter fashion."

The question of whether to arm the rebels also carries echoes of previous U.S. efforts to arm rebels, in Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and elsewhere, many of which backfired.



Radiation levels soar in Japan sea water

Search for quake and tsunami survivors goes on, as readings show radioactive iodine levels hit 3,355 times legal limit.
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2011 05:33

Three weeks after disaster struck, recovery remains slow as the nation tries to grapple with consequences [Al Jazeera]

Radiation levels in sea water near Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant have reached more than 3,000 times the legal limit, officials said, as efforts continue to bring the country's nuclear crisis under control.

Japan's nuclear safety agency said on Wednesday that water near the crippled plant's No. 1 reactor contained radioactive iodine at 3,355 times the legal limit.

Officials said they did not know what caused the radiation level to rise.

"The figures are rising further. We need to find out as quickly as possible the causes and to stop them from rising any higher," Hidehiko Nishiyama, the agency's deputy director-general, told a news conference.

But he also played down the danger, saying residents had been evacuated from the area and no fishing was taking place.

"Iodine 131 has a half-life of eight days, and even considering its concentration in marine life, it will have deteriorated considerably by the time it reaches people."

TEPCO president hospitalised

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant's six reactors - sparking explosions and fires and releasing radiation.

The radiation from the plant northeast of the capital, Tokyo, has wafted into the air, contaminating farm produce and drinking water, and has also seeped into the Pacific Ocean.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the beleaguered utility company that runs the damaged plant, has been struggling to stabilise the overheated power plant and contain the radiation.

But in yet another crisis to beset the company, officials announced on Wednesday that TEPCO's president had been hospitalised with high blood pressure.

Masataka Shimizu, 66, was taken to a Tokyo hospital on Tuesday after suffering dizziness, Naoki Tsunoda, a TEPCO spokesman, said.

Shimizu had not been seen for nearly two weeks after appearing at a news conference two days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Humanitarian disaster

Read More and see Video...

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Syrian president to address the nation

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 30, 2011 1:05 a.m. EDT
Click to play
Syrian cabinet resigns
  • The president is expected to speak on Wednesday
  • State-run media says millions turned out for pro-government rallies
  • The Syrian cabinet has resigned, state TV reports
  • At least 37 people have been killed in demonstrations since last week, the U.N. says

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to address the nation in a speech before the People's Assembly on Wednesday, a day after the cabinet resigned amidst an unusual wave of unrest across the nation.

The state-run SANA news agency reported the speech would "tackle the internal affairs and the latest events in Syria," and "reassure the Syrian people."

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of pro-government demonstrators poured onto the streets of Damascus, although state media reported a much higher national turnout.

"Millions of people around Syria rallied in the cities' main squares to express loyalty to homeland and underline its national unity," SANA reported. "Syrian people gathered on Tuesday to stress the importance of maintaining security and stability and to support the massive reform program led by President Bashar al-Assad."

Read More and See Videos...

News 03-30-11
Nation & World | White House debates idea of arming Libya rebels | Seattle Times Newspaper
Syrian president to address the nation -
Radiation levels soar in Japan sea water - Asia-Pacific - Al Jazeera English
Record-High Levels of Radiation Found in Sea Near Crippled Nuclear Reactor - Bloomberg
YouTube - Long Blackouts Pose Risk to US Reactors

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