- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MIDDLE EAST

Obama ready to act as mediator

President Obama may moderate a meeting between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations this month in talks that could lead to the resumption of the peace process, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Monday.

Plans are for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet during the U.N. General Assembly to discuss the future of stalled Middle East peace negotiations, Mr. Peres said in a Fox News interview.

“I think they will meet by the end of September. President Obama will chair it, and I think that at least there is a chance that they will decide they are going to reopen negotiations,” Mr. Peres said, adding Hamas would not be part of the discussion.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group, controls the Gaza Strip and is formally committed to destroying Israel.

Mr. Abbas has ruled out a resumption of peace talks with Israel until Mr. Netanyahu commits to a full settlement freeze, including natural growth, as called for under a 2003 U.S.-backed peace “road map.”

STATE DEPARTMENT

Ousted Honduran, Clinton to meet

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet Thursday with Manuel Zelaya to discuss the deadlock following his ouster as president of Honduras, her spokesman said Tuesday.

“On Thursday, Secretary Clinton plans to meet with him to discuss the best way forward on the situation in Honduras,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

Mr. Zelaya was removed from office and banished from the country after the Honduran Supreme Court ruled he violated the constitution in seeking a second term. His ouster, conducted by the military, was supported by the legislature, including members of Mr. Zelaya’s own party.

The State Department spokesman said Mr. Zelaya was in Washington this week for a range of talks, including with the Organization of American States.

The U.S. has been pressuring Honduran leaders since they rejected a settlement to put Mr. Zelaya back in office, with plans in the works to cut off nearly $150 million in U.S. assistance.

The State Department said it was ready to take further measures after already halting most visa services in Honduras, revoking visas for the interim regime and suspending $35 million in military aid.

BERLIN WALL

Germany doubts Obama will attend

BERLIN | President Obama will probably not be able to accept Germany’s invitation to the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday.

“It is unclear whether President Obama will be able to come because at that time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Singapore is being held,” she told Super Illu magazine.

She said Mr. Obama wanted to take the opportunity of being in Asia to visit other countries in the region.

If Mr. Obama cannot come, former President Bill Clinton will likely attend the festivities on Nov. 9 at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German unity, in his place, Mrs. Merkel said.

“We would also be pleased about that kind of American representation,” she said.

Mrs. Merkel said other invited guests, including Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had confirmed their attendance plans.

DIPLOMACY

U.S., Cuba to talk about mail service

The United States and Cuba will start talks this month on resuming direct mail service between the two countries for the first time in nearly half a century as the Obama administration continues to try to engage the communist island, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The negotiations, set for Sept. 17, will follow the resumption in July of talks on the legal immigration of Cubans to the U.S., according to the officials. The two sides agreed on the two sets of discussions in late May, a month after President Obama eased travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family members in Cuba.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the negotiations are not yet completed.

Direct postal service between the U.S. and Cuba was terminated in 1963, and since then mail has had to go through third countries. Previous attempts to restore the link have failed, and experts think Cuba’s communist government remains sensitive about what kind of material might be sent to the island from the U.S.

MASSACHUSETTS

State official seeks Kennedy’s seat

BOSTON | Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has jumped into the special election for the Senate seat left open by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy last week.

A Coakley campaign aide confirmed that she picked up nomination papers for Ms. Coakley from the Secretary of State’s Office Tuesday morning. Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, is hoping to become the first woman from Massachusetts elected to the U.S. Senate.

Other Democrats said to be weighing a race include former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the late senator’s nephew; and Reps. Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano. Republicans include former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and state Sen. Scott Brown.

The primary will be Dec. 8 and the special election Jan. 19.

NTSB

Driver in crash hit gas, probe says

A 2005 school bus accident that killed two people and injured 23 elementary students in Missouri occurred because the driver likely stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

The NTSB determined that “pedal misapplication” in the crash in Liberty, Mo., and four others since then involving large vehicles likely led to the accidents. After studying those accidents, the safety board approved recommendations Tuesday urging the government to require that new buses and large vehicles have equipment installed forcing the driver to press the brake to shift the automatic transmission out of park.

The NTSB also approved recommendations for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop pedal designs for the larger vehicles that make it easier to distinguish the brake from the accelerator.

“They have required changes in passenger cars to address unintended acceleration. It is time for them to focus on commercial vehicles,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.

INTERNET

Court upholds gambling ban

PHILADELPHIA | A U.S. appeals court has upheld an Internet gambling ban in a challenge filed by an association of offshore bookies.

Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006. It outlaws online betting that would be illegal in the state where they take place.

The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association sued in New Jersey. It says the law is unconstitutionally vague and an invasion of a gambler’s right to privacy.

The ruling Tuesday comes from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The law attempts to stop online gambling by choking off the electronic processing of money for online wagers or payouts.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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