- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2011

IRAN

President backs down on political challenge

TEHRAN | Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended a Cabinet meeting Sunday after more than a week’s absence that raised tension with the country’s supreme leader, state TV reported.

The recent confrontation between Mr. Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei involved the president’s dismissal last month of the country’s most powerful intelligence chief, Heidar Moslehi.

Ayatollah Khamenei quickly reinstated Mr. Moslehi in a slap to Mr. Ahmadinejad. In apparent protest, the president skipped two Cabinet meetings last week.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s decision to back down and attend is likely an attempt to avoid backlash from Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been a strong supporter of the president. That relationship could be fraying by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s repeated attempts to push the limits of his powers.

Last week, Ayatollah Khamenei made a rare public rebuke to Mr. Ahmadinejad, saying he will not hesitate to intervene in government affairs whenever necessary.

A serious fall from Ayatollah Khamenei’s favor would leave Mr. Ahmadinejad’s clout seriously diminished and test the loyalty of his main supporters, including the Revolutionary Guard, which will have a central role in picking the candidates for his successor in 2013.

FRANCE

Investigators find black box from Air France crash

PARIS | France’s air-accident investigation agency said an undersea search has located the flight-data recorder from the 2009 Air France flight that went down in the mid-Atlantic.

In a statement, the BEA said the black box was “localized and identified” on Sunday morning. The statement included photos of the recorder - a red cylinder partially buried in sand on the seafloor.

Investigators hope the black box will help determine what caused the June 1, 2009, crash of Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

All 228 people on board were killed when the aircraft plunged into a remote area of the Atlantic during a thunderstorm.

The bulk of the wreckage was only recently discovered in a deep-sea search.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban uses boy, 12, as suicide bomber

KABUL | On the first day of its promised spring offensive, the Taliban used a 12-year-old boy as a suicide bomber in an attack Sunday that killed four civilians, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, calling the child’s recruitment inhumane and un-Islamic.

It was one of several attacks across the country that killed seven people, government officials said.

The insurgent movement announced in a statement Saturday that it would step up operations against military bases, convoys and Afghan officials, including members of the peace council working to reconcile with top insurgent leaders. The yearly offensive begins after a winter lull in fighting.

“The use of children and youths who don’t know the difference between right and wrong in terrorist attacks is inhumane and against all Islamic principles,” the president said.

The suicide bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives inside a bazaar in the Barmal district of Paktika province, 160 miles southeast of Kabul on the border with Pakistan.

The blast killed four civilians and wounded 12, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor’s office.

Among the dead - and the likely target of the attack - was Sher Nawaz, head of a new district council in the Shakeen area of Paktika province, Afghan officials said.

In the Taliban’s announcement on its offensive, it suggested it would try to limit civilian casualties from its operations.

EGYPT

Hamas leader in Cairo to sign unity deal

CAIRO | Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal arrived in Cairo on Sunday to sign an Egyptian-brokered deal to end a rift between his Palestinian group and President Mahmoud Abbas’ rival Fatah, Egypt’s state news agency reported.

Egypt has invited Palestinian leaders, including Mr. Mashaal, to Cairo for the signing ceremony, due later this week.

It is the first trip by the Damascus-based Hamas leader to Cairo since a popular uprising toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power in February.

The reconciliation accord, which was initialed by senior Hamas and Fatah officials in Cairo last week, calls for setting up a unity government that would run the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prepare for Palestinian elections within a year.

Israel has slammed the accord and said Mr. Abbas must choose between reconciliation with Hamas or peace with the Jewish state.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Mashaal would meet Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, but any meeting between the Hamas leader and Egypt’s top political leaders would have been unthinkable when Mr. Mubarak was in power.

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