- - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

DEFENSE

Panetta: No decision from Israel on Iran

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Tuesday he does not think Israel has made a decision to launch a military strike on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

And he said he does not have a view on whether it is likely that Israel would attack this spring. A Washington Post columnist wrote recently that Mr. Panetta sees a high likelihood that Israel will attack in April, May or June.

During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican, pressed Mr. Panetta on his personal assessment.

“And so you do not have a position as to whether it is likely that Israel will make such an attack this spring?” Mr. Wicker asked.

Mr. Panetta replied, “I do not.”

Mr. Panetta emphasized that the Obama administration is deeply worried by Iran’s behavior and its nuclear ambitions.

“We have common cause with Israel,” he said. “We have common cause with the international community with regards to the concerns about Iran. We’ve made very clear that they are not to develop a nuclear weapon. We’ve made very clear that they are not to close the Straits of Hormuz. We’ve also made very clear that they are not to export terrorism and try to undermine other governments.”

He said the U.S. and other nations have taken strong steps with sanctions and stressed the importance of keeping the international community together.

Israel has blamed Iran for recent attacks on Israeli diplomats overseas. Tehran has denied responsibility.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama signs off on aviation system bill

President Obama has signed legislation that modernizes the nation’s aviation system, speeding up the nation’s switch from radar to an air traffic control system based on GPS technology. The law also opens up the skies to military, commercial and privately owned unmanned drones.

The legislation faced opposition from some labor unions because it set new rules governing union organizing elections at airlines and railroads.

The Senate passed the bill last week, completing action after a struggle that shut down the Federal Aviation Administration for two weeks.

The law authorizes $63.4 billion for the FAA over four years, including about $11 billion toward the air traffic system and its modernization. It sets a deadline of June 2015 for the FAA to develop new arrival procedures at the nation’s 35 busiest airports.

HOUSE

Judge frees Hastings from harassment suit

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former aide to Florida Rep. Alcee L. Hastings should only continue against the Helsinki Commission that he chaired and released the congressman from personal liability in the case.

Winsome Packer served as the commission’s staff representative in Vienna and claims Mr. Hastings repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances when he visited on business for the commission, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues involving Europe. Last year, she sued the commission, Mr. Hastings and commission official Fred Turner, who she claimed retaliated against her after she complained about the harassment.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed the claims against both individuals, although the case will continue against the commission based on Ms. Packer’s allegations against the two.

Mr. Hastings said in a statement he appreciates the ruling and said the case is “ridiculous, bizarre, frivolous, and has wasted — and is still wasting — a whole lot of folks’ time and money.”

EXHIBIT

Campaign laughs, history on view at Newseum

The red suit, flag pin and eyeglasses actress Tina Fey wore for her Sarah Palin impression are going on view at the Newseum in Washington, along with items from journalists and candidates.

A new exhibit, “Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press,” opens Friday. It includes 120 objects and images dating back to William McKinley’s campaign in 1896.

Costumes from “Saturday Night Live” introduce the tradition of campaign parodies.

The Newseum also borrowed many items from campaigns, including Hillary Rodham Clinton’s beer mug and shot glass from a campaign stop in Indiana, and President Obama’s bowling ball and shoes from a stop in Pennsylvania.

NEW YORK

Romney protest held outside dog show

NEW YORK — A protest outside the Westminster dog show aimed at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has drawn about a dozen demonstrators and a few pooches.

The half-hour protest Tuesday in front of Madison Square Garden took issue with Romney’s oft-told story of traveling with his Irish setter. Mr. Romney said he put the dog inside a crate and strapped it to the roof rack for a 12-hour drive on a 1983 family vacation.

Protest spokeswoman Kitty Hendrix says the Dogs Against Romney website has about 25,000 members. The protesters held signs that said “Mitt is Mean” and “Dogs Aren’t Luggage.” A pug and a bull terrier joined their owners at the demonstration.

American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson says putting a dog in a crate for car travel is the first step toward responsible dog ownership. But she says the second step is putting that crate inside the car.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama offers survival tips on Valentine’s Day

President Obama, popular in blue states, had a decidedly red message Tuesday: “Let me start with a quick public service announcement for all the gentlemen out there. Today is Valentine’s Day.”

“Do not forget!” he warned, suggesting that he himself could have used a reminder at some point in his relationship with his wife of 19 years, Michelle. “I speak from experience here.”

“It is important that you remember this,” he continued in a preface to remarks about the benefits of a payroll-tax cut. “And go big. That’s my advice.”

The Obamas went out to dinner Tuesday night at Vermilion, a restaurant in Alexandria, across the Potomac River from Washington.

TEXAS

Deal prospects dampen in redistricting case

SAN ANTONIO — An attorney defending Republican-drawn voting maps in Texas has told a federal court there are “insurmountable” differences preventing a compromise with minority rights groups.

The stalemate Tuesday left the date of the Texas primary in doubt. A three-judge panel didn’t immediately address whether Texas can still hold an April primary during a standing-room-only court hearing in San Antonio.

The primaries are currently set for April 3, but that date is widely considered no longer realistic.

The Texas attorney general’s office and minority groups instead spent Tuesday morning laying out obstacles to a compromise on voting maps for the 2012 elections. David Mattax, an attorney for the state, suggested that differences on one map that draws four new congressional seats in Texas can’t be resolved.

From wire dispatches and staff reports