- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

PENTAGON

Gates schedules trip to Israel

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates plans to visit Israel on July 27 for talks likely to focus on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and U.S.-Israel strategic ties, officials involved in planning the trip said Sunday.

As the second Cabinet-level representative of the Obama administration to be hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Gates could also lobby for a resolution to the bilateral dispute over the future of West Bank settlements.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell declined to confirm the trip or what might be on Mr. Gates’ agenda.

“We don’t talk about the secretary’s trips, wherever they may be, until such time as we are ready to announce them, and nor should anyone else,” Mr. Morrell said.

“I would not confirm or deny travel plans,” he added. “It is not appropriate, and it can endanger the secretary and those traveling with him.”

SOUTH CAROLINA

Sanford says God will change him

COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, still clinging to office after admitting to an extramarital affair, wrote in an opinion piece released Sunday that God will change him so he can emerge from the scandal a more humble and effective leader.

“[W]hile none of us has the chance to attend our own funeral, in many ways I feel like I was at my own in the past weeks, and surprisingly I am thankful for the perspective it has afforded,” Mr. Sanford wrote in the opinion piece widely published online Sunday by South Carolina newspapers.

Mr. Sanford, a two-term Republican, returned from a mysterious, nearly weeklong disappearance last month to reveal a romance with a longtime friend in Argentina. In a series of Associated Press interviews, he described the woman as his “soul mate,” but said he would work to repair his relationship with his wife, Jenny, the mother of their four sons.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Iraq crash deaths leave envoys sad

The United States on Sunday expressed its sadness over the deaths of two employees of a U.S. security company and the wounding of two others in a helicopter crash in Iraq, and said an investigation had been launched.

“The Department of State is deeply saddened by the deaths of two employees of Xe Consulting during a helicopter crash in Iraq on July 17 and extends our heartfelt sympathies to their families,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.

“These men played an important role in assisting the department in protecting American diplomats and missions in Iraq,” he added.

No further information was provided on the four persons killed or wounded in the accident at Camp Butler, close to Baghdad.

Xe is the new name for the private military security firm Blackwater, which renamed itself after the Iraq government banned it in January over killings of Iraqi civilians.

SURGEON GENERAL

Nominee could be on the hot seat

Dr. Regina Benjamin, the family doctor from coastal Alabama nominated to be the next U.S. surgeon general, could have considerable more clout than the “bully pulpit.”

That’s because under at least one version of the health reform bills being refined by Democrats in Congress the surgeon general would be in charge of a federal health benefits advisory committee with power to decide which medical services would or would not be included under a standardized benefit package that would have to be offered by all insurance plans.

That would include reproductive health services, such as abortion, which means her fall confirmation hearings could be far more heated than is the norm for the post.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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