- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

CUBA

U.S. holds talks on mail service

HAVANA | Cuba and the United States sat down for rare talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service Thursday, a modest but positive step that caps a bitter week of recriminations over the extension of Washington’s trade embargo against the communist-run island.

A U.S. delegation led by Bisa Williams, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, traveled to the Cuban capital. Representatives of the U.S. Postal Service also were present.

It was the first time State Department officials have traveled to Cuba for talks since late 2002, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section said. The Cuban government would not confirm the talks were taking place.

Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba was suspended in August 1963, the year after Washington imposed its embargo. Letters now between the two nations will arrive - eventually, and with a bit of luck - but must pass through a third country first.

UNITED NATIONS

U.S. envoy doubts Gaza war crimes

UNITED NATIONS | The United States has “serious concerns” about a U.N. investigator’s report accusing Israel and Palestinians of war crimes during their Gaza war, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said Thursday.

“The United States is reviewing very carefully what is a very lengthy document,” Ambassador Susan E. Rice told reporters. South African jurist Richard Goldstone unveiled the report in New York this week. “We have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report,” Miss Rice said.

The Goldstone commission said both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the December-January war in the Gaza Strip. It said both had terrorized and killed civilians.

Israel had criticized the investigation from the start and refused to cooperate with a mission whose mandate it said was “clearly one-sided.” Both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas rejected the 575-page document.

UNITED NATIONS

Egyptian leads UNESCO vote

PARIS | Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, who said last year he would burn Israeli books, won a comfortable lead in the first round of voting in UNESCO’s election of a new director-general Thursday.

Mr. Hosni’s bid for the United Nations culture agency’s top post has stirred a political storm, with accusations of anti-Semitism and press censorship in Egypt.

With 22 votes out of 57 expressed, he did not carry the majority needed to win in the first round so voting will go to a second round on Friday. There was one abstention. The Bulgarian candidate Irina Gueorguieva Bokova finished second with eight votes.

IRAQ

Biden defers to Iraq on troop pullout

BAGHDAD | Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pledged Thursday to follow Iraq’s wishes should Baghdad decide to speed up the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad before heading to northern Iraq to meet with Kurdish leaders, Mr. Biden said, however, that there were still a number of steps that would have to be taken before Iraq could call a referendum to alter the so-called “status of forces” agreement.

The agreement currently calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of August 2010 and all U.S. troops by the end of the following year. Parliament approved the agreement in November on condition that it is put to a vote in a national referendum.

EGYPT

U.S. couples jailed for illegal adoption

CAIRO | Two American couples who say they were trying to adopt children in Egypt were convicted of human trafficking and sentenced to two years in prison Thursday in a case that highlighted the murky process for adopting in this predominantly Muslim country.

Islamic law observed in Egypt bans Muslims from adopting children, in the name of maintaining clear bloodlines to ensure lines of patrimony and inheritance.

However, adoptions within the minority Christian community in Egypt do take place - including by Egyptian Christians living abroad.

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