- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

LIBYA

U.S. official sorry for Gadhafi joke

A senior State Department official said Tuesday that he’s sorry for a joking remark he made about Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that prompted Libya to threaten diplomatic retaliation unless he apologized.

Chief department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he regretted any offense caused by his response to a reporter’s question about Col. Gadhafi’s recent call for a holy war against Switzerland. Libya said last week that it might take action against American business interests there if a formal apology was not made.

“I understand that my personal comments were perceived as a personal attack,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “The comments do not reflect U.S. policy and were not intended to offend. I apologize if they were taken that way. I regret that my comments have become an obstacle to further progress in our bilateral relationship.”

Mr. Crowley already had said his offhand remark questioning the “sense” of Col. Gadhafi’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly last year had not been intended as a personal attack. He met with Libya’s ambassador to the U.S. late last week to try to clear up the matter, but he did not apologize until Tuesday.

He made the remark in question on Feb. 26 when he was asked what the U.S. thought of Col. Gadhafi’s appeal for “jihad” against Switzerland after the country banned construction of new mosque minarets. Mr. Crowley said he was reminded of Col. Gadhafi’s lengthy speech at the United Nations in September in which the Libyan leader ripped pages from the U.N. Charter.

“I saw that report and it just brought me back to a day in September, one of the more memorable sessions of the U.N. General Assembly that I can recall: lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense,” he said.

UNITED NATIONS

China, India move toward climate deal

AMSTERDAM | China joined India on Tuesday in giving qualified approval to the Copenhagen climate accord calling for voluntary limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The official messages to the U.N. climate change secretariat did little to ease the pessimism that a legal international agreement on climate change can be concluded this year.

A one-sentence note from China’s top climate change negotiator, Su Wei, authorized the addition of China to the list attached to the nonbinding accord brokered by President Obama in the final hours of the December climate change summit in the Danish capital. India sent a note Monday that it “stands by the contents of the accord.”

CHINA

Top lawmaker rejects communist reform

BEIJING | China’s top lawmaker rejected calls to open the communist political system to reform Tuesday, but his milder rhetoric indicated confidence among Chinese authorities that a crackdown on dissent has been effective.

China will stick to the “socialist path of political development with Chinese characteristics,” Wu Bangguo told the nearly 3,000 National People’s Congress delegates gathered in Beijing for their annual full session.

Mr. Wu, the ruling Communist Party’s second highest ranking official, used much more strident language last year, when the party was beating back a bold call for sweeping political reform known as “Charter 08,” which drew considerable attention among intellectuals and on the Internet.

CYPRUS

Ex-leader’s body found; 3 arrested

NICOSIA | Three months after it was stolen, the corpse of Cyprus’ former president was found reburied in another grave, and three men were arrested Tuesday in what officials called a case of body snatching for ransom.

Two spokesmen for former President Tassos Papadopoulos’ family insisted, however, that his relatives had never received a demand for money.

The Greek Cypriot hard-liner’s body was stolen Dec. 11, a day before the first anniversary of his death, during slow-moving reunification talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders. A lack of clear motive and few clues led to speculation that the theft could have been politically motivated, but authorities suggested early on that ransom was a more likely scenario.

IRELAND

Seven held in plot to kill cartoonist

DUBLIN | Police in Ireland on Tuesday arrested seven people in a suspected plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.

Irish police said four men and three women were detained in raids across the south of the country. The force said the arrests were part of an investigation into a “conspiracy to murder an individual in another jurisdiction.”

The police offered the statement in response to a question about Lars Vilks, whom Britain’s Press Association news agency identified as the target. Al Qaeda in Iraq put a $100,000 bounty on Mr. Vilks’ head after a Swedish newspaper ran his picture of Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007. Mr. Vilks was put under police protection and moved to a secret location in Sweden.

NETHERLANDS

Court queries U.S. on terrorist suspect

THE HAGUE | A Dutch court has taken the unusual step of asking U.S. authorities for more information about the case of a Somali man wanted in Minneapolis on charges of aiding an Islamist terrorist group, his attorney said Tuesday.

Mohamud Said Omar, 44, is fighting his extradition from the Netherlands to the United States. He is accused of providing money to the Somali group al-Shabab that was used to buy guns.

Mr. Omar’s attorney Bart Stapert said the ruling, issued in writing by Rotterdam District Court Monday, threw into doubt whether Mr. Omar will ever be extradited.

The three-judge panel asked the U.S. to provide more information about the country’s definition of a terrorist group, the maximum sentence Mr. Omar faces and whether the U.S. viewed al-Shabab as a terrorist organization before March 2008. It scheduled a hearing for May 17 to discuss the responses.

The U.S. State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda.

TURKEY

Syria-Israel talks expected to restart

ANKARA | Turkey’s prime minister said Tuesday that Israel had accepted that his country again mediate talks with Syria, but the Israeli prime minister said no decision had been made.

“Syria wants Turkey’s mediation,” the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan as telling journalists during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “Israel has accepted this.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying: “No decision has been taken to renew the Turkish mediation.”

It added: “But if these comments reflect Turkey’s desire to strengthen its relations with Israel and to contribute to peacemaking in the region — then Israel would clearly welcome that aspiration.”

Turkey mediated several rounds of indirect negotiations between the Mideast rivals in 2008, but little progress was made. Syria later suspended the talks in response to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, and Israeli officials said Turkey’s scathing criticism of Israel’s role in the conflict had disqualified it as a mediator.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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