- - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

WEST BANK

Abbas seeks U.S. help in settlement dispute

RAMALLAH | Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he has asked the U.S. to settle a dispute with Israel over settlement expansion that is threatening to derail Mideast peace talks.

Israel’s 10-month partial freeze on new construction in West Bank settlements ends Sept. 26, and Israeli officials have indicated they will not extend the freeze as is. Mr. Abbas has said he’ll quit peace talks with Israel unless the restrictions remain in place.

Mr. Abbas said late Monday that he has asked the U.S. “to intervene in the settlement issue.”

The Obama administration has promised an active role in the talks, Mr. Abbas told reporters accompanying him on his way back from Washington, where direct negotiations were launched last week after a hiatus of nearly two years.

IRAN

Iran claims right to bar inspectors

TEHRAN | Iran’s nuclear chief said Tehran has the right to bar some U.N. inspectors from monitoring its disputed nuclear program, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

Ali Akbar Salehi’s late Monday comments were apparently in response to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressing alarm about Iran’s decision to bar some of its inspectors.

The report followed Iran’s recent decision to strip two inspectors of the right to monitor its nuclear activities after they reported what they said were undeclared nuclear experiments.

While all member states select inspectors from an official IAEA list, some western nations on the agency’s 35-nation board argue that because Iran has banned more than 40 inspectors over the past four years, a case could be made that Tehran is violating the agency’s so-called Safeguards Agreement.

IRAQ

Al Qaeda claims attack killing 12 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD | An al Qaeda front group is claiming responsibility for a weekend attack in the heart of Baghdad that killed 12 people.

In a statement posted on a militant website Tuesday, the Islamic State of Iraq took responsibility for the assault that targeted an Iraqi military facility.

The hourlong assault Sunday on the headquarters of the Iraqi Army’s 11th Division was the second assault on the complex in less than a month and demonstrated the challenges Iraqi security forces are still facing.

U.S. troops living and working at the complex helped Iraqi troops repel the assault, marking the first exchange of gunfire involving American forces in Iraq since President Obama declared an end to combat operations on Aug. 31.

EGYPT

Nuclear chief: Reactor failed in April

CAIRO | Egypt’s nuclear chief says there was a breakdown in the country’s small Russian-built reactor in April but no radiation leaked out.

Mohammed el-Kulali, head of the Egyptian Nuclear Organization, told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on Tuesday that the 2-megawatt research reactor failed and had to be shut down after a cooling pump broke.

He blamed the breakdown on a lack of coordination between the engineers in charge and those responsible for safety, as well as “overconfidence.”

Experts from the U.N. nuclear watchdog later visited the site and issued recommendations for upgrading the nearly 50-year-old reactor.

The news comes as Egypt is preparing to build its first nuclear power plant at a cost of between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion.

IRAN

EU calls ‘barbaric’ plans to stone woman

TEHRAN | The European Union on Tuesday condemned the death-by-stoning sentence passed against an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, saying it was “barbaric.”

In his first State of the Union address to the European parliament in Strasbourg, France, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he was “appalled” by the news of the sentencing, and called it “barbaric beyond words.”

The sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was put on hold in July after an international outcry over the brutality of the punishment, and it is now being reviewed by Iran’s supreme court.

Ashtiani’s case points to larger divides between the West and Iran, which staunchly defends its legal codes and human rights standards as fully developed and in keeping with its traditions and values.

Iranian authorities have repeatedly bristled at Western criticism — including U.S. State Department rights reports — saying foreign governments overlook shortcomings in their own systems and fail to hold Western ally Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinians.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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