-BREAKING…After more than two years – and then a wrenching week of on-again, off-again news about a potential release, Americans Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been freed from Tehran’s Evin Prison today – the expectation (ours and their families’) being that their next step will be the Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman. That’s where Jim SCIUTTO is, and he reports the second judge signed the release order for the Americans held in Iran, setting the way for the processing of a bail payment and then freedom for the Americans. Omani and Swiss representatives entered the prison to bring the hikers out. The hikers’ Iranian lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, en route to see the men earlier Wednesday, said “The case is over.”
-BACKGROUND Bauer, Fattal, and Sarah Shourd were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 and sentenced last month to eight years each in prison. Shourd was freed last year on bail. The three Americans — friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley — have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them. Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, California. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from suburban Philadelphia. Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while in prison.
-AHMADINEJAD TO ABC NEWS Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who visited the United Nations in New York Tuesday, reconfirmed the country’s commitment to release the hikers. “I did say within the next few days and I still say the same thing. And God willing they will be released very soon,” Ahmadinejad told George STEPHANOPOULOS.
PALESTINIAN STATE BID = GLOBAL SCRAMBLE
-AT THE U.N. Incredible, really, how much diplomatic energy is being spent on this issue. As Kirit RADIA reports from the U.N., the U.S. and its allies have accepted they cannot stop the Palestinians from pursuing statehood at the UN and are instead shifting the focus to how to best mitigate the effects of the move. Palestinian President Abbas will likely be allowed to fulfill his promise to seek statehood, but it would either be watered down or a vote on the matter would be delayed, allowing the U.S. to avoid its promised veto that could further damage its image in the Middle East. Diplomats are also assembling a deal that would entice both he Israelis and the Palestinians to return to peace talks.
-ON THE GROUND Alex MARQUARDT reports: Palestinians have streamed into the center of Ramallah to show their support for the UN statehood bid. Important to note that today’s rally was carefully orchestrated, with civil servants and school students given time off to participate.
OBAMA + THE WORLD
We don’t normally list the White House daybook as a news item – but for global news junkies, today’s is worth a look. President Obama addresses the UN General Assembly at 10a ET, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at 11, Japanese Prime Minister Noda (12:25), UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, (1:00), and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (1:05p). Next, Obama delivers remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative at 2:45p, then sees U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron (3:45p), French President Nicolas Sarkozy (4:45p), South Sudan President Mayardit (5:35p) and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at 5:55. Whew.
TYPHOON ROKE SLAMS JAPAN…AND NOW A QUAKE
Incredible stuff from much-battered Japan today. Akiko FUJITA reports from Tokyo: Yet another typhoon – the season’s 15th – is wreaking havoc throughout much of Japan, killing at least 4 people. It made landfall in central Japan this afternoon, and is headed northeast to the tsunami zone and Fukushima nuclear plant. So far, more than a million people evacuated (in Nagoya) as heavy rainfall threatens to trigger more landslides and flooding. Toyota (headquartered in Nagoya) has announced its suspending operations at plants in the region, as a precaution. You may recall much of central Japan was battered just a few weeks ago, when Typhoon Talas killed more than 50 people. The storm was the largest in more than a decade. The difference this time, is just how wide the path of the typhoon is. While Talas brought a lot of rain to an isolated area, Roke is tearing through much of central and northeast Japan. It almost feels like, this typhoon is hitting every other region in Japan that hasn’t been affected by a natural disaster this year. Roke is passing through Fukushima as well, where nearly 10 inches of rain are expected overnight. TEPCO has been working to place a protective cover on reactor 1 – but they’ve suspended operations there, as a precaution. In Tokyo alone, more than 100 domestic and international flights have been cancelled. Bullet trains in northeast Japan, have also suspended service. And — while Japanese television was broadcasting special coverage of the typhoon — an earthquake struck. 5.3 — just south of Fukushima. Fujita tells us she felt it all the way in Tokyo.
AFGHANS MOURN EX-PRESIDENT
As Nick SCHIFRIN reports from Kabul, three days of national mourning for former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani began today. Dozens gathered at Rabbani’s Kabul home to pay their respects. Schools, banks and government offices are all shuttered.
An explosion in the early hours of Wednesday morning damaged Amsterdam’s court complex and police said they were investigating the cause. Nobody was hurt but several floors at one of the towers that make up the courthouse were damaged by a blast around 2:30 a.m. The damage was to one of several office blocks in the complex. Dutch media reported that court cases were going ahead as planned. Television images showed workers removing shards of shattered glass from window frames. National broadcaster NOS reported that it appeared that a projectile had been fired at the building and hit a stairwell.
DRONES OVER EAST AFRICA
The U.S. military is deploying a new force of armed drones to eastern Africa in an escalation of its campaign to strike militant targets in the region and expand intelligence on extremists, officials tell the Wall Street Journal. The military has reopened a base for the unmanned aircraft on the island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia. The U.S. has used the Seychelles base for flying surveillance drones, and for the first time will fly armed MQ-9 Reapers from the Indian Ocean site, supplementing strikes from a U.S. drone base in Djibouti. The move comes as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials have stressed a need to urgently follow up on the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May with operations to destroy his terrorist organization. U.S. officials say they are concerned that al Qaeda—under pressure from U.S. operations in Pakistan—is moving to expand operations through its affiliates in East Africa, and that a new charismatic militant leader could emerge there.
FRESH LEADS IN JACK THE RIPPER CASE?
The Los Angeles Times profiles a retired homicide detective who is pressing Scotland Yard to release uncensored versions of files on the Yard’s dealings with the public and police informants in the years that followed Jack the Ripper’s grisly two-month killing rampage in 1888. The Ripper is alleged to have killed five women in London by slitting their throats. Scotland Yard is refusing to publish the documents without the names blacked out, arguing that doing so with violate its confidentiality pledge to long-dead informants.
GERMANY BANS NEO-NAZI GROUP
Germany has banned the nation’s largest neo-Nazi organization, known as the Help Organization for National Political Prisoners and their Families. The group was banned for its “aggressive stance against peaceful democratic rule of law.” It’s estimated to have some 600 members in Germany.
AL JAZEERA DIRECTOR RESIGNS AFTER WIKILEAKS SCANDAL
The director of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, has stepped down after WikiLeaks released documents showing he agreed to change the network’s coverage in response to American objections. The leaked 2010 cable indicated that Khanfar was in contrast contact with U.S intelligence, responding to American complaints about coverage. Al-Jazeera said in a statement that Khanfar expressed his desire to resign in July, and that his replacement was arranged one month ago to “to ensure a smooth transition.” The statement did not refer to the leaked cable.
PEPSICO TO LAUNCH AFRICAN CHICKPEA PROGRAM TODAY
An interesting story about a corporate giant in Africa: The New York Times reports PepsiCo will announce a new venture today to work with farmers in Ethiopia to increase the production and quality of chick peas, which the company needs to meet demand for its hummus products. The company wants to invest in better seeds and drip irrigation systems so that farmers can improve yields and grow chick peas twice a year. The increased yield would exceed PepsiCo’s needs, allowing some of the additional crops to be used to make a new, ready-to-eat food product.
GREEK TOURISM TO SET RECORD
Here’s a country that needs some good news. And — actually — good economic news from Athens is good for all of us. Despite a crippling debt crisis, the New York Times writes Greek tourism is set to reach a record of 16.5 million foreign visitors this year, bringing in $15 billion in sorely-needed revenue. Interestingly, it appears the Arab Spring diverted visitors to Greece from destinations like Egypt and Tunisia.
SAUDI PRINCE FIGHTS RAPE CHARGES
As reported previously in this note, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has been accused of raping a model on a yacht in Spain. Today, the New York Times reports the prince has released documents, including a full travel agenda, passport visa stamps and witness statements, to rebut the accusations, but has not provided a DNA sample. The documents indicate the prince was not in Ibiza, Spain in August 2008 when the 20-year-old model accused him of raping her. Alwaleed is the 26th richest man in the world and the richest in the Arab world.
AUSTRALIAN PARODY SHOW TO AIR RACY SCENE ABOUT THE PM
A four-part parody series called “At Home with Julia” about Australia’s first female prime minister is set to air an episode tonight featuring tow comedians playing Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her boyfriend blanketed by the national flag after having sex on her office floor. Gillard says she won’t be watching the episode. The series has been largely panned as a sexist depiction of Gillard.
“ROYAL WEDDING” AND “WINNING” MOST-USED PHRASES ON TV
The Chicago Tribune reports “royal wedding” and “winning” were the two most-used phrases on television during the official 2010-2011 television season, beating out “Arab Spring.”