AMERICAN HIKERS IN IRAN: NOW WHAT?
-A SNAG? A DELAY? ABC News has confirmed that Iran’s judiciary is still reviewing the bail offer for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. “Two American citizens charged with espionage have not been released. Request from lawyers of these two defendants to issue bail and free (them) is under study,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the statement as saying. “Information about this case will be provided by the judiciary. Any information supplied by individuals about this is not authoritative.”
-EMBARASSMENT FOR AHMADINEJAD? That last line is a clear swipe at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the delay – if that’s all it is – is a potentially embarrassing rejection of Ahmadinejad’s prediction that the hikers’ release would come in a matter of days. As the AP writes, “The statement by the hard-line judiciary appears to be a message that only its officials can set the timetables and conditions on any possible release and not the president, who is locked in a bitter power struggle with Iran’s ruling clerics who control the courts. It also could be a swipe at Ahmadinejad’s hopes of timing the release the Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal with his expected arrival in New York next week for the U.N. general assembly.”
-WHO PAYS THE BAIL? On Tuesday, defense lawyer Masoud Shafiei said the court handling the case set bail of $500,000 each for the Americans. An Iranian official tells ABC News that the tricky logistics of who pays that money and how could delay things as well.
-WE’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE The third U.S. hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released last year on the same bail – after similar mixed messages between Ahmadinejad and the judiciary over the timing. In the end, Shourd left Iran on a private jet to the Gulf state of Oman just as Ahmadinejad was heading for New York.
-THEIR FAMILIES The families of Bauer and Fattal said in a statement Tuesday that the pair’s freedom “means more to us than anything and it’s a huge relief to read that they are going to be released…While we do not have further details at this time, we are overjoyed by the positive news reports from Iran,” the statement said. “We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us and looking forward to our reunion with Shane and Josh,” it added. “We hope to say more when they are finally back in our arms.”
LONGEST SIEGE OF KABUL – FINALLY OVER
-20 HOURS Nick SCHIFRIN and Aleem AGHA report the attack on the U.S. Embassy and the ISAF headquarters in Kabul has finally ended – nearly 20 hours after it began. Throughout the night, Afghan commandos and their New Zealand special operations forces mentors went room-to-room, floor-by-floor to clear a building overlooking the U.S. Embassy and the ISAF headquarters, where insurgents were launching their attack. ISAF says the operations took so long because the building was believed to be booby-trapped. Six insurgents were killed and six service members were wounded.
-HUGE QUESTIONS U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker is playing down the severity of the attack (“harassment,” he called it) but as SCHIFRIN notes, “The obvious questions today are: How did the insurgents get so close to the most secure area in all of Afghanistan? (They apparently stashed away the weapons.) Why did it take so long to clear the building, and what does that say about the Afghan security forces as the US begins to withdrawal?” And: “If you lived in Kabul and for 20 hours, the center of your city was a war zone — would you believe security was improving?”
AL QAEDA COLLAPSE?
The Washington Post reports undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers, said the core of al Qaeda could lose its operational capabilities within two years’ time. Vickers’s remark represents the first time that a senior U.S. official has offered a time frame for achieving the collapse of the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
GADHAFI’S SON AND GENERALS SEEK ASYLUM
Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Saadi Gadhafi, and three of his generals have reached Niamey, capital of Niger, and asked for political asylum. The three generals include the head of Gadhafi’s air force and two of his regional commanders. They reached Niamey Monday and were joined Tuesday by Saadi.
-”TRAIN WRECK” From Alex MARQUARDT: US envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross arrive in Jerusalem today for meetings with Netanyahu and then Abbas (in Ramallah), likely tomorrow and/or the day after. An Israeli official tells me there is “a lot of very, very energetic diplomacy to see if there’s a way to avoid a diplomatic train wreck at the UN next week.” It’s all hands on deck with the Quartet (Blair), EU (Ashton) and the US (Hale/Ross) all shuttling back and forth multiple times in the past week to find “a formula that the international community an endorse that will change the dynamic,” the official says. But it’s hard to see what could be offered and both Israeli and US officials are pessimistic about their chances. Abbas – who will deliver a speech on Friday evening – said today that the decision to go to the UN is “irreversible.”
-CARTER BACKS THE BID Former President Jimmy Carter supports the Palestinians’ effort to secure statehood recognition at the United Nations this month, despite White House concerns. Carter said he wouldn’t be in favor if President Obama had put forward a peace proposal, but said in absence of such a proposal, he supports the Palestinians’ effort.
SPAIN REVIVES RAPE CASE AGAINST SAUDI PRINCE
The NYTimes reports a Saudi Prince, Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a major global investor and nephew of King Abdullah, has been accussed of raping a model on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean in 2008. The case was quietly closed in July 2010 for what a judge on the Mediterranean resort island of Ibiza called a lack of evidence. But on appeal, a Spanish provincial court has ordered the judge to resume investigating and to summon the prince to appear. Interestingly, the prince is the largest individual shareholder in Citigroup and is the second largest investor in News Corp.
NORTH KOREAN DEFECTORS
The government has confirmed that 9 people found aboard a boat in Japan’s Noto peninsula Tuesday are North Korean defectors. The group, which includes 3 children were on their way to South Korea to seek refuge when they drifted into Japanese waters. They group leader has apparently claimed to be a member of the North’s Korean People’s Army, and says they left North Korea last Thursday. Japan is granting the group temporary refuge before they are expected to be sent to South Korea, where the government has already said they would welcome them in. This is the first time North Korean defectors have made it to Japan, since 2007.
JAPAN: TRACKING THE RADIATION
From Akiko FUJITA: Japanese researchers say radioactive cesium released into the ocean, in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident – is likely to flow BACK to Japan’s coast in 20 to 30 years. The Meteorological Research Institute conducted the analysis, and says currents will first carry all the cesium eastward into the northern Pacific Ocean. It will then move clockwise, heading southwestward, before the Japan current from the Philippines carries the radioactive material back to the Japanese coastline. Some of the cesium is also expected to flow into the Indian Ocean from waters near the Philippines, and could reach the Atlantic…in about 40 years. Cesium-137 has a long half life of about 30 years.
WANTED IN RUSSIA: MORE PEOPLE
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Russia will lose at least 10 million able-bodied workers by 2025 and must attract more foreign specialists to survive, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned. Patrushev said the country’s reserves of young and middle-aged workers were “practically exhausted.” “This demands new solutions and measures to attract highly qualified workers, members of the so-called middle class, capable of solving the problem of modernization,” he said, adding that by official estimates, two-thirds of the workers the economy needs fall into this category.
WANT A DIFFERENT KIND OF VACATION? SET SAIL FOR NORTH KOREA
The NYTimes reports North Korea is trying to lure tourists to cruises along the length of the impoverished country’s east coast. The reclusive country sees tourism playing an increasingly important role in its economy – because tourism is exempt from the economic sanctions imposed by the UN. A Times reporter went along for the inaugural cruise in which more than 200 people were packed into dim and musty cabins, sometimes eight to a room with mattresses on the floor.