IRAN SHOWS OFF THE DRONE
An aircraft that appears to be the highly sensitive American stealth drone lost in Iran looks intact and with little visible damage in new video broadcast on Iranian television today. The cream-colored RQ-170 Sentinel is shown sitting on display in front of a patriotic Iranian poster as two uniformed military men examine the drone's radar-eluding batwing frame. The Iranian military claims it downed the drone through a cyber attack as it was flying through Iranian airspace last week. U.S. military officials said the drone was not flying over Iran, but rather in western Afghanistan, and suffered an innocent malfunction before gliding into Iranian airspace. A military official gives a tour of an intact RQ-170 drone in a hangar to another Iranian military official.
MORE DRONE: U.S. PLANNED RESCUE MISSION?
Luis MARTINEZ sheds helpful light on today's London Times report that the US planned a secret mission to snatch the crashed surveillance drone from Iran. A military source told the Times that the US was 'so intent on safeguarding the secret mission that is started preparing an emergency commando raid'. The report goes on to suggest it was abandoned after the U.S. realized the Iranians had the drone. Says Luis: "I'm told that all the options that were considered, including a recovery mission, were not pursued because the negatives outweighed the positives. One official I spoke with made it sound like it was one of those things where options were brought up quickly and probably were dismissed just as quickly."
POPE TO CUBA
The Vatican confirms that Pope will visit Cuba in the spring.
-THE STAKE$…With Tim Geithner in attendance, the Eurozone "final summit" gathers - and if you're wondering about the stakes, let's begin with a pair of quotes: "If the euro comes apart in a messy way - and it's hard to imagine it will come apart in a nonmessy way - it would make the fall of 2008 look like a clambake." - Edwin Truman. And - from the Evening Standard: "If you want to know why this week's EU summit matters to you, ask yourself why Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, has suddenly turned up in Europe. The reason is simple and scary: if the meeting…fails to yield a plausible salvage deal for the euro zone, then the entire global financial system will be in grave peril."
-THE SUMMIT…For all the above reasons - there is a do-or-die feeling about the meetings in Brussels. The leaders of France and Germany are trying to rally support for their plan for much tighter budget discipline. National spending plans would be submitted to a European authority. In return, Germany is hinting it would agree to more support for troubled member states from the European Central Bank. Ratings firm Standard and Poor's raises the stakes -warning it may downgrade the bonds of all 27 members of the European Union. Government leaders meet tomorrow.
-STAKES FOR OBAMA…NYTimes looks at the link between Europe's debt crisis and Obama's chances of re-election.
-ASSAD INTERVIEW…We've seen a strong variety of reaction to the Barbara WALTERS interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. From a U.N. Spokesman - on who controls the armed forces: "The Head of State of any country, including Syria, has ultimate responsibility for the protection of the population. And I think that that's quite clear." On the UN report: "There was this independent commission of inquiry that was made up of extremely credible individuals with distinguished records in their field. And that report the Secretary-General has already said contains disturbing evidence that needs to be looked at further…As I think you will be aware, it is in the public domain." From the White House: "The world has witnessed what's happened in Syria…the international community has condemned the violence perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own people…I don't think anyone who watched that interview would find Mr. Assad's answers credible…" From Amnesty International: "Under Article 103 of the Syrian Constitution he is supreme commander of the armed forces and should not pretend that he has no responsibility for them and their abuses. If he was serious about wanting to the security forces not to shoot at protestors or otherwise commit abuses and crimes he should have been saying so clearly and publicly on Syrian TV to his people and the security forces themselves - and then taking steps to investigate what he calls their 'mistakes' - what others perceive to be crimes against humanity - and to prosecute the perpetrators." And this - from the Syrian agency SANA: "President Bashar al-Assad said that there are many attempts to distort facts about what is happening in Syria and false accusations, stressing the need to verify the authenticity of the images and reports broadcast about Syria…President al-Assad was asked a question about the report of the UN committee on events in Syria and whether or not the UN sent the documents or evidence on which the report was based to Damascus, saying that the Syrian government received no documents or evidence pertaining to what the report described as 'crimes against humanity' committed in Syria. He called on the UN to send these documents to verify them, noting that most of the people killed in the events in Syria are supporters of the government, not the other way around. In response to a question on whether he believed that his forces used exaggerated force against protestors, President al-Assad said 'the forces in Syria aren't my forces; they are military forces that belong to the homeland and nobody owns them,' stressing that no orders were issued by anyone in Syria to kill or exercise brutality."
-HOMS PIPELINE SABOTAGED…Large plumes of black smoke billow from an oil pipeline which was reportedly bombed in Bab Amro, a suburb of the central industrial city of Homs on December 8. It is unclear who is responsible for the explosion. http://www.youtube.com/user/syriapioneer#p/a/u/2/AqzJGSz_J-o
PUTIN V. CLINTON
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of encouraging and supporting the protesters in Russia. By describing Russia's parliamentary election as rigged, Putin says Clinton "gave a signal" to his opponents. "They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work," Russian state news agencies quoted Putin as saying.
NEW COMBAT BOOTS CAN DEFLECT ROADSIDE BOMBS
The Telegraph reports that English engineers have designed combat boots with putty-filled soles that deflect the blast of roadside bombs and could soon be ready for use in Afghanistan.
NUMBER OF JAILED JOURNALISTS JUMPS
A Committee to Protect Journalists study out today finds the jumped of jailed journalists has jumped more than 20 percent to its highest level since the mid-1990s. Iran currently jails more journalists than any other country, accounting for 43 of the 179 news people the committee counted behind bars on Dec. 1. Syria, China and Myanmar are other big offenders.
AMERICAN JAILED IN THAILAND FOR INSULTING MONARCHY
It's a big no-no in the otherwise free and easy nation of Thailand. A Thai criminal court has sentenced a Thai-born American to two and a half years in prison for insulting the monarchy. The charge of writing and posting articles insulting the monarchy can yield a sentence as high as 20 years in prison in the Buddhist country, where the king is highly revered.
Bunch of interesting stories from Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo…
-DISASTER FUNDS - USED FOR WHALING?…Japan's controversial whaling fleet is under fire for using earthquake recovery funds to support this year's whale hunt. The Fisheries Agency is channeling $30 million intended for disaster rebuilding efforts - to help protect a whaling fleet under attack from environment groups including Sea Shepherd. The agency says the use of disaster funds was justified because one of the towns destroyed by the tsunami was a whaling port. One official said many people in the area eat whale meat, and hoped for the recovery of Japan's commercial whaling.
-QUAKE ALTERED SATELLITE ORBITS…Last week, we learned that the massive earthquake lifted the seabed 16 stories. Now a new study says the quake altered the planet's gravity, and the orbits of satellite circling the earth. The changes were detected by NASA's GRACE satellites, which monitor fluctuations between the earth's gravitational field, caused by changes in the planet's mass.
-FUKUSHIMA "COLD SHUTDOWN"…The government is set to announce that the Fukushima plant has reached a state of cold shutdown next week. That means temperatures at the reactors have been stable for a prolonged period, decreasing the likelihood of any additional release of radioactive material. Prime Minister Noda is expected to make the announcement at a meeting December 16th, ending the first phase of a decades-long process to completely shut down the Fukushima plant.
-THE "TREE OF HOPE"…The lone surviving pine tree in the town of Rikuzentakata, is slowly dying - 9 months after the tsunami. You may recall, the tree got a lot of publicity in the aftermath of the disasters. Thousands of pine trees used to line the shores of Rikuzentakata - but the waves washed away every tree, except one. Survivors lauded the pine tree as the "symbol of hope." But now, it seems all the seawater that seeped into the roots is taking a toll. Residents have been trying to save the dying tree for months, but they've halted all efforts now. Instead, they've started grafting, opting to preserve a tiny part of the plant.
SHABAAB ON TWITTER
From Dana HUGHES: The Somali Rebel group Al-Shabaab has apparently opened a twitter account: @HSMPRess to help get the group's message out and essentially taunt the Kenyan and AU military operations being carried out in the country. The location of the account says Somalia, but the tweets include language you might expect on an American SAT test. Here's an example: "@HSM Press: #KDF envisaged a lightening invasion of #Somalia but the Blitzkrieg they'd hope for became a thorny quagmire for the inexperienced soldiers".
CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE WINDS BATTER SCOTLAND
Winds gusting in excess of 160 mph are battering the Scottish coast. Hundreds of schools are closed and residents are urged to avoid travelling until the storm passes.
IN CHINA, IT'S PANDA CENSUS TIME
The LA Times reports that the last count was a decade ago. Over the next year, teams will fan out in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces to look for the elusive animal or its droppings.
Molly HUNTER notes: For when the next Icelandic volcano erupts…a new solution. The Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector, of course.
HER FIANCEE BURIED HER - SHE USED HER RING TO FREE HERSELF
Thank you to Simon MCGREGOR-WOOD for flagging this…it's one of the strangest we've seen in a while: Woman buried alive by her fiancée in northern England, uses engagement ring to dig herself out of her grave. The trial continues!