IRAN + SYRIA: TWO NATIONS GIVE A LITTLE…?
-BIG PICTURE…On the day after Benjamin Netanyahu’s fairly bellicose speech to AIPAC – and on the day he meets a no-doubt very receptive crowd on Capitol Hill – there are a pair of developments that Netanyahu probably doesn’t care to hear. First – Iran’s pledge to allow UN inspectors to the military facility at Parchin (more below). It’s hard to imagine an attack on Iran as inspectors prepare to visit – or when they are actually on the ground there. Second – the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has announced that the five permanent members of the Security Council – and Germany – have agreed to resume negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Previous talks broke off in January 2011. As we reported yesterday – the words “diplomacy” and “negotiation” were prominent in President Obama’s and other White House officials’ language; not so with Netanyahu.
-IAEA INVITED TO KEY MILITARY SITE…Has Iran blinked – just a bit? Or is this just a clever time-buying ploy? Today Iran says it will give the U.N. nuclear watchdog access to its Parchin military complex, a site where the agency believes Tehran may have pursued high explosives research relevant to nuclear weapons. A 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report said Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, to conduct explosives tests that are “strong indicators” of efforts to develop an atom bomb. Last month the IAEA said it had been refused access to Parchin during high-level talks in Tehran. White House reaction this morning – via Jake TAPPER: “We encourage Iran to carry through on this commitment, as expeditiously as possible, and enable the Agency full and transparent access to the Parchin site as a first step in clarifying the serious questions of the international community regarding Iran’s involvement in suspected nuclear weapons activities.”
-NETANYAHU: “ISRAEL WILL BE MASTER OF ITS OWN FATE”…The Israeli Prime Minister was his most hawkish last night – Dana HUGHES reports Benjamin Netanyahu got a rock-star reception at the AIPAC gala Monday night. In his address, Netanyahu said Israel and the United States have “the exact same policy” with regard to Iran. But he made it clear that Israel reserves the right to defend itself, on its own if necessary. “Israel will be master of its own fate,” he said. Alex MARQUARDT notes that despite the apparent congeniality between Obama and Netanyahu, Netanyahu certainly kept up the pressure – with phrases like this one: ”Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.” The full speech.
-PERES TO FACEBOOK HQ…Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres meets today with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company’s headquarters to launch a page to reach out to young Arabs. Peres will also take questions from the site’s users during an interview with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that will be streamed live online. Facebook, of course, played a key role in organizing the Arab Spring movement.
-NOW THE U.N. IS WELCOME…The Syrian Arab News Agency reports Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, will be welcomed in Damascus – this after the UN spent three months trying to arrange a visit. SANA reports that Amos will hold talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, and leaders of the Syrian Red Crescent. Tomorrow, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan is to launch what Al Arabiyah calls a diplomatic ‘mission impossible’, aiming to convince Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to silence the guns blamed for thousands of deaths in the past year.
-FLEEING SYRIA…Assad’s forces have reportedly bombed a bridge that is an escape route for Syrians fleeing Homs towards Lebanon. The UN says 1500-2000 Syrians, 150-200 families, have fled into northern Lebanon in recent days. The shelling of border towns is reportedly heavy. The BBC’s Paul Wood filed a superb piece about the exodus.
-MARIE COLVIN…The body of slain journalist Marie Colvin is expected to arrive in New York today, ahead of a funeral mass scheduled for March 12.
TIBET: WOMEN SETTING THEMSELVES ABLAZE
From Gloria RIVIERA in Beijing: Two women have died in the last three days, after setting themselves ablaze in protest. One was a 32-year-old widowed mother of 3. That brings the total number of female self-immolations in protest of Chinese rule since March 2011 to 5. As International Women’s Day approaches (March 8) Radio Free Asia is highlighting the long history of female resistance in Tibet. Experts say that historically, female protests in Tibet have been peaceful – in keeping with the Tibetan commitment to nonviolence. The recent increase in female self-immolations are a sharp and worrisome change.
WOMAN RANGER KILLED BY POACHERS IN KENYA
From Bazi KANANI in Nairobi: Investigators in Kenya are questioning 33 accused poachers who were arrested after two park rangers were killed last Friday. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Udoto says the poachers were after the rangers’ guns and ammunition. “This is really scary,” Udoto said about the murder of the rangers who were on routine duty looking for illegal wildlife traps in the expansive Tsavo National Park. In just the last three months, six Kenyan park rangers have been killed by poachers. Friday’s attack was the first on a woman ranger in the 20-year history of the KWS.
HELP ON THE WAY AFTER DEADLY CONGO BLAST
KANANI again: The U.S. is sending condolences and offers of help to the Republic of Congo after Sunday’s enormous fire and powerful explosions at an arms depot in the capital city of Brazzaville. The death toll, now at 213, is still climbing as rescuers spend another day searching burned and collapsed buildings, including a Catholic church where dozens were attending Sunday Mass. The site of the charred arms depot is still too dangerous to enter because of the threat of unexploded shells, and it is feared hundreds of bodies could be found there. Hospitals in Brazzaville are ill-equipped and overrun by the more than 1,500 people injured. Thousands of people are walking the streets of the heavily damaged, densely packed neighborhood near the arms depot looking for missing relatives. Congolese TV is airing video of children who were separated from their families and asking anyone who recognizes them to call.
ANOTHER KILLER STORM HITS MADAGASCAR
KANANI – one more time: Tropical Storm Irina killed at least 65 people as it battered the southeast part of the world’s fourth largest island. Government officials say at least three are still missing. Irina is the second deadly storm to hit Madagascar this season. Just three weeks ago Tropical Cyclone Giovanna killed 35 people. Madagascar is a popular tourist destination because of its many unique species of plants and animals, though not many visit during this time of year when it is prone to heavy rains and storms.
STARVATION – IN THE EXCLUSION ZONE
From Akiko FUJITA: an NHK investigation has revealed that five people starved to death inside the nuclear exclusion zone, in the aftermath of the disasters last year. Most were elderly, and unaware of the evacuation orders that were in place – so while rescue crews helped 80,000 leave the area around the Fukushima plant, these victims waited for help inside their homes. NHK reports one man in his 70s was found on the second floor of his flooded home, just three miles from the nuclear plant. Another woman in her 60s was found dead in April, huddled under a heavy blanket.
TRASH – OR TREASURE?
FUJITA again: Fuji TV has an interesting story about the brewing debate over what to do with the large debris still sitting in regions devastated by the tsunami. On our drive down the coast last week, we found a tour bus on top of a building, large fishing boats parked on the side of the road, a school burned and damaged by the waves – but largely untouched since. It’s almost as if time has stood still since March 11th…but there’s a reason. Some residents want to keep it the way it is, and turn the boat/bus/school into a monument. They argue it’s a good reminder to never let something like this happen again. Critics say the debris is nothing more than trash, and that towns need to move forward.
A DUTCH ANGEL’S CELL NUMBER IN DEMAND
High on the cathedral of a small Dutch town, one figure stands out. Smiling faintly, with lowered eyelids, one of the angels wears jeans, has a laptop bag slung over one shoulder and is chatting on a cellphone. The New York Times reports the angel gets about 30 calls a day on the phone. That is because, shortly after the statue was unveiled, a local couple set up a number so people could call the angel. What began as a joke continues because the cellphone number has become something of a hot line, dialed by people of all ages, some in need of help, others just because they are lonely. So successful was the line that the couple opened a Twitter account, @ut_engelke, now has about 2,700 followers.
TEEN TOLD TO CLEAN HIS ROOM – FINDS WINNING LOTTO TICKET
A teenager in Scotland who was told to clean his room last month discovered more than dirty socks: He found 12 lottery tickets, among them, a winner. STV in Scotland reports that after his mother nagged him for weeks, Ryan Kitchin, of Penicuik, discovered the stub but didn’t know he had picked a lucky combination of five numbers and the bonus ball for the Feb. 8 draw. Lottery operator Camelot revealed that he won £52,981, or $83,781.
UK OLYMPIANS: NO HANDSHAKES
“Let’s shake on it.” Not if you’re one of Britain’s Olympic athletes. The 550-strong British team has been advised by its top doctor to avoid shaking hands with rivals and visiting dignitaries at the London Games this summer. The reason: Olympic germs could cost Olympic gold. And while etiquette experts fear the host country could look rude, the British Olympic Association is far more concerned with illness spreading through the camp and thwarting the country’s bid for glory. Britain’s minimum target is to match its fourth-place finish at the Beijing Olympics four years ago when it brought home 47 medals. And BOA chief medical officer Dr. Ian McCurdie believes strong personal hygiene could prove to be the difference between success and failure.
PRINCE HARRY IN JAMAICA
Prince Harry begins day two of his four day Jamaican visit with a trip to the Usain Bolt Stadium, where he is to meet the Olympic great, who has become the face of track and field since setting world records at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Harry also plans a private lunch with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, which could be awkward since the Jamaican leader has recently ignited a simmering debate over whether his grandmother should remain the country’s head of state.
KATE MIDDLETON TO MAKE FIRST SPEECH
The Telegraph reports that the Duchess of Cambridge is set to make her first speech as a working member of the Royal family when she visits The Treehouse, a hospital in Ispwich, Suffolk, on March 19, St James’s Palace has announced. A spokesman for the Duchess said: “She wanted her first speech to be on a topic she herself is affiliated to and which she is passionate about. ”It is also the first of her solo engagements which has lent itself to a speech because it will include a more formal element than some of her other visits.”
CHINA’S GOSSIP GIRL
From the LATimes: China is about to get gossipy. Warner Bros.’ international television unit is teaming up with two Chinese production companies to create a Chinese teen drama series inspired by “Gossip Girl,” which airs in the United States on the CW Network. “Gossip Girl,” about a group of wealthy back-stabbing Manhattanites, has been a cult hit for the cable channel for the last five years and launched the careers of actresses Blake Lively and Leighton Meester. Tentatively called “China Girl,” the show will be in Mandarin and launch in November on satellite television, with “Gossip Girl” creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage consulting. Selling reruns of American movies and television shows to Chinese media outlets is commonplace, however creating new versions of American TV series — particularly comedies and dramas — is more unusual. There is a Chinese version of “Ugly Betty,” which originated in Colombia and later became a hit on ABC here. Typically though, game shows and reality shows from the U.S. are more likely to be remade for China. “This is a big event,” said Martin Pompadur, a partner of Metan Development Group, a consulting firm that is working with Warner Bros. on the new series.
“IT’S A SMALL WORLD” WRITER DIES
From The Hollywood Reporter: Songwriter Robert Sherman, best known for penning the infectious Disney tunes “It’s a Small World After All” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” died Monday, March 5 in London. News of the 86-year-old’s death was posted by Sherman’s son Jeff late Monday evening via Facebook. Sherman had accumulated a slew of prestigious awards throughout his career, including two Academy Awards, one Grammy Award and many more nominations. With his brother Richard Sherman – together known as The Sherman Brothers — he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1976. The duo was featured in a retrospective album, released by Disney Records in 1992, titled The Sherman Brothers: Disney’s Supercalifragilistic Songwriting Team.