Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest news on the week's biggest stories

Issue: "The Da Vinci craze," May 20, 2006

IRAN Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intensified attacks against Israel, calling it "a tyrannical regime that one day will be destroyed." The Iranian president made his remarks in Jakarta to cheering students during a visit to the world's largest Muslim majority nation amid a deepening standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear program. At the same time, Mr. Ahmadinejad reiterated a willingness to negotiate with the United States, a theme similarly addressed the same week in a personal letter to President George Bush.

Experts poring over the bizarre 18-page missive suspect other motives. Robert Spencer, author of four books on Islam and director of Jihad Watch, said that the Iranian leader's call for Mr. Bush to accept traditional Muslim beliefs (it is only Islam that guarantees "monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day," wrote Mr. Ahmadinejad) could be a prelude to an attack. "Muhammad tells his followers to call people to Islam before waging war against them," Mr. Spencer points out.

ISRAEL Israel agreed to release millions in tax and customs revenues May 11 after senior members of Hamas and its Palestinian rival, the Fatah party, called for acceptance of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The implied recognition of Israel could mark a breakthrough by Hamas, which has argued for the destruction of Israel. After Hamas won January parliamentary elections, Israel cut off $55 million in revenues it collects monthly on behalf of Palestinians. That, coupled with a cutoff in aid from the United States and the European Union, left the Palestinian government unable to pay salaries and buy goods. On May 10 the Palestinian Petroleum Agency announced that it expected to run out of fuel within hours, perhaps fueling a change of heart by Hamas.

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DOMESTIC SURVEILLANCE An anonymous source told USA Today that telephone companies AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth began turning over records of customers' phone calls to the National Security Agency (NSA) shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The telephone companies declined to comment on the May 11 report, but Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said, "We have been in full compliance with the law and we are committed to our customers' privacy." Lawmakers pledged to summon the phone companies to explain the program, while the White House insisted, as it has since reports of domestic surveillance first surfaced, that no phone records have been solicited without court approval.

SUDAN The Sudanese government and the main rebel faction in Sudan's western region of Darfur signed a peace agreement on May 5 to end three years of civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions across the ravaged region. But two smaller rebel groups refused to sign the deal, casting doubt on whether the new accord will translate into peace on the ground.

IRAQ Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki announced an "inside-out" plan to secure Baghdad as the first of a four-pillar initiative to end violence. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad endorsed the plan, which will include Iraqi security forces with coalition support securing Baghdad and nine other key cities, like Basra and Ramadi. As part of the plan, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani met with insurgent leaders who signalled assent to put aside arms and reintegrate themselves in "Iraq's new democratic process." No one, however, yet expects to talk to al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terror group Mr. Khalilzad said "will never accept a democratic Iraq and must be defeated militarily."

NORTH KOREA Six North Korean refugees found a new home in the United States May 5, the first to receive asylum since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Details of their journey and location are being kept largely secret, but the group reportedly consists of four women, who claim to have been trafficked and forced into marriages, and two men, who say they spent time in the nation's brutal prison camps.

GOP The president's approval rating made a record dip, but that's not what's most worrying to the administration. This month's Gallup poll reported a record 13-percentage-point drop in Republican support for Mr. Bush in recent weeks, sending the president's approval rating down to 31 percent overall. Disaffection over spending and immigration, according to the poll, have caused conservatives-a usually reliable segment of voters-to abandon Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress, presenting a new threat to the GOP's 12-year majority status on Capitol Hill.

MAN KNOWS NOT HIS TIME "Some columns have to be written as soon as information is collected, no matter how late," confessed longtime columnist, New York Times editor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist A.M. Rosenthal when he took up the cause of Christian persecution around the world a decade ago (see "Honest Abe," March 14, 1998). Care for Christian human rights from a storied Jewish journalist eventually put him at odds with the Times' editorial board, which fired him without warning in 1999. After suffering a stroke in April, he died May 10 in New York. He was 84.


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