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Friday, July 10, 2009

Germany’s Response to the “Martyr of the Headscarf” Incites Outrage in Egypt

The headscarf martyr: murder in German court sparks Egyptian fury

• Woman was stabbed 18 times during hijab trial
• Outrage at lack of media coverage fuels protests

It was while Marwa el-Sherbini was in the dock recalling how the accused had insulted her for wearing the hijab after she asked him to let her son sit on a swing last summer, that the very same man strode across the Dresden courtroom and plunged a knife into her 18 times.

Her three-year-old son Mustafa was forced to watch as his mother slumped to the courtroom floor.

Even her husband Elvi Ali Okaz could do nothing as the 28-year-old Russian stock controller who was being sued for insult and abuse took the life of his pregnant wife. As Okaz ran to save her, he too was brought down, shot by a police officer who mistook him for the attacker. He is now in intensive care in a Dresden hospital.

While the horrific incident that took place a week ago tomorrow has attracted little publicity in Europe, and in Germany has focused more on issues of court security than the racist motivation behind the attack, 2,000 miles away in her native Egypt, the 32-year-old pharmacist has been named the "headscarf martyr".

She has become a national symbol of persecution for a growing number of demonstrators, who have taken to the streets in protest at the perceived growth in Islamophobia in the west. Sherbini's funeral took place in her native Alexandria on Monday in the presence of thousands of mourners and leading government figures. There are plans to name a street after her.

Sherbini, a former national handball champion, and Okaz, a genetic engineer who was just about to submit his PhD, had reportedly lived in Germany since 2003, and were believed to be planning to return to Egypt at the end of the year. They were expecting a second child in January.

Unemployed Alex W. from Perm in Russia was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing Sherbini, screaming "terrorist" and "Islamist whore" at her, during the Dresden park encounter. He was fined ¤780 but had appealed the verdict, which is why he and Sherbini appeared face to face in court again.

Even though he had made his anti-Muslim sentiments clear, there was no heightened security and questions remain as to why he was allowed to bring a knife into the courtroom.

Angry mourners at the funeral in Alexandria accused Germany of racism, shouting slogans such as "Germans are the enemies of God" and Egypt's head mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy called on the German judiciary to severely punish Alex W.

"Anger is high", said Joseph Mayton, editor of the English-language news website Bikya Masr. "Not since Egypt won the African [football] Cup have Egyptians come together under a common banner."

In Germany the government of Angela Merkel has been sharply criticised for its sluggish response to the country's first murderous anti-Islamic attack. The general secretaries of both the Central Council of Jews and the Central Council of Muslims, Stephen Kramer and Aiman Mazyek, who on Monday made a joint visit to the bedside of Sherbini's husband, spoke of the "inexplicably sparse" reactions from both media and politicians.

They said that although there was no question that the attack was racially motivated, the debate in Germany had concentrated more on the issue of the lack of courtroom security. "I think the facts speak for themselves," Kramer said.

The government's vice spokesman Thomas Steg rebuffed the criticism, saying not enough was yet known about the details of the incident.

"In this concrete case we've held back from making a statement because the circumstances are not sufficiently clear enough to allow a broad political response," he said, adding: "Should it be the case that this was anti-foreigner [and] racially motivated [the government] would condemn it in the strongest possible terms".

As hundreds of Arab and Muslim protesters demonstrated in Germany, and observers drew comparisons with the Danish cartoon row, Egyptian government representatives in Berlin said it was important to keep the incident in perspective.

"It was a criminal incident, and doesn't mean that a popular persecution of Muslims is taking place," Magdi el-Sayed, the spokesman for the Egyptian embassy in Berlin said.

But because it occurred just days after Nicolas Sarkozy gave a major policy speech denouncing the burka, many Egyptians believe the death of Sherbini is part of a broader trend of European intolerance towards Muslims.

The German embassy in Cairo has sought to calm the situation, organising a visit of condolence by the ambassador to the victim's family and issuing a statement insisting that the attack did not reflect general German sentiment towards Egyptians.

There have been repeated calls by protesters for the German embassy to be picketed. The Egyptian pharmacists' syndicate said it is considering a week-long boycott of German medicines.

The victim's brother, Tarek el-Sherbini, labelled Germany as a "cold" country when interviewed by a popular talk show host. Media pundits such as Abdel Azeem Hamad, editor of the daily al-Shorouk newspaper, have attributed the western media's disinterest in the story to racism, arguing that if Sherbini had been Jewish the incident would have received much greater attention.

Politicians in Egypt have been scrambling to ride the groundswell of popular feeling. But some commentators have criticised reaction to the murder as a convenient distraction for the unpopular regime of President Hosni Mubarak, which is currently being challenged by a nationwide series of strikes and sit-ins.

"The tragedy of Marwa el-Sherbini is real, as is anti-Arab racism in Europe and elsewhere, but ... her death has been recruited to channel resentment of the west, Danish-cartoon style," the popular blogger The Arabist said.

Kouchner slams Iran detention of French student

BEIRUT (AFP) — French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Friday called on Iran to release French student Clotilde Reiss, saying Tehran's accusation against her of spying "doesn't hold up."

"Do you think my country would be so naive and shorthanded as to send a 23-year-old woman to spy in Iran? That's stupid, it's not possible," he told reporters during a visit to Lebanon.

"This accusation doesn't hold up," said Kouchner.

"This young woman is innocent," he said of Reiss, a French lecturer at the Isfahan Technical university in central Iran who was jailed on charges of espionage.

"The innocent must be released. The innocent must be freed."

Reiss has been detained in Iran's notorious Evin prison following her arrest on July 1 in the wake of massive opposition protests over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in June.

Iranian authorities accuse her of taking part in the protests and of sending an email to a friend in Tehran that contained information on the rallies, French officials said.

Kouchner thanked Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for having allowed France's ambassador to Iran, Bernard Poletti, to meet with Reiss on Thursday, and said Paris will do everything to seek her release.

In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had dismissed as "pure fantasy" any suggestion that Reiss had been involved in espionage and called for her release.

Kouchner on Friday held talks with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Hezbollah international relations chief Nawaf Moussawi, and others and called for the formation of a Lebanese government without any foreign intervention.

"It is up to the prime minister-designate to form a government (after consultations) within Lebanon or abroad, whatever he wants," Kouchner told reporters. "It is not for France to advise on this."

The French minister also said he was pleased with the improvement of his country's relations with Syria.

"I am not unaware that Syria continues to be important in this part of the world, and we are pleased to have established normal relations with Syria," he said.

Kouchner heads to Syria on Saturday for a two-day visit.

Abbas backs Greek stand on Cyprus issue

NICOSIA - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas voiced support to the Greek theses on Cyprus issue during his visit Greek Cyprus, local media reported. A day after Abbas’ remarks, Turkey’s Parliament Speaker K√∂ksal Toptan said on Friday he wanted to believe Palestinian leaders’ comments stemmed from a misunderstanding.

"It is not possible for us to interpret Abbas' remarks in a different way," Anatolia News Agency quoted Toptan as saying during his meeting with Dimeji Bankole, the speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives in Ankara. The Turkish parliament speaker also recalled that the Turkish parliament had hosted Abbas for many times, and Turkey had supported him in every platform. "I hope it is just a mistake," Toptan said. During Palestinian president’s visit to Greek Cypriot, Demetris Christofias thanked Abbas for Palestine’s support to the "struggle" of the Greek Cypriots, and bringing up the Greek Cypriot theses during the meetings of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, according to the news in the media in Greek Cyprus. "We desire that an atmosphere based on a productive dialogue begins once again so as to bring to an end to the grave sufferings of the Palestinian people and settle the Middle East problem via peaceful means and we believe that this dialogue will start soon," said Greek Cypriot leader. Christofias noted that Greek Cyprus defended the struggle of his Palestinian "brothers" within the European Union in a constructive manner all the time, adding that it will continue its support to the Palestinians. He also said that Greek Cyprus has decided to open a foreign representative office in Ramallah, a city located 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Jerusalem.

Abbas says no preconditions on talks with Hamas

RAMALLAH, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday stated he doesn't have preconditions on Egyptian-brokered national Palestinian talks.

"The interests of the Palestinian people are considered more than the factions, persons and the narrow interests," the official news agency, Wafa, quoted Abbas as saying.

He made the remarks during a meeting with Egyptian envoys who are visiting the West Bank to prepare for launching what Cairo hopes to be the final round of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation dialogue.

The dialogue aims at reconciling Abbas's Fatah party and Islamic Hamas movement which routed pro-Abbas forces and took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Meanwhile, Wafa reported that Abbas has received a new Egyptian proposal for restoring political unity to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Details about the new offer which the Palestinian factions promised to study were not available.

In June, Hamas and Fatah failed to reach an agreement, promoting the Egyptian mediators to postpone the talks to July 25.

Gaza's children struggle with memories of war

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Fourteen-year-old Ghasan Matar won't talk about the explosion that cost him his legs and killed his brother. In fact, six months after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza, he still barely talks at all.

He spends most of his time staring at the walls and a huge poster depicting his older brother against a bloody background of war featuring a Kalashnikov assault rifle and dead Israeli soldiers.

He says he never thinks about the day when the house was hit during heavy shelling of Gaza City's Zeitun neighbourhood. He insists he has no nightmares. "I'm doing fine," he says, and then clams up.

"He's very traumatised. He doesn't speak, tries to act like nothing happened," says social worker Nisrin Ramadan during a visit to the boy's crumbling brick home.

"There are many cases like this of deep shock and loss of hope," says Ramadan, who works with the Society for the Physically Handicapped.

More than 300 children were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed and many more were wounded during the 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18, according to Palestinian figures.

And experts say a vast majority of the children who make up more than half of Gaza's 1.5 million population, will bear the psychological scars for years to come.

"Children here have lost joy in life. They can laugh but there is no joy. They are unable to maintain hope," says psychiatrist Eyad Sarraj, who heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

Seven-year-old Ahmed Salah al-Samuni smiles timidly as he is tossed a green plastic ball but quickly loses interest, instead digging his nails into a couch in a brightly coloured room used for psycho-social counselling sessions.

"I remember that Israelis came and ordered us out. Shells were fired," he says when asked what he remembers of the war.

"Grandmother and grandfather are dead," he says, going on to list about 10 others who died when his house was bombed. In all, 29 were killed in the attack, 18 of them from his direct family.

"I love Azza and want her back," he says of his two-and-a-half year-old sister who was among the dead.

After the attack, he lay in a pool of blood. It's only when he cried out for his mother that she realised he was still alive.

A large scar runs across his face, another along his hip. His nose is still deformed from the shrapnel wounds.

Just a few months ago he had regular fits of rage, when he'd beat his brothers and break whatever was in his path.

"He'd scream out at night: 'The Jews are coming to kill me'," his father says.

His psychological scars are also starting to heal. "But it's a long process. He has seen so many dead bodies," says counsellor Sabri Abu Nadi.

A huge number of children went through "horrible situations" during the war, says Saji Elmughanni, the Gaza spokesman for the UN children's agency UNICEF. "Nowhere was safe" in the overcrowded sliver of land wedged between Israel, the Mediterranean and Egypt.

"All children here went through some degree of exposure to violence."

Many bury their feelings deep inside.

Njood Basal, 14, who suffered serious shrapnel wounds to the head, spends much of her time sitting on her bed in a room where light filters through holes in the tin roof.

She chats on the Internet with friends "in other countries, mainly the West Bank."

"I don't tell them what happened ... they ask, but I always change the subject. I feel upset when I talk about the situation."

Outside her house, a poster depicts her cousin Talat Basal. Her family says he was a "martyr," a member the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza.

Psychiatrist Sarraj says the exposure to extraordinary levels of violence is certain to turn many of today's children into tomorrow's extremists.

"I'm sure there will be a new breed of militants, they'll want a more militant group than Hamas to feel protected," he says.

Reminders of the war that Israel launched to halt rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups are everywhere: buildings reduced to rubble, shell-scarred facades, charred car wrecks.

At night, firing can be heard from the Israeli naval ships that ensure fishermen don't venture more than a few kilometers (miles) from shore.

Mental health experts say many children in the tiny coastal enclave still live in fear of renewed military attack.

"Whether consciously or unconsciously, the fear of another war is always there," says Sarraj.

Awad Sultan, 12, lives in one of dozens of tents set up north of Gaza City to house families who lost their homes in the war.

He says he still has nightmares. "Israeli soldiers try to catch my dad and destroy houses."

What was once his family home is now just rubble.

The bicycle he loved riding is a charred piece of wreckage. Now he plays with other kids from the camp in a large tent set up by social workers.

"We have fun, but what's the use. We come back and think about the war."

Israel must stay 'deep in Golan'

An aide to Israel's prime minister has said Israel must keep a large part of the Golan Heights, rejecting Syria's major demand for a peace deal.

The previous government held indirect talks with Syria, assumed to be based on returning the Golan Heights, occupied in 1967, in return for peace.

In June, Syrian President Bashar Assad said there was no partner for talks on the Israeli side.

Correspondents say the aide's comments will serve to reinforce this view.

Syria has remained in a state of war with Israel since its 1948 foundation.

Israel took control of the Golan Heights, a strategic mountainous area now popular with Israeli holidaymakers, during the 1967 Six Day War.

'Integral role'

The comments come amid a thaw in relations between the US and Syria.

US President Barack Obama has sent envoys on a series of visits, and Mr Assad recently invited the US president himself to Damascus.

Golan Heights map

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell recently visited Syria and said Damascus had an "integral role" in finding peace in the region.

But the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands to the right of his predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

Correspondents say the new government's emerging position makes an Israeli-Syrian deal look unlikely.

"The position is that, if there is a territorial compromise, it is one that still leaves Israel on the Golan Heights and deep into the Golan Heights," the aide, Uzi Arad, said in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

He said the Israeli government was willing to resume negotiations with "no prior conditions", but Israeli control of parts of the territory was necessary for "strategic, military and land-settlement reasons... needs of water, wine and landscape".

Syria wants the entire territory back.

The Golan Heights is currently home to about 18,000 Israeli settlers and another 17,000 Druze Arabs loyal to Syria.

Businesses wary of national health plan

WORCESTER — The movement to overhaul the nation’s health care system has businesses, and small businesses in particular, worried that a national government-run health system will prove ruinous.

At a state Senate hearing held at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences today, several business representatives said their members are scared to death of a government takeover of health care.

“Most small employers don’t want to enroll in a government plan if they don’t have to,” said Lisa M. Carroll, president of the Small Business Service Bureau, based in Worcester. In a survey of 1,000 of the group’s members, two-thirds say they believe rationing will occur under a national health care plan, that some treatments would be limited, and that members would not be able to choose their own doctors.

Richard B. Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, was more emphatic.

“A government-run health plan would undo the progress made in Massachusetts,” he said, referring to the effort in the state to insure all residents. “The private model is not perfect, but it works. It leaves health care management to the experts, who know how to run it efficiently and most effectively.”

Health care leaders testified before the Special Senate Committee on National Health Care Reform. The committee is headed by state Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge. The committee is charged with focusing on lessons learned in the state’s health reform effort, and whether any of its features should be contained in national proposals being advanced by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress. State Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, also attended today’s hearing.

Eric H. Schultz, president and chief executive officer of Fallon Community Health Plan, said that any discussion of controlling health care costs should focus on three areas. Fallon, he said, can speak from two viewpoints, as it is a health care insurer and also a provider of health care services.

The current model of health care, he said, rewards specialists and punishes primary care physicians, causing an extreme primary care physician shortage in some parts of the country.

The “technology arms race,” as he described it, in which hospitals must have the latest and greatest equipment “plays a huge role in driving up costs.”

And lastly, the fee-for-service health care model in place creates incentives for doctors to order more tests or procedures than necessary. That phenomenon is exacerbated by “defensive medicine,” in which doctors order the extra tests and procedures as a way to inoculate themselves against malpractice lawsuits, he said.

He said Fallon has seen some consumers who sign up for an expensive plan for a short time, use its services, and then switch to a lower cost plan, or no plan at all. Employees who choose a lower cost plan, or whose employer only offers a lower cost plan, call outraged when they have to pay a high deductible on their $1,800 MRI, he said.

He said that any overhaul of the health care system should also work to prevent employers from “dumping” employees with high health care costs into the government’s system.

Mr. Schultz advocated for a “value-based system” that “holds payers accountable and that produces more favorable clinical outcomes. The market is looking for any relief from health insurance premiums.”

Study: 1 in 3 Breast Cancer Patients Overtreated

One in three breast cancer patients identified in public screening programs may be treated unnecessarily, a new study says. Karsten Jorgensen and Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen analyzed breast cancer trends at least seven years before and after government-run screening programs for breast cancer started in parts of Australia, Britain, Canada, Norway and Sweden.

The research was published Friday in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal. Jorgensen and Gotzsche did not cite any funding for their study.

Once screening programs began, more cases of breast cancer were inevitably picked up, the study showed. If a screening program is working, there should also be a drop in the number of advanced cancer cases detected in older women, since their cancers should theoretically have been caught earlier when they were screened.

However, Jorgensen and Gotzsche found the national breast cancer screening systems, which usually test women aged between 50 and 69, simply reported thousands more cases than previously identified.

Overall, Jorgensen and Gotzsche found that one third of the women identified as having breast cancer didn't actually need to be treated.

Doctors and patients have long debated the merits of prostate cancer screening out of similar concerns that it overdiagnoses patients. A study in the Netherlands found that as many as two out of every five men whose prostate cancer was caught through a screening test had tumors too slow-growing to ever be a threat.

"Mammography is one of medicine's 'close calls,' ... where different people in the same situation might reasonably make different choices," wrote H. Gilbert Welch of VA Outcomes Group and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Research, in an accompanying editorial in the BMJ. "Mammography undoubtedly helps some women but hurts others."

Experts said overtreatment occurs wherever there is widespread cancer screening, including the U.S.

Britain's national health system recently ditched its pamphlet inviting women to get screened for breast cancer, after critics complained it did not explain the overtreatment problem.

Laura Bell of Cancer Research UK said Britain's breast cancer screening program was partly responsible for the country's reduced breast cancer cases.

"We still urge women to go for screening when invited," she said, though she acknowledged it was crucial for women to be informed of the potential benefits and harms of screening.

Too Many Breast Cancers Diagnosed by Mammograms?

When it comes to breast cancer, there are certain dogmas that we accept as fact: First, a malignant tumor—allowed to grow unchecked—will eventually spread throughout the body and kill. Second, regular mammograms are a must for women over 40 to find every mass before it turns deadly. The trouble is, these "truths" aren't substantiated by scientific evidence. A new and somewhat shocking study out today shows that about 1 in 3 breast cancers detected on screening mammograms is overtreated. In other words, these malignancies wouldn't have caused symptoms or death in a woman's lifetime, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.

The study, reviewing data from women who began screening at age 50, specifically found that mammograms save 1 life for every 10 cancers that are diagnosed and treated unnecessarily. (Another study published three years ago measured 1 saved life for every 2 cancers unnecessarily treated.) What this means is that mammograms lead to far more unnecessary surgeries and chemotherapy treatments than saved lives. "The real question is, how hard should we be looking for breast cancer?" asks Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Research who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study. That's a toughie because most women wouldn't feel comfortable knowing that they might have a potentially deadly breast tumor lurking in their body undetected. And, as breast surgeon Susan Love previously told me, doctors aren't able to discern the deadly cancers from the benign ones.

Welch thinks that women need to make informed decisions when it comes to deciding whether to be screened with mammograms, rather than being told simply that the X-ray is lifesaving. The new study showed some compelling evidence, graphing incidence rates of invasive breast cancer over the decades, beginning before screening was initiated. If mammography screening were working to find troublesome breast cancer in women in their 50s, then the incidence of breast cancer should have dropped for women who were screened in their 50s and 60s and who were now hitting their 70s when comparing them to those in their 70s who were never screened. Instead, the incidence rates don't drop below the rate that would be expected if women never had screening in the first place. What this suggests is that mammograms find a lot of tumors that may never have been found otherwise or caused any problems.

This is very similar to the dilemma posed by prostate cancer, says Welch. Experts are now beginning to question the usefulness of PSA screening, given that autopsy studies show that invasive prostate cancer commonly occurs in men who die of something else.

On the other hand, women need to realize that there's simply no way to tell which invasive cancers will launch an all-out assault on their organs and which will stand idly by, doing no harm. The smart thing to do? Arm yourself with knowledge and determine what works best for you, which, as I wrote in my last blog post, breast cancer patients do all the time.

Welch drew up a nice balance sheet to show the upsides and downsides for every thousand women who undergo annual mammograms for 10 years. On the plus side: One woman out of 1,000 will avoid dying of breast cancer. On the downside: Two to 10 women will be treated needlessly; 10 to 15 women will be told they have breast cancer earlier than they would have, though this won't affect their prognosis; 100 to 500 women will have at least one "false alarm" finding, and half of them will undergo a biopsy that turns out to be benign.

All doctors, Welch says, should discuss both the risks and benefits when counseling women on screening mammography. "It's informed consent," he says. "I don't think a woman is crazy if she decides to have regular mammograms, but I also don't think she's crazy if she doesn't. It's the ultimate close call in medicine."

What do you think? Are the lifesaving benefits of mammograms worth the risks of overtreatment?

Breast Cancer facts...

Over the last year I/we have been posting lots of pages regarding natural healing, and the facts are out - mammograms are ineffective at best when diagnosing malignant tumors. Many cysts, fibroids and tumors are simply benign, and act as our body's natural means to protect itself. Removing these can cause more severe problems than leaving them alone.

Valid research has indicated that 5 out of 6 "positive" mammogram diagnosis for breast cancer are not correct when followed by biopsy, and how many women have wrecked lives from surgery, chemotherapy, etc. when it was not necessary? For more on this, go the the "Healing News Network".

cancer

First we are told self exams are useless. My life was saved this way.

Then we are told prostate screenings and now mammograms are overdone.

This is how the media convinces people of stupid things like avoiding tests.

This is how the media will prepare us for rationing of healthcare and tests that save our lives.

Philippines Pigs Test Positive for a Strain of Ebola Virus

Boston (DbTechNo) - There is growing concern over a type of Ebola virus that has been detected in pigs from the Philippines.

Ebola is a very dangerous virus, and researchers say that there is a possibility that the virus could mutate, thus putting humans at risk of contracting it.

As mentioned, Ebola is very dangerous, characterized by uncontrolable bleeding and coagulation which can lead to a horrible death.

According to officials in the Philippines as many as 6 workers on pig farms may have been infected by coming into contact with pigs.

“REBOV (Ebola-Reston virus) infection in domestic swine raises concern about the potential for emerging disease in humans and a wider range of livestock,” researchers wrote in the journal Science.

They wrote that it appears that the strain of Ebola found in pigs appears to be more common in primates, thus it is odd to find it in pigs.

House Dems want to tax the rich for health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — Key House Democrats decided Friday to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for health care legislation, capping an up-and-down week for President Barack Obama's top domestic priority. At the same time, Democratic leaders tried to quell concerns among moderate and conservative lawmakers about other elements of the bill.

"We're closer to that significant reform than at any time in recent history. That doesn't make it easy. It's hard," Obama said while traveling overseas.

Democrats on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee agreed to a new surtax that would start with households making $350,000 a year and begin in 2011, said the committee's chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

It would raise some $540 billion over 10 years, about half the cost of Obama's ambitious plan to reshape the nation's health care system and provide care to the 50 million uninsured. However, lawmakers could not provide an exact price tag of the overall bill.

The proposal faces an uncertain reception in the Senate and from moderate and conservative Democrats in the House, who rebelled Thursday over various aspects — including costs — of the plan.

Democratic leaders spent hours Friday trying to soothe those concerns without reaching resolution, even as Rangel's panel met to come up with the payment proposal.

Obama acknowledged obstacles to the legislative timetable but said failure to meet a self-imposed August deadline for moving bills through the House and Senate didn't doom the endeavor.

"I never believe anything is do-or-die," the president said at a news conference in Italy. "But I really want to get it done by the August recess."

Rangel said the new surtax would be graduated, starting with households at $350,000 and then rising at $500,000 and again at $1 million. Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would raise about $500 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Fees paid by companies who don't provide insurance to their employees would push the amount of the bill even higher.

"Instead of putting pieces of different revenue raisers together the best we can do is a graduated surtax," Rangel said.

Rangel didn't describe details, but one official said the surtax would apply to individuals with adjusted gross incomes over $280,000 a year, and couples over $350,000. A senior House aide said the surtax would be 1 percent for the first group of high earners, those households making $350,000 or more. The levels for the other two groups, those above $500,000 and $1 million in annual income are still being determined, said the aide.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

House Democrats had hoped to release a final bill Friday, but that was before a group of moderates and conservatives, known as Blue Dog Democrats, voiced their objections. House leaders are now promising a bill Monday with committee votes later in the week.

The Blue Dogs want a greater focus on cost containment within the health care system, such as reducing overpayments. They are also concerned about impact on small businesses and disparities in care in rural areas.

Blue Dog members said Friday that House Democratic leaders were beginning to hear their concerns but that more attention was needed.

"Addressed? Obviously we'll wait and see," Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., said after meeting with House leaders.

Several Blue Dog members voiced concerns about new taxes, and it's unclear whether the Senate would go along with the House on a tax on high earners. Republican senators have said revenues for health overhaul should be related to health care in some way. A health insurance benefits tax that got shot down in the Senate this week was related to health care, since many economists say it would help hold down costs by forcing people to switch to more frugal coverage.

Asked Thursday if the Senate could support a "millionaire's tax" to pay for health care, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., answered: "I don't know."

Whatever the final plan, Obama's political machine is stepping up efforts to gin up support. Organizing for America is asking supporters to join door-to-door canvasses on upcoming weekends to ask their neighbors to support the president on health care.

Ways and Means members said that an earlier proposal to tax soda was unlikely, but a new coalition of beverage and food producers and marketers, joined by some conservative groups, was taking no chances.

The group will begin running ads in Washington area newspapers this Sunday opposing proposals to tax sugary drinks. The ad shows a smiling couple sitting outside a lakeside tent with the headline, "In: Budget Vacations. Out: Beverage Taxes."

Lawmakers Urge Congress to Condemn China's Crackdown on Uighurs

Two U.S. lawmakers are urging Congress and the Obama administration to strongly condemn China's crackdown on Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where violence in the city of Urumqi left more than 150 people dead. A Uighur activist responded again to Chinese government allegations that she helped fuel the violence.
Rabiya Kadeer, the Uighur activist who Chinese authorities alleged helped stir up demonstrations, appeared at a news conference with two lawmakers seeking to refocus congressional attention on the situation in Xinjiang.

Democrat William Delahunt's Subcommittee on Human Rights, International Organizations, and Oversight has held a series of hearings on the Uighur people.

He rejects Beijing's allegations against Kadeer, calling them part of an ongoing campaign by Chinese authorities to falsely portray Uighurs as terrorists.

"The regime has gone so far as to call her a terrorist and responsible for the violence in China, just as they did in the case of the Uighur men wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo," said Delahunt.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kadeer said she is against violence and denied playing a role in fueling protests. She said a crackdown on Uighurs is continuing, with authorities calling for severe punishment of protest leaders, including execution.

"The crackdown is still ongoing," said Kadeer. "Uighurs are being arrested, Chinese mobs are still after innocent Uighurs and we do not believe the statistics put out by the Chinese government. The actual number we believe is much higher."

The Chinese government said at least 156 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded as a result of clashes or the crackdown by authorities.

Clashes in Xinjiang have largely been between the Han Chinese majority and the Uighur minority, a Turkic group sharing similarities with people in Central Asia.

Uighurs accuse Beijing of discrimination and repression, while China's government accuses Uighurs, who comprise nearly half of Xinjiang's 20 million people, of using terrorism in the pursuit of independence.

A resolution Congressman Delahunt is introducing condemns violent repression by the Chinese government of what it calls "peaceful Uighur protests."

The resolution notes the Chinese government's official campaign to encourage Han Chinese migration into the traditional Uighur homeland in Xinjiang, which it calls East Turkestan. But it also expresses sadness at the loss of both Han Chinese and Uighur life during recent upheavals.

The resolution also calls on Beijing to end what it calls "slander of Rebiya Kadeer, who lawmakers say supports democracy and a peaceful resolution of differences between Uighur people and the People's Republic of China.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher asserts that successive U.S. administrations have failed to adopt a strong enough stance against Chinese policies in Xinjiang, and says the resolution will put Congress on record on recent events.

"What's going on in East Turkestan and the slaughter of the Uighurs and the suppression of their efforts to obtain their own freedom is not just the business of the Uighurs, it is the business of free people everywhere and especially it's the business of the people of the U.S. who should be in alliance with those people everywhere who are struggling to make this a more peaceful and a more democratic world," he said.

The symbolic resolution urges Beijing to allow observers and journalists access to protest areas, and access to trials of those charged with protest-related crimes. It says any innocent individuals involved in protests should be released, and urges Beijing not to seek the death penalty for those engaged in peaceful dissent.
Rohrabacher and Delahunt also reiterated their anger at U.S. military authorities for allowing Chinese intelligence officials to interrogate Uighur detainees at the U.S. naval detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002.

Delahunt has raised the matter in successive congressional hearings dealing with U.S. detainee policy, noting that he and Congressman Rohrabacher were not permitted access to the 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo for nearly seven years.

Delahunt said he met with four Uighurs who were sent to Bermuda in June, adding he is scheduling another hearing on the issue next week at which he hopes to hear a direct explanation from the Pentagon.

Text of Obama's news conference on Friday

--Text of President Barack Obama's news conference on Friday in L'Aquila, Italy, as provided by the White House--

Obama: Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat. I apologize for being a little bit late. Good afternoon. We have just concluded the final session of what has been a highly productive summit here in L'Aquila. And before I discuss what we've achieved these past three days, I'd like to take a moment to express my thanks to Prime Minister (Silvio) Berlusconi, his staff, the people of Italy for their extraordinary hospitality and hard work in setting up this summit. And particularly I want to thank the people of L'Aquila for welcoming us to your home at this difficult time. We've seen how you've come together and taken care of each other, and we've been moved by your courage and your resilience and your kindness.

I'm confident that L'Aquila will be rebuilt, its splendor will be restored, and its people will serve as an example for all of us in how people can rise up from tragedy and begin anew. And we will keep this place and its people in our prayers and our thoughts in the months and years ahead.

We've come to L'Aquila for a very simple reason: Because the challenges of our time threaten the peace and prosperity of every single nation, and no one nation can meet these challenges alone. The threat of climate change can't be contained by borders on a map, and the theft of loose nuclear materials could lead to the extermination of any city on earth. Reckless actions by a few have fueled a recession that spans the globe, and rising food prices means that 100 million of our fellow citizens are expected to fall into desperate poverty.

So right now, at this defining moment, we face a choice. We can either shape our future or let events shape it for us. We can let the stale debates and old disagreements of the past divide us, or we can recognize our shared interests and shared aspirations and work together to create a safer and cleaner and more prosperous world for future generations.

I believe it's clear from our progress these past few days that path that we must choose.

This gathering has included not just leaders of the G-8, but leaders from more than 25 nations, as well as representatives from major international organizations such as the U.N., IMF, WTO and others. And after weeks of preparation and three days of candid and spirited discussions, we've agreed to take significant measures to address some of the most pressing threats facing our environment, our global economy and our international security.

Let me outline what I believe have been the most significant items that emerged from L'Aquila. First, there was widespread consensus that we must all continue our work to restore economic growth and reform our national and international financial regulatory systems. I'm pleased that the United States has taken the lead on this reform at home, with a sweeping overhaul of our regulatory system - a transformation on a scale that we have not seen since the aftermath of the Great Depression.

But while our markets are improving, and we appear to have averted global collapse, we know that too many people are still struggling. So we agree that full recovery is still a ways off; that it would be premature to begin winding down our stimulus plans; and that we must sustain our support for those plans to lay the foundation for a strong and lasting recovery. We also agreed that it's equally important that we return to fiscal sustainability in the midterm after the recovery is completed.

Second, we agreed to historic measures that will help stop the spread of nuclear weapons and move us closer to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In Prague, I laid out a comprehensive strategy to advance global security by pursuing that goal. In Moscow, President (Dmitry) Medvedev and I agreed to substantially reduce our warheads and delivery systems in a treaty that will be completed later this year.

And this week, the leaders of the G-8 nations embraced the strategy I outlined in Prague, which includes measures to strengthen the nonproliferation treaty; to encourage nations to meet their arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation commitments; and to secure nuclear weapons and vulnerable nuclear materials so they don't fall into the hands of terrorists.

I also invited leaders from the broader group of nations here to attend a Global Nuclear Summit that I will host in Washington in March of next year, where we will discuss steps we can take to secure loose nuclear materials; combat smuggling; and deter, detect and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.

Now, we face a real-time challenge on nuclear proliferation in Iran. And at this summit, the G-8 nations came together to issue a strong statement calling on Iran to fulfill its responsibilities to the international community without further delay. We remain seriously concerned about the appalling events surrounding the presidential election. And we're deeply troubled by the proliferation risks Iran's nuclear program poses to the world.

We've offered Iran a path towards assuming its rightful place in the world. But with that right comes responsibilities. We hope Iran will make the choice to fulfill them, and we will take stock of Iran's progress when we see each other this September at the G-20 meeting.

Third, we took groundbreaking steps forward to address the threat of climate change in our time. The G-8 nations agreed that by 2050, we'll reduce our emissions by 80 percent and that we'll work with all nations to cut global emissions in half. And 17 of the world's leading economies - both developed and developing nations alike - made unprecedented commitments to reduce their emissions and made significant progress on finance, adaptation, and technology issues.

In the United States, we've already passed legislation in the House of Representatives that puts us on track to meeting this 80 percent goal. And we made historic clean energy investments in our stimulus, as well as setting aside - setting new fuel-efficiency standards to increase mileage and decrease pollution. Because we believe that the nation that can build a 21st century clean energy economy is the nation that will lead the 21st century global economy.

We did not reach agreement on every issue and we still have much work ahead on climate change, but these achievements are highly meaningful and they'll generate significant momentum as we head into the talks at Copenhagen and beyond.

Finally, we have committed to investing $20 billion in food security - agricultural development programs to help fight world hunger. This is in addition to the emergency humanitarian aid that we provide. And I should just note that going into the meeting we had agreed to $15 billion; we exceeded that mark and obtained an additional $5 billion of hard commitments. We do not view this assistance as an end in itself. We believe that the purpose of aid must be to create the conditions where it's no longer needed - to help people become self-sufficient, provide for their families and lift their standards of living. And that's why I proposed a new approach to this issue - one endorsed by all the leaders here - a coordinated effort to support comprehensive plans created by the countries themselves, with help from multilateral institutions like the World Bank when appropriate, along with significant and sustained financial commitments from our nations.

I also want to speak briefly about additional one-on-one meetings I had with leaders here outside of the G-8 context. These meetings were tremendously valuable and productive. We spoke about how we can forge a strong, coordinated and effective response to nuclear proliferation threats from Iran and North Korea. We also discussed challenges we faced in managing our economies, steps we can take together in combating climate change and other important matters. And I believe we laid a solid foundation on these issues.

Ultimately, this summit and the work we've done here reflects a recognition that the defining problems of our time will not be solved without collective action. No one corner of the globe can wall itself off from the challenges of the 21st century or the needs and aspirations of fellow nations. The only way forward is through shared and persistent effort to combat threats to our peace, our prosperity and our common humanity wherever they may exist.

None of this will be easy. As we worked this week to find common ground, we have not solved all our problems. And we've not agreed on every point. But we've shown that it is possible to move forward and make real and unprecedented progress together. And I'm confident we'll continue to do so in the months and years ahead.

So with that, let me take a few questions. I've got a list that I'm working off of, and I'm going to start with Peter Baker.

Peter.

Q: (Inaudible.)

OBAMA: I'm sorry, your mic didn't - it's not working.

Q: Hello? Yes, that's better. Thank you, sir. Mr. President, we were told that you made your appeal for the food security money during the meetings personal by citing your family experience in Kenya, your cousin and so forth. I wonder if you could relate to us a little bit of what you said then, and talk about what - your family experience, how that influences your policies and approach.

OBAMA: What you heard is true, and I started with this fairly telling point that when my father traveled to the United States from Kenya to study, at that time the per capita income and gross domestic product of Kenya was higher than South Korea's. Today obviously South Korea is a highly developed and relatively wealthy country, and Kenya is still struggling with deep poverty in much of the country. And the question I asked in the meeting was, why is that? There had been some talk about the legacies of colonialism and other policies by wealthier nations, and without in any way diminishing that history, the point I made was that the South Korean government, working with the private sector and civil society, was able to create a set of institutions that provided transparency and accountability and efficiency that allowed for extraordinary economic progress, and that there was no reason why African countries could not do the same. And yet, in many African countries, if you want to start a business or get a job you still have to pay a bribe; that there remains too much - there remains a lack of transparency.

And the point that I was trying to underscore is, is that as we think about this issue of food security, which is of tremendous importance - I mean, we've got 100 million people who dropped into further dire poverty as a consequence of this recession; we estimate that a billion people are hungry around the globe. And so wealthier nations have a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in providing assistance. And we've got to meet those responsibilities.

The flip side is, is that countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world that are suffering from extreme poverty have an obligation to use the assistance that's available in a way that is transparent, accountable and that builds on rule of law and other institutional reforms that will allow long-term improvement.

There is no reason why Africa cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to food. It has sufficient arable land. What's lacking is the right seeds, the right irrigation, but also the kinds of institutional mechanisms that ensure that a farmer is going to be able to grow crops, get them to market, get a fair price. And so all these things have to be part of a comprehensive plan, and that's what I was trying to underscore during the meeting today.

Q: And your own family, sir?

OBAMA: What's that?

Q: Your own family?

OBAMA: Well, the point I was making is - my father traveled to the United States a mere 50 years ago and yet now I have family members who live in villages - they themselves are not going hungry, but live in villages where hunger is real. And so this is something that I understand in very personal terms, and if you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren't working for ordinary people. And so governance is a vital concern that has to be addressed.

Now keep in mind - I want to be very careful - Africa is a continent, not a country, and so you can't extrapolate from the experience of one country. And there are a lot of good things happening. Part of the reason that we're traveling to Ghana is because you've got there a functioning democracy, a president who's serious about reducing corruption, and you've seen significant economic growth.

So I don't want to overly generalize it, but I do want to make the broader point that a government that is stable, that is not engaging in tribal conflicts, that can give people confidence and security that their work will be rewarded, that is investing in its people and their skills and talents, those countries can succeed, regardless of their history.

All right, Michael Fletcher, The Washington Post.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. As you've pushed for an agreement to reduce nuclear stockpiles between Russia and the U.S., part of your rationale has been that you want to have the moral authority to then turn to North Korea and Iran to get them to suspend their programs. Why will they listen to what the U.S. and Russia have to say? What would it matter to them what we do?

OBAMA: Well, I don't think it matters so much necessarily that they will listen to the United States or Russia individually. But it gives us the capacity, as the two nuclear superpowers, to make appeals to the broader world community in a consistent way about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the need to reduce that danger and hopefully at some point in time eliminate it.

So there are countries that have decided not to pursue nuclear weapons. Brazil, South Africa, Libya have all made a decision not to pursue nuclear weapons. Now, part of the concept behind the nonproliferation treaty was countries could develop peaceful nuclear energy, they would not pursue nuclear weapons if they were signatories to the treaty, and in turn the United States and Russia would also significantly reduce their nuclear stockpiles.

And so part of the goal here is to show that the U.S. and Russia are going to be fulfilling their commitments so that other countries feel that this is an international effort and it's not something simply being imposed by the United States or Russia or members of the nuclear club. And I am confident that we can rebuild a nonproliferation framework that works for all countries. And I think it's important for us to establish a set of international norms that can be verified, that can be enforced. And when we are speaking to Iran or North Korea it's not a matter of singling them out, but rather it's a set of international norms of behavior that we're expecting everybody to abide by.

Paolo Valentino.

Q: President, it seems that yesterday morning you had a very spirited and lively discussion within - with the G-8-plus-5-plus-1, ignited by President Lula (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil) objection to the format, to the adequacy of the G-8 as a forum. And, well, I would like - what was your argument in this discussion and whether or not you have the feeling that the days of the G-8 are over? And a very - a second question, but very light, after six months wheeling and dealing with these international forums - G-20, NATO, and G-8 - do you find it more complicated or less complicated to deal with that than with the American Congress?

OBAMA: Well, the - on the second question it's not even close. I mean, Congress is always tougher. But in terms of the issue of the Gs and what's the appropriate international structure and framework, I have to tell you in the discussions I listened more than I spoke, although what I said privately was the same thing that I've said publicly, which is that there is no doubt that we have to update and refresh and renew the international institutions that were set up in a different time and place. Some - the United Nations - date back to post-World War II. Others, like the G-8, are 30 years old.

And so there's no sense that those institutions can adequately capture the enormous changes that have taken place during those intervening decades. What, exactly, is the right format is a question that I think will be debated.

One point I did make in the meeting is that what I've noticed is everybody wants the smallest possible group, smallest possible organization, that includes them. So if they're the 21st-largest nation in the world, then they want the G-21, and think it's highly unfair if they've been cut out.

What's also true is that part of the challenge here is revitalizing the United Nations, because a lot of energy is going into these various summits and these organizations in part because there's a sense that when it comes to big, tough problems the U.N. General Assembly is not always working as effectively and rapidly as it needs to. So I'm a strong supporter of the U.N. - and I said so in this meeting - but it has to be reformed and revitalized, and this is something that I've said to the secretary-general.

One thing I think is absolutely true is, is that for us to think we can somehow deal with some of these global challenges in the absence of major powers - like China, India, and Brazil - seems to me wrongheaded. So they are going to have to be included in these conversations. To have entire continents like Africa or Latin America not adequately represented in these major international forums and decision-making bodies is not going to work.

So I think we're in a transition period. We're trying to find the right shape that combines the efficiency and capacity for action with inclusiveness. And my expectation is, is that over the next several years you'll see an evolution and we'll be able to find the right combination.

The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings, because, as you said, I've only been in office six months now and there have been a lot of these. And I think that there's a possibility of streamlining them and making them more effective. The United States obviously is a absolutely committed partner to concerted international action, but we need to I think make sure that they're as productive as possible.

Hans Nichols.

Q: Hans had other obligations, sir.

OBAMA: Yes, I notice you're not Hans.

Q: Right. Roger Runningen - we swapped. Anyway, thank you very much for the question. I'd like to return to domestic issues, Mr. President - health care. The momentum seems to have slowed a bit. The Senate Finance Committee is still wrestling with the cost issue. The Blue Dog Democrats, members of your own party, yesterday said they had strong reservations about what's developing so far. I was just wondering, when are you going to be jumping in really full force with this? Do you have any sweeteners planned? What is your push before the August recess?

OBAMA: Well, we jumped in with both feet. Our team is working with members of Congress every day on this issue, and it is my highest legislative priority over the next month.

So I think it's important just to recognize we are closer to achieving serious health care reform that cuts costs, provides coverage to American families, allows them to keep their doctors and plans that are working for them.

We're closer to that significant reform than at any time in recent history. That doesn't make it easy. It's hard. And we are having a whole series of constant negotiations. This is not simply a Democratic versus Republican issue. This is a House versus Senate issue; this is different committees that have different priorities.

My job is to make sure that I've set some clear parameters in terms of what I want to achieve. We have to bend the cost curve on health care, and there are some very specific ways of doing that - game changers that incentivize quality as opposed to quantity, that emphasize prevention.

There are a whole host of things that I've put on the table that I want to see included. I've said that it's got to be budget neutral, it's got to be deficit neutral, and so whatever bill is produced has to be paid for, and that creates some difficulties because people would like to get the good stuff without paying for it.

And so there are going to be some tough negotiations in the days and weeks to come, but I'm confident that we're going to get it done. And I think that, appropriately, all of you as reporters are reporting on the game. What I'm trying to keep focused on are the people out in states all across the country that are getting hammered by rising premiums. They're losing their jobs and suddenly losing their health care. They are going into debt. Some are going into bankruptcy - small businesses and large businesses that are feeling enormous pressure. And I'm also looking at the federal budget.

There's been a lot of talk about the deficit and the debt and, from my Republican colleagues, you know, why isn't Obama doing something about this, ignoring the fact that we got into the worst recession since the Great Depression with a $1.3 billion deficit. Fair enough. This is occurring my watch.

What cannot be denied is that the only way to get a handle on our medium- and long-term budget deficits is if we corral and contain health care costs. Nobody denies this. And so my hope is, is that everybody who is talking about deficit reduction gets serious about reducing the cost of health care and puts some serious proposals on the table. And I think it's going to get done.

It is going to be hard, though, because as I said I think in one of the town hall meetings that I had, as dissatisfied as Americans may be with the health care system, as concerned as they are about the prospects that they may lose their job or their premiums may keep on rising, they're also afraid of the unknown. And we have a long history in America of scaring people that they're going to lose their doctor, they're going to lose their health care plans, they're going to be stuck with some bureaucratic government system that's not responsive to their needs. And overcoming that fear - fear that is often actively promoted by special interests who profit from the existing system - is a challenge. And so my biggest job, even as my staff is working on the day-to-day negotiations with the House and Senate staffs, my biggest job is to explain to the American people why this is so important and give them confidence that we can do better than we're doing right now.

Q: Is it pretty much a do-or-die by the August recess?

OBAMA: I never believe anything is do-or-die. But I really want to get it done by the August recess.

Christi Parsons - hometown girl. Is Christi around? Christi is not here? I'm disappointed. Do we have any members of the foreign press here? Yes, I'll use Christi's spot for - just so that you guys have a chance to ask a question.

Q: Thank you very much ...

OBAMA: I'm sorry, I can't hear you - can somebody make sure the mic is working?

Q: On this trip you have been talking about state sovereignty as a cornerstone of international order. How do you reconcile that with the concept of responsibility to protect, which used to be the cornerstone for lots of victims?

OBAMA: I'm sorry, how do I reconcile that with responsibility to protect, which used to be what?

Q: The cornerstone of hope for lots of people in postwar conflict.

OBAMA: Well, if I understand your question correctly, on the one hand we think that respecting the sovereignties of nation states is important. We don't want stronger nations bullying weaker nations. On the other hand, where you have nations that are oppressing their people, isn't there an international responsibility to intervene? It is one of the most difficult questions in international affairs. And I don't think that there is a clean formula. What I would say is, is that in general it's important for the sovereignty of nations to be respected and to resolve conflicts between nations through diplomacy and through international organizations in trying to set up international norms that countries want to meet.

There are going to be exceptional circumstances in which I think the need for international intervention becomes a moral imperative, the most obvious example being in a situation like Rwanda where genocide has occurred.

Gordon Brown during the last session told a incredibly powerful story, and I may not be getting all the details perfectly right, but he said he had gone to Rwanda, went to some sort of museum or exhibition that commemorated the - or marked the tragedy in Rwanda, and there was a photograph of a 12-year-old boy, and it gave his name, and that he loved soccer, and he wanted to be a doctor, and provided his biography. And the last line on this exhibit said that right before he and his mother was killed, he turned to his mother and he said, "Don't worry, the United Nations is going to come save us."

And that voice has to be heard in international relations. The threshold at which international intervention is appropriate I think has to be very high. There has to be a strong international outrage at what's taking place.

It's not always going to be a neat decision, and there are going to be objections to just about any decision, because there are some in the international community who believe that state sovereignty is sacrosanct and you never intervene under any circumstances in somebody's internal affairs.

I think rather than focus on hypotheticals, what my administration wants to do is to build up international norms, put pressure - economic, diplomatic, et cetera - on nations that are not acting in accordance with universal values towards their citizens, but not hypothesize on particular circumstances, take each case as it comes.

Richard Wolf.

Q: I guess I have to follow on that, Mr. President. Is Iran in that category? And are you disappointed that while you came up with a statement of condemnation from the G-8, you did not come up with any kind of extra sanctions having to do with their crackdown on protesters?

OBAMA: I have to say, I read, Peter, your article and maybe some others. This notion that we were trying to get sanctions or that this was a forum in which we could get sanctions is not accurate.

What we wanted was exactly what we got, which is a statement of unity and strong condemnation about the appalling treatment of peaceful protesters postelection in Iran, as well as some behavior that just violates basic international norms: storming of embassies, arresting embassy personnel, restrictions on journalists. And so I think that the real story here was consensus in that statement, including Russia, which doesn't make statements like that lightly.

Now, there is - the other story there was the agreement that we will reevaluate Iran's posture towards negotiating the cessation of a nuclear weapons policy. We'll evaluate that at the G-20 meeting in September. And I think what that does is it provides a time frame. The international community has said, here's a door you can walk through that allows you to lessen tensions and more fully join the international community. If Iran chooses not to walk through that door, then you have on record the G-8, to begin with, but I think potentially a lot of other countries that are going to say we need to take further steps. And that's been always our premise, is that we provide that door, but we also say we're not going to just wait indefinitely and allow for the development of a nuclear weapon, the breach of international treaties, and wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act.

So my hope is, is that the Iranian leadership will look at the statement coming out of the G-8 and recognize that world opinion is clear.

All right, thank you very much, everybody. Arrivederci.

Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

(CNN) -- U.S. President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI discussed current affairs, the Catholic Church's teachings and abortion as they met for the first time Friday, according to the White House and the Vatican.

The president also handed the pontiff a letter from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, and asked that the pontiff pray for the senator, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said.

Kennedy, 77, a Democrat, received the diagnosis after suffering a seizure in May 2008.

Obama and the pope spent about a half-hour talking, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Obama told the pope he understands the church's teachings and said, as he has before, that he would like to reduce the number of abortions in the United States, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN.

McDonough said the pope gave Obama -- who supports abortion rights and federally funded embryonic stem-cell research -- a Vatican paper titled "An Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions.

He said his sense was that the two "discussed abortion and stem cells. They discussed a range of those issues."

In a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, on May 17, the president urged a search for "common ground" on abortion.

No matter how much Americans "may want to fudge it ... at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable," Obama said.

He urged supporters and opponents of abortion rights to "work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term."

The commencement ceremony was boycotted by a number of graduates dismayed by the Catholic university's decision both to tap Obama as its commencement speaker and to give him an honorary degree.

The president and the pope also discussed the pontiff's recent encyclical -- which criticized the current practice of capitalism as being shortsighted and unethical -- as well as the Middle East, Cuba and the situation in Honduras, McDonough said.

Obama had been in L'Aquila, Italy, for the G8 summit. He headed to Ghana after the meeting.



Iranian-American arrested in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — An Iranian-American who was briefly imprisoned in Iran in 2007 on an accusation of endangering national security was arrested Thursday night, sources close to his family told CNN Friday.

Security forces took Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist, from his home in Tehran, the sources said. In addition, the home where he lives with his wife and year-old child was ransacked, and his computer was taken.

The reason for his arrest was not immediately known, and there was no comment from the Iranian government by late Friday. The sources said his family doesn’t know where he is.

His arrest followed weeks of intense, sometimes violent, protests over what the government said was the landslide re-election of President Ahmoud Ahmadinejad — results demonstrators called fraudulent. Protests are continuing, but on a smaller scale.

Eight British troops killed in Afghanistan

L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Britain said on Friday it had lost eight soldiers in Afghanistan in the space of 24 hours, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said troops faced a "very hard summer," suggesting it should brace itself for more losses.

The deaths, announced by the Ministry of Defense, included five who were killed in two blasts while on foot patrol, the highest death toll in a single attack.

Britain has now lost 184 soldiers in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, more than the 179 fatalities during its campaign in Iraq that began in 2003.

Fifteen soldiers, including four officers, have been killed in the past 10 days alone.

Brown said there was no question of pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan until the international community had finished its mission there and quelled the threat from the Taliban.

"This is a very hard summer -- it's not over," Brown told reporters at the G8 summit in Italy. "But it's vital that the international community sees through its commitments."

"Our resolve to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan is undiminished," he said. "We must help deliver a free and fair presidential election in Afghanistan."

Britain has boosted troop levels to around 9,000 from 8,100 to improve security ahead of and during Afghanistan's second presidential election, due to be held on August 20.

More heavy losses in Afghanistan may damage public support for the deployment and further hurt the Labour government's already poor opinion poll ratings ahead of a parliamentary election due by mid-2010.

DIFFICULT TERRAIN

Critics have said Britain is placing soldiers at risk by not deploying a big enough force and failing to give troops the equipment they need, especially helicopters and better armored vehicles to withstand deadly Taliban roadside bombs.

"I think we have responded to the demands of the military for extra equipment for particular things -- night vision equipment -- but also for armored vehicles and the protection of these vehicles as well as the helicopters," Brown said.

"I think you've got to accept that this is very difficult terrain. This is the season when we're dealing with the Afghan Taliban."

Most of those killed in recent days have died as a result of bomb blasts, with the Taliban using increasingly sophisticated technology to detonate bigger, better disguised mines and bombs planted by the roadside.

The attacks are an attempt by the Taliban to stall a large-scale operation by U.S. and British troops across southern Afghanistan where the Taliban remain strong, especially in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Britain has a variety of lightly armored vehicles in use in Afghanistan that have proved good at handling the rocky, desert terrain but have been torn apart by the bombs.

Defense experts say Britain also needs to move many more heavy-lift helicopters to the region to help with ferrying large numbers of troops over the vast distances. Britain currently has just a handful of lift helicopters in theater.

Top US Military Officer Sees 'Narrow Window' to Stop Iran's Nuclear Program


The top U.S. military officer says there is a narrow window of time in which to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and also to avoid a military strike on its nuclear facilities. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, said in Washington Tuesday dialogue is crucial but that time is running out.

Admiral Mullen said he is very concerned about a state sponsor of terrorist groups, such as Iran, acquiring nuclear weapons. He said it would be "incredibly destabilizing" and could cause a regional arms race.

But Mullen said he is equally concerned about a possible pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, such as Israel is reported to be contemplating. He said such a move could have a variety of unintended and potentially deadly consequences.

"I worry a great deal about the response of a country that gets struck and the vulnerabilities that regional countries have that are great friends of ours, their populations," Mullen said. "And then what's next? And then how does it end up? Does it, in fact, get contained or does it expand?"

Admiral Mullen said the way to avoid a nuclear Iran and a military strike against it is through dialogue, like the renewed contacts that President Barack Obama has proposed.

"There is a great deal that certainly depends on the dialogue and the engagement. And I think we need to do that, with all options remaining on the table - including, certainly, military options," he said.

Mullen would not elaborate on when the United States might use a military option against Iran or what it might entail. But he said various estimates suggest that Iran is between one and three years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

"That gets back to the criticality, in my view, of solving this before Iran gets a nuclear capability or that anyone would take action to strike them. And I think that window is a very narrow window," Mullen said.

Admiral Mullen spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington Tuesday, just hours after returning from Moscow, where he participated in the U.S.-Russia summit on Monday.

He said the summit preparations included discussions of how the United States and Russia can cooperate on the Iranian issue. He would not provide details, except to say that U.S. officials urged Russia not to deliver to Iran a sophisticated air defense system it wants, which the admiral said would be "a game changer" in Middle Eastern security.

Experts say a firm plan to activate the system would put more pressure on Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities before improved air defenses made an air strike more difficult.