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Nov. 27, 2012 at 8:01 AM   |   Comments

Mortgage deduction eyed in deficit talks

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Ending at least some home-mortgage interest deductions will likely be part of talks to reduce the U.S. budget deficit, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

High-income taxpayers would likely be most affected by such a decision, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders stepped up talks in search of a deal to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff," officials said.

The fiscal cliff is a combination of big spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 unless Congress stops it.

Obama telephoned House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over the weekend, officials said, and top Republicans are to meet Wednesday with Erskine Bowles, a Clinton administration chief of staff who was the Democratic co-chairman of Obama's 2010 deficit-reduction panel.

After the commission's recommendations failed to garner enough support, Bowles and the panel's Republican co-chairman, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, started the group Campaign to Fix the Debt.

That group offered a debt-reduction plan last fall in line with Republican principles, GOP aides say. The plan called for $800 billion in new revenue by overhauling the tax code and making significant spending cuts, including big changes to Medicare and other government health programs.


U.N. Ambassador Rice treks to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice heads to Capitol Hill to meet with key lawmakers to answer questions about her comments on the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.

Senate aides said Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, was to meet with Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to discuss her statements regarding what happened Sept. 11 at the outpost in Benghazi when she appeared on several television talk shows the following Sunday, The Washington Post reported.

Rice's office requested the meeting, aides said.

McCain, Graham, Ayotte and other Republicans have been critical of Rice for her initial response. U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly is considering nominating the U.N. ambassador to be his next secretary of state.

While other senators have softened their positions on a potential Rice nomination, Ayotte told the Post Monday her opposition to Rice's nomination remains firm unless she believes Rice has given a full accounting of the attack in which Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic staff members died.


Arafat's remains exhumed

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were exhumed Tuesday as part of an investigation to determine the cause of his death, officials said.

Eight years after his death, scientists from France, Switzerland and Russia took samples of his remains to determine whether Arafat's death was the result of poisoning. France initiated a murder inquiry in August after Swiss experts reported traces of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects, the BBC said.

"Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analyzed ... in order to do these analyses, to check, cross check and double cross check, it will take several months and I don't think we will have anything tangible available before March or April next year," Darcy Christen, a spokesman for the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, told the Ma'an news agency.

Arafat died in a Paris hospital on Nov. 11, 2004, and was buried in a stone mausoleum in the Muqata or presidential compound in Ramallah.


No bail for suspect who sought al-Qaida

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Nov. 27 (UPI) -- A California man arrested on suspicion of plotting to join al-Qaida will be held without bail until his trial, a federal judge ruled.

In her ruling Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym said she believed Arifeen Gojali, 21, of Riverside posed too much of a flight risk and was a danger to the community, based on allegations made by federal investigators, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

John Aquilina, Gojali's attorney, said during the hearing neither his client nor his family had the financial wherewithal to post bail.

"If we can't get over that hurdle, what's the point?" Aquilina said outside of the courtroom.

Gojali and three other men from the Inland Empire area of Southern California are accused of plotting to join al-Qaida or the Taliban in Afghanistan to attack U.S. or coalition forces.


N. Korean launch site activity indicated

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- New satellite imagery indicates greater activity at a North Korean launch site, indicating a launch could happen within a few weeks, the satellite company said.

DigitalGlobe analysis said the image at North Korea's Sohae satellite launch station, taken Friday, shows preparations similar to that seen before the failed April 13 attempt to launch a satellite on a long-range missile, CNN reported Monday.

"Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks, should North Korea desire -- it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks," a DigitalGlobe analysis indicated.

U.S. officials said they've seen the activity, but don't believe a launch is pending because no missile has been seen on the pad, CNN said.

If a launch were to occur, it likely would be a long-range missile because the Sohae site is a long-range missile launch pad, the sources said.

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