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Dec. 3, 2012 at 5:15 PM   |   Comments

Dueling fiscal cliff-averting plans afloat

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- House Republicans responded to the White House's plan to keep the U.S. economy from falling off the fiscal cliff, offering their cuts-and-revenues version.

The counteroffer was delivered to the White House Monday with a letter signed by House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and four other senior Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, architect of the House GOP budget plan and recently defeated vice presidential nominee.

"With the fiscal cliff nearing, our priority remains finding a reasonable solution that can pass both the House and the Senate, and be signed into law in the next couple of weeks," the letter read. "The best way to do this is by learning from and building on the bipartisan discussions that have occurred during this Congress, including the Biden Group, the Joint Select Committee and our negotiations leading up to the Budget Control Act."

The leaders based their offer on the testimony by Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of Obama's debt commission, during the hearings of the Joint Select Committee, dubbed the supercommittee, on reducing the deficit.

The letter noted Bowles recommended "both parties agree to a balanced package that includes significant spending cuts as well as $800 billion in new revenue."


U.S. warns Assad about chemical weapons

ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department and the White House warned President Bashar Assad not to cross a "red line" and use chemical weapons on Syrians.

"And we are concerned that in an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people," White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a media briefing. "And as the president has said, any use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a red line for the United States."

"The Assad regime must know that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligations to secure them," Carney said.

Meanwhile, U.N. agencies in Syria are curtailing staff movements and moving facilities because the country's capital is being affected more and more by unstable conditions, officials said.


U.S. opposes Israel's West Bank building

LONDON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The White House and the State Department both voiced opposition to unilateral action, such as Israel's West Bank settlement activity, as hurting peace efforts.

"We oppose unilateral actions that make a return to bilateral negotiations harder," White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a news briefing Monday. "We oppose, as we long have, Israeli settlement activity and construction in East Jerusalem, because they are counterproductive to what we believe is the goal here and should be the goal, which is Israel and Palestinian states side by side, living in security and freedom."

A State Department statement said: "The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations. This includes building in the E-1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution."

The British and French foreign ministries summoned Israel's ambassadors to those two countries to voice disapproval of Israeli plans to build new settlements in the West Bank.


Karzai says coalition can't arrest Afghans

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The Afghan National Security Council announced foreigners are forbidden from arresting Afghan citizens or operating prisons in the country.

The decree Sunday potentially complicates multinational military coalition efforts in Afghanistan, the independent U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported Monday.

A statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office called foreign-run prisons "a breach of national sovereignty."

"No foreigners have a right to run prisons and detain Afghan nationals in Afghanistan," the statement added.

The ruling stems from a dispute between Karzai and the United Kingdom, whose defense minister said detainees captured by British forces would not be handed over to Afghan authorities because of their potential ill-treatment. The statement specifically mentioned the dispute and called for any remaining British prisons in Afghanistan to be turned over to Afghan control, although it is unclear if Karzai's comments have the force of law, Stars and Stripes said.


Prince William, Kate expecting a baby

LONDON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate, are expecting their first child, St. James Palace announced Monday.

The couple married in April 2011 and have been watched closely since for any sign of producing a new heir to the throne.

"Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby," the palace said in a statement. "The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry and members of both families are delighted with the news."

ABC News said the duchess was admitted to London's King Edward VII Hospital to be treated for hyperemesis gravidarum, an acute morning sickness requiring supplementary hydration and nutrients.

"As the pregnancy is in its very early stages, Her Royal Highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter," the palace statement said.

When the baby is due and what its gender is were not reported.

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