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  |   Jan. 24, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Kerry takes tough line on Iran nukes

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Sen. John Kerry, secretary of state nominee, took a tough line on Iranian nuclear development Thursday in a confirmation hearing before a U.S. Senate panel.

"We will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Kerry told the Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering his nomination. Kerry must be confirmed by the entire Senate before taking office.

"Given our extraordinary interests in non-proliferation, we must resolve the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. The president has made it definitive. We will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Kerry told the panel, "and I repeat here today, our policy is not containment. It is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance."

Kerry said the administration, "working with Congress and an unprecedented international coalition, has put into place crippling sanctions on Iran. ... President Obama has stated again and again, and I want to emphasize this. He and I prefer a diplomatic resolution to this challenge, and I will work to give diplomacy every effort to succeed, but no one should mistake our resolve to reduce the nuclear threat."

In a nod to the partisan divide in Washington, Kerry said, "If confirmed, I will invite all members of the committee to come together to talk about how we can have constructive dialogue in a collegiate atmosphere."

Before the panel, Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain endorsed Kerry to succeed Clinton as U.S. secretary of state.

McCain, R-Ariz., told the Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry still heads, "I know he will acquit himself in that office with distinction ... I commend his nomination to you without reservation."

McCain, who clashed with Clinton in her appearance before the committee Wednesday, praised Kerry at length for his efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam, though he recognized their political differences. McCain and Kerry are decorated Vietnam veterans.

Clinton, sitting amicably with McCain, told the panel, "John is the right choice to carry forward the Obama administration's foreign policy. ... He will bring a record of leadership and service that is exemplary."


700 Pakistanis jailed without trial

ISLAMABAD, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Some 700 suspected militants are being held in jail without trials in connection with the war on terror, a panel of Pakistani Supreme Court judges was told.

The revelation by Attorney General Irfan Qadir was made to three judges investigating the disappearance of 11 people acquitted of terrorism-related charges, Dawn News reported Thursday.

"The detained men can be handed over to authorities only after the operation is halted in the tribal regions," Qadir said.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told Qadir "these people cannot be kept in illegal custody for an indefinite period because it is against the constitution and basic fundamental rights." Chaudhry added, "We don't say you should release them... we want you to try them in accordance with the law,"

Qadir said because the men were arrested in areas of ongoing conflict, they would be tried under a set of regulations that denies the detainees the right to legal representation, to present evidence and to appeal.

The 11 men at the focus of the hearing disappeared from the gates of a jail in Rawalpindi in May 2010 after they had been acquitted of terrorism charges.

Four have since died under mysterious circumstances. The Supreme Court has ordered the country's intelligence services to produce the remaining men in court on Feb. 13.


Military leaders applaud end of combat ban

NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to remove the ban on women serving in combat deserves both praise and caution, former U.S. military leaders said.

Panetta is expected to formally end the 20-ban on female U.S. soldiers from serving in combat units Thursday, NBC's "Today" show reported.

Speaking to Matt Lauer, retired Col. Jack Jacobs called the change a "watershed moment."

"When people are trying ardently to kill you, it really doesn't matter to you who is on to the left and on your right as long as they're doing their job," Jacobs said.

Many women serve in non-combat units such as military police or truck drivers that expose them to danger now, he said.

Speaking on CBS' "This Morning," former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers cautioned that some things wouldn't change.

"I think the one thing they'll probably look at is not changing training standards to accommodate women," he said. "When we brought women fighter pilots into the Air Force, we didn't change our training standards, and women are totally accepted as part of the crew force in bombers and fighters and so forth."

Some 73,915 women currently are on active duty in the military. More than 130 female soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Israel: Vote gives right wing slight edge

JERUSALEM, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The Central Elections Committee announced the final results two days after Israel's national elections, giving the Right bloc a majority in the next Knesset.

In the final tally after ballots from soldiers, prisoners and people in hospitals were counted, newcomer Naftali Bennet's the Jewish Home party received an extra Knesset seat climbing from 11 to 12, and the Raam-Taal Arab party dropped from five to four seats, the committee said.

The final results left the right-wing bloc with a total of 61 seats in the next Knesset and the Center-Left bloc with a total of 59.

Meanwhile, former journalist and political newcomer Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid that became the second largest party after Likud-Beitenu, said basic conditions for joining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition included the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians, Ynetnews.com said.

Netanyahu has already begun the process of building his coalition with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Lapid, The Jerusalem Post said.

In an interview on CNN Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the elections as a national victory for the social justice movement.


Jordanian killed, election results out

AMMAN, Jordan, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- One Jordanian was killed and three others injured just hours after the country held national elections to decide its next government, Jordanian police said.

Police said they are investigating the violence that occurred in Maan Wednesday night, where citizens were celebrating the election of a local candidate, The Jordan Times and Ammon News reported Thursday.

Initial election results announced by the Independent Elections Committee showed tribal leaders and businessmen won the majority of seats in Jordan's lower house of Parliament, al-Jazeera said.

Preliminary results show tribal coalitions and independent loyalists of King Abdullah won approximately 90 percent of the seats, Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster said.

No serious violations were reported during the voting, which was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups, The Times said.

The IEC described the final vote turnout unprecedented, with approximately 56.6 percent voting, compared with 53 percent in the 2010 elections, The Jordan Times said.


Minesweeper to stay on reef two more weeks

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy minesweeper will probably remain stuck on a Philippine reef for two more weeks because it is too damaged to move on its own, a Navy official says.

The USS Guardian became grounded on Tubbataha Reef a week ago, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.

The 224-foot vessel has several breaches in the hull and "will have to be lifted off onto another ship or barge to leave the area," Rear Adm. Tom Carney said during a news conference with Philippine military representatives.

The ship is too badly damaged to be towed, he said.

Carney added that the ship had taken on a "significant" amount of water and was listing at about 10 degrees 20 to 30 yards from the edge of the reef.

The ship, based in Japan, ran aground at 2:25 a.m. Jan. 17 while transiting the Sulu Sea.

A Malaysian tug, Vos Apollo, began rigging lines Wednesday to offload fuel from the ship, but had to stop because of rough seas.

For the past two days, divers have been inside the Guardian, assessing damage and preparing items to be lifted off the ship to reduce the vessel's weight.

The USNS Salvor, a Military Sealift Command salvage ship, is scheduled to arrive at the site Thursday evening with divers and salvage equipment.

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