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  |   Jan. 31, 2013 at 12:00 PM
McCain grills Hagel on past positions

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Sen. John McCain rapid fired hostile questions at former Sen. Chuck Hagel as a Senate panel considers Hagel's nomination as U.S. defense secretary.

After calling Hagel his "old friend," McCain, R-Ariz., repeatedly tried to get Hagel to answer yes or no about opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq during the Bush administration. In 2007, President George W. Bush sent an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq to stabilize the U.S. intervention in that country.

When Hagel tried to explain his position, McCain shot back, "Will you please answer the question?"

Hagel confirmed he thought what he called the "war of choice" in Iraq was the "most disastrous since Vietnam."

Hagel told McCain, "I would defer to the judgment of history" on the surge.

McCain insisted history already had judged the wisdom of the surge, and Hagel was wrong.

Also, McCain tried to get Hagel to say whether he supported giving U.S. weapons to the Syrian opposition and establishing a no-fly zone.

Hagel said the United States was looking at those options, but McCain said 60,000 people already have died in the Syrian civil war -- "How many more would have to die before you would support" those actions.

McCain said what he considered Hagel's refusal to answer yes or no to his questions would influence whether the would vote to confirm Hagel, leaving no doubt that at this time the answer was negative.

McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, said Republicans had concerns about Hagel's "professional judgment."

In his opening statement, Hagel said he is committed to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee he agrees with all of President Obama's positions on national security, including Iran.

"I am committed to the president's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Hagel said, adding all options were on the table. He said the president's policy was prevention, not containment of Iran, and he would make sure the Defense Department was prepared for all contingencies.


Russia asks Iran to freeze enrichment

TEHRAN, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Russia's Foreign Minister urged Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program after Tehran announced plans to install new centrifuges at the Natanz plant.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday the Islamic Republic had notified the International Atomic Energy Agency in January of plans to install more modern equipment at the Natanz facility, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti said.

"The IAEA has been notified, and the IAEA will be there and will supervise this, but I'd like to repeat that this a legal aspect of the matter, while the political aspect is that we, along with the other Security Council members, have called on Iran to freeze enrichment operations during the negotiations," the agency quoted Lavrov telling reporters.

The U.S. and its allies have accused Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons technology, The New York Times said, despite Iran's insistence that the uranium enrichment is purely for civilian and peaceful purposes.

The Tehran Times earlier this month quoted Fereydoun Abbasi, director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization saying Iran plans to continue producing uranium enriched to the level of 20 percent at the Fordow and Natanz facilities. Abbasi said while Natanz was currently enriching uranium at a 5 percent purity level, plans were underway to boost it to 20 percent purity level.


Court frees police as unity government eyed

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Eight Egyptian security officers were acquitted Thursday of killing protesters during the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, officials said.

The defendants, who included the former head of the Sharqiya Security Directorate, and seven of his deputies, had been charged with attempted murder and inciting the killing of peaceful protesters, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

The security officers were termed scapegoats by the judge before he read the verdict, saying they had carried out their duty to secure police stations from attack.

Only two police officers have been convicted and sentenced to prison of 135 defendants facing charges tied to the deaths of protesters during the uprising, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said.

The verdict was delivered as rival political groups sat around a table to urge President Mohamed Morsi to form a unity government in hopes of ending days of violence across the nation, The New York Times reported.

In attendance were Mohamed ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat; Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister in the Mubarak era, and Saad al-Katatni, the head of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party.

Morsi has rejected the idea of a unity government. He has said a new administration will be formed only after elections in April.


Searchers find helmet, parachute in sea

AVIANO, Italy, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A pilot's helmet was recovered in the Adriatic Sea near where a U.S. F-16 fighter jet and its pilot went missing, officials said.

Rescuers recovered a parachute Wednesday, and have found debris fragments in the area near the town of Cervia. The plane and pilot Capt. Lucas Gruenther lost contact with Aviano Air Base Monday, Italy's ANSA news agency reported.

Gruenther, chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing, went missing Monday night while piloting his F-16 Fighting Falcon as part of a night training mission. He lost contact with the base and the rest of his formation while flying over the Adriatic.

Officials at Aviano's Pagliano e Gori airport, which has jurisdiction over flights from the U.S. base, said they were concerned that a technical problem arose so fast "the pilot did not have time to activate the mechanism that makes it possible to eject, after having established that the plane could not cause risks for the local population."

Gruenther's wife expressed confidence late Wednesday that he would return, Stars and Stripes reported.

"If anyone could survive something like this, it would be Luc," Cassy Gruenther said in a statement.

She said finding the parachute and his helmet were a good sign.

"It means he ejected, and we've been told the helmet is in good condition," she said.


14 injured in Stockholm school blast

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Four students at school in Stockholm were questioned after a homemade explosive device blew up in the hands of a teacher, injuring 14 people, police said.

The incident happened Wednesday at a school in Stockholm's Huddinge neighborhood, the Swedish news agency TT reported.

Zakarias Labidi, a 13-year-old student who was injured in the blast, said a bottle containing a liquid and "bits of foil" was hurled into the classroom.

"It landed about two meters [6.5 feet] from our table, then a teacher came to pick it up and throw it away. Then, she noticed it was warm and then it exploded in her hand. Liquid went all over her and on some of the other students," he told TT.

Police said four people were hospitalized with minor injuries and ten others were also injured. Damage to the building was limited.

Four students were questioned by police later Wednesday. A witness said one of those questioned had built the explosive device.

"He'd seen how to do it on the Internet," the witness said.

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