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Top Taliban commander said arrested

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Pakistani and U.S. forces have arrested the top Taliban military commander in Karachi, Pakistan, U.S. government officials said.


Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was taken into custody several days ago in a secret operation and has been subject to interrogation since then, The New York Times reported Monday.

U.S. officials said Baradar was the most significant member of the Taliban to be taken into custody during the eight years since the United States and allies invaded Afghanistan, the Times said. He is said to be more influential within the Taliban than any other member except Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar -- and was described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

There was no indication whether Baradar was talking to U.S. and Pakistani interrogators, the Times said. However, officials said his arrest had provided information about Taliban operations and there was speculation the development could lead to further arrests of senior Taliban officials.


Bruce I. Riedel, a CIA veteran who directed an Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review for the Obama administration in 2009, said the arrest of Baradar could hinder Taliban military operations, the Times reported.

U.S. and Afghan forces have been engaged since last week in a major offensive operation in southern Afghanistan.

Clinton: Iran moving toward dictatorship

DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Iran's leadership is being turned toward a dictatorship before the world's eyes, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday in Qatar.

"(The) Revolutionary Guard ... we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran," Clinton said during an interview with al-Jazeera while on a diplomatic mission to Doha, Qatar. "We see that the government of Iran -- the supreme leader, the president, the parliament -- is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view."

The United States remains open to engagement with Iran concerning its controversial nuclear program but believe the Islamic Republic must go down a different path, she said.

"We want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, 'We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond,'" Clinton said. "And we hope to try to influence the decision-making within Iran. And that is our goal."


The United States will "always defend" itself and its allies, especially those in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate threat from Iran, she said.

"But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we're focused on," the secretary of state said. "(Our) goal, eventually, is to have a Middle East free of nuclear weapons."

Clinton also was to travel to Saudi Arabia to seek agreements from Saudi King Abdullah guaranteeing energy supplies to China in exchange for Chinese agreement not to block further U.N. sanctions against Iran, The National reported. China holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council, where such resolutions are considered.

Spain to accept Guantanamo detainees

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Five Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees will be moved to Spain as part of President Barack Obama's effort to speed closure of the detention center, officials said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Angel Moratinos said detainees coming into the country pose no security threat, noting transfers into Spain "will be done with all the legal guarantees so as to defend the security situation that our country requires," The Washington Post reported Monday.


A Palestinian and Yemeni have been accepted for entry into Spain. Officials are reviewing the files of other prisoners cleared for release to pick three for approval, the Post said.

The Obama administration has passed its self-imposed one-year deadline for closure of the detention center within the base on the Cuban island. Approximately 110 out of 192 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have been approved for repatriation or resettlement in a third country, the Post said.

Obama last year appointed Daniel Fried special envoy to work with other countries to admit Guantanamo detainees.

Many nations are eager to help the United States speed transfer of detainees, sharing the president's commitment to close the Guantanamo facility, the Post said.

Banks step up reform opposition

NEW YORK, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Some of the largest banks in the United States are ratcheting up spending on lobbying intended to defeat proposed regulatory reform in Congress, records show.

Citing data contained in disclosure forms filed with Congress, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday lobbying expenditures rose 12 percent from 2008 to 2009 -- with eight banks and private equity firms reporting they spent $29.8 million last year on lobbying.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. spent $6.2 million -- an increase of 12 percent from 2008. Wells Fargo & Co. increased spending on lobbying by 27 percent and Morgan Stanley spent 16 percent more, the Times said.


Scott Talbott, a lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable -- which lobbies on behalf of about 100 large financial firms -- told the Times lobbying will become more intense in 2010, as Congress considers proposals by President Barack Obama to impose a new tax on big banks, limit their size and restrict their investment in private equity funds and hedge funds.

"This is a watershed moment," Talbott said "The industry will be changed forever after this year."

Ed Mierzwinski, a lobbyist for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in years of working on bank issues, he had "never seen such a scrum of bank lobbyists as I have in the last year."

"It seems like everybody is out of work except for bank lobbyists," Mierzwinski said.

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