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Dec. 13, 2012 at 5:00 PM
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Rice withdraws from State consideration

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Thursday withdrew her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. secretary of state, the White House said.

President Obama issued a statement saying he had accepted Rice's decision and that she would stay on at the United Nations.

The possible nomination of Rice to replace Clinton, who said she would not remain in office for Obama's second term, raised hackles among Republicans in Congress who questioned her qualifications following the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans accused Rice of misleading the public in statements shortly after the Benghazi attack indicating it was the result of a spontaneous demonstration.

"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first," Obama said. "The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.

Carney: GOP plan 'fantasy'

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The White House and Republicans traded insults over "fiscal cliff" negotiations Thursday, with the White House saying the GOP is into "fantasy economics.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner earlier told reporters President Obama is "unserious" about working out an agreement to avert the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and $500 billion in spending cuts that kick in Jan. 1.

As Obama walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House to attend a holiday party for the National Security Council, he would say only that the negotiations are "still a work in progress."

White House spokesman Jay Carney bristled at Boehner's remarks earlier in the day telling reporters the House speaker has a poor track record in predicting what tax cuts would mean to the economy, citing Boehner's predictions during the Clinton administration.

He also repeated objections to GOP proposals submitted thus far, saying they constituted only two pages and lack specificity.

"It begs the question, what spending cuts have the Republicans put forward?" Carney said, labeling Republican assertions they can raise $800 billion in new revenue by just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions in the tax code "fantasy economics."

Boehner told reporters the negotiations have stalled because Obama has yet to outline what spending cuts he would favor.

"The president wants to pretend spending isn't the problem. That's why we don't have an agreement," Boehner said.

Politico reported Boehner told Obama privately he'd consider more than the $800 billion in tax revenues he already proposed but did not suggest how the new tax revenue would be raised. Boehner has adamantly refused to raise upper-income tax rates. Obama has insisted marginal income rates go up on incomes of more than $250,000.

The White House and Boehner's office had no comment on the report. Both sides agreed last week not to discuss internal discussions.

Boehner's reported olive branch came as a public-opinion poll indicated Americans clearly want a deal worked out, and soon.

About two-thirds told a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday they want Congress to strike a deal to reduce the federal budget deficit, even if means cutting Social Security and Medicare, and increasing tax rates for people who earn more than $250,000 a year.

Rasmussen predicts Assad's fall in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Syrian government accused rebels of killing women and children in a Damascus car bombing Thursday as NATO's top official predicted the fall of the regime.

SANA, Syria's official government news agency, said a car packed with explosives blew up near a school. At least 16 people, including seven women and children, died, and 23 were injured, officials said.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters the fall of President Bashar Assad is "only a question of time," CNN reported.

"I urge the regime to stop violence, to realize what is the actual situation, and initiate a process that leads to the accommodation of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," Rasmussen said.

Mikhail Bogdanov, the foreign minister of Russia, also suggested Assad is losing the fight. Russia is one of Syria's few allies.

Rasmussen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the deployment of two Patriot anti-missile batteries to Turkey.

In Syria, the government denied firing Soviet-era Scud missiles at rebel strongholds in the northern part of the country. Rebel forces said they had seized a military base near Damascus, and the Local Coordination Committees said the next battle should be for control of the capital, CNN said.

Rendition allegations target CIA

STRASBOURG, France, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The European Court of Human Rights says it is ready to deliver judgment in the case of a man who claims he was a victim of a "rendition" operation by the CIA.

A rendition is the transfer of a person from one country to another without going through the courts. The case is el-Masri vs. "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

The court sits in Strasbourg, France.

Khaled el-Masri, a German national of Lebanese origin suspected of alleged terror ties, was born in 1963 and lives in Ulm, Germany, the court said.

El-Masri's filing says the Macedonian police arrested him in December 2003, kept him against his will for 23 days in a hotel in Skopje and then handed him over to CIA officers.

The CIA officers put him, blindfolded and chained, on a special flight to Afghanistan, where he remained in detention until May 2004, el-Masri said. He claimed he was beaten, kicked and threatened while interrogated in a small, dirty, dark concrete cell in which he was kept at a brick factory near Kabul.

His court filing said he began a hunger strike in March 2004, but was force-fed through a tube. After he started a second hunger strike in May 2004, he was sent blindfolded and handcuffed by plane to Albania and eventually to Germany.

In Germany, he contacted a lawyer and filed several claims.

The European Court of Human Rights was established in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Report: Dead Russian dissident was MI6 spy

LONDON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Testimony at a preliminary inquest in London has linked the late Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko to the British intelligence agency MI6.

Litvinenko, a former agent for the Soviet KGB, was poisoned in 2006 by drinking radioactive polonium-210 from a tea cup while meeting with former colleagues at a London hotel. He died at University College Hospital three weeks later.

At the hearing Thursday, Ben Emmerson, a barrister for Litvinenko's wife Marina, said the Russian was a paid informant for British intelligence, which was investigating Russian organized crime and possible links to President Vladimir Putin, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Emmerson said Litvinenko had an MI6 handler called "Martin" and he worked with former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi. Lugovoi, one of two suspects in Litvinenko's poisoning, has denied any involvement in his death.

Lugovoi was later elected to Russia's Duma, the lower House of Parliament, and cannot be extradited, effectively giving him immunity from prosecution.

Inquest counsel Hugh Davies said evidence presented at the preliminary inquiry "does establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko," The Guardian reported.

Emmerson testified Litvinenko's only contact with "Martin" was by a dedicated phone and money was regularly deposited in the couple's joint bank account, the Telegraph said. Litvinenko reportedly was encouraged by MI6 to supply intelligence on the Russian mafia to a Spanish prosecutor and to Spain's intelligence service.

"There is no question that Alexander's involvement with Martin and MI6 was true," Emmerson said.

Russia's Investigatory Committee has asked to join the inquest hearing, which is expected to hear more evidence May 1.

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