Sunday, September 16, 2012

24/7 News

Soyuz space capsule carrying 2 Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut back from the International Space Station has landed safely in Kazakhstan - @NASA

Israel's Netanyahu says Iran will be on brink of nuclear bomb capability in 6-7 months, stresses urgency of US setting 'red line' on Tehran - CNN interview via @Reuters

Cuba says jailed American OK, renews offer of talks on case

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Wednesday that jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross is in "normal" health, despite his wife's claims to the contrary, as it reiterated its willingness to talk with the U.S. government about resolving the case.
Gross, arrested in Havana in December 2009 for illegally bringing in Internet equipment and setting up wi-fi networks under a controversial U.S. program, is serving a 15-year sentence handed down in an April 2011 trial. The case halted a brief warming in relations between Washington and Havana.
Wife Judy Gross said in a statement on Tuesday she had just visited her husband and found him to be in deteriorating health.
"I am devastated by his appearance," she said. "While his spirit remains strong, I fear he is not going to survive this terrible ordeal." She said her husband, 63, has lost 105 pounds (48 kg), has degenerative arthritis and a "mass" behind his right shoulder blade.
On Wednesday, Cuba refuted her allegations.
"The state of health of Mr. Gross continues being normal and he regularly does intense physical exercises," Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal aaid in a statement.
She said Judy Gross had visited her husband three times at the end of last week for which "the best conditions were created."
Gross was working semi-covertly in Cuba under a U.S. program promoting political change on the island.
The U.S. government has said he was only setting up Internet connections for Cuba's Jewish community, but Cuba viewed his actions as part of the United States' longstanding campaign to topple the island's communist system.
Gross' arrest ended a short-lived thaw in relations between Washington and Havana under President Barack Obama, who had eased the 50-year-long U.S. trade embargo against the island and allowed Cuban Americans to freely travel and send remittances to their homeland.
Cuban officials have previously suggested the two countries could do a prisoner swap - Gross for four Cuban agents jailed in the United States on spying charges.
Tuesday was the 14th anniversary of the arrest and incarceration of the agents, who the Cuban government says have been treated unjustly, and has turned into a national cause.
There were originally five agents in U.S. jails, but one of them, Rene Gonzalez, completed his 13-year sentence last year and was released on parole. A U.S. judge ruled that he cannot return to Cuba until he has completed his three-year probation.
"Cuba reiterates its disposition to dialogue with the United States government to look for a solution to the case of Mr. Gross and continues waiting for a response," Vidal said.
The United States has rejected the idea of a prisoner swap but did offer last year to send Gonzalez back to Cuba in exchange for Gross, which Cuba rejected.
Gross' lawyer Jared Genser said in a statement Cuba had violated his client's rights to freedom of expression and given him an unfair trial.
He said he had filed a petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seeking a finding against Cuba.
"Alan's detention is in flagrant violation of international law," he said. "It was clear from the court judgment he did nothing wrong and is merely being punished because of the Cuban government's dislike of the U.S. government."
The U.N. working group has no power to enforce a ruling against Cuba, but its decision could place pressure on the Cuban government. The U.N. petition appeared to signal new, more aggressive tactics by Judy Gross in her long battle to free her husband, a veteran development worker.
Previously, she has taken a more conciliatory approach toward the Cuban government, spoken out about his declining physical condition and asked President Raul Castro to free him on humanitarian grounds.
Both their daughter and Alan Gross' mother are suffering from cancer.
Along with the new legal tack, a new website - - has been launched to try to make Gross' plight more widely known.
The change in tactics is not without its dangers.
In June, Judy Gross complained publicly about her husband's condition, which prompted an angry denial from Cuba and a cryptic reminder that Gross could be in prison, instead of the Havana military hospital where he is being held.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing BY Tom Brown and Todd Eastham)


Iran's Revolutionary Guards commander says its troops in Syria

DUBAI (Reuters) - Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are providing non-military assistance in Syria and Iran may get involved militarily if its closest ally comes under attack, commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Sunday.
Jafari's statement is the first official acknowledgement that Iran has a military presence on the ground in Syria where an 18-month-old uprising has left tens of thousands dead.
Western countries and Syrian opposition groups have long suspected Iran has troops in Syria. Iran has denied this.
"A number of members of the Qods force are present in Syria but this does not constitute a military presence," Iranian news agency ISNA quoted Jafari as saying at a news conference.
Qods is an IRGC unit set up to export Iran's ideology. It has been accused of plotting attacks inside Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Jafari did not indicate how many IRGC members were in Syria but said they were providing "intellectual and advisory help".
The Islamic Republic has backed Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since the crisis began and regards his rule as a key part of its axis of resistance against Israel and Sunni Arab states.
Jafari also said Iran would change its policy and offer military backing if Syria came under attack.
"I say specifically that if Syria came under military attack, Iran would also give military support but it ... totally depends on the circumstances," he said.
U.S. officials this month accused Iraq of facilitating the transfer of weapons to Syria by opening its airspace to Iranian aircraft. Baghdad has denied the accusation.
Analysts say that losing its key Syrian ally would weaken the Islamic Republic's ability to threaten Israel through the Syrian-backed Shi'ite resistance movement Hezbollah.
Jafari dismissed Israel's threats of attack on Iran, saying Israel was having trouble persuading the United States to back its actions.
"Our answer to Israel is clear. In the face of such actions by the Zionist regime, nothing of Israel would remain," he said.
He said any Israeli attack on Iran would also trigger retaliatory action on U.S. bases in the region and that trade via the Strait of Hormuz would be disrupted.
An attack on Iran would also call into question Iran's commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said, comments that will cause concern among Western diplomats who want to find a peaceful resolution to Iran's nuclear program and avoid military consequences.
"If international organizations cannot stop Israel, Iran will not see itself as committed to its obligations. Of course this does not mean that we will go in the direction of a nuclear bomb," Jafari said.
Three rounds of talks earlier this year between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries - the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain - have so far failed to reach agreement on Iran's nuclear activities which the U.S. believes are targeted at developing a weapons capability.
The West is demanding that Tehran halts all high-grade enrichment, close its Fordo nuclear facility and ship out all stocks of high-grade uranium.
Tehran maintains its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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