Friday, March 9, 2012

News PipeLine LPPNEWS

Obama: 'America is coming back'

HOUSTON (AP) — Raising campaign cash in Republican territory, President Barack Obama on Friday hailed a rebounding economy and accused Republicans of banking on voters having "amnesia" about the steps that led to a brutal economic collapse.
"The recovery is accelerating. America is coming back," Obama told 600 supporters at a Texas fundraiser.
Bidding for re-election, Obama bounded between a rally-style event in a sprawling Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant south of Richmond, Va., to a pair of Houston fundraisers. Framing the trip: a new monthly jobs report showing employers 227,000 jobs in February, the latest sign that the economy is headed in the right direction.
Every month's jobs report is seen as a barometer of the economy and an important factor in the presidential race. The unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent, the result of more Americans looking for work as job growth takes hold month by month.
The jobs report and split loyalties among Republican voters assessing Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the rest of the GOP field give Obama's team renewed confidence that the path he has forged could help him win re-election and rebuild the economy. But privately, his advisers know that outside factors in the United States and abroad — from high gasoline prices to instability in the Middle East — could still derail his political and economic ambitions in the months leading to the fall election.
Pointing at Republicans, Obama said: "They think you have amnesia. They think you've forgotten how we got into this mess."
He spoke at Union Station at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, with tickets starting at $500 per person.
Defending his health care law, Obama said preventive care for women was now covered, including "checkups, mammograms, birth control. We fought for this because the top doctors and medical experts in the country said this kind of preventive care saves women's lives," he said, arguing too that it saves money.
Obama's policy on access to contraception has faced criticism from Republicans and religious groups, who said the mandate that birth control be covered by insurance, even for employers whose faiths forbid contraception, was a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.
"So when you see politicians who are trying to take us back to the days when this care was more expensive and harder to get for women — and I know you're seeing some of that here in Texas — you just remember we can't let them get away with it," Obama said. "We fought for this change. We're going to protect this change."
Both in Houston and on the factory floor in Virginia, the president cautioned that too many Americans still long for work. But he said the nation's economy had made progress because of difficult decisions he made, including rescuing U.S. automakers.
"We're obviously still in the midst of a lot of struggles for a lot of people but the trend lines are good," Obama said at the home of Tony Chase, a businessman and University of Houston law professor. Seventy people paid $35,800 each to attend the dinner.
Romney, campaigning in Jackson, Miss., took a different view: The unemployment rate remains above 8 percent. "This president has not succeeded; this president has failed — and that's the reason we're going to get rid of him in 2012," Romney said.
Obama was stocking up on campaign cash as Republicans appear locked in a primary process that may not be settled for months.
Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia, who joined Obama at the factory and has been talked about as a potential vice presidential candidate, said he was heartened by Obama's recognition of the innovative Virginia plant. "When the president is right, I'm going to commend him and say he's doing things right," he said.
"If he really wants to get Americans back to work, he needs to look at cutting the taxes and the bureaucracy and the regulatory burden on American business," McDonnell said.
Yet every strong month of hiring undermines arguments from Republicans that Obama has failed to deliver on promises to pull the economy out of recession. Since the beginning of December, the country has added 734,000 jobs, the strongest three months of pure job growth since the Great Recession.
Obama has highlighted the U.S. economy's addition of 429,000 manufacturing jobs during the past two years, touring factories in Wisconsin, Washington state and North Carolina in recent weeks. The United States lost 2.2 million manufacturing jobs in the two years before that.
Political calculations are not far from the surface in these trips — Virginia is expected to be a major election battleground later this year, and the Houston fundraisers added to the president's campaign bankroll. Though the end of January, Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party have raised about $250 million.
In Virginia, Obama promoted a $1 billion plan to create a network of up to 15 regional institutes to create partnerships among private industry, universities and community colleges and government. He also announced a $45 million pilot program that would show the type of potential collaboration among academia and industry.
In Texas, Obama was raising campaign cash among supporters who live in a reliably Republican state. Jimmy Carter, in 1976, was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Texas, but changing demographics and an influx in Hispanic voters have given Democrats hopes of competing in the state beyond the 2012 elections.

Powers urge Iran to open army site to IAEA inspectors

VIENNA (Reuters) - Six world powers demanded Iran keep its promise to let international inspectors visit a military installation where the U.N. nuclear watchdog believes explosives tests geared to developing atomic bombs may have taken place.
The joint call was an unusual show of unity among the powers on Iran before a planned revival of high-level talks as well as widening disquiet about the nature of Tehran's nuclear ambitions, with Israel threatening last-ditch military action.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed comments by U.S. President Barack Obama about a diplomatic "window of opportunity" offered by the talks, but said Washington's simultaneous moves to "bring the Iranian people to their knees" with sanctions were driven by delusion.
Heaping pressure on Iran to come clean, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany used a U.N. nuclear watchdog governors' meeting on Thursday to urge Tehran to grant prompt access to its Parchin military facility.
They voiced concern that no deal was reached between Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at talks in January and February, "including on the access to relevant sites in Iran, requested by the agency ... We urge Iran to fulfill its undertaking to grant access to Parchin."
The message was reinforced by a remarkably blunt statement from IAEA director Yukiya Amano accusing Tehran of seeking to "tie our hands" and restrict inspectors during their last two rounds of meetings.
His deputy Herman Nackaerts told Thursday's closed session of the IAEA board of governors session, according to one participant: "Due to major differences between Iran and the agency, agreement could not be reached."
Nackaerts, the IAEA's chief safeguards inspector, said it had information from satellite pictures showing "the precise location where we believe an explosive chamber is situated".
Iran media reports this week suggested a visit to Parchin might still be granted but the IAEA said on Thursday Tehran had not contacted it formally about any trip.
Iran's IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters outside the board meeting that the suspicions aired about Parchin were "childish" and "ridiculous". He did not elaborate.
GETTING RID OF TELLTALE EVIDENCE?
Western diplomats briefed by a senior IAEA official last week said Iran might be delaying an inspectors' trip to Parchin so that it could first clear away evidence of research with high explosives tests relevant to designing a nuclear bomb.
The six powers made no mention of "sanitizing" the Parchin premises in their statement at this week's session of the 35-nation board of the IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. agency.
But their language regarding Parchin and other aspects of Iran's shadowy nuclear programme sent a message to Tehran of a cohesive big-power approach to tackling the stand-off, which has stirred fears of war that could inflame the Middle East and send oil prices skyrocketing at a time of global economic downturn.
The six powers voiced "regret" about Iran's escalating campaign to enrich uranium, which can yield material for electricity or nuclear bombs and is now centered in a mountain bunker chosen as protection from air strikes.
Iran, facing sanctions targeting its oil exports for defying international demands to curb its nuclear activities, denies suspicions of a camouflaged attempt to develop atom bombs, insisting it wants nuclear power for electricity generation.
But Israel, seeing Iran's nuclear advances as a mortal threat, doubts sanctions and diplomacy will rein in its arch-enemy and is speaking more stridently of resorting to pre-emptive bombings of Iranian nuclear sites.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and would not attack its nuclear installations in the coming days or weeks.
"I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter days or weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this," he told Israeli television Channel 10.
Israel, believed to harbor the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has asked the United States for advanced "bunker-buster" bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran's underground nuclear sites, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
A U.S. official confirmed Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed military capabilities but said no deals were struck during those talks.
A U.S. Air Force general said a 30,000-pound (13,600-kg) bunker buster bomb designed to smash through some 200 feet of concrete before exploding is a "great weapon" that could be used by U.S. forces in a clash with Iran.
REVIVING BIG POWER TALKS WITH IRAN
Temporarily quieting the sabre-rattling, the European Union's foreign policy chief announced on Tuesday the powers had accepted Iran's offer to revive talks after a year's standstill.
The Islamic Republic's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili last month promised to float "new initiatives" at the talks, whose venue and date are not yet decided.
But Iran's ambassador to France, Ali Ahani, said on Thursday its "inalienable" right to enrich uranium would not be on the table [ID:nL5E8E897Z] - a stance redolent of past talks that ran aground over an inability to agree even on an agenda.
Obama on Monday warned against "bluster" and "loose talk of war" over Iran, which he felt had driven up oil prices, and said he was convinced "that an opportunity remains for diplomacy - backed by pressure - to succeed".
Khamenei hailed Obama's reference to opportunity. "We heard two days ago that the U.S. president said that (they) are not thinking about war with Iran. These words are good words and an exit from delusion," Khamenei was quoted by IRNA as saying.
But Khamenei's praise for a U.S. leader, rare for Iran's paramount conservative clerical leader, was tempered by criticism of what he called an Obama remark about "bringing the Iranian people to their knees through sanctions".
The United States has succeeded in severely limiting Iran's access to global financial services and in extending its own ban on Iranian oil to the European Union and beyond.
An IAEA report last year revealed a trove of intelligence pointing to research activities in Iran of use in developing the means and technologies needed to assemble nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.
One salient finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests that the IAEA said are "strong indicators of possible weapon development".
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Marcus George in Dubai, Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Andrew Heavens)