Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obama, Palin and the Special Olympics

When President Barack Obama appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he made a verbal gaffe, which he has indicated he sincerely regrets and for which he has apologized.

About 3 minutes plus into the interview, Obama made a joke about his bowling skills referencing the Special Olympics.

The rightwingnuts have gone batshit crazy.

Oh well. They haven't a fresh idea in their brainfogged heads, so they have to create something to get airtime.

Arnold Schwarzenegger defended the president, saying that he knows Obama's heart is in the right place and that the president is a strong supporter and defender of the Special Olympics.

Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, however, showing her desperate need to find the limelight and try to turn the conversation away from her ethical problems, pounced all over Obama claiming he was disparaging and insensitive, etc. I think Palin almost wept she was soooo upset.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the same Governor Palin who dragged her special needs child all over the country into all kinds of crazy situations while campaigning with John "the cane" McCain! Only Palin didn't even bother to take care of the child most of the time; that was the job of her pregnant, unwed daughter, Bristol!

Obama Says He Wouldn’t Accept Geithner’s Resignation

“President Obama told CBS in an interview for ‘60 Minutes’ that he wouldn’t accept embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s resignation if Geithner were to offer it.

Obama joked that if Geithner tried to give up the position, the president would say, ‘Sorry buddy, you’ve still got the job.”


Great minds think alike as do the truly benighted. No wonder Geithner favours a deer caught in the headlights. After all, Obama needs Geithner for the sacrifice when the time is right and the bus is near. Geithner’s purpose is to divert the focus of Americans as Obama crusades his legislation and budget through the House and Senate on the down low.

Wake up people! Obama will continue to dangle and hang Geithner, Dodd and AIG out to dry with the left hand, while the right hand is behind his back pushing the agenda for his New World Order as long as we let him.

The biggest insult is that it is clear that Obama is enjoying this disgusting game he is playing with the American people, probably because he thinks we just that stupid. We must hold him accountable, after all this is on his watch.

Chris Dodd caught in bank bonus bill provision lie

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner confirmed Thursday that the department did talk to Sen. Chris Dodd about a clause he put forth in the stimulus legislation that would have strictly limited executive bonuses.

A loophole in the bill allowed bailed-out insurance giant American International Group to keep its bonuses.

The Treasury Department was concerned that legislation that would restrict contractual bonuses would not hold up to legal challenges, Geithner said in an interview with CNN’s Ali Velshi.

“We expressed concern about this specific version. We wanted to make sure it was strong enough to survive legal challenge,” Geithner said.

Geithner’s interview will air on CNN in full at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, also acknowledged Wednesday his role in controversy, after previously denying having anything to do with crafting language that permitted the bonuses.

Geithner said he learned the full scale of the bonus problems on March 10.

“It’s my responsibility; I was in a position where I didn’t know about those sooner. I take full responsibility for that,” he said.

Congress last month passed the $787 billion stimulus bill that President Obama signed into law.

The bill had included a measure from Dodd to limit executive bonuses. But slipped inside at the last minute was an exemption for bonuses agreed to “on or before February 11, 2009.” That allowed AIG to go ahead with its controversial extra pay.

For days, no one would say who was responsible for the loophole that let that happen.

On Tuesday, Dodd denied that he had anything to do with adding the language.

“When I left the Senate, it was not in there. So when I wrote the language, there was no such language like that,” he said then.

But, saying his previous comments had been misconstrued, Dodd said Wednesday that he added the exemption after getting pressure from the Treasury Department.

“I agreed reluctantly,” Dodd said. “I was changing the amendment because others were insistent.”

Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, told CNN’s Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer that Obama officials pushed for the language to an amendment designed to limit bonuses and “golden parachutes” at those companies.

He said Wednesday that the “grandfather clause” language “seemed like innocent modifications” at the time.

But that change ultimately allowed AIG to go ahead with doling out $165 million in bonuses. The federal government rescued the company from financial ruin with more than $170 billion in taxpayer assistance. Taxpayers now own nearly 80 percent of AIG.

Dodd said he did not speak to high-ranking administration officials, and the change came after his staff spoke with staffers from Treasury.

In a statement later Wednesday, Dodd said that his amendment allows the Treasury Department to review bonus contracts such as AIG’s and seek ways to get the money back for taxpayers.

Speaking about the ability to try to get back payments, Geithner said Thursday, “we’re going to explore that, but in any case we’re going to make sure that the American people are compensated for any payments we can recoup.”

Propelled by the outrage across the country, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would apply a 90 percent tax to bonuses paid out of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was approved last year to stabilize the financial sector.

The bill affects companies getting $5 billion or more in TARP funds and bonuses paid out by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It would apply to people making more than $250,000 a year.

Trying to quell the outrage and move the country forward, Obama said Wednesday to put the blame on him.

“Everybody’s pointing fingers at each other and saying it’s their fault, the Democrats’ fault, the Republicans’ fault. Listen, I’ll take responsibility. I’m the president,” he said at a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa, California.

The president did not directly address the language change.

AIG’s derivatives branch is in Dodd’s home state. Many of the bonuses in question were awarded to executives at that branch. But in his statement, Dodd said he had no idea the legislation would affect the company.

“Let me be clear — I was completely unaware of these AIG bonuses until I learned of them last week,” he said.

Dodd also said in the statement that his comments on Tuesday and Wednesday to CNN did not conflict.

“I answered a question by CNN [Tuesday] night regarding whether or not [an exemption before] a specific date was aimed at protecting AIG,” he said. “When I saw that my comments had been misconstrued, I felt it was important to set the record straight — that this had nothing to do with AIG.”

According to a transcript of the Tuesday interview, Dodd was asked about an executive-compensation provision “that exempts everything prior to February 11, 2009 — any contracts prior to that date.”

He said that language was not in the version of the bill that left the Senate and that he was not one of the negotiators who hammered out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the plan.

“I can’t point a finger at someone who offered a change at all,” he said.

Asked whether he later had been able to figure out who added the language, he said, “I really don’t know.”

In Wednesday’s interview, Dodd never said his Tuesday comments had been misunderstood.

“Going back and looking, I apologize,” he said when questioned about his words from the day before.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, AIG chief executive Edward Liddy called the roughly $165 million in bonuses “distasteful” but necessary because of legal obligations and competition.

“I’ve asked those who received retention payments in excess of 100,000 or more to return at least half of those payments. Some have already stepped forward and offered to give up 100 percent of their payments,” said Liddy, who joined AIG after the bailout.

Israeli Soldiers Confess to Murders in Gaza during Operation ‘Cast Lead’

The IDF opened an investigation after Israeli soldiers confessed to the murders committed during Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ the 22-day military operation in the Gaza Strip. The testimonies of several Israeli soldiers who claim that they killed civilians and committed acts of vandalism in Gaza have given rise to a wave of criticism that forced the army to open an internal investigation.

Head of legal services, Brigadier General Avichai Mendelblit, has ordered the immediate commencement of the criminal investigation. The disputed testimony was released last February 13 by pilots and infantrymen who gave a talk at a preparatory course for military service at an academic institution.

Israeli soldiers gave the statement that during the last military offensive in the Gaza Strip from December 27-January 18, they fired at unarmed Palestinian women and children and damaged private property. It goes without saying that these soldiers committed murders and brutality during the Gaza offensive.

Operation ‘Cast Lead’ killed over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. In the editorial of the newspaper Haaretz, the ‘acts of disregard for human life and a tendency toward brutality’ were attributed to the ‘disconnection between the battalion commanders and their senior officers.’

After Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ the United Nations needed $613 million for the recovery and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

At the academic conference, a squadron commander told how the company shot and killed an elderly Palestinian who was walking along a road about one hundred meters from a housing that the company had seized. He described the act as ‘cold-blooded murder.’

Another soldier said that during a discussion with his squadron commander on the permissiveness of the code of action and where other soldiers complained, the officer said, “We should kill everyone here [in central Gaza]. Everyone here is a terrorist.”

Another soldier testified, saying, “When entering a house we had to pull the door and start shooting inside, from floor to floor. I wondered how this can make sense.”

The dissemination of hard evidence by the military has caused a wave of protests after it was shown that war crimes were committed during Operation ‘Cast Lead.’ The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has demanded that a military commission be formed to investigate the allegations. “If Israel does not investigate its crimes, others will have to do it,” said Yesh Din in a statement. The NGO Rabbis for Human Rights has declared that the turn of events is a moral tsunami that forces Israel to make a fast examination of conscience.

The Hamas-led government in Palestine planned to file a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against Israel over Gaza air strikes. There is sufficient evidence that Israel used white phosphorus, the chemical incendiary bomb, in crowded places in Gaza during the air strikes.

UCLA HOOPS: Tournament exit ugly for Bruins

PHILADELPHIA - No tears were shed. The Bruins fell well short of the goal of finally winning a national championship after bowing out at the previous three Final Fours.

This UCLA team was exposed as flawed long ago. No one was able to expose those flaws more magnificently than Villanova.

When it was done, the reality was grim. The third-seeded Wildcats thrashed No. 6 seed UCLA 89-69 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at the Wachovia Center.

Forget the Bruins had a chance to win the national title. They didn't have a chance to win this game, whether it was played on Villanova's pseudo-home court or on Krypton, since the Wildcats played like Supermen.

"We were out-coached and out-played," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

"Villanova is fantastic. You look at them and you look at the size and strength of their players, their ability to put the ball on the floor ... they really beat us on the boards."

UCLA trailed by double digits for the final 32 minutes. The last time the Bruins (26-9) were beaten this soundly in an NCAA game, Steve Lavin was running things. It was an 80-56 setback to Iowa State in 2000.

"You have no idea how embarrassing and how frustrating it was to lose by that much," Bruins freshman center Drew Gordon said. "As long as we didn't give up, that was the main thing."

It was a disheartening way for UCLA's senior class - Josh Shipp, Darren Collison and Alfred Aboya -
to finish their careers. All three were members of the Bruins' three straight Final Four teams, but each exited for the final time during a television timeout with 3:58 remaining and the Bruins trailing by 24 points.

"It's really tough going out this way," Aboya said. "You look at the score, and you feel like we didn't compete. You feel like they were way better than we were. But I don't think that's the case. The better team won, but I don't think they're way better than us."

Six Wildcats scored in double figures, led by center Dante Cunningham's 18 points. Reggie Reading and Scottie Reynolds each added 13.

"We played great," Villanova guard Corey Stokes said. "Our defense was great. Our defense opened up our offense. We got a lot of points off the fast break."

Shipp led the Bruins with 18 points. Collison chipped in 15 and Nikola Dragovic scored 11.

"They were the more aggressive team, and the more aggressive team is always going to win," Collison said. "Even though they did play at an arena they always play at, they still played better basketball than us. Period. They just flat-out beat us."

The arena, which is 18 miles from Villanova's campus, was a few sections shy of being filled with all Wildcats fans.

Much of the sellout crowd of 19,894 were delighted for 35 minutes, which is how long Villanova was steadfastly in control.

The Bruins couldn't stop the Wildcats guards from getting into the lane.

"They beat us time after time after time off the dribble," Aboya said.

The Bruins had even less success doubling Cunningham and left Villanova's sharp- shooting guard open for jumper after jumper because of slow defensive rotations.

What could UCLA have done differently?

"We don't zone, so we're not going to zone," Howland said. "We just didn't play to our capabilities."

The Bruins also settled for 3-point shots in the first half, couldn't mount a serious comeback in the second half, and were pushed around as the Wildcats held a 41-29 rebound advantage.

Villanova had 16 offensive rebounds.

"They took us out of our offense," UCLA power forward James Keefe said. "We couldn't do anything offensively we wanted to do, and then defensively they broke us down. We walked through their stuff. We knew what was happening, but we couldn't stop it."

Villanova used a 19-2 run - keyed by drives to the baskets, UCLA turnovers and a trio of 3-point shots - to take a 28-11 lead midway through the first half and were not challenged again. The Bruins never got closer than 12 points in the final 30 minutes, and trailed by as many as 25 points in the second half.

"It's just a different type of ball," Gordon said. "UCLA basketball is half-court set. Villanova is full-court press. We don't have a press. We really didn't work on breaking the press all year. It's a different look at basketball."

Administration wants to buy up banks' toxic assets

Struggling to contain the worst financial crisis in seven decades, the Obama administration wants to buy billions of dollars of toxic assets from banks to ease borrowing for consumers and businesses.

Some industry officials familiar with the details said Saturday they expected the approach would try to remove as much as $1 trillion from banks' books. An announcement from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner could come as early as Monday.

If banks are not burdened by the soured loans, then they would be in better shape to resume more normal lending.

According to administration and industry officials, the plan would rely on the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to supplement the government's $700 billion bailout fund. The uproar over the millions of dollars in bonuses for employees at troubled insurance giant American International Group Inc. has dimmed prospects for getting more bailout money from Congress.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been announced, said Geithner's plan will have three major parts:

_a public-private partnership to back private investors' purchases of bad assets. The $700 billion bailout fund would provide the backing. The government would match private investors dollar for dollar and share any profits equally.

_expanding a recent Fed program that provides loan for investors to buy securities backed by consumer debt. It's an effort to make it easier for people to get auto, student and credit card loans. The Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) program is getting up to $100 billion from the bailout fund; that money then is being leveraged to support up to $1 trillion in Fed loans. Under Geithner's plan for the toxic assets, part of that $1 trillion would now go to support purchases of banks' troubled assets.

_using the FDIC, which guarantees bank deposits, to purchase toxic assets. Officials said the agency would create special investment partnerships and then lend them money to buy up troubled assets.

Industry officials said the administration had not disclosed to them the exact amounts of money to be devoted to the effort.

"The key is going to be if the government buys these assets quickly," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "The sooner they get these assets off banks' balance sheets, the quicker the system will find its footing and get the economy moving again."

Geithner's announcement last month of the financial rescue overhaul was widely panned by investors. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged by 380 points in large part because investors were disappointed that Geithner did not have more details.

Some analysts worry the market may once again be underwhelmed, in part because not enough resources will be devoted to the problem.

"The market is looking for a `wow' factor where they can see the administration is finally doing enough," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at the Smith School of Business at California State University.

The administration had said in February it needed more time to work out thorny problems that former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Bush administration had been unable to resolve.

Geithner's new plan is meant to attack what is widely viewed as the major failure of the bailout program so far: the inability to rid banks of a mountain of soured loans and troubled mortgage-backed securities.

Some industry officials said that participation by the private sector may be harmed because potential investors will now be worried that the government will change the terms of the deal or impose new restrictions because of the current political backlash against Wall Street.

Hedge funds and other big investors are likely to be more leery of accepting the government's enticements to purchase these assets, fearing tighter government restraints in such areas as executive compensation.

The effort to deal with toxic assets is the administration's latest initiative to tackle the financial crisis.

Other programs cover mortgage foreclosures; lending to small businesses; unfreezing the markets that support credit card, student loan and auto debt; and testing of the 19 largest banks to ensure they have enough reserves to withstand an even more severe recession.

In addition to unveiling his plan for toxic assets, Geithner, who came under criticism for his handling of the AIG bonus issue, is expected to put forward next week the administration's proposals to overhaul the government's current financial regulatory structure.

President Barack Obama said this past week that this plan will include a proposal to give the administration expanded authority to take control of major troubled institutions that are deemed too big to fail because their collapse would pose a risk to the entire financial system.

Afghanistan unrest kills more than 70: officials

A wave of clashes in Afghanistan killed more than 70 people, including 18 policemen and four Canadian soldiers Friday, officials said, amid alarm about the country's mounting Taliban-led insurgency.

The growing unrest has led Washington to deploy 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, due in the coming weeks, in a move a NATO general said would trigger more violence but would help improve security in the longer run.

The four Canadians, part of the international assistance force, were killed in two separate explosions that also killed an interpreter and injured eight soldiers and an Afghan national, the Canadian military said.

The first incident happened at 6:45 am local time, Brigadier-General Jon Vance, the Canadian commander in Kandahar, said in an address televised in Canada from a base in southern Afghanistan.

"Two Canadian soldiers were killed and five wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated in the vicinity of their dismounted patrol in Zari district, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Kandahar City," he said.

A local interpreter was also killed during this attack. Another Afghan national was injured.

The second blast occurred two hours later, killing two more Canadian soldiers and wounding three. Their vehicle struck a roadside bomb about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of Kandahar City, said Vance.

Nine of the policemen were killed along with a district chief in a clash Friday with Taliban in the northern province of Jawzjan, an unusual battlefield for the extremists, who focus on southern and eastern Afghanistan.

"Today in a clash between Taliban and police, the district chief and nine police were killed," provincial police chief Khalil Aminzada told AFP.

The fighting was in a district called Koshtipa, on the border with Turkmenistan, he said.

Nine other policemen were killed and three wounded in the southwestern province of Farah when a mob of Taliban attacked them, provincial governor Rohul Amin told AFP. Six of the attackers also died in the fighting, he said.

The clash followed fighting earlier in the day when Afghan and US-led troops were called in after intelligence was received of a plan to attack the governor's home, Amin said. Seven Taliban were killed in that exchange, he said.

Elsewhere in Farah Friday, a suicide bomber blew up a bomb-filled police vehicle and killed one policeman and wounded two, the governor said. The vehicle had previously been stolen by the insurgents.

The deadliest fighting was on Thursday, when Afghan and US-led troops killed 30 militants in the flashpoint southern province of Helmand, in a district where a key anti-Taliban lawmaker was killed in a bomb attack the same day.

The Afghan army led a joint patrol into an area of Gereshk district where gunmen were known to operate and they came under attack, the US military said in a statement.

The "combined element returned fire with small-arms and close air support, killing 30 militants," it added.

The toll was the highest from a single clash announced by the military in more than two months, with Afghanistan gearing up for another year of intense fighting after the winter.

The US military also announced Friday that six more alleged insurgents were killed in operations in Kunar, Logar and Helmand provinces.

The escalating conflict in a Taliban-led insurgency has caused concern among the international community trying to stabilise the war-torn nation.

US President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 extra US troops for southern Afghanistan and a top-to-bottom review of his war policy, shifting the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dutch commander Major General Mart de Kruif, who heads NATO troops in the south, said Friday that the arrival of more US troops would trigger a rise in violence but improve security in the longer run.

"I'm absolutely sure that we will see a very important year in RC (Regional Command) South, that we will see a spike in incidents once the US force hits the ground, but the situation will significantly change in a positive way within the next year," Kruif told reporters by video link.

There are currently 75,000 international soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, about 38,000 of them Americans, to help Kabul fight the insurgency, which last year reached its deadliest point yet.

March Madness: Blake Griffin is the real deal

Bloggin' on basketball.
Yea, Buddy!

Oklahoma's 6-8 Blake Griffin is almost everything in person that he seems on TV. Explosive to the nth degree, and physical as all get out.

By the 10-minute mark of the first half he laready had qauze jammed up his nose to stop the bleeding, and a sleeve on his arm to stop more bleeding at the elbow. He was limping. And when Michigan took a brief 28-25 lead he was screaming at the bench, "I'm not getting no help!"

The halftime stats seemed to support him as he had 13 points and nine boards to support a slim 30-29 halftime lead. His most explosive segment came midway between the elbow bleeding and the nose bleeding when he rammed hom three straight dunks on powe plays inside.

Since LeBron shys away from the low block like a wallflower at the prom, I won't compare the ferocity of Griffin's dunks to those from His Majesty. But from point-blank range, it wouldn't surprise me if the rim whimpers.

As for the game, if Michigan coach John Beilein isn't the perfect example of winning with style of play over talent, then who is? The Wolverines can very easily win this game, particularly if Griffin bleeds his way out of it.

Iran's response to US shows mind-set of leadership

The Iranian leader's rebuff on Saturday to President Barack Obama's offer for dialogue was swift and sweeping: Words from Washington ring hollow without deep policy changes.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's response was more than just a dismissive slap at the outreach. It was a broad lesson in the mind-set of Iran's all-powerful theocracy and how it will dictate the pace and tone of any new steps by Obama to chip away at their nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze.

"It's the first stage of the bargaining in classic Iranian style: Be tough and play up your toughness," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of regional politics at United Arab Emirates University. "The Iranian leaders are not about concessions at this stage. It's still all about ideology from the Iranian side."

For Khamenei and his inner circle, that means appearing to stay true to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the political narrative of rejecting the United States. Any quick gestures by the ruling clerics to mend ties with Washington could be perceived by hard-liners as a betrayal of the revolution.

Iran's non-elected leaders also are carefully weighing how any openings — even small ones — could affect the June 12 presidential race between their apparent choice, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and reformists led by a former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"This is why this will be a very slow, very complicated process between Iran and the United States," said Abdulla. "Even the theocracy can be pragmatic. When they feel it's in the national interest to reach out to America, they will find a way."

There are no signs of a spring thaw.

Khamenei set the bar impossibly high — demanding an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy, including giving up "unconditional support" for Israel and halting claims that Iran is seeking nuclear arms. Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful energy purposes.

"Have you released Iranian assets? Have you lifted oppressive sanctions? Have you given up mudslinging and making accusations against the great Iranian nation and its officials?" Khamenei said in a speech in the northeastern city of Mashhad. The crowd chanted "Death to America."

Despite Obama's offer, the State Department still lists Iran as a sponsor of terrorism for its backing of militant groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah. In Iraq, U.S. officials accuse Iran of aiding Shiite militias whose targets have included American soldiers.

"He (Obama) insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day. If you are right that change has come, where is that change? What is the sign of that change? Make it clear for us what has changed."

Still, Khamenei left the door open to better ties with America, saying "should you change, our behavior will change, too."

Khamenei's response carried a particular bite following Obama's important shift in U.S. tactics in his video released Friday, offering to speak directly to Iran's theocrats rather than encouraging only pro-democracy reformists inside the country.

The move appears to recognize two key realities for U.S. policy makers: Iran's establishment is firmly entrenched and it holds all the cards in all important decisions.

"There's a thinking that they will do what the U.S. did with Libya: engagement and incentives in return for moderated policies," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Iran, however, is a vastly more complicated place that has influence in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the region."

The Obama administration hasn't outlined details of its next steps, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday that "many more" initiatives are expected.

Last week, U.S. officials raised the possibility of regular diplomatic contacts between U.S. and Iranian diplomats around the world. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian envoys will have an opportunity for informal talks on the sidelines of a U.N.-led conference on Afghanistan at The Hague, Netherlands.

In Iran, any contacts or messages will undoubtedly be viewed through the prism of the country's presidential elections.

Some experts believe that Ahmadinejad could benefit from Obama's overtures by claiming that his tough stance toward the West brought Washington to the table. Reformers, meanwhile, could struggle with an identity crisis.

"These are people who considered the U.S. an honest broker and committed to regime change," said Ilan Berman, an Iranian affairs specialist at the American Foreign Policy Council. "Now the reformers are going to feel left out in the cold."

Saeed Leylaz, a prominent Tehran-based political analyst, saw Khamenei's tough language as just an opening flurry in what could be a gradual easing of tensions — similar to the decades of slow rapprochement with Britain despite a history of troubles dating back to disputes over oil fields more than a century ago.

"The U.S. is the sole country in the world capable of destabilizing Iran. Khamenei is concerned about this," he said. "If Iran's concerns are eased, it will be willing to have relations with the U.S. in the same way it has relations with the U.K."

Vatican says pope upset by stampede in Angola

The Vatican spokesman confirms a deadly stampede broke out at a stadium a few hours before Pope Benedict XVI addressed young people in Angola.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pope is "very upset" by reports that two people were killed in the crush.

The incident occurred as the stadium was opening its gates to people waiting outside, about four hours before the pope arrived.

Portuguese news agency LUSA cites an unidentified source at a local hospital as saying a man and a woman were killed, eight others were hospitalized with minor injuries, and 10 were given medical assistance at the site.

An AP reporter saw another stampede break out when the pope arrived, and at least 20 people were taken away in ambulances.