Obama clears way for tightened sanctions on Iran

Posted March 30, 2012, at 8:31 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration cleared the way for tightening sanctions on Iran with a determination that a reduction in the global purchases of Iranian oil wouldn’t harm the world petroleum market.

President Barack Obama determined that though world oil supplies are tight, there is a “sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum-related products from countries other than Iran” to make the reductions manageable, the White House said in a statement Friday.

Obama was required to make the finding under a 2011 law that sets in motion graduated sanctions aimed at squeezing Iran to persuade it to accept limits on its nuclear program. U.S. officials have been pressing dozens of countries to ratchet back their purchases of Iranian oil to starve Iran’s treasury of revenue and build pressure on its leadership.

The decision comes at an awkward moment for the White House. American consumers are upset about high gas prices, which have risen in part because of the sanctions program.

Yet if Obama had decided that market conditions were not suited for more sanctions, he would have been inviting attack by Republicans as being weak on the issue of Iran.

FDA rejects call to ban BPA from food packaging

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has rejected a petition from environmentalists that would have banned the plastic-hardening chemical bisphenol-A from all food and drink packaging, including plastic bottles and canned food.

The agency said Friday that petitioners did not present compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions on the much-debated chemical, commonly known as BPA, though federal scientists continue to study the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s petition was the latest move by public safety advocates to prod regulators into taking action against the chemical, which is found in everything from CDs to canned food to dental sealants.

Maine had banned BPA in reusable beverage containers sold in the state starting Jan. 1, 2012. The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine and Mainely Moms and Dads had announced plans in mid-February to petition the state Board of Environmental Protection to extend the ban to containers holding infant formula and baby or toddler food.

About 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, mainly because it leaches out of food and beverage containers.

Some scientists believe exposure to BPA can harm the reproductive and nervous systems, particularly in babies and small children, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases. They point to results from dozens of BPA studies in rodents and other animals.

CDC: Ads spark huge increase to quit smoking line

ATLANTA — More than twice as many people called a toll-free number to help them quit smoking a week after the launch of a $54 million ad campaign that shows graphic images of diseased smokers, federal health officials said Friday.

Calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW totaled more than 33,000 last week — the first week of the ad campaign. The phone line received less than 14,500 calls the week before.

It was the highest call volume ever seen in the seven-year history of the federally sponsored quit line, which routes callers to counseling and information about how to quit smoking.

Meanwhile, clicks to the www.smokefree.gov website, another government smoking cessation service, rose from about 20,000 to about 66,000.

Wisconsin governor faces recall election

LOS ANGELES — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose campaign to limit the power of public employee unions aroused the ire of labor groups across the country, will face a recall election later this spring, the state’s Government Accountability Board ruled Friday.

The board, which enforces state election laws, voted 5-0 to order the election. The decision had been expected because the board had certified that there were more than enough petition signatures to force the vote.

At stake will be the political futures of two Republicans, Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The board certified that there were 900,938 valid signatures to recall Walker and 808,990 valid signatures to recall Kleefisch. Officials said 540,208 signatures were required for the recall vote to be ordered.

Four GOP state senators were also targeted for recall, one of whom has resigned. All the elections will be decided June 5; primaries to determine possible replacements will be held May 8.

Even though the formal announcement was made Friday, both sides have been raising money and campaigning for weeks in the expectation that Wisconsin will have a chance to become the third state to recall a sitting governor. Voters decided to dump California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.

Afghan village policeman kills 9 comrades

KABUL, Afghanistan — A member of a U.S.-backed Afghan village police force killed nine of his fellow officers as they slept Friday in a volatile eastern area, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The gunman opened fire with his assault rifle after waking up at 3 a.m. ostensibly to take over guard duty at a small command post for the Afghan Local Police in Paktika province, killing everybody inside, including the post’s commander, according to officials. He then took their weapons, piled them in a pickup truck and sped away.

It was the latest in a growing number of attacks by Afghan security forces against their own people or against international troops in Afghanistan in recent years, some the result of arguments and others by insurgent infiltrators.

The motive for the killing was not known, but police in the area blamed the Taliban for the attack. Paktika is a stronghold of the Haqqani network, a Pakistani-based group with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Although they mostly attack U.S.-led coalition forces, they have often carried out assaults and bombings against the Afghan army and police.

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