Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • U.S. will block Iranian diplomat from United Nations

    The White House announced Friday that it will not grant a visa to Iran’s pick to be its United Nations ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, amid a controversy over his role in the 1979 hostage-taking at the American embassy in Tehran.

    “We have informed the United Nations and Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.

    It was not clear whether Iran would challenge the decision at the United Nations or whether the unusual rejection would poison President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Tehran.

    The announcement came after Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to keep Aboutalebi out of the United States because of the part he played in the crisis, in which 52 Americans where held hostage 444 days. The diplomat has said that he took part in the standoff only after the seizure of the embassy and that his role was as a translator.

    Carney would not say whether Obama would sign the legislation, citing concerns

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  • Kerry ‘betrayed and surprised’ by McCain onslaught

    Secretary of State John Kerry felt “betrayed and surprised” by Republican Sen. John McCain’s withering and highly personal criticisms at a congressional hearing, a senior administration official told Yahoo News on Wednesday.

    Kerry “felt betrayed and surprised to see McCain so angrily rooting for failure against one of the most internationalist members of the administration,” said the official, who is close to the secretary and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the top diplomat’s reaction.

    The key word there might be “internationalist.” Republicans long openly contemptuous of President Barack Obama’s cautious handling of world affairs — “leading from behind,” as one anonymous administration aide once described it — had hoped that Kerry would nudge the administration to take a more aggressive approach to problems such as the civil war in Syria.

    “I'm sure we will have our disagreements, which I know neither of us will hesitate to bring to the other's attention,” McCain declared

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  • Senator seeks ban on maps showing Crimea as part of Russia

    What can the United States do to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea? The short answer is, not much. Inside President Obama’s administration, it’s hard to find much unfeigned optimism about getting Vladimir Putin to give up the strategic peninsula.

    But Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., introduced legislation on Wednesday that aims to ensure that U.S. impotence doesn’t turn into complacency.

    “The American response must be much greater than a verbal slap if we want Putin to understand his actions in Ukraine are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement. (Coats is among the nine Americans on whom Russia slapped sanctions recently)

    Coats’ measure doesn’t read like an effort to force Moscow to pull back so much as an effort to prevent Washington from slipping back into business-as-usual mode, which is largely what happened after Russia’s brief 2008 war with Georgia.

    Some of the steps Coats is proposing are largely symbolic: One provision would tell the Government Printing

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  • White House: Iran’s controversial U.N. ambassador pick is ‘not viable’

    The White House warned Tuesday that Tehran’s choice to be Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations is “not viable” — but hedged on whether President Barack Obama would block the envoy from setting foot on U.S. soil.

    “The U.S. government has informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

    Carney’s comments came a day after the Senate approved a bill barring diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi from entering the United States on grounds that he allegedly belonged to the group that seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 American hostages for 444 days. The measure was crafted by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a potential candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

    “We share the Senate's concerns regarding this case and find the potential nomination extremely troubling,” the White House spokesman said. Carney repeatedly referred to the choice as a “potential” selection, suggesting that the administration

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  • Will government ever get tech’ right? A George H. W. Bush Foundation discussion

    There was no Internet when George Bush got the keys to the White House 25 years ago. There was no Internet when he left it, either – the last president to serve an entire term without the World Wide Web.

    Now, as part of events marking a quarter-century since he took office, the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation is hosting two panel discussions focused on diplomacy and warfare in the digital age and how government and democracy have adapted to the era of social media and the demands that the high-tech environment places on communications, transparency and accountability.

    What does government get wrong about high tech? What does it get right? How are citizens using technology to pressure government, or fill in gaps in services? Why are political campaigns so often better than government at harnessing the benefits of technological progress? Can the United States win friends and discredit enemies online? Will the next war be fought on a virtual battlefield?

    Yahoo News will be

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  • Who are U.S. drones killing? lawmakers ask Obama

    Are drone strikes creating more enemies for America than they are killing extremists? That’s the question at the heart of new bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the executive branch to issue an annual report detailing the combatant and civilian death toll from missile strikes by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles.

    Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, a frequent critic of “war on terrorism” policies, introduced the “Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act.” The goal? Find out who is dying in drone strikes.

    “Tactically, drones can be enormously effective. We’ve taken some really bad actors off the battlefield,” Schiff told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “Strategically, it’s more of a mixed bag because it does alienate large numbers of people when there are civilian casualties.”

    The measure calls for an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed or injured in

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  • Obamacare enrollment drive’s secret weapon: Radio

    For months, the media story of how President Obama sold Obamacare to America has starred unconventional outlets like Funny or Die, unconventional pitches like this “Mom Jeans” message for Twitter, and unconventional sales reps like Kobe Bryant, Wil Wheaton, or the moms of Jonah Hill and Adam Levine.

    But a look inside the Affordable Care Act’s all-out enrollment drive shows that — for all the talk about social media and unorthodox strategies — the Administration relied heavily in the final stretch on a century-old way to reach the public: Radio.

    On Monday, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett did her first radio interview at 8:30 am. By 6:30 pm, she was on her 21st, bringing her total over the past six weeks to 82.

    She has done them from her office, home, car, an airport runway, her hotel room. Some DJs she has spoken to did not have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act but have now signed up, a White House aide said. Some DJs – like Joe Madison, to whom she spoke on Monday —

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  • When the president meets the pope

    When President Barack Obama meets Thursday at the Vatican with Pope Francis, it will be the 28th time that a sitting American president has met with the man who leads the Catholic Church and its estimated 1.2 billion faithful worldwide.

    For nearly 140 years after America won its independence, presidents didn’t look at a meeting with the pope as a hot ticket. The dominance of Protestants in the new nation, persistent questions about who really led the Catholic Church and from where, to say nothing of the difficulties of travel, all made such summits impossible.

    That changed in 1919, when Woodrow Wilson became the first U.S. president to be granted a papal audience. John F. Kennedy, America’s only Catholic president, made his Vatican pilgrimage just a few months before his assassination in 1963. Jimmy Carter played host in 1979 to the first White House visit by a reigning pope. George W. Bush holds the record for papal greeting; he met with two popes during his eight years in office,

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  • Inside the Secret Service's secret museum

    On a downtown Washington street like any other sits a modern office building like any other. Commuters and tourists alike push past its anodyne brick and glass face without giving it a glance, never knowing that it houses the headquarters of the U. S. Secret Service — and the hidden museum that tells the story of the small agency with a big mission.

    The museum is not open to the public, only to invited guests. Yahoo News recently got an insider’s tour, complete with a welcome from Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, the first woman to hold the post.

    What treasures are in one of the most striking collections you’ll never see? Mainly artifacts reflecting the dangers of public life. There’s the actual window from the armored limousine Ronald Reagan was heading for on that fateful day in 1981 when John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate him. One of Hinckley’s six shots struck the glass, leaving a distinctive mark, while others hit the president and three officials, including a Secret

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  • Putin’s sanctions on Americans unite Democrats, GOP

    Vladimir Putin probably didn’t expect that newly announced Russian sanctions on nine Americans – three top White House aides, three Republicans and three Democrats in Congress – would spark a bipartisan love-in in Washington.

    But that’s exactly what happened on Thursday as Moscow retaliated for expanded U.S. sanctions by freezing the assets of a select handful of high-profile Americans and banning them from travel inside Russia.

    Here’s an early response from a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Twitter to Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Obama, for making the list:

    Some of the lawmakers on the list had a quick public reaction to the news and expressed defiance — which is not hard to do when you likely have neither assets in Russia nor plans to travel there.

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