In two surprise and welcome gestures before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, Iran ordered the release of 11 political prisoners and Rouhani vowed that the country would never develop nuclear weapons. Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, told NBC’s Ann Curry that “under no circumstances, would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.” By releasing the prisoners, including human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, Rouhani makes good on an election promise and extends an olive branch to the West. Rouhani called a recent exchange of letters with President Obama “positive and constructive,” and though the two leaders have no plans to meet while in New York, Rouhani’s moves may herald a new chapter in U.S.-Iran relations and provide some sorely-needed good news for the Middle East.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Not willing to take a written punch lying down, Sen. John McCain fires back at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had written an Op-Ed for the New York Times last week criticizing America’s potential strike against Syria. The gentleman from Arizona says Russians deserve better than their current leader, but the sentiment may fall on deaf ears. It seems McCain’s words were published in the wrong Pravda — a small Web site, not the national newspaper — prompting questions about how big an impact the senator’s smackdown will have.
Pope Francis has said enough already when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception. In his first extensive interview, he expressed concern – rather bluntly – for the stability of the moral edifice of the church, worried that it will “fall like a house of cards” if it remains obsessed with the hot-button issues. Not surprising, the Pope didn’t suggest any changes in doctrine, but instead asked for more balanced delivery of the church’s teachings. The interview also covered topics such as when and where the Pope prays (sometimes at the dentist) and his favorite films. Check out the full interview to find out which flicks.
In an interview with Fox News, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Syria would welcome U.N. weapons inspectors and vowed that the troubled nation would hand over or destroy its chemical weapons. Still defiant, Assad insisted that opposition rebels, and not his regime, had used the chemical weapons, and that it would take upwards of a year and $1 billion to destroy the country’s arsenal. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov informed the world that Russia would provide evidence to the U.N. Security Council to substantiate its claim, and Assad’s, that rebels were responsible for the sarin gas attack in Damascus on August 21.
Seif al-Islam Qaddafi made a brief court appearance in the western town of Zintan this morning, and no one seemed happy about that – not the national authorities, who want him shipped to Tripoli for trial there, nor Amnesty International, which says the International Criminal Court should get first dibs on trying him for war crimes. The legal wrangling comes as the nation faces its roughest weeks since the revolution, begging serious questions about Libya’s future.
The Fed keeps buying, and the markets rejoice. That’s the upshot from yesterday’s Federal Reserve decision to continue the monthly $85 billion purchasing program for bonds and securities, despite speculation that the money men would start tapering the spree. The Dow, S&P 500, and NASDAQ indexes all closed up 1 percent in celebration after late trading yesterday afternoon. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke cited an “elevated unemployment rate” and modest growth projections as some of the reasons why the ongoing stimulus, aimed at keeping interest rates low, needs to continue. While Bernanke made no bones that the Fed would start closing up the bond-buying shop before year’s end, for now, the “easy money” party rages.
McCain takes on Putin in Russian paper Op-Ed. Reuters
GOP plans showdown over Obamacare. USA Today
Greece moves to ban far-right Golden Dawn Party. Guardian
Zuckerberg in D.C. to advance pro-immigration efforts. Politico
S.E.C. proposes greater transparency on CEO pay. NYT
Ruined railroad tracks have long served as a sad testament to a disabled government and years of war, but now construction has begun on a new line connecting Addis Ababa and Djibouti that has the potential to reinvent commerce in Eastern Africa. The new line is courtesy of a $600-million project backed by the Chinese. The rail lines will eventually reach into South Sudan, and offer hope of possibly cutting down on the stops and graft truckers face now. No word yet, though, on if the trains will finally run on time.
Taiwan may lead the world in manufacturing laptops and other high-tech toys, but when it comes to starting home-grown businesses, the locals falter — and that could mean a big downturn if things don’t change. Meanwhile, younger workers eschew the nation’s chip fabrication companies for famed Internet firms, leaving that sector struggling too. A culture that prizes stability over creativity and a hand’s off government carry some of the blame, one inventor posits; the question remains whether the economy can innovate in time.
He may not be Max von Sydow, challenging Death to a game of chess, but Google CEO Larry Page is not afraid to take a chance on a few moon shots. Google’s latest bold gambit is Calico, a new company dedicated to expanding human lifespans by making long-term investments in medical research. With deep pockets and data-crunching capacities, Google seems well suited to the task, particularly as medicine increasingly becomes an “information science.” With Google Glass, self-driving vehicles and longer lifespans, Google’s version of the future may seem just a few super-sized drinks away from the dystopia depicted in Wall-E. But if the secret to eternal life is hatched in Mountain View, then we at OZY are all for it.
As squatters take some rather unusual steps to preserve Italy’s neglected ancient treasures, one aging but well-preserved Italian monument is taking steps to safeguard his own future. After an Italian Senate committee voted to expel Silvio Berlusconi when the nation’s supreme court upheld his fraud conviction, the former prime minister took to the airwaves (still largely under his control) to promise Italians that he will remain in public life. Berlusconi’s expulsion under a recent 2012 anti-corruption law will likely be confirmed by the full Senate next month, formally barring the 76-year-old, who has ruled Italy for most of the past two decades, from holding public office. The media tycoon promised that his newly re-branded party Forza Italia (Go Italy) might withdraw from the current coalition government if he is expelled — a move that would trigger new elections, and new turmoil, for the economically-distressed nation.
Get ready to flex some reverse cultural colonialism muscle, America, because Britain’s most prestigious annual literary award is opening up the competition to the entire English-speaking world. Hitherto open only to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers, the prestigious Man Booker Prize will consider American writers starting next year. “God help the rest of us,” said Irish author and Booker Prize winner John Banville, “because American fiction is very strong indeed.” Everyone in British literature has an opinion on the move, but it’s only fitting that a global language have a global prize. Get typing, you aspiring American writers, and make Melville proud.