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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Video of Israel and Iran Sparring at U.N.

Following an extended attack on the credibility of Iran’s new president by Israel’s prime minister in an address to the United Nations on Tuesday, an Iranian diplomat exercised his country’s right to reply with scathing remarks of his own, as my colleagues Somini Sengupta and Rick Gladstone report.

In his remarks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed recent diplomatic overtures by President Hassan Rouhani as a disingenuous “charm offensive.”

Citing a passage from a book Mr. Rouhani wrote about his work as a negotiator over Iran’s atomic energy program, Mr. Netanyahu asserted that the new president’s real goal was to engage in talks just to buy time for technical advances that would make the production of a nuclear weapon possible.

Israel’s prime minister, who has tried to employ humor as a rhetorical device in previous speeches accusing Iran of deceit over its nuclear ambitions, even mentioned the uranium ore known as yellowcake in a pun. “You see,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too.”

Speaking after Mr. Netanyahu, a deputy ambassador at Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, Khodadad Seifi, defended his nation’s “inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy” and called the Israeli prime minister’s remarks “extremely inflammatory.”

In his response, the Iranian diplomat suggested that the Israeli prime minister’s position on weapons of mass destruction was hypocritical as the leader of a nation thought to possess a stockpile of its own nuclear arms. Mr. Netanyahu “talked a lot about W.M.D.s in the Middle East,” Mr. Seifi said, “without mentioning that Israel is the only one in the region that possesses all types of W.M.D.s but is not party to any of the treaties banning them.”

The diplomat concluded by citing a recent reply to Israeli criticism from Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. “We have been accused of having a smile attack,” Mr. Seifi said. But, he added, “a smile attack is better than a military attack. And indeed a smile policy is much better than lying.”

Later in the day, Iran’s diplomatic outreach via social networking continued in an exchange of messages between a founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, and @HassanRouhani, an English-language account in the name of Iran’s president apparently run by his aides. Asked about Internet freedom in Iran, which remains severely limited, the president’s Twitter persona insisted that he was working to ensure that Iranians would be able ton exercise “their right” to “accessall info globally.”

Drones Are Flying, Despite U.S. Shutdown

As the United States government ground to a halt on Tuesday, there were plenty of sardonic comments from bloggers and journalists in parts of the world where the American military footprint is large.

Writing on Twitter, the Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida suggested that the top question for militants in the country’s North Waziristan Agency would be, “Are drones still operating?”

While the Central Intelligence Agency’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt is covert â€" and there have been hints that some attacks there attributed to the Americans might have been carried out by Pakistan’s own military â€" there is no doubt that drones operated by the Air Force, at least, will continue to fly.

As my colleagues Michael Schmidt, Thom Shanker and Andrew Siddons reported, while about 400,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department face unpaid leave, Pentagon contingency plans will keep more than 1.3 million active military personnel on duty, although they will probably not receive their paychecks until the shutdown ends.

“Those of you in uniform will remain on your normal duty status,” President Obama confirmed in a prerecorded video message to members of the armed forces, released as the shutdown took effect. “The threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency,” Mr. Obama explained. “Ongoing military operations â€" like our efforts in Afghanistan â€" will continue.”

Reports on furloughs at Air National Guard bases in Syracuse and Springfield, Ohio, where technicians operate Reaper and Predator drones, confirmed to reporters that those active-duty personnel are considered essential and will remain at work.

One casualty of the furloughs however, will be the Twitter feed NASA runs to alert earthlings to potentially catastrophic asteroid strikes.

Message Said to be From Edward Snowden Read to European Parliament Rights Panel

PARIS â€" Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed thousands of classified government documents and is now in hiding in Russia, made a surprise appearance of sorts at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday.

Reading from a statement that she said had come from Mr. Snowden, Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the United States Department of Justice and a former government whistle-blower, quoted Mr. Snowden as saying that “the surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”

Ms. Radack, who has represented several prominent dissident former officials from the N.S.A., came to prominence after she revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had committed what she said was a breach of ethics in its interrogation of John Walker Lindh, who was captured during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and dubbed the “American Taliban.”

Ms. Radack told Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday that Mr. Snowden said in his statement that it should not take what he called “the persecution and exile” of leakers like him to generate robust international debate over the breadth of government surveillance.

“If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely on individual sacrifice, we must create better channels for people of conscience to better inform not only trusted agents of government but independent representatives of the public outside of government,” she said, quoting Mr. Snowden’s message.

Mr. Snowden, 30, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, has been charged in the United States with espionage and theft, after his leaking of N.S.A. materials exposed a massive surveillance program in the United States and internationally. While his critics regard him as a traitor, many Europeans portray him as an effective civil liberties advocate.

The polarization between Europe and the United States over the Snowden affair was laid bare in September when the European Parliament, in a rebuke to Washington, nominated Mr. Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe’s top human rights award. Previous recipients of the award include Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

Ms. Radack, who works for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, said by telephone from Brussels on Tuesday that the Snowden case showed the importance of credible government oversight bodies where whistle-blowers could turn. “When government bodies are functioning the way they are supposed to, whistle-blowers are willing to go through them,” she said.

The hearing was also attended by Thomas A. Drake, a former senior executive at the N.S.A. who leaked information to the media in 2006 about wasteful government spending and alleged snooping on American citizens.

He told the committee that the N.S.A. was “not just eavesdropping on all Americans and building the architecture for a police state in the U.S., it has created the largest set of mass surveillance programs in the history of the world.”