Sudan Agrees to Complement African Union Force
Sudan’s foreign minister told reporters Wednesday that the government supported the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur, as authorized by the Security Council, while a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Europe volunteered to send troops to join it.
Nigeria, which already makes up the bulk of the 7,000-member African Union force in Darfur, pledged a fourth battalion of troops, and Senegal also said it would consider sending more troops if the soldiers had adequate means to protect themselves. Senegal had threatened to withdraw from the African Union peacekeeping force after five Senegalese soldiers were killed in an ambush earlier this year.
France, Indonesia, Denmark, Sweden and Norway also indicated that they were considering sending troops to bolster the force, which is expected to begin deploying late this year. At full strength, with about 20,000 soldiers and 6,000 civilian police officers, it will be the world’s largest peacekeeping operation, costing $2 billion in the first year.
The 7,000 troops in place will be absorbed into the new force, which will be a joint operation between the African Union and the United Nations, led by an African general but largely run by the United Nations.
Gonzales Offers a Defense Denying Lies to Senate Panel
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales offered a narrowly drawn defense of his recent congressional testimony Wednesday, saying he had been truthful in denying that there had been serious disagreements within the Bush administration about the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants.
In a letter to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said a dispute between the Justice Department and the White House in March 2004 involved other NSA surveillance activities, not that domestic eavesdropping program. He said the White House first called the eavesdropping the Terrorist Surveillance Program after it was publicly disclosed in December 2005 and confirmed by President Bush.
The attorney general has been under fire from congressional Democrats for what they describe as misleading testimony both last week and in 2006, and some lawmakers have threatened him with a perjury investigation.
In his letter Wednesday, he acknowledged that his testimony might have been confusing to those who did not realize that he was parsing his words so carefully.
“I recognize that the use of the term Terrorist Surveillance Program and my shorthand reference to the ‘program’ publicly ‘described by the president’ may have created confusion, particularly for those who are knowledgeable about the NSA activities authorized in the presidential order,” he said in the letter, sent to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking minority member.
Report Finds Education Dept. Lax In Supervising Loan Program
The Department of Education, after months of criticism for its lax oversight of the federal student loan program, still has no system to detect and uncover misconduct by lenders and protect student borrowers, a new government report said Wednesday.
The report, by the General Accountability Office and released Wednesday by congressional Democrats, found that the department “has no oversight tools” to see whether lenders are giving improper incentives to colleges to steer student borrowers their way, and, that since 1989, the department has offered lenders no “comprehensive guidance” on what incentives may be forbidden. In 20 years, the report found, the department has tried to sanction only two lenders for violating government rules.
The department does not even try to discover whether universities are improperly limiting students’ choice of lenders, according to the GAO, the government’s main research arm.
The report, the agency’s first since revelations of potential misconduct in student lending this year, said the department’s lack of oversight of federal student loans “may have resulted in some students taking loans with higher interest rates or fewer borrower benefits.” Overall, the report portrays an agency that may at times react to outside complaints, but does not “proactively detect” problems.
Russia Plants Flag at North Pole Seabed in Bid to Claim Resources
A Russian expedition descended in a pair of submersible vessels more than two miles under the ice cap on Thursday and deposited a Russian flag on the sea bed at the North Pole. The dive was a symbolic move to enhance the government’s disputed claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean and potential oil or other resources there.
The expedition, covered intensely by Russian news organizations and state-controlled television, mixed high-seas adventure with the Russian tradition of polar exploration. But it was also an openly choreographed publicity event.
Inside the first of the mini-submarines to reach the sea floor were two members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament. One of them, Artur N. Chilingarov, led the expedition to seek evidence reinforcing Russia’s claim over the largely uncharted domain.
That claim, which has no current legal standing, rests on a Russian assertion that the seabed under the pole, called the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and thus Russian territory.
At least one country with a stake in the issue registered its immediate disapproval of the expedition. “This isn’t the 15th century,” Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said on CTV television. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’”