Syrian Opposition Dismisses Assad’s Peace Plan
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) responded today to the first speech given by President Bashar al-Assad in seven months by describing his call for peace talks as a “waste of time.” Assad, who spoke for one hour at the Damascus Opera House, asked for a “comprehensive plan” for an “expanded government,” but also “a war to defend the nation” against opponents whom he called “western puppets.” “The appropriate response is to continue to resist this unacceptable regime and for the Free Syrian Army to continue its work in liberating Syria until every inch of land is free,” said SNC Deputy President George Sabra. Assad’s speech was “beyond hypocritical,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted today. Assad’s initiative “would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people,” said U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Obama Names Brennan to CIA, Hagel to Pentagon
U.S. President Barack Obama announced today he nominated his top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Administration (CIA), and Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. Brennan was first considered for the post in 2008, but withdrew his name as he faced questions about his role in instituting “enhanced interrogation techniques,” seen as torture, during the Bush administration. He has worked for the CIA for 25 years. Hagel, a former Republican Senator for Nebraska and a veteran of the Vietnam war, has been vocal against a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran. He also has consistently endeavored to include Iran in talks to establish peace in Afghanistan. Gay rights organizations have targeted Hagel for a homophobic comment he made in 1998, and for which he apologized last month. “I urge the senate to confirm them as soon as possible so we can keep the American nation secure, and the American people safe,” Obama said.
U.S. Banks to Pay $18.5 Bln over Mortgage Crisis
Ten U.S. banks will pay a combined $18.5 billion in compensation for losses that occurred as a result of the mortgage crisis that sent the world into financial collapse. The largest share of the settlement, $10 billion, will go from Bank of America (BofA) to Fannie Mae in response to claims that the bank sold bad loans to the mortgage guarantor for 10 years. This includes $6.75 billion in bad-mortgage buybacks, all of which will go straight to the U.S. government as Fannie Mae is no longer allowed to keep its profits. About $3.3 billion of the total amount of settlements will go to Americans who suffered foreclosures during the crisis, and another $5.2 billion to helping those still in trouble. Citibank and JPMorgan Chase are also among the banks that will settle.
Richardson, Schmidt Arrive in North Korea
In a controversial move, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt arrived today in North Korea in a “humanitarian private visit.” The purpose of the trip, whose timing has been criticized by the U.S. government, is partly to request and obtain the liberation of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour guide who was jailed last year, according to Richardson. Schmidt’s reasons for joining the ex-governor are unclear. The visit comes after North Korea launched a missile on December 12, and as the United Nations deliberated on a response to the provocation.
Messi Receives 4th Ballon d’Or, U.S. Wins Women’s Awards
For the fourth year in a row, Argentinean soccer player Lionel Messi, 25, received today the Ballon d’Or, an award handed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to the world’s best male athlete in the sport. Messi, who plays for Spanish club Barcelona, is the only player ever to win the prize four times, breaking a record he held jointly with UEFA President Michel Platini, a former player in France’s national team. American Abby Wambach won her first FIFA‘s Women’s World Player of the Year award. Vicente del Bosque, who coached and led Spain’s team to victory at the Euro 2012, won World Coach of the Year award, along with U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage for the women’s team.