By Jamie Crawford with reporting from Jill Dougherty, Elise Labott and Pam Benson
The United States is closely watching how rebel forces operate inside Syria, and what their end objectives might be as the Obama administration weighs whether or not to provide arms to the Syrian opposition.
"Will providing arms to the opposition convince the people who support [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, in many cases because they are afraid of their own existence, or will it simply lead to more fighting - that is the question that we are considering," Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, said during a panel discussion in Washington on Thursday on the crisis in Syria.
"Arms are not a strategy, arms are a tactic," Ford said about the deliberation the administration is undertaking on the question, and that a "military solution" is not the best path forward for Syria.
"The president has never taken the provision of arms off the table," he said. "And so, as we think about our policy of sending arms or not, and today we do not, we want to make sure that tactic plays into and helps us achieve a strategy of enabling the Syrian people to reach a political solution."
By Pam Benson
Recent satellite photos show continued activity at a controversial Iranian military site that international weapons inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to, according to a Washington-based think tank.
The Institute for Science and International Study obtained imagery from DigitalGlobe taken on November 7 that the institute says shows changes in the roofs on two key buildings at the Parchin Military Complex. ISIS also pointed out there is a new addition on the building suspected of containing a high-explosives chamber and piles of dirt not seen in an image taken on September 19.
ISIS said the imagery indicates additional changes will be made to the site, making it more difficult for the international inspectors.
"The considerable amount of new materials, equipment, and rows of earth piles suggest that further construction will be taking place, thus increasing the level of alteration and further degrading the chance of obtaining reliable environmental samples if and when (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors gain access to the site," ISIS stated.
Since January, the IAEA has been seeking access to the site, where it suspects Iran may have conducted high-explosives tests related to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies that Parchin has any role in its nuclear program.
The latest IAEA report on Iran released earlier this month said the "extensive activities" at the Parchin site are certain to have "seriously undermined" the agency's verification process.
Those activities include "significant ground scraping and landscaping" with new dirt roads.
By Carol Cratty
The FBI has launched an international publicity effort asking for tips from anyone with knowledge about the September 11th attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi which killed four Americans.
The FBI is using the Internet and the social networking site Facebook to solicit help on the case. Last week the FBI posted "Seeking Information" notices in English, Arabic and French with pictures of the damaged consulate.
The "Seeking Information" posters say the FBI is "asking Libyans and people around the world for additional information related to the attacks." Respondents can text or e-mail the FBI or fill out a form on the FBI's website. The FBI notice says the information can be submitted confidentially. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
If, as expected, the United Nations General Assembly votes Thursday to upgrade the Palestinians to non-member observer status, it could put about $500 million in U.S. aid at stake - not to mention the $100 million in monthly tax revenues Israel is threatening to withhold.
The new status would fall short of triggering U.S. legislation that automatically cuts all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and any programs in the Palestinian territories, as well as aid to any organizations that recognize Palestine as a state. That's because the non-member designation falls short of being a full member state, which would give Palestine full voting rights in the in the U.N. General Assembly. The United States is vehemently opposed to member-state status for the Palestinians that doesn't stem from a peace deal with Israel.
But while Congress isn't mandated to cut U.S. aid, that doesn't mean it won't. Various senators are already proposing language to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut assistance to the Palestinians by 50% and U.S. fees to the United Nations by the same amount, should the effort by the Palestinians to gain recognition as a non-member observer state succeed in the General Assembly. It would also cut by 20% U.S. aid to any country voting to approve such a move. A larger group of senators proposed cutting off all funding if the vote goes through. FULL POST
By Larry Shaughnessy
Pfc. Bradley Manning has begun testifying at his pre-trial hearing about his alleged abuse at Quantico. The Army private, accused of stealing thousands of classified documents and leaking them, spoke in a clear voice at the start of his testimony. He was wearing his Army service uniform, wire-rimmed glasses.
Manning's defense team wants to make the case his harsh treatment in prison should count as time served.
Earlier, a military judge ruled Thursday that new charges would have to be filed before Manning could enter a guilty plea to some lesser charges.
The defense has said it plans to have Manning plead guilty to lesser offenses and fight other charges as being too extreme.
At a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, noted that only some of the offenses Manning is proposing to plead to are included in the current list of charges. If he were to plead guilty to these charges he would face a maximum of 16 years in prison, loss if pay, demotion to private and a dishonorable discharge.
But the judge decided other charges the defense proposed Manning plead to are irregular and would not be accepted unless a convening authority were to refer the charges to the court.
Manning has not officially told the court he will plead guilty to the charges.FULL STORY
In a rare move, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Wednesday publicly defended the United States' use of armed drones in the counter-terrorism fight, calling it a "targeted effort."
Donilon addressed their controversial deployment after a student asked him about their use while he was speaking at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
He said they are only used against groups and individuals who pose the most serious threats against the United States.
"We are using all of the tools," available to fight al Qaeda and one of those is the drones, Donilon said.
Donilon did not use the word drones in his answer. He called them UAVs– unarmed aerial vehicles - and said the U.S. is in "full compliance" with domestic and international law.