An Iranian scientist held by the U.S. since late 2011 has returned to Iran.
The scientist, Mojtaba Atarodi said U.S. authorities had treated him “generally well.”
The microchip expert at Tehran’s high profile Sharif University, Atarodi was in U.S. custody since December 2011 over allegations he bought high-tech equipment in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Atarodi arrived home via Oman, a Gulf state which has served as a mediator between Washington and Tehran before.
In 2012, the U.S. released Iranian national Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan after she spent five years in U.S. detention
The U.S. has a history of occasional arrest and release of Iranian citizens on similar charges.
In 2010 and 2011, three Americans convicted of espionage by Iran returned home through Oman.
Iran’s state TV says a moderate, magnitude 5.2 earthquake rattled a small town in the country’s northwest.
The TV says the quake shook the town of Tasooj at 3:09 p.m. (10:39 GMT) on Thursday. The town is about 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran. There were no immediate reports about any damage or casualties.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 4.8.
It’s the third quake in Iran in the past 10 days. A magnitude 7.5 quake shook a sparsely populated area near the Pakistani border on Tuesday. A week before that, a magnitude 6.1 quake struck another part of the south, killing 37 people and injuring hundreds.
Iran lies on seismic fault lines and experiences one slight quake a day on average.
Seismologists say a major earthquake has struck a region near the Iran-Pakistan border, less than a week after a quake in Iran killed at least 37 people.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the 7.8 quake struck the slightly populated region. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the quake was felt as far away as New Delhi and Gulf cities of Dubai and Bahrain. The USGS report says Tuesday’s quake was at a depth of 15.2 kilometers (nine miles).
Across the Gulf, high-rise buildings swayed and officials ordered evacuations. Dubai has the world’s tallest tower, the 828-meter (2,717 -foot) Burj Khalifa.
Last week, a deadly 6.1 magnitude quake about 96 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Bushehr, the site of Iran’s reactor.
Israeli President Shimon Peres (shee-MOHN’ PEHR’-ehs) says his nation trusts the U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Peres says Iran constitutes the greatest danger to Israel’s security. But he’s also pointing to threats from Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and from Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The U.S. has vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to one requiring a military intervention. But Israel’s government has warned the window to act could close as soon as this summer.
Peres spoke alongside President Barack Obama after the two met in Jerusalem. Obama arrived in Israel Wednesday on his first trip to Israel as president.
In adding 14 interceptors to a missile defense system based in Alaska, the U.S. is abandoning a key part of a European missile defense plan that’s been strongly opposed by Russia.
At the same time, the decision provides a potential opening for new arms control talks.
The Obama administration is citing development problems and a lack of money in canceling the interceptors that were to be deployed in Poland and possibly Romania early next decade.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the cancellation is part of an overall restructuring of missile defense plans aimed at stopping missiles from North Korea and Iran.
The U.S. will spend $1 billion to increase the number of interceptors in Alaska aimed at countering the threat from North Korea.
Chuck Hagel — Republican, twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran and former Nebraska senator — faces his first major hurdle in his bid to become the nation’s defense secretary as a bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee pushes toward a vote on his nomination.
The panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss and vote on President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing for a full Senate vote on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Hagel faces fierce opposition from Republicans who have challenged his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons. Committee Republicans forced a delay in the expected committee vote last week when they pressed Hagel for more information about his personal finances.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the GOP demands were beyond the scope of those traditionally asked of previous nominees, Republican and Democrat — a point echoed by his Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Levin set a committee vote that will probably break along party lines — 14 Democrats for Hagel, 12 Republicans against their former colleague — just hours before Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress.
More critical to whether Republicans drag out the nomination is the closed-door, weekly Republican luncheon Tuesday where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will determine whether GOP lawmakers have the inclination and votes to filibuster a president’s Cabinet choice. Such a move would be unprecedented in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats have argued that a president’s nominee should get an up or down vote.
Late Monday, McCain met privately with several committee Republicans and urged them not to filibuster the Hagel nomination, arguing that it would set a bad precedent and pointing out that the roles could be reversed someday with a Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate.
“I’m encouraging my colleagues if they want to vote against Sen. Hagel that’s one thing and that’s a principled stand,” McCain told a group of reporters. “We do not want to filibuster. We have not filibustered a Cabinet appointee in the past and I believe that we should move forward with his nomination, bring it to the floor and vote up or down.”
McCain has not said how he would vote on the nomination, but has indicated he was learning against confirmation.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he is determined to do everything in his power to scuttle the nomination, though he told reporters he does not want to string out the process. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has signaled that he would block the nominations of Hagel and CIA Director-designate John Brennan if he doesn’t get more answers about the deadly raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September.
“I’m insisting that the president answer … what he did that night. That’s all. It would take five minutes to answer my question,” Graham told reporters. “It’s the only leverage I have.”
The White House pushed back Monday, with spokesman Jay Carney insisting the administration had answered lingering questions about Libya and the president’s actions on that fateful day.
“What is unfortunate here is the continuing attempt to politicize an issue, in this case through nominees that themselves had nothing to do with Benghazi, and to do so in a way that only does harm to our national security interests,” Carney said. “Sen. Hagel, Mr. Brennan, they need to be confirmed.”
All 55 Democrats are expected to back Hagel, and two Republicans — Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — have said they will vote for the nominee. At least five Republicans, including McCain, have said they oppose a filibuster despite their reservations or opposition toward the nominee.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he would not support a filibuster.
“Chuck and I have been friends. I have to say I was disappointed in his performance” at his confirmation hearing, Hatch said.
Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony on Jan. 31. He was repeatedly pressed about past statements and votes on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons, with GOP lawmakers suggesting he wasn’t sufficiently supportive of Israel or anti-Iran.
About a dozen Republicans have said they will oppose their former colleague, and several others have indicated they are likely to vote no.
Iran’s state TV has broadcast footage allegedly extracted from the CIA drone captured in 2011.
The video aired late Wednesday shows an aerial view of an airport and a city, said to be Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Iran has long claimed it managed to reverse-engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel and that it’s capable of launching its own production line for the unmanned aircraft.
The TV also showed images purported to be the Sentinel landing at a base in eastern Iran.
The Revolutionary Guard’s airspace chief, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, says in another part of the video that only after capturing the drone, Iran realized it “belongs to the CIA.”
Iran claims it “took control of the drone and landed it” but U.S. officials have said it malfunctioned and had to land.
Bruised and battered, Chuck Hagel emerged from his grueling confirmation hearing with solid Democratic support for his nomination to be President Barack Obama’s next defense secretary and relentless opposition from Republicans who repeatedly challenged their former GOP colleague.
Mathematically, Hagel has the edge as he looks to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as the nation’s 24th Pentagon chief. Democrats hold a 14-12 advantage on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the panel could vote as early as next Thursday, contingent on Hagel’s prompt response on some lingering questions.
Levin expressed optimism about Hagel’s prospects and praised his performance in nearly eight hours of testimony Thursday.
“I think his answers were honest and forthright and he did very well,” Levin told reporters. “I hope that there will be some, who maybe were skeptical but who are undecided before this hearing, will maybe now look at him in a more favorable light. But I think there are a whole lot of folks who basically decided before the hearing that they were going to vote against him.”
Unclear is whether Republicans will try to block the nomination of a Cabinet choice, especially when they have argued — when a Republican occupied the White House — that presidents should have their nominees.
Hagel struggled at times as GOP senators challenged him on issues ranging from Israel and Iran to his support for a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons, repeatedly pressing him on past statements, votes and even letters he declined to sign. Refusing to show any frustration or anger, Hagel defended his record.
The former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska described his views as mainstream and closely aligned with those of Obama, the Democrat who nominated him. But several GOP members of the committee sought to portray him as radical and unsteady. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., called his ideas “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama.
Hagel said he believes America “must engage — not retreat — in the world” and insisted that his record is consistent on that point.
He pointed to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an example of an urgent national security threat that should be addressed first by attempting to establish dialogue with Iranian rulers, although he said he would not rule out using military force.
“I think we’re always on higher ground in every way — international law, domestic law, people of the world, people of the region to be with us on this — if we have … gone through every possibility to resolve this in a responsible, peaceful way, rather than going to war,” he said.
He pushed back on the notion — first raised by one of his harshest Republican critics, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — that he favors a policy of appeasement.
“I think engagement is clearly in our interest,” Hagel told Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who denounced the idea of negotiating with a “terrorist state.”
“That’s not negotiation,” Hagel said. “Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender.”
The nominee’s fiercest exchange came with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fellow Vietnam veteran and onetime close friend. Politics and Hagel’s evolving opposition to the Iraq war caused a split between the two men that was on full display.
McCain suggested that Hagel and his critics were not quibbling over small matters.
“They are not reasonable people disagreeing; they are fundamental disagreements. Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your worldview on critical areas of national security,” he said.
McCain pressed Hagel on whether he was right or wrong about his opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007 at a point when the war seemed in danger of being lost. Hagel, who voted to authorize military force in Iraq, later opposed the conflict, comparing it to Vietnam and arguing that it shifted the focus from Afghanistan.
“Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?” McCain asked.
“I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out,” Hagel said as the two men talked over each other.
“The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” McCain insisted.
Unable to elicit a simple response, McCain said the record should show that Hagel refused to answer. And he made it clear that he would have the final word — with his vote, which he said would be influenced by Hagel’s refusal to answer yes or no.
“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it,” he said.
Responding to criticism from outside GOP-leaning groups, Hagel repeated his regrets about using the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to pro-Israel groups. He said he should have used another term and should not have said those groups have intimidated members of the Senate into favoring actions contrary to U.S. interests.
“I’m sorry and I regret it,” Hagel said. “On the use of ‘intimidation,’ I should have used ‘influence,’ I think would have been more appropriate.”
At one point, Hagel mistakenly said the Obama policy toward Iran is “containment” even though the former senator has said all options, including military force, should be on the table. He was handed a note and corrected himself.
Hagel, 66, would be the lone Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, the first Vietnam veteran to be defense secretary and the first enlisted man to take the post.
HSBC, the British banking giant, will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe by federal and state authorities in the United States, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The probe of the bank — Europe’s largest by market value — has focused on the transfer of billions of dollars on behalf of nations like Iran, which are under international sanctions, and the transfer of money through the U.S. financial system from Mexican drug cartels.
According to the official, HSBC will pay $1.25 billion in forfeiture and pay $655 million in civil penalties. The $1.25 billion figure is the largest forfeiture ever in a case involving a bank. Under what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement, the financial institution will be accused of violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading With the Enemy Act.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak about the matter on the record.
Under the deferred prosecution arrangement, HSBC will admit to certain misconduct, the official said, but the details of those admissions to be made in a New York court were not immediately available late Monday. Nevertheless the deferred prosecution agreement means the bank won’t be prosecuted further if it meets certain conditions, such as strengthening its internal controls to prevent money laundering. The Justice Department has used such arrangements often in cases involving large corporations, notably in settlements of foreign bribery charges.
The law enforcement official said an announcement of the agreement could come as early as Tuesday.
The London-based bank said it is cooperating with investigations but that those discussions are confidential.
In regard to HSBC and Mexico, a U.S. Senate investigative committee reported that in 2007 and 2008 HSBC Mexico sent to the United States about $7 billion in cash. The committee report said that large an amount of cash indicated illegal drug proceeds.
Money laundering by banks has become a priority target for U.S. law enforcement.
In another case Monday, a British bank, Standard Chartered, which was accused of scheming with the Iranian government to launder billions of dollars, signed an agreement with New York regulators to settle their investigation with a $340 million payment.
Since 2009, Credit Suisse, Barclays and Lloyds all paid settlements related to allegations that they moved money for people or companies that were on the U.S. sanctions list.
Last summer, the Senate investigation concluded that HSBC’s lax controls exposed it to money laundering and terrorist financing.
HSBC bank affiliates also skirted U.S. government bans against financial transactions with Iran and other countries, according to the report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And HSBC’s U.S. division provided money and banking services to some banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh thought to have helped fund al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, the report said.
The report also blamed U.S. regulators: It said they knew the bank had a poor system to detect problems but failed to take action.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee chairman, cited instances in which HSBC had promised to fix deficiencies after being sanctioned by regulators but failed to carry through.
Levin also said the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the U.S. agency that oversees the biggest banks, tolerated HSBC’s weak controls against money laundering for years and that agency examiners who had raised concerns were overruled by their superiors.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a sweeping, $631 billion defense bill Tuesday that sends a clear signal to President Barack Obama to move quickly to get U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan, tightens sanctions on Iran and limits the president’s authority in handling terror suspects.
Ignoring a veto threat, the Senate voted 98-0 for the legislation that authorizes money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provides a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. After a decade of increasing Pentagon budgets, the vote came against the backdrop of significant reductions in projected military spending and the threat of deeper cuts from the looming “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending cuts and tax increases.
The bill reflects the nation’s war-weariness after more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, the messy uncertainty about new threats to U.S. security and Washington belt-tightening in times of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Spending solely on the base defense budget has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, but the latest blueprint reins in the projected growth in military dollars.
The bill would provide some $526 billion for the base defense budget, $17 billion for defense programs in the Energy Department and about $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan. House and Senate negotiators must reconcile their competing versions of the bill in the next few weeks.
Reacting to the relentless violence in Syria, the Senate voted 92-6 to require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the ability of the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has pushed for greater U.S. military involvement to end the Syrian civil war, sponsored the amendment. Obama on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical and/or biological weapons against his people as the U.S. and its allies weigh military options.
“If military action has to be taken to prevent sarin gas to be used, Congress has to be involved,” McCain said.
But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said it was a “bad idea to discuss contingency plans for war.”
The amendment specified that it should not be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization to use force.
Last year, Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on nearly $500 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. If the two sides fail in the next month to avert the “fiscal cliff” the Pentagon would face an additional $55 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts after the first of the year.
Not far from the Capitol, a coalition of retired military leaders, administration officials and lawmakers pleaded with the president and Congress to address the nation’s debt, calling it the greatest threat to national security. The group of prominent Republicans and Democrats said the United States can spend less on defense while still maintaining its military superiority.
“A strong economy and strong national security are inextricably linked,” said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The administration has threatened to veto the Senate bill, strongly objecting to a provision restricting the president’s authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries. The provision is in current law.
The Senate also voted to restrict the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo to prisons in the United States.
Further stoking the debate over U.S. detention policy — and setting up a fight with the House — the Senate also added a provision saying the government may not detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even if there is a declaration of war or the authorization to use military force.
Current law denies suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely. It reaffirms the post-Sept. 11 authorization for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants.
That provision had created a conservative backlash, and a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans pushed for the new provision.
The bill sends a clear message to Obama and the military to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan. On a strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 last week, the Senate endorsed Obama’s timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.
Obama and the military are engaged in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 66,000 U.S. combat troops there now.
The bill added stringent new sanctions on Iran’s energy and shipping sectors in a fresh attempt to hobble the Islamic Republic’s economy and hamper its nuclear ambitions.
The sanctions build upon penalties that Congress has passed — and Obama has implemented — that target Tehran’s financial and energy sectors.
Officials in Washington argue that the sanctions have undermined Tehran’s economy and robust oil sales, thwarting its suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who have shepherded sanctions bills through Congress, sponsored the latest package that also would close a major loophole — the ability of Iran to circumvent sanctions and barter oil for precious metals. Turkey has been bartering gold for oil.
The sanctions would designate Iran’s energy, port, shipping and ship-building sectors as “entities of proliferation” and prohibit transactions with these areas. The legislation also would penalize individuals selling or supplying commodities such as graphite, aluminum and steel to Iran, all products that are crucial to Tehran’s ship-building and nuclear operations.
The administration had complained that the new sanctions were duplicative and unnecessary.