JIM LEHRER: In other news today, Wall Street rode a wave of upbeat reports to its best day in three months. The Federal Reserve issued a slightly more optimistic forecast on the economy. And earnings from Intel, the computer chipmaker, and big banks came in better than expected.
In response, the Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 256 points to close at 8,616. The Nasdaq rose 63 points to close above 1,862.
In Iran, 168 people were killed when a domestic airliner crashed in the country’s northwest. The plane went down shortly after takeoff, about 75 miles west of Tehran. The plane was en route to Armenia.
We have a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane disappeared from radar and plowed into a field, smashing into pieces and gouging a crater 10 meters deep in the earth.
Parts of the tail and engine were found scattered across farmland, along with shoes and clothes and the personal possessions of 168 dead.
Eyewitnesses at first told the emergency services they believed a crop sprayer had crashed, a farmer telling Iranian television that he and his family had witnessed the explosion.
EYEWITNESS (through translator): My brother-in-law was only about 20 meters or so away. And the aircraft all of a sudden fell out of the sky and exploded on impact.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: The plane was a Tupolev 154 flying to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, where relatives and friends gathered in shock after the Russian-built airliner failed to arrive. Two children were among those reportedly on board, along with Iran’s national youth judo team, a former Iranian M.P., and the wife of a Georgian diplomat.
The accident investigation has only just begun, but aviation officials said the 23-year-old plane was trying to return to Tehran after an engine caught fire.
JIM LEHRER: Iran has relied increasingly on Russian-made planes since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when the United States imposed trade sanctions.
A U.S. offer of direct nuclear talks with Iran is still on the table; that word came from Secretary of State Clinton today in a policy speech in Washington. She again condemned the Iranian government for crushing dissent after a presidential election, but she also said the offer of talks will not last forever.
HILLARY CLINTON, secretary of state: We have made it clear that there is a choice for the Iranian government to make. And we will wait to see how they decide, whether that choice is worth pursuing. If they were to choose to pursue it, we’ve made it very clear that this is not an open-ended engagement, this is not a door that stays open no matter what happens.
JIM LEHRER: On another subject, Clinton announced plans to travel to Pakistan in the fall. She said the goal of defeating al-Qaida and its Taliban allies can only be accomplished by working with Pakistan.
Al-Qaida’s second-in-command called for Pakistanis today to rise up against U.S. influence in their country and in Afghanistan. Ayman al-Zawahiri posted a new audio message on the Internet warning against American interference. He said, “The only hope to save Pakistan from this disastrous fate is jihad.”
The Pakistani military began a major offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban last April with U.S. support.