HARI SREENIVASAN: Washington went into the weekend still at a stalemate over how to avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts come January. House Speaker John Boehner did speak by phone to President Obama this week, and it was widely reported the two have agreed to negotiate directly with each other.
But Boehner said today there’s no progress to report.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Four days ago, we offered a serious proposal based on testimony of President Clinton’s former chief of staff. Since then, there’s been no counteroffer from the White House. Instead, reports indicate that the president has adopted a deliberate strategy to slow-walk our economy right to the edge of the fiscal cliff.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The president has insisted there will be no deal unless Republicans agree to raise tax rates on the top 2 percent. Republicans say the tax hikes would only hurt job creation.
But, in Arlington, Va., Vice President Biden said today’s jobs report shows the economy is turning a corner, so it’s critical to get a deal.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: There is a sense — there is a sense that if we can reach an — act like adults and reach an agreement here on the fiscal cliff, the upside is much higher even than the downside is if we don’t.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Biden said the president is willing to consider what he called any serious offer. Aides for the two sides were expected to continue talking through the weekend.
Wall Street was mostly higher on the news from November’s jobs report. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 81 points to close at 13,155. The Nasdaq was hurt by another sell-off in Apple stock, and fell 11 points to close at 2,978. For the week, the Dow gained 1 percent; the Nasdaq lost 1 percent.
This was another tense day across Egypt, as a political crisis deepened. Tonight, thousands of protesters pushed past army and police outside the presidential palace, demanding that President Mohammed Morsi leave office. He’s assumed absolute powers and refuses to call off a vote on a constitution drafted by Islamists.
Earlier in the day, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesters gathered to speak out against Morsi.
GHADA IBRAHIM, Egypt (through translator): We are not fanatics. We are not barbarians. We are devout Muslims and devout Christians. This is what he has to respect. He didn’t keep one of his promises whatsoever. We are going down the drain. If the constitutional decree is not revoked, we are facing a dead end.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, the government postponed the start of early voting on the constitution. Top officials also said Morsi might be willing to postpone the referendum if he can reach some agreement with the opposition.
On the Syrian diplomatic front, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today Russia and the U.S. will support new efforts to mediate peace. But Clinton underscored that the U.S. still insists that President Bashar Assad leave power. She spoke today in Northern Ireland, a day after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the U.N. envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Mr. Brahimi had his own additional information to contribute about what he is hearing from sources inside Syria. And both Minister Lavrov and I committed to support a renewed push by Brahimi and his team to work with all the stakeholders in Syria to begin a political transition.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, rebels in Syria made the Damascus International Airport an official battleground. They said it’s a legitimate target and they urged civilians to stay clear. Fighting near the airport and around the capital city has intensified in the past week. The latest amateur video here showed street battles and a car set afire by a rocket attack.
The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, entered Gaza today for the first time. It was, in part, a show of defiance after the militant group’s latest clash with Israel.
We have a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: He crossed the border from Egypt with tears in his eyes, the leader of Hamas setting foot on Palestinian territory for the first time in 37 years.
He had never been to Gaza in his life, but after kissing the tarmac, apparently sobbing as he did so, Khaled Meshaal said Gaza had always been in his heart. There to greet him were the al-Qassam Brigades, named after an Arab rebel leader killed by the British in the 1930s. Eighty years on, the fight for self-rule isn’t over. And thousands turned out to watch Meshaal’s cavalcade crawl through Gaza City just days after a war with Israel which left around 160 Palestinians dead.
KHALED MESHAAL, Hamas leader (through translator): My first birth in 1956 was natural. The second was when I was recovering from poisoning. I consider today my third birth. I ask God that my fourth birth will be the day we liberate all of Palestine.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: It was after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 that Meshaal fled from the occupied West Bank. He’s only been back there once.
In Jordan, in 1997, Mossad agents poisoned him. King Hussein begged Benjamin Netanyahu for the antidote. And Israel’s leader then, as now, eventually handed it over. Meshaal backed a steady stream of suicide bombings, which Israel’s separation wall has largely stopped.
Earlier this year, Meshaal left his home Damascus, abandoning the Assad regime to its fate. He’s also making peace overtures to President Abbas, his Palestinian rival in the West Bank.
GAD SHIMRON, former Mossad Member: Fifteen years ago, it was the same Netanyahu who tried to assassinate Khaled Meshaal. And now it’s Mr. Netanyahu who has to deal with the rising power of Khaled Meshaal and the de facto Hamas government in Gaza.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: And the Hamas leader may still be a wanted man. Palestinian police have been rehearsing the drill for any assassination attempt.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terror organization. The Israelis had little to say about today’s visit.
The death toll has passed 500 in the typhoon that smashed into the Philippines on Tuesday, with more than 400 people still missing. Rescuers dug through mud and debris again today to retrieve bodies in the hardest-hit Compostela Valley region. Some 250 people died there. More than 300,000 others lost their homes in the storm.
President Obama will ask Congress than $60 billion to cover the damage from Hurricane Sandy. The governors of New York and New Jersey announced it today in a statement. The money is to help rebuild roads and tunnels and to assist thousands of people who were forced from their homes.
Those are those are some of the day’s major stories.