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News Wrap: U.S. Officials Warn Iran Might Blockade Strait of Hormuz if Attacked

February 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Top U.S. officials offered new assessments of Iran’s nuclear program. It came a day after the Islamic republic claimed major new achievements in producing its own nuclear fuel.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave his assessment at a House hearing.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: The intelligence has been very clear on this. They continue to develop their enrichment capabilities.

But the intelligence doesn’t show that they have made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon. That is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure that the international community, hopefully together, would respond. 

HARI SREENIVASAN: Panetta repeated that all response options remain on the table to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

At a Senate hearing, top intelligence officials said, if Iran is attacked, it might blockade the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf oil states. 

Claims and counterclaims abounded today over possible peace talks involving the U.S. and Afghan governments and the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Wall Street Journal that discussions have taken place in the past month. That interview appeared as Karzai was in Pakistan.

A top adviser said he would solicit that country’s help in negotiating a peace agreement. 

ISMAIL QASEMYAR, international relations adviser, Afghan High Peace Council: Hamid Karzai will ask the Pakistan head of state and the head of the government to cooperate to put positive and constructive pressure over the leadership of the Taliban to come close and to come together to start an intra-Afghan dialogue and a process, the negotiation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A spokesman for the Taliban denied there had been any negotiations. He said the Taliban didn’t talk with the Kabul government anywhere.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to confirm or deny either way.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department spokeswoman: There are lots of Taliban saying lots of different things. So, again, we have said, and the secretary has made clear, this whole process is at a very preliminary stage.

We are still at the stage of trying to build the trust among the Afghans, so that they can sit in the room and have conversations. So that’s the stage that we’re at, and it’s very, very preliminary.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The focus on possible peace talks has intensified, as U.S. and other NATO combat forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Supporters of legalizing same-sex marriage in the U.S. have won another legislative victory. The New Jersey State Assembly approved a bill allowing the practice today. It already passed the state Senate. The measure is not expected to become law since Republican Governor Chris Christie has promised a veto. He wants the issue put to a referendum.

The U.S. economy is showing more signs of life. Reports today said first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since March of 2008. And housing starts rose again in January.

The news helped Wall Street to new gains. The Dow Jones industrial average added 123 points to close at 12,904. The Nasdaq rose 44 points to close at 2,959.

General Motors reported its best profit ever in 2011. The automaker said today it made $7.6 billion last year, although it lost momentum in the fourth quarter. GM has staged a turnaround from 2009, when it filed for bankruptcy protection and took a government bailout. 

The so-called underwear bomber received a life sentence in a federal court in Detroit today. A Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had admitted that he tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day of 2009. He said it was meant to be a suicide mission for al-Qaida. but he was wrestled down after a bomb in his underclothes failed to go off just before the plane landed in Detroit.

Rescuers on Cape Cod, Mass., spent today trying to save 11 dolphins stranded on a remote beach. It has been a common scene for the past month. Nearly 180 short-beaked common dolphins have beached themselves in the area, and, of those, 125 have died. That’s nearly five times the yearly average. The cause remains unclear. Theories include changes in the weather, water temperature and behavior of the dolphins’ prey.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.