Olmert backtracks on atomic weapons

Israel’s prime minister spent Tuesday trying to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, after a slip of the tongue in an interview was interpreted as confirming Israel has atomic weapons – widely assumed to be true, but never officially acknowledged.

In an interview with a German television station broadcast Monday, Olmert appeared to list Israel among the world’s nuclear powers.

Asked by the interviewer about Iran’s calls for the destruction of Israel, Olmert replied that Israel has never threatened to annihilate anyone.

“Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” Olmert said. “Can you say that this is the same level, when you are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?”

With Olmert’s comments featured on the front pages of all of Israel’s major papers Tuesday and with political rivals calling for his resignation, aides to Olmert hurriedly said the remark had been misinterpreted.

Santiago, Chile

Pinochet grandson cheered at funeral

Bitter divisions over the memory of Gen. Augusto Pinochet surfaced at his military funeral Tuesday, as mourners booed the defense minister who denied the dictator a state funeral and cheered Pinochet’s grandson for justifying the bloody coup that ousted an elected president more than 30 years ago.

Across town, about 4,000 Pinochet opponents held a joyful celebration in tribute to Salvador Allende, the Marxist president whom Pinochet toppled in his 1973 coup, and carried images of relatives killed under the ensuing dictatorship.

Appealing for calm at the funeral, army chief Gen. Oscar Izurieta asked Chileans “to let history make a balanced and fair judgment.” But Army Capt. Augusto Pinochet proclaimed that his grandfather, who died Sunday of heart failure at age 91, “defeated Marxism, which attempted to impose its totalitarian model.”

Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot, the government’s only representative at the funeral, was booed when she arrived.


Saudi ambassador to U.S. quitting

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States is resigning after only 15 months on the job, possibly to take a more senior foreign policy post in the oil-rich kingdom.

In his brief tenure, Prince Turki al-Faisal did not approach the celebrity status of his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who held the post for more than 22 years and had exceptional access to U.S. power brokers. The ambassador’s post is a crucial link between the United States and Saudi Arabia, one of the chief U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Prince Turki was outspoken in conveying the kingdom’s views. In late October, he said U.S. standing in the Middle East was at an all-time low and could be helped only by pressing Israel to relinquish all land held by the Arabs before the 1967 Mideast war as well as Jerusalem.

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