Political tidbits: Coleman up by two votes, Obama to name Iran outreach coordinator?

  • Members of Barack Obama’s transition team met with representatives of 29 Jewish organizations — read the list of issues discussed and the guest list here. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post talks to one person at the meeting who said Iran was a hot topic:

"They assured us, as the vice president-elect has said, that the Iran/nuclear issue is one of the things at the very top of the agenda," said an attendee. "They repeated the idea that we should be focusing on it diplomatically and not just militarily. Some of the more right-wing groups were saying that it can’t be carrots and no sticks, that we are running out of time…. The Obama team said [in response] that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is an issue that the president-elect, as he’s made clear during and after the election, considers a primary concern. It is not something that will fall off the radar."

  • "The incoming Obama administration plans to create a new position to coordinate outreach to Iran and is considering a number of senior career diplomats, State Department officials and Iran specialists say," reports Eli Lake in the Washington Times.

A State Department official said the idea of naming a senior Iranian outreach coordinator was broached in the first transition meetings with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s choice for secretary of state, and her transition team earlier this month.

"The idea is that the position should build on the existing diplomatic framework," the official said.

  • Norm Coleman is now leading Al Franken by just two votes, and a state Supreme Court ruling Thursday went the Democrat’s way. But don’t expect an official result anytime soon, reports Politico:

Thursday’s court ruling dealt a blow to Coleman, who had filed suit to prevent rejected absentee ballots from being counted, but Republicans took solace in the court’s order to establish a uniform standard for sorting and counting those absentee ballots. Either way, the decision makes it likely the race will remain undecided until next year.

After nearly seven weeks of ballot-counting, partisan attacks and court hearings, the state’s Canvassing Board had hoped to certify a winner by the end of this week. But with hundreds of ballots still to be recounted and now, thanks to Thursday’s court ruling, more absentee ballots to be counted, that prospect is virtually impossible.

  • A couple days ago, Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic excerpted a story from a new book by Patrick Tyler in which former CIA director George Tenet, drunk in Prince Bandar’s pool, refers to the neoconservatives as "the Jews." Tenet responds that the story is "ludicrous" and "false":

Tyler approached me in June of 2007 with this bogus story. Initially he told me that his sources told him that I was allegedly staying at Prince Bandar’s home in Riyadh alone when the supposed incident happened. I informed him that I had never stayed at Bandar’s home alone and on the date in question was accompanies by two senior U.S. intelligence officials and my full contingent of security staff.

I arranged for both of the senior officials, Scott Muller (the then-General Counsel of the CIA) and Rob Richer (the then-Chief of CIA’s Near East Division) contact Tyler. They both informed Tyler, as I had previously said that they were with me that evening and no such incident happened.

  • Former Ehud Barak adviser Daniel Levy, in the Forward, hopes pessimism doesn’t prevail when it comes to pursuing peace:

It would be a profound mistake to put on the back burner efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough. Without addressing the Palestinian issue, it is extremely unlikely that the region can be re-stabilized, that American credibility can be revived or that Israel’s future can be secured. Nor is working to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli deal inconsistent with the goal of reaching an accord with Syria; regional issues are increasingly interconnected and a comprehensive approach (including American-Iranian diplomacy) makes most sense.

  • We don’t have a link, but both the Washington Post and New York Times today printed full-page ads outlining the Arab Peace Initiative, placed by the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Negotiations Affairs Department of the PLO.
  • Justin Shubow, in Commentary, writes the U.S. government is arguing that Israel’s Law of Return makes every Jew a flight risk:

In a disturbing and apparently unprecedented move, the federal government has claimed that simply being Jewish adds to the flight risk of a defendant facing criminal charges. The prosecutors made the claim—that every American Jew has “de facto dual citizenship”—in their case against Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, the former head of Agriprocessors, Inc., who has been charged with bank fraud concerning the Iowa kosher slaughterhouse.

  • Jewish groups including the ADL and the National Council of Jewish Women are upset about the new "conscience clause" rule issued yesterday by the Bush administration. Writes the Washington Post:

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.

But women’s health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation, saying it will be a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.

  • Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solomonese, in the Washington Post, makes an interesting analogy in his op-ed decrying Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to deliver the inauguration invocation:

We understand that the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights icon and a dear friend of LGBT Americans, will close the inauguration ceremony. But would any inaugural committee say to Jewish Americans, "We’re opening with an anti-Semite but closing the program with a rabbi, so don’t worry"?

  • House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) says the U.S. should consider making concessions to Russia on the placement of a missile-defense shield in Europe, in order to get Moscow to back "crippling" concessions against Iran if the time comes, reports Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post:

Berman … said in an interview that one reason for a limited dialogue with the Iranians to get them to suspend uranium enrichment would be to encourage other countries to "buy into crippling" sanctions if Teheran failed to do so. Berman said the US-Iran talks should be of a set duration, somewhere between eight and 12 weeks, so the Iranians would not, as they had done in the past, use the negotiations as a cover to continue their nuclear program and their weapons development.

In an interview after addressing a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Berman also said the new US administration should not interfere if Israel felt it necessary to take military action in the Gaza Strip.

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