Politics Summary: Wednesday, December 16th

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The Copenhagen summit is the lead story in many of the papers, with the Independent the most pessimistic, saying that the way things are going, “Copenhagen will not only fail, it will be a disaster”. Others are slightly more hopeful, with the Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Standard all reporting the Prime Minister’s vow to lead a “final push” for a deal. He said:

“Over the next three days the leaders of almost every nation on earth will gather in Copenhagen. Their role; their opportunity; their responsibility: to shape the future of humanity. It is a defining moment.”

Any deal, however, is still in the balance over aid, adds the Financial Times, who interview UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. He said that any deal “might not include promised financial aid for developing countries”.

The Telegraph reports the deaths of two more soldiers in Afghanistan, taking the death toll for the year to over 100. The news came as the Defence Secretary announced a £900 million funding boost for the campaign. Measures include an improved “close combat equipment package” with “state of the art” body armour and night vision goggles being made available to 50% more troops, more Bowman tactical radios for troops and £80 million for special forces communications, and a doubling of the number of Reaper drones – part of a package of increased funding to improve intelligence and surveillance. It will all be paid for through cuts elsewhere in the defence budget, explains the Times, which reports that more than 1,000 UK servicemen have been wounded in battle in the eight-year conflict.

On Iraq, the Independent has an exclusive that Sir John Scarlett, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, “misled” the Chilcot Inquiry by “exaggerating the reliability of crucial claims about Saddam Hussein’s ability to launch weapons of mass destruction”. Dr Brian Jones, head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff and the leading MoD expert on WMDs in the run-up to the war, claims that it was “absolutely clear” the 45-minute claim came from “untried sources”. He tells the paper that Scarlett’s testimony to the inquiry that the 45-minute intel source was “reliable and authoritative” is “nonsense”.

The leading domestic story is the planned British Airways cabin crew strike over Christmas and the New Year. The Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Standard and FT all report BA’s last ditch attempt to prevent the strike in the High Court today, with the airline’s Chief Executive Willie Walsh saying he did “not want to see a million Christmases ruined”. There was some good news for the aviation industry, however, with the Times reporting the maiden flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Seattle company’s first new aircraft since the Boeing 777 fifteen years ago. The Dreamliner consumes 20 per cent less fuel than comparable aircraft and is the most fuel efficient passenger jet on the market.

And the Guardian reports agreement on a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia, to be signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Copenhagen this week. The treaty, when finalised, would see a reduction to around 1500 warheads each from the current 2,200 the US possess and Russia’s 3,500-odd – a combined 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons. A hopeful Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said:

“In my expectation, it is possible for the two sides to conclude the talks and for the two presidents to sign the new treaty on the margins of the meeting [in Copenhagen]. It could be on the 18th or could be somewhere nearby on the 19th. The point is they are within reach of an agreement and the two presidents are in the same time zone.”

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