President Obama's State of the Union address, the Lancaster House talks on Afghanistan, Lord Goldsmith's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry and much, much more.
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President Obama made his inaugural State of the Union address overnight, in which he pledged a renewed focus on jobs and vowed: “I don’t quit”. The Guardian says the creation of a million jobs will be his priority in the year ahead. Shaken by last week’s defeat in the Massachusetts Senate by-election, his speech was more workmanlike than inspirational, focusing mainly on the economy, and saying of healthcare provision for the uninsured: “I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber.” On Afghanistan, reports The Times, he said: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home” and on Iraq, he promised all US combat troops would be out of the country “by the end of this August”. The end of his speech, though, was classic Obama: “We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit.”
The Lancaster House conference on Afghanistan is the lead story for the day ahead, with many papers outlining plans to “buy off the Taleban” as a means to ending the conflict. “Western nations are planning to attempt to buy off up to 12,500 members of the Taliban with a promise that they will be paid to defend their own villages,” reports the Telegraph, with the Times claiming that “the conference is expected to agree a $500 million (£310 million), five-year fund for President Karzai to ‘buy off’ insurgents who are not ideologically committed to destroying the West”. Britain will pay “a few million”, Germany will pay £70 million over five years with the bulk of the money coming from Japan. The Guardian, meanwhile, says the coalition and Karzai will have to “talk to the Taleban”, that “hard choices” will have to be made and some “pretty unsavoury characters” engaged in the political tent.
Yesterday’s big news, Lord Goldsmith’s appearance before the Iraq Inquiry, is also covered widely. The Guardian talks of the “40 days that made illegal attack into legal war on Iraq”, reporting Goldsmith’s abrupt change of heart on the legality of war, “first struggling to get his voice heard and finally accepting what appeared to be politically inevitable”, with The Times reporting that he changed his mind after a trip to Washington to meet US government lawyers, where John Bellinger, legal adviser to the National Security Council, apparently said “we had a problem with your Attorney-General who was telling us it was legally doubtful under international law. We straightened him out” – a claim he strenuously denies. Goldsmith finally gave the “green light” for war on February 27 – less than a month before the attempt to secure a second resolution (March 17), the Commons vote to go to war (March 18) and the first US strikes on Baghdad (March 20)
The Times reports that the scientists at the centre of the “climate-gate” leaked emails story last November had acted illegally by failing to hand over their raw data for public scrutiny. The actions of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit breached the Freedom of Information Act, with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) saying: “Section 77 of the Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information”. The Guardian, which reports the ICO’s claim that its “too late to take action”, gives the UEA’s response to the news: “We have already made clear that the findings of the review will be made public and that we will act as appropriate on its recommendations.”
And the Telegraph reports that fathers will be able to take six months’ paternity leave when their baby’s mother returns to work. Ministers will today announce that fathers will have the legal right to be at home for the last three months of a mother’s nine months leave should she choose to return to work, during which they will receive £123 a week. Of the 350,000 working mothers who give birth every year, adds the report, two thirds return to work. Fawcett Society Chief Executive Ceri Goddard welcomed the news, saying: “There is a huge appetite among fathers to spend more time with their children. This extra choice is a good thing.”
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