Biological, Chemical Weapons Expert Dead

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The body of Jonathan B. Tucker, an expert on biological and chemical weapons, was found in his home in Washington, D.C., officials said.

The District’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death was so far unknown, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Tucker’s body was found July 31. He was 56.

At the time of his death, Tucker was awaiting security clearance so he could take a position in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He left a job of nearly 15 years as a research fellow in the District at the Monterey Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He was also a former editor at the magazine Scientific American.

Tucker was often turned to as a source for journalists writing about biological and chemical weapons.

“Jonathan was a rare breed in that he knew the science of the issue, which was really complicated, and also knew the policy side,” said Paul Carroll, program director at the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation group. “He was one of really a handful of people that could talk to both of these audiences, to both chemists and diplomats.”

Tucker served as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995 and used his knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program to advise the U.S. government before its invasion of Iraq in early 2003.

Jonathan Brin Tucker was born in Boston Aug. 2, 1954. He graduated from the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass, in 1972.

Tucker graduated from Yale in 1975 with a biology degree and he earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania before earning a doctorate in non-proliferation studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

U.S. Hands Over Libyan Embassy To TNG

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The U.S. State Department has handed over the Libyan Embassy in Washington to the Transitional National Council, a State Department official said.

The official said the move would allow Libyan rebels to reopen the embassy, accredit diplomats and claim control over the embassy’s frozen bank accounts worth about $13 million, CNN reported Thursday.

The State Department signed the order following a formal request by the Transitional National Government to reopen the embassy and accredit former Libyan Ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali as its ambassador.

The State Department official told CNN Aujali can become the official leader of the mission after he restores his diplomatic status that was technically interrupted when he defected from the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

On July 15, the United States recognized the rebel movement based in Benghazi as Libya’s rightful government. In March, the State Department ordered the embassy closed and expelled diplomats loyal to Gadhafi.

The decision concerning the Libyan Embassy came as the United States told the TNC it must carry out a credible, thorough investigation into the death of its military commander, Abdel Fatah Younis, an administration official told CNN. Concerns were raised that last week’s assassination may have been carried out by feuding rebel factions.

For four months, NATO aircraft have bombed Libya under terms of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from Gadhafi. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli closed in February and U.S. personnel evacuated by sea and air after the uprising erupted.

Japanese Nuclear Officials To Be Replaced

TOKYO, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Japan’s three nuclear policy officials are being replaced over the handling of the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis, Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said.

The officials are the vice minister for economy, trade and industry, the head of the nuclear safety agency and the head of the country’s natural resources agency, Kyodo News reported Thursday.

The industry minister also said he would also take responsibility for the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the news agency said.

The handling of the crisis has come under much criticism as radioactive leaks from the damaged reactors at the plant have not stopped. Other problems also persist.

This week, the operator of the plant said extremely high radiation had been recorded on a pipe connecting the containment vessels of the No. 1 and 2 reactors to a main exhaust stack.

Afghan Security Head Killed In Explosion

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 4 (UPI) — An explosion Thursday in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province killed the district security head and wounded three children, authorities said.

The victim was Payenda Khan, head of the area’s National Directorate of Security, provincial council chief Mahbobullah Mahbob told CNN.

The incident occurred in Bander Khanabad district and the Taliban claimed responsibility, the report said. Other details were not immediately available.

There have been a number of killings of high-profile people or high-level officials lately in the country and Khan became the latest victim of the violence.

Last month, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother was Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the provincial chief of Kandahar, was shot and killed by his security guard.

Hurricane Eugene Should Lose Its Punch Soon

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Hurricane Eugene retained its strength but was expected to weaken Thursday as it moves over colder Pacific waters, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Eugene, a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 mph, was about 670 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, and moving in a west-northwesterly direction at 14 mph, the center said in its 5 a.m. EDT advisory.

No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

The center said Eugene would maintain its track and rapidly weaken during the next 48 hours.

Emily’s Movement Prompts Watches, Warnings

MIAMI, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Warnings and watches were posted for many Caribbean islands as the center of Tropical Storm Emily nears Hispaniola’s southern coast, forecasters said Thursday.

Emily, with sustained winds of 50 mph, was about 25 miles south-southwest of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic, and about 100 miles south-southeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 5 a.m. EDT advisory.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for portions of the northern and southern coasts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, southeastern and central Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, and portions of eastern Cuba, the center said.

Tropical storm watches were in effect for the northwestern Bahamas.

Emily is moving in a west-northwesterly path at 7 mph and is expected to move across the southwestern peninsula of Haiti later Thursday and over extreme eastern Cuba Thursday night or Friday morning, the center said.

The center said some weakening was possible during the next 24-36 hours as Emily goes over high terrain of Haiti and Cuba, but could regain some strength when it moves over the Bahamas.

Emily is expected to produce 6-12 inches of rain with possible isolated amounts of 20 inches over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, forecasters said. The rains could cause flash floods and mudslides.

Rain accumulations of 2-4 inches are forecast for the southeastern and central Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Puerto Rico could see 1-2 inches of rain.

A storm surge will raise water levels by 1-3 feet above normal tide levels in the tropical storm warning area. Near the coasts, the surge will be accompanied by large, dangerous waves.

Belarus, S. Ossetia Cool On Joining Russia

MOSCOW, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Belarus and South Ossetia have reacted cautiously after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested he would like to see them join the Russia Federation.

Putin, speaking to a youth forum Russia’s Monday, indicated he held out hope that Belarus, South Ossetia and Russia could join a common state.

“It is possible, very desirable and fully depends … on the Belarusian people’s will,” ITAR-Tass reported Putin as saying.

The prime minister added that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko deserved praise for “consistently moving along the path toward integration with Russia.”

While Belarus and Russia in the late 1990s signed a treaty calling for the creation of a “Union State of Belarus and Russia” — an entity that was to have a common currency — the idea stalled and the two countries remain separate.

The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on Putin’s statements Tuesday.

“The foreign ministry does not consider it necessary to comment on the statement,” ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told the BelaPAN news agency. “I just would like to note that the Russian prime minister underlined that the matter depends 100 percent on the will of the Belarusian people.”

Lukashenko told reporters in June that Moscow had voiced hopes Belarus could be incorporated into Russia and that Minsk should agree to the absorption if it wants to be pay the same amount for Russian natural gas as the nearby province of Smolensk.

But the Belarusian strongman vowed his country wouldn’t join Russia or the European Union while he remained in power, asserting that a majority of the Belarusian people don’t want to be absorbed by Russia or join the EU “on conditions similar to those set once for the Baltic states.”

“I don’t want this as well,” BelaPAN reported him as saying. “I want us to be happy here. Such a policy and independence cost much. If you are not ready to pay, speak out, you 90 percent of the population, and you will be able to become part of another state, part of the European Union — but without me.”

In his remarks this week, Putin also expressed a hope for Russian unification with South Ossetia, one of two breakaway regions of Georgia that had proclaimed independence from Tbilisi in 2008, sparking a brief armed conflict.

Putin said Russia helped South Ossetia when it became a target of “military, provocative, criminal actions” of the Georgian leadership, adding, “the future will depend on the South Ossetian people themselves.”

While unification with Russia wasn’t on the agenda, Tskhinvali was “ready to enter either into union state of Russia and Belarus, or directly integrate within the Russian Federation,” South Ossetian Speaker of Parliament Stanislav Kochiev said Tuesday, according to the online news site Civil Georgia.

South Ossetia’s de facto ambassador to Moscow Dmitry Medoev, however, had a different take. He said Tuesday the region wasn’t ready to become part of the Russian Federation and no plans for a referendum to do so are on the table, Radio Ekho Moskvy reported.

Tskhinvali “will not waste its freedom to please any political force,” he said, adding, “We have many problems to solve — the rehabilitation after the August bombing of Tskhinvali, social and economic issues. The question of a referendum is not on top of the agenda now.”

Geithner Likely To Stay After Strong Pleas

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Timothy Geithner is expected to stay on as U.S. Treasury Secretary through President Barack Obama’s term after receiving White House pleas, officials said.

Geithner, who turns 50 Aug. 18, has not yet notified the White House of his intentions, and family considerations could still win out, advisers tell The New York Times.

Geithner — the last remaining member of Obama’s original team of economic advisers that shaped the president’s response to the financial crisis — said in early July he would consider resigning after a deal was reached to increase the nation’s debt ceiling and reduce the federal deficit. Obama signed that deal into law Tuesday.

Obama and Chief of Staff William Daley have been urging Geithner to stay, in part because Obama has developed a close rapport with him, administration officials told the Times.

Obama and Daley also want continuity during the current tough economic times and to avoid an all-but-certain confirmation fight in the Senate over a successor, the newspaper said.

The former co-chairman of Obama’s debt panel, Erskine Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, is one of several candidates who were being considered if Geithner stepped down, officials said.

Other candidates included investment banker and former deputy treasury secretary under Clinton, Roger Altman, Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, who previously served as a Geithner lieutenant, the officials said.

Geithner told ABC News Tuesday he hadn’t decided whether he would leave.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges, the president’s got a lot of challenges and, you know, I got other pressures on me too,” he said.

Geithner’s wife and son moved back to New York in June so their son could finish high school where he grew up.

Before moving to the Washington area, the Geithners lived in Larchmont, N.Y., north of New York City, when Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Geithner said privately last month he would not ask to leave without Obama’s agreement.

Washington Prepares New Syrian Sanctions

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — Washington is readying new Syrian sanctions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said as the United Nations censured Assad-regime violence against civilians.

“We are exploring broader sanctions that will isolate the Assad regime politically and deny it revenue with which to sustain its brutality,” Clinton said of new targeted sanctions being prepared, without saying what they’d involve.

The “strong action by the Security Council on the targeting of innocent civilians in Syria is long overdue,” she added, rebuking countries that had blocked diplomatic efforts to denounce President Bashar Assad to stop the slaughter of his own citizens.

The Security Council Wednesday unanimously approved a statement condemning “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.”

The 15-member council expressed “grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria,” but mandated no specific actions by the international community.

It called on Syrian authorities to grant full and unimpeded access to international humanitarian and human-rights agencies, and appealed to “all sides to act with utmost restraint” and to “refrain from reprisals, including attacks on state institutions.”

The action came as a “presidential statement,” a step below a resolution.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said later the lower-level statement was no compromise, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

The council agreed to meet again on Syria next week.

The statement came as Syrian tanks, armored vehicles and snipers conducted the fourth day of an assault on Hama, a rebellious city that has emerged as a linchpin of the nearly five-month uprising.

“It’s a massacre. It’s 1982 all over again,” activist Saleh Hamawi told The Washington Post by satellite phone, his voice quaking as the sound of explosions echoed in the background.

A massacre by Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, in 1982 killed an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people.

In the past four days of brutality, at least 100 people have died, rights groups said.

Concerning sanctions, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters, “We’re working with Congress, certainly, but in the meantime we are looking at additional steps we can take to increasingly isolate Assad.”

The House and Senate concluded their formal business this week after passing a contentious bill to raise the government’s debt ceiling. Most lawmakers are out of town until the second week of September.

Before leaving town, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., prepared a bill that called on U.S. President Barack Obama to block Syrian access to the U.S. financial system and markets, and to block federal contracts for companies that invest in Syria’s energy sector.