WASHINGTON (CNN) - Iran's crackdown on protests after its disputed presidential election has "shifted" its prospects for direct talks with the United States, but they remain on the table, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.
The Obama administration has held open its offer of talks with Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington since 1980, despite the clampdown on protesters in Tehran and other cities. Clinton said that offer remains the "best vehicle" for engaging Tehran - but as President Barack Obama did last week, she warned that it "will not remain indefinitely."
"Neither the president nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success of any kind, and the prospects have certainly shifted in the weeks following the election," Clinton told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"But we also understand the importance of offering to engage Iran and giving its leaders a clear choice - whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation," she added. "Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice."
Iran has refused international calls to suspend its production of enriched uranium, which it insists will be used to fuel civilian nuclear power plants. Clinton said Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program "if it re-establishes the confidence of the international community" that its nuclear technology will not be put to military use.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Republican Rep. Mark Kirk may make his run for the Senate in 2010 official next week.
His office said Wednesday that the congressman would announce a "statewide candidacy" Monday morning at a suburb outside Chicago.
Kirk has reportedly been seriously weighing a bid for the seat currently filled by embattled Sen. Roland Burris, who announced on Friday that he would not run for election. Burris was appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested on corruption charges that he tried to sell President Obama's Senate seat.
The state Republican Party chairman, Andy McKenna, was also considering running for the Senate seat, but announced Monday that would "not oppose" Kirk if the congressman decided to run, as GOP officials have hoped.
(CNN) – Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter raised more than $1.7 million for the quarter – putting him just ahead of Republican challenger Pat Toomey's $1.6 million – but actually cleared less than a million dollars, thanks in part to $225,000 in refunds to GOP colleagues and constituents after he switched parties in April.
The Pennsylvania senator returned $75,000 to fellow lawmakers in his former party who had donated to his re-election bid, his campaign confirmed Wednesday. The balance, roughly $150,000, was sent back to individual Republican donors who requested refunds.
Republican leaders had urged Specter's GOP constituents to ask for their money back, but a Specter spokesman says the requests have died down considerably since spring. The incumbent, who has the public backing of President Obama and top Democratic officials, still boasts a campaign war chest of around $7.5 million – more than $3 million more than his potential primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, fractured her right leg and sprained her ankle as she slid into second base during the seventh inning of a charity softball event Tuesday night in Washington.
Spokesman Jonathan Beeton said the congresswoman was using crutches to make it to the House floor Wednesday to vote. The lawmaker was sporting a soft cast, which Beeton said would be replaced by a harder, more secure cast later Wednesday.
The Florida Democrat was participating in the first-ever Congressional Women's Softball Game. The event raised $41,000 to assist young breast cancer survivors.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - One of several proposals to overhaul the U.S. health care system passed a Senate committee Wednesday, with its ailing chairman praising the $600 billion plan as a step toward his longtime goals.
The 13-10 vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee split along party lines, with its top Republican arguing it costs too much and would ration care to Americans. But Sen. Edward Kennedy, its chairman, said, "We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do."
"We know, however, that our work is not over - far from it," Kennedy, who is battling cancer and voted by proxy, said in a written statement. "As we move from our committee room to the Senate floor, we must continue the search for solutions that unite us, so that the great promise of quality affordable health care for all can be fulfilled."
Health care has long been one of the Massachusetts Democrat's pet issues. Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who led the committee in Kennedy's absence, said the bill is the first of several proposals "to grapple with the issue that has defied resolution through seven presidents and many Congresses since the 1940s."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – General David McKiernan was "dismayed, disappointed, and more than a little embarrassed" when he was ousted as the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, he said at his retirement ceremony Wednesday at Fort Myers in Virginia.
McKiernan took over the post of International Security Assistance Force Commander in June 2008. Just a year into his appointment, however, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked for McKiernan's resignation, citing a need for "new thinking and new ideas" in Afghanistan.
"If you had asked me 30 days ago if I would be here today at my retirement ceremony, I probably would have said no, maybe in a bit stronger terms. Make no mistake – I was dismayed, disappointed, and more than a little embarrassed," McKiernan said.
But he eventually came to realize "it's about paying respect to your profession," he said, telling his supporters to "save your condolences for those who really need them – the families, friends and comrades of men and women who either will not return home, or whose lives have been permanently scarred by war."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – An episode of the television show "Perry Mason" influenced a young Sonia Sotomayor to become a prosecutor, she testified Wednesday at her confirmation hearing to become the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
Sotomayor, 55, said the program starring Raymond Burr as a successful defense attorney awakened her to the fundamental role of the law.
She cited one particular episode, in which the Perry Mason character - after winning yet another case - consoles beleaguered prosecutor Hamilton Burger by noting it must be hard to expend such effort only to have charges dismissed.
"No, my job as a prosecutor is to do justice, and justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and an innocent man is not," she quoted the prosecutor as saying.
"That TV character said something that motivated my choices in life," Sotomayor said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a major foreign policy speech and some Washington political observers ask: "Is she trying to get back in the spotlight?"
Since she slipped and broke her elbow last month, the secretary has had to cancel an international trip, and some inside-the-Beltway types are reading the tea leaves. Is it another step in the process of keeping Secretary Clinton from the real foreign policy decision-making in the Obama administration?
"The Daily Beast's" Tina Brown writes: "Left behind on major presidential trips, overruled in choosing her own staff - Hillary Clinton is the invisible woman at State."
"It's time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa," she said.
(CNN) – President Obama’s political operation will begin running television ads Wednesday targeting fellow Democrats and centrist Republicans urging them to support the president’s call for health care reform this year.
The 30-second TV commercial will run in eight states: Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Ohio for two weeks, according to a preview of the ad provided to CNN by Obama’s Organizing for America (OFA).
The commercial, which features five people discussing health care problems, will also run on national cable television, in Washington, D.C., and online, according to OFA, which is now housed at the Democratic National Committee.