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News Briefs, part 2

Russia Disputes United States On Iran's Nuclear Role

The Washington Post

Russia's foreign intelligence agency Thursday disputed U.S. contentions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and should be barred from obtaining nuclear technology.

Russia's proposed $1 billion sale of a nuclear reactor to Iran, with the possibility of further sales and technical cooperation, has alarmed Washington and emerged as a major problem in U.S.-Russian relations. Washington maintains that Iran is a rogue state, supporting terrorism beyond its borders and covertly seeking nuclear arms.

But Yevgeny Primakov, head of the Russian equivalent of the CIA, said his agency does not support the U.S. view.

"We have not found convincing evidence of the existence in that country of a coherent military nuclear program," Primakov said at a news conference Thursday. "Iran's level of achievement in the nuclear field does not exceed that of another 20 to 25 countries."

Primakov's statement came as his External Intelligence Service released a 73-page report on the nuclear status of more than a dozen countries and of the overall record of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Despite some failures to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the treaty should be extended at an international conference this spring, the agency concluded.

GOP Announces Support Of Takings' Envirnonmental Bill

Los Angeles Times

Thirty-two Senate Republicans announced their support Thursday for legislation designed to curtail substantially the ability of federal agencies to regulate private property to protect the environment.

Declaring a right that the Supreme Court has yet to affirm, the bill says that any regulation that decreases the value of property by even a small amount is a "taking," and that the government must compensate the owner - just as it would compensate the owner of land taken to build a highway.

While the Senate legislation is a reaction mainly against regulations protecting endangered species and wetlands, its scope is considerably broader. Its compensation requirements apply to property regulated under federal laws governing the environment, health and safety and civil rights.

The bill was quickly condemned by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Echoing the views of many environmental groups, Babbitt called it a radical proposal that "will effectively eliminate 25 years of environmental progress made through the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other landmark environmental laws."

"This bill covers everything," said Joseph Sax, counselor to Babbitt. "Regulations governing air pollution, water pollution, pesticides, toxic substances." Sax contends that virtually any federal law, from civil rights legislation to laws mandating special facilities for disabled people, could trigger the compensation requirement if it negatively affects property values.

Prosecution Finishes Case Versus Duran in White House Shooting

The Washington Post

Prosecutors ended their case Thursday against Francisco Martin Duran, the Colorado man accused of attempting to assassinate President Clinton in October when he opened fire on the White House.

Prosecutors Eric A. Dubelier and Brenda Johnson attempted to show that Duran had planned his trip to Washington, buying an assault rifle before he left Colorado and telling friends he wanted to "take out" the president.

Duran's attorneys, public defenders A.J. Kramer and Leigh A. Kenny, told U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey that they will call several witnesses Friday but probably will not call mental-health specialists to testify about Duran's state of mind at the time of the shooting.

Although they have notifed the court they might use an insanity defense and have told the jury Duran suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, Kramer and Kenny do not have to reveal their strategy to prosecutors until virtually the last minute.

In addition to the charge of trying to kill Clinton, Duran, 26, faces nine felony counts involving assault and firearms offenses stemming from the Oct. 29 incident.

Mexico Rejects Salt-Mining Project to Protect Whales

Los Angeles Times

Mexican authorities rejected a $120 million salt-mining project that environmentalists say would endanger the California gray whale, but a company official insisted Thursday that the decision will be contested.

The rejection from the National Ecology Institute - Mexico's equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - has pitted ecological authorities against trade officials in a test of Mexico's commitment to the environment in the face of the current economic crisis.

The project would double operations for the salt exporter that shares the whales' winter home in a Baja California nature reserve, expanding the mining operation to the shore of San Ignacio Lagoon. The lagoon is the most pristine of the four main bays where the whales breed and give birth before swimming back to their summer home in Alaska.

The recovery of the California gray whale population is considered one of the major conservation triumphs of this century, and less than a year ago the gray whale was removed from the endangered species list.

The mining project's effect on the whales has not been determined, but marine biologists warn that it could be devastating.