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Inquiry planned into US-Canada pipeline permit process

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s inspector general will conduct a special investigation of the handling of the pending decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in response to reports of improper pressure on policy makers and possible conflicts of interest, according to documents released Monday.

Harold W. Geisel, the senior official in the inspector general’s office, told top agency officials in a memorandum dated Friday that he would open the review “to determine to what extent the department and all other parties involved complied with federal laws and regulations” relating to the pipeline permit process.

The internal investigation could delay the Obama administration’s decision on whether to approve the $7 billion project, which would carry oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to refineries in Oklahoma and along the Gulf Coast. The State Department had set a deadline of year’s end to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but officials suggested last week that the schedule could slip.

Objections by states along the pipeline right of way — particularly Nebraska, which is asking for a review of the proposed route — could also delay the decision for months.

—John M. Broder, The New York Times

Senate acts on two pieces of Obama’s jobs plan

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday cleared the way for a measure that would repeal a tax withholding program on government contractors and provide tax incentives for companies that hire veterans, making them the first pieces of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan to gain some momentum in Congress.

The Senate voted 94-1 to take up the bill to end a new tax withholding program on government contractors after the House easily passed the measure last month. Democrats also intend to make the Senate bill the vehicle for a package of tax breaks to spur the hiring of veterans after Obama promoted that effort Monday with the approach of Veterans Day.

These modest provisions are the only ones so far in Obama’s sweeping proposal to promote hiring that have gained support in both parties. Republicans have denounced Obama’s plan as a second stimulus package and blocked it in the Senate.

Backers of eliminating the withholding provision, which was created under President George W. Bush’s administration but delayed until 2013, say it could encourage those who do business with the government to hire more workers since they would not have to withhold 3 percent of certain payments.

—Mark Landler and Jennifer Steinhauer, The New York Times

GOP candidates talk 
tough on Iran

As U.N. inspectors prepare to unveil a new report on Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons, some Republican presidential candidates have taken increasingly forceful tones on the issue, saying they would sanction or consider supporting an attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program by either Israel or the United States.

The party’s hawkishness was evident last week as five major Republican rivals campaigned in Iowa. In an interview at a factory outside Des Moines, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, asked whether he would back a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program, told CNN he would support Israeli efforts “up to and including military action.”

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, at a dinner of Republican activists in Des Moines, described Iran as an “enemy.” In an interview, he said he would “stand shoulder to shoulder” in support of Israel if it launched a pre-emptive attack and that he would also back direct U.S. military support if requested by Israel.

—Richard A. Oppel Jr., The New York Times