The Guardian
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Top Republican lawmaker slams Obama on Iran, Russia


A TOP United States (U.S.) Republican lawmaker has made a sweeping election-year attack on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, blasting a landmark nuclear cuts treaty with Russia and efforts to engage Iran.
The comment came as a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen accused of driving a bomb-laden SUV into Times Square and parking it on a street lined with restaurants and Broadway theatres was yesterday arraigned in court for trying to set off a massive fireball and kill Americans.

The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was taken into custody late Monday by FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives at Kennedy Airport while trying to board a flight to Dubai, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials. He was identified by customs agents and stopped before boarding, Holder said early yesterday in Washington.

With six months before November mid-term elections, Representative Eric Cantor according to Agence France Presse (AFP) yesterday urged U.S. voters to back Republicans at “a pivotal time for America to restore its credibility by pursuing peace through strength.”

“That’s why conservatives must win in 2010. And when we retake Congress we will stand with defense-minded Democrats to stop the hemorrhaging of America’s defenses,” said Cantor, the number two House of Representatives Republican.

Cantor delivered the broadside in remarks prepared for delivery to the conservative Heritage Foundation think thank in Washington.

The Virginia lawmaker vowed that “a Republican Congress will turn back harmful treaties like START,” which Obama signed in April and now faces a ratification test in the sharply divided U.S. Senate.

Cantor praised Obama for not seeking an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and for “behind the scenes” victories against Al-Qaeda, notably through strikes by unmanned drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But he sharply assailed Obama’s efforts to polish the U.S. image in the Muslim world, tarnished under predecessor George W. Bush by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amid a lack of progress in talks to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The lawmaker, the only Jewish Republican in the US Congress, said Obama should not “pick fights” with Israel – a reference to spats over new settlement construction in Jerusalem – and condemned outreach to Iran.

“What has engagement with Iran brought us?” he asked. “U.S. calls for dialogue with the regime only strengthened Tehran’s hand. It’s no wonder Iran blithely continues to export terrorism and oppress its people with impunity.”

Cantor, who said a similar approach with Syria had also failed, attacked Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo to reset Washington’s relationship with the Muslim world, saying: “What does America have to be sorry for?”

The lawmaker also assailed Obama’s handling of terrorism, citing growing complacency amid “warning signs” in the failed attacks against a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day and in Times Square over the weekend.

Cantor complained that the public “goes on heightened alert” after such incidents for “hours and days rather than permanently” and that Obama aides “tend to give these warnings due attention only in limited spurts.”

“As a result, America is at risk of slipping into the type of false sense of security which prevailed before that September morning,” he said, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Shahzad is a naturalised U.S. citizen and had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife.

FBI agents searched the home at a known address for Shahzad in Bridgeport, Conn., early yesterday, said agent Kimberly Mertz, who would not answer questions about the search.

Authorities removed filled plastic bags from the house overnight in a mixed-race, working-class neighborhood of multi-family homes in Connecticut’s largest city. A bomb squad came and went without entering as local police and FBI agents gathered in the cordoned-off street.

Law enforcement officials say Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago and paid cash. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The vehicle identification number had been removed from the Pathfinder’s dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner of record, who told them he had sold the vehicle to a stranger.

As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads, although Holder said U.S. authorities “will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice,” suggesting additional suspects are being sought.

The SUV was parked on Saturday night on a busy midtown Manhattan street near a theater showing “The Lion King.” The explosive device inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate gas cans and set propane tanks afire in a chain reaction “to cause mayhem, to create casualties,” police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

A metal rifle cabinet placed in the SUV’s cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.

Police said the SUV bomb could have produced “a significant fireball” and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.

A vendor alerted a police officer to the parked SUV, which was smoking. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours. A bomb squad dismantled the explosive device, and no one was hurt.

But Holder said Americans should remain vigilant.

“It’s clear,” he said, “that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans.”

In Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities had not been formally asked for help in the probe.

“When the request comes, we will cooperate with the U.S. government,” he said.

The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility in videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said, but police had no evidence to support the claims.

More than a dozen people with American citizenship or residency, like Shahzad, have been accused in the past two years of supporting or carrying out terrorism attempts on U.S. soil, cases that illustrate the threat of violent extremism from within the U.S.

Among them are Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a U.S.-born Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, charged with fatally shooting 13 people last year at Fort Hood, Texas; Najibullah Zazi, a Denver-area airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty in February in a plot to bomb New York subways; and a Pennsylvania woman who authorities say became radicalized online as “Jihad Jane” and plotted to kill a Swedish artist whose work offended Muslims.

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