Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on Iran agreement merits skepticism:
Americans have grown accustomed to regarding Iran as an intransigent foe, one that seemed intent on developing nuclear weapons, a quest that infuriated the nearby Israelis and Saudi Arabians and defied Western nations demanding it cease its dangerous ambitions.
Well, late Saturday night the Iranians finally told the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China that it would suspend its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a temporary relaxation of the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.
But this hardly means the Iranians are our friends, and congressional leaders have good cause to be skeptical of the agreement, which by no means eliminates Iran's ability to become a nuclear power.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, the deal calls for Tehran to limit nuclear efforts in exchange for loosening of Western sanctions worth more than $6 billion to Iran, though many sanctions will remain in place until a broader agreement is reached.
Although Iranian leaders consistently denied they were seeking to develop nuclear weaponry, their agreement Saturday to stop doing so would appear to be a tacit concession that the United States and its allies were right all along.
Two of America's strongest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, were dismayed by the agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Saturday's agreement as "an historic mistake."
Because Israel especially enjoys so much support from both parties on Capitol Hill, President Obama can expect to be sharply criticized for his role in reaching this agreement with Iran.
The "interim" agreement looks to have gaping holes, allowing Iran to continue low-level uranium enrichment that Israeli authorities believe could be used to mask secret efforts to develop weapons-grade fuel.
Americans have no reason to believe Iran, which until recently has demonstrated only contempt for the "Great Satan," will be more diligent about its promises.
The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on Syria's spreading carnage:
There is a grisly background to the Nov. 12 car bombings of Iran's embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. That blasts killed 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat, and were aptly denounced as "despicable" by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Iran introduced that indiscriminate weapon, the car bomb, into Lebanon 30 years ago. Apparently in Beirut, what goes around eventually comes around.
Iran's new defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, was the man in charge of the Iranian-backed car and truck bombings in Beirut of the U.S. Embassy in April 1983 and U.S. Marine and French army barracks in October, 1983, killing 375, including 271 Americans.
Gen. Dehghan played a major role in building Iran's stronghold in Lebanon, the Hezbollah militia.
In 2005, Syria, Iran's key ally in the area, helped solidify that dominance when it arranged for Hezbollah to set off the massive car bomb in Beirut that killed the anti-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Harriri.
As former Sen. Joseph Lieberman wrote in a Washington Post guest op-ed Thursday, Iran has long pursued the goal of dominating the Middle East through such terrorist tactics.
So the assault on the Iranian embassy in Beirut could be considered a grim form of poetic justice.
But it was also a dangerous sign that Syria's civil war is spreading beyond Syria's borders. While Iran blamed Israel for the bombing, it was in fact carried out by an al-Qaida affiliated group in Lebanon, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. That band of killers will continue such attacks until Iran pulls its forces out of Syria where they are helping the government defeat the rebels.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the former Soviet state can go east or west:
Ukraine, on the political and geographic fault line between the European Union and the Russian Federation, is tearing itself apart, including with riots in Kiev, over a difficult decision on its future.
The matter has economic, ethnic and personal political elements. The question is whether Ukraine applies for associate membership at the EU's Eastern Partnership Summit later this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, probably joining Georgia and Moldova in seeking that status. Russia opposes its former partner's seeking the new marriage and has proffered a combination of economic and political promises and threats to try to get Ukraine and the other two not to jump ship.
One Russian lever is the three countries' dependence on it for natural gas for winter heating. Ukraine always has trouble with the bills, so a deal would be especially attractive.
A second problem for Ukraine is that its population is split into Ukrainian and Russian speakers, roughly 68 percent to 30 percent. That division tends to carry over to the ballot box and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich won the most recent elections with substantial Russian-speaker support, a fact he is not likely to forget.
There is also a personal political aspect to this. EU countries have taken up the cause of Yanukovich's rival, former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, whom he has jailed. She is apparently not well and has added to the sympathy for her by going on a hunger strike. The EU wants Yanukovich to let her go, to seek medical treatment in Germany. He doesn't really want her to die in prison, but sees the EU position as interference in Ukraine's internal affairs.
Despite the intrigue, the United States must stay out of this battle. At the same time, it would be hard to argue that the economic future of Ukraine would be better yoked to Russia than as a future member of the EU. For the Ukrainians, it's a tough call.
Los Angeles Times on Hobby Lobby:
The Supreme Court can't do much about most of the travails afflicting implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But it can put one controversy to rest by rejecting the dangerous claim that profit-making businesses have a "religious" right to defy a federal mandate that they include contraceptive coverage in their employees' health insurance plans.
On Tuesday, the justices agreed to review two appeals court decisions that came to opposite conclusions on that question. In one of the cases, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a chain of crafts stores with 13,000 full-time employees that operates on "biblical principles," argued that the mandate would require that its employees' insurance plans include drugs that functioned as abortifacients. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the argument that forcing the company to comply with the mandate would violate the owners' rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
That 1993 law says that a "person" can seek to opt out of a law under some circumstances if obeying it would "substantially burden" the exercise of his or her religion. The 10th Circuit, citing the Citizens United decision holding that corporations have a 1st Amendment right to communicate about political campaigns, concluded that Hobby Lobby likewise had a right to religious freedom. But while there was long-standing precedent that some corporations have free-speech rights, the notion that profit-making businesses engage in the exercise of religion is a novel — and nonsensical — one.
That was emphasized in the second of the two decisions the justices will review.
Even if the corporations were "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — an idea that would surprise many who voted for it — the law refers to a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion. There is no such burden here. No employer is being forced to use contraceptives; that decision will be made by the employee. The logical extrapolation from Hobby Lobby's position is that a business could refuse to pay the minimum wage because a worker might spend some of her paycheck on birth control or other "immoral" activities.
A ruling for Hobby Lobby, grounded in either the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the 1st Amendment, would do more than throw a legal wrench into the implementation of Obamacare. It would potentially blow a hole through all sorts of laws that require businesses to treat their employees fairly even if doing so might offend an employer's religious views. The court should reject such a radical reinterpretation.
New York Times on a glimmer of sense on Guantánamo:
The Senate, in a little-noticed but positive move, voted last Tuesday to give President Obama new leeway to move toward closing the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
In recent months, Obama has renewed his promise to shut the facility, appointing envoys to find places for prisoners who have already been approved for transfer to other countries and those who may be approved later.
An amendment to the military authorization bill offered by Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, would have extended the transfer restrictions that required the defense secretary to go through a cumbersome process to proceed with transfers to foreign countries, barred transfers to Yemen and extended the ban on transfers to the United States. Her measure got just 43 votes.
There are now 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, including 84 who, in 2010, were cleared for transfer to their home country or another willing country. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has put the cost of operating the prison at about $454 million a year or $2.7 million per detainee. More fundamentally, Guantánamo has stained America's commitment to human rights and continues to serve as a potent recruiting tool for America's enemies.
The vote left standing provisions in the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would ease current transfer rules by replacing the onerous certification process and ending the ban on transfers to the United States either for medical treatment or for detention and trial in federal courts instead of the failed military commission system. These changes would not sacrifice national security or public safety.
Even if the Senate approves the defense measure when Congress returns in December, it will be a struggle to preserve the Guantánamo provisions in negotiations on a final bill with the Republican-led House. For now, it is important to applaud the Senate's good sense.
Toronto Star on former players may change violent culture of the NHL:
The glory days are gone. What's left, for some National Hockey League players, is a life marred by the cumulative impact of brain injuries suffered during years spent in a brutal sport.
As news emerged of a blockbuster $5.2-billion deal between the NHL and Rogers Communications Inc. (allowing the CBC and tough-guy booster Don Cherry to keep their Saturday night gig for at least the next four years) another hockey story, without the razzle-dazzle but possibly just as significant, was hovering in the wings.
The Star's Gemma Karstens-Smith reports that 10 former NHL players, including ex-Maple Leafs Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman, have launched a lawsuit claiming that the league failed to properly protect players from concussions. The players say they all now suffer from some combination of depression, memory loss and sleep disorders as a direct result of repeated head injuries during games.
The lawsuit claims the league had earlier knowledge of scientific evidence showing that repeated head injuries risk illness and disabilities. The suit says the NHL did not provide real protections until 2010 when it finally introduced its Rule 48, banning intentional hits to the head.
Launched just months after the National Football League agreed to a $765-million settlement with thousands of former players suffering from dementia and other conditions, the NHL lawsuit is the latest move by athletes who refuse to accept that debilitating injury is the price to be paid for an athletic career.
They face a long legal battle, and none of their allegations have been tested in court.
For far too long the NHL's culture forced players to ignore head injuries in order to make a quick return to the game. Exposure to the ailments faced by former hockey pros is long overdue. Even though the damage can't be reversed, the increased focus on the league's violent culture should provide a cautionary tale for young players. Not to mention fans, since young players love to mimic their NHL heroes.
Let those youngsters and their parents hear the statements from veterans who suffer from neurological disorders or even dementia. The details of their struggles should provide serious pause for all.
This lawsuit could turn out to be a turning point in attitudes toward violence in hockey, one of the perpetual debates in Canadian life.
If it's true that the NHL purposefully concealed the severe risks of brain injuries, as the players claim in their lawsuit, then it's high time the details of their suffering were made known. Hockey fans should know the price that was paid for a few hours of entertainment.
China Daily on Japan and US overreacting to China's defense zone:
While Tokyo continues to play the thief crying "stop the thief", Washington is again barking up the wrong tree over China's announcement of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.
The Japanese and US hysteria is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, because it is based on a serious misreading, if not intentional distortion, of Chinese strategic purposes.
Dozens of countries, including Japan and the United States, have their own ADIZs. And the US, as the inventor of such zones, should be well aware of their defensive nature.
If the world's sole superpower, with an unrivalled military, needs multiple ADIZs to fend off perceived threats, why should China not need any? This country's territorial integrity is under constant threat, and its military is generations behind the saber-rattling might of those who see it as a potential rival.
Our Defense Ministry made it clear that the zone does not target any specific country. And no country except Japan and the U.S. have voiced concerns. This is because other countries know it is designed to only ferret out hostile intruders. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's accusation that the Chinese ADIZ "could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace" is redundant. The Chinese Defense Ministry has promised it would "not affect the freedom of over-flight in the related airspace". Several Asian airlines contacted by Reuters said their flights would not be impacted, it says.
As was obvious in Saturday's patrol in the ADIZ, the Chinese military has no intention to go beyond what are "international common practices".
The Japanese and U.S. complaints that the ADIZ is a "unilateral" move that changes "the status quo" are inherently false. The US did not consult others when it set up and redrew its ADIZs. Japan never got the nod from China when it expanded its ADIZ, which overlaps Chinese territories and exclusive economic zone. Under what obligation is China supposed to seek Japanese and US consent in a matter of self-defense?
As to changing the status quo, Tokyo and Washington should make clear which status quo they are referring to. The pre-"nationalization" status quo is gone because of Japan's unilateral provocation.
As the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated on Oct 31, 2012, a new status quo has been created as a result of Japan's action.
So, instead of calling on Beijing to "exercise caution and restraint", US Secretary of State John Kerry should try to rein in Abe and his colleagues. The "more collaborative and less confrontational future in the Pacific" he envisages rests more on Japan being sensible and peaceful.