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NATIONAL BRIEFS


WASHINGTON: Gates explains stance on Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted Sunday that the United States is prepared to take a range of actions against the Iranian nuclear program and told friends and foes not to fall for any perception Iran can catch Washington off guard. He said a memo he wrote in January identified steps to be taken in defense planning after the Obama administration decided to increase pressure against Iran's nuclear ambitions. It was not, he insisted, a "wake-up call" that set off a scramble by an unprepared government, as was suggested by sources who disclosed the memo's existence to The New York Times. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech yesterday at Columbia University that Iran "has been a great focus for years, not months" and "the military option has been on the table and remains on the table." In Tehran, meanwhile, an Iranian-hosted disarmament conference concluded yesterday with a demand that Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to assure a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. The two-day conference followed closely behind a 47-nation conference hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington last week, which excluded Iran and nuclear-armed North Korea. Iran said its forum was attended by representatives of 60 countries.


A Second Amendment rally

Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to "muster outside D.C." on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to be the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held in sight of the Capitol. Almond, 31, plans to have his pistol loaded, his unloaded rifle slung to the rear, a bandolier of ammunition over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta-area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health care, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress' capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights. So-called open-carry rallies have been sprouting across the country. Hundreds gathered in New Mexico, Ohio and Michigan last week, and a rally is taking place Monday in Arizona.


FLORIDA: Discovery facing a rain delay

NASA warned space shuttle Discovery's astronauts Sunday to expect rain delays as they wrapped up their two-week mission. Discovery and its crew of seven were scheduled to land Monday morning at Cape Canaveral. Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter said he enjoys spending extra time in orbit and doesn't mind if they can't make it back until Tuesday. The backup landing site in Southern California is also possible Tuesday.

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