COMMENTS: Obama’s Agenda

Apart from the weather, there was little hard news. The White House correspondents at both ABC and NBC saw Barack Obama sign the final amendments to healthcare legislation. Both followed the President's lead--he held the ceremony at a community college in Virginia--and emphasized a sidebar issue, the revamping of the federal student loan program. NBC's Chuck Todd noted that government-backed loans had been administered by non-governmental lenders for 45 years. Eliminating the middleman represents "a victory over a favorite political target of Washington these days--the banks." ABC's Jake Tapper summarized the benefits in the new law both for debt-ridden students and pill-popping senior citizens.

Only NBC had a correspondent cover the other main business on the President's agenda, his diplomacy with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. Andrea Mitchell offered this thumbnail sketch: "Blunt, passionate, short in stature--like Napoleon--with a large ego and married to a beautiful recording star and former model." Mitchell could not resist the pun after Bruni and Sarkozy had lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl: Hot Cuisine.

The two presidents discussed imposing sanctions on Iran to persuade Teheran to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The last time Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy made a joint appearance concerning the Islamic Republic's nuclear technology was at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in September. Back then Obama announced that his spies had uncovered a secret uranium facility in the mountains near Qom. Claiming an Exclusive, ABC's Brian Ross now reveals how the CIA obtained its Qom scoop. The source was Shahram Amiri, an award-winning thirtysomething physicist, who went missing during a pilgrimage to Mecca. At the time, Teheran claimed he had been kidnapped; Ross now reports that it was an orchestrated defection.

As for the current state of Iranian nuclear research, Ross told us that the CIA still believes it is non-military: "Iran continues to leave the door open to developing nuclear weapons but has not yet made the decision to do so."


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