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Ex-Mossad chief calls Ahmadinejad 'Israel's greatest gift'

Great quote from Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency:

Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift," Halevy told the Arab language television network Al-Hurra on Tuesday. "We couldn't carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran."

Underscoring the point, the Iranian president wrote on his Web site Wednesday that Israel is a "germ of corruption" to be removed soon.

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Morning Brief: U.S. and Iraq nearing troop agreement

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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq Thursday to consult with PM Nuri al-Maliki on allowing U.S. troops to stay beyond 2008. Rice downplayed expectations that she would close the deal today, but acknowledged that "negotiators have taken this very, very far toward an end agreement."

The draft text requires U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by summer 2009, according to the BBC. It would set a "goal date" of 2011 for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq, Iraqi officials say. The most contentious issue is reportedly whether U.S. troops will remain immune from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

But Iraq's security is not yet "self-sustaining," a visibly fatigued Gen. David Petraeus told Dexter Filkins of the New York Times. Underscoring his remarks, McClatchy reports that the Iraqi government is considering giving Sunni militias affiliated with the United States until Nov. 1 to lay down their weapons.

The Iraqi government, moreover, has spent just 18 percent of its reconstruction budget.

Decision '08

David Leonhardt analyzes Obama's economic philosophy at length for the New York Times Magazine.

Obama advisors Richard Clarke and Susan Rice slammed "quick-draw McCain" for what the latter termed his "tendency to shoot first and ask questions later."

"Independent Democrat" Joseph Lieberman will speak at the Republican convention.

Global Economy

Just a handful of speculators appear to rule the oil markets. According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 81 percent of the oil contracts on the New York Mercantile exchange are held by speculators.

Food prices are likely to stay high even as gas prices fall. Goldman Sachs, however, predicts that crude oil will reach $149 by year's end.

A lack of clarity about the government's intentions may be spooking potential investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. World markets continue to fall on fears about the U.S. banking sector.

Americas

Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones has died of an aneurysm. She was 58.

Asia

Suicide bombers attacked a defense industry complex 20 miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan, killing at least 40 people. Three Polish troops died in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.

Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is seen as the frontrunner to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan.

Martin Fackler profiles Kaesong, the North Korean industrial complex that South Korea sees as a "capitalist foothold" in its Stalinist neighbor.

Middle East and Africa

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a "germ of corruption."

Pirates off the Somali coast seized a Japanese and an Iranian ship.

Europe

An angry Russia warns Poland: Our reponse to your missile-shield deal will go beyond diplomatic measures. Rice: Russia's threats "border on the bizarre." Russia's bluster is liable to reinforce Poles' growing wariness of their eastern neighbor.

Russia offered its own U.N. Security Council resolution on Georgia, and made clear that it intends to occupy a "buffer zone" around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, NATO be damned. But Russian forces are also digging in at the southern port of Poti, miles from either of the two breakaway regions.

Abkhazia has asked Russia to recognize its independence.

A tragic plane crash in Madrid has left more than 150 people dead.

Today's Agenda

British PM Gordon Brown is visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The United Nations holds climate-change talks in Accra, Ghana.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group considers whether to lift export restrictions on Indian nuclear technology.