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Politics Today: Obama To Meet With S. Korea Leader

Politics Today is's inside look at the key stories driving the day in Politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

**President Obama meets with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak to talk about North Korea...

**Iran latest...

**Obama Administration set to unveil new regulations for the financial industry...

**A Senate Republican's report suggests waste in economic stimulus plan...

**Letterman apologizes to Sarah Palin...

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: The president meets with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak at 10:30am and, reports Bloomberg News Heejin Koo, "his most urgent task will be to ensure a war of words with North Korea doesn't break out into a firefight."

"Lee, 67, will meet with Obama at the White House less than a week after the United Nations Security Council said it will inspect suspect North Korean air and sea cargo as part of fresh sanctions. Kim Jong Il's regime responded with a threat of war on any country that attempts to enforce the measures, which are meant to punish the communist nation for a May 25 nuclear test. 'The meeting comes at a critical time as we work with the international community, our allies and partners to address the concerns over North Korea's recent provocations,' said Mike Hammer, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.

"The presidents probably will express their refusal to accept the North as a nuclear weapons state and condemn recent missile and nuclear tests," adds the Wall Street Journal.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
"Before leaving Seoul, Mr. Lee said he supported Mr. Obama's appeal for a world without nuclear weapons. However, he told The Wall Street Journal, 'we are faced with North Korea trying to become a nuclear power, and this really is a question we must deal with now.' The U.S., during Mr. Lee's visit, is likely to pledge its continued commitment to use its military muscle to protect the South should the North attack. Such comments are welcome in Seoul and Tokyo, no matter how many times U.S. officials repeat them."

Meantime, reports the New York Times' David E. Sanger, "The Obama administration will order the Navy to hail and request permission to inspect North Korean ships at sea suspected of carrying arms or nuclear technology, but will not board them by force, senior administration officials said Monday.

"The new effort to intercept North Korean ships, and track them to their next port, where Washington will press for the inspections they refused at sea, is part of what the officials described as 'vigorous enforcement' of the United Nations Security Council resolution approved Friday. The planned American action stops just short of the forced inspections that North Korea has said that it would regard as an act of war.

"Still, the administration's plans, if fully executed, would amount to the most confrontational approach taken by the United States in dealing with North Korea in years, and carries a risk of escalating tensions at a time when North Korea has been carrying out missile and nuclear tests."

IRANIAN ELECTIONS: "There are many signs of manipulation or outright fraud in Iran's disputed election results, according to pollsters and election experts, but the case for a rigged outcome is far from ironclad, making it difficult for the United States and other Western powers to denounce the results as unacceptable. Indeed, there is also evidence that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president deeply disliked in the West for his promotion of Iran's nuclear program and his anti-Israeli rhetoric, simply won a commanding victory," report the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Jon Cohen.

5088433"Some analysts have suggested that the attention given the protests and anger in Tehran -- where Western media outlets are concentrated -- gives a misleading picture of the Iranian electorate. The official results show that the leading challenger, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, was competitive in Tehran, losing by 52 percent to 46 percent, while trailing badly outside the capital.

"President Barack Obama says the world is inspired by the outpouring of Iranian political dissent, but Sen. John McCain said Obama isn't speaking out strongly enough," reports the Associated Press' Anne Gearan.

"'He should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights,' the Arizona Republican said Tuesday on a network news show. ...

"Obama's remarks marked the most extensive U.S. response to Friday's voting, and appeared calculated to acknowledge the outpouring of dissent in Iran without claiming any credit. 'It would be wrong for me to be silent on what we've seen on the television the last few days,' Obama told reporters at the White House. He added, however, that 'sometimes, the United States can be a handy political football.'

Meanwhile, the New York Times' Nazila Fahti and Michael Slackman report, "Less than 24 hours after the largest demonstrations here since the 1979 revolution and the reported deaths of seven protesters, Iran's Guardian Council said Tuesday it was prepared to order a recount of disputed ballots in Friday's deeply divisive elections, but ruled out an annulment of the vote, according to state television and news reports.

"The announcement seemed to represent a further reluctant concession from the authorities following Monday's decision by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to conduct a formal review of the electoral process, which the opposition says was rigged. But it fell short of demands by the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, and other opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the vote to be annulled so that a new election can be held.

NY Times' Mark Landler, "Administration Plans to Move Top Iran Expert to White House"

NEW FINANCIAL INDUSTRY REGULATIONS: "The Obama administration this week will propose the most significant new regulation of the financial industry since the Great Depression, including a new watchdog agency to look out for consumers' interests," writes the Los Angeles Times' Jim Puzzanghera.

"Under the plan, expected to be released Wednesday, the government would have new powers to seize key companies -- such as insurance giant American International Group Inc. -- whose failure jeopardizes the financial system. Currently, the government's authority to seize companies is mostly limited to banks.

"But critics say the easing of the financial crisis that gripped the country last year appears to have reduced the momentum for some of the most far-reaching proposals, such as merging several banking regulatory agencies. They're also concerned that the proposed agency whose mission would be to protect consumers against financial misconduct wouldn't have the authority to do so for a wide-enough range of products."

"The Obama administration's revamp of U.S. banking and market regulations may be stalled into next year as Congress and the president set health-care reform and climate control as domestic priorities," reports Bloomberg News' Alison Vekshin.

"The ability of banks to repay U.S. aid and raise capital without government help may signal the economy is rebounding, easing pressure for sweeping change in financial rules. A delay this year may push the political debate into the 2010 congressional election campaign."

STIMULUS WASTE?: "A report due to be released today by a Republican senator contends the Obama administration's stimulus program is fraught with waste and incompetence -- evidenced by a turtle crossing in northern Florida that will cost more than $3 million and a snafu in which thousands of Social Security checks went out to people who had died," reports the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas.

"Modeled after a release from the White House describing 100 stimulus projects that were in the works, the report put out by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma looks at the same number of projects but reaches starkly different conclusions."

The Associated Press' Larry Margasak lists some projects Sen. Coburn criticized:

"-A Bureau of Land Management project to study the impact wind farms have on the sage grouse population in Oregon. The proposal calls for hiring people to tag sage grouse in areas where wind farms may be built, to help determine where turbines could be located.

-$1.5 million in stimulus money for a $5 million new wastewater treatment plant in Perkins, Okla., his home state. Coburn said the stimulus money came with strings that will increase the costs. With a new total cost of $7.2 million, the city will be forced to borrow money and, as a result, utility taxes have increased by 60 percent this year, the senator said.

-Grants and loans totaling $1.3 million to Solon Township in Leelanau County, Mich., to help pay for construction of a wastewater treatment plant. Local opposition killed the project. The money will now be used for a future treatment plant, for which there is no plan and questionable local support."

LETTERMAN v. PALIN: On Monday night's "Late Show", David Letterman offered up a thorough mea culpa and apology for his controversial gag in which he joked that New York Yankees' slugger Alex Rodriguez "knocked up" Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter.

Letterman tried to explain, again, that the joke was about 18-year-old Bristol Palin, not 14-year-old Willow Palin, who Gov. Palin believed it was about.

"[T]here was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There's no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can't be defended," said Letterman.

"The next day, people are outraged. They're angry at me because they said, 'How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?' And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani...And I really should have made the joke about Rudy...

"But I didn't, and now people are getting angry and they're saying, 'Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who's completely innocent, minding her own business,' and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she's now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I'm wondering, 'Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?' I've never made jokes like this as long as we've been on the air, 30 long years, and you can't really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself.

"And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer 'Newshour' - this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, now I'm beginning to understand what the problem is here. It's the perception rather than the intent.' It doesn't make any difference what my intent was, it's the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it's not a very good joke. ...

"Well, my responsibility - I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault. That it was misunderstood."

"So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the Governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future."

In a statement on Tuesday, Palin said she accepted Letterman's apology "on behalf of all young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve."

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