Reporting for Duty: The Presidency of John Kerry and Beyond

Chapter XIV: January 2006.
Chapter Fourteen:
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Senator John McCain (R-AZ) touts immigration reform with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The President’s new year began on a positive note when the Senate voted 62-38 to confirm Robert Rubin as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board after a relatively smooth process in the Senate. Despite conservative opposition fueled by concerns over monetary policy, spending, and inflation, the Senate's confirmation of Rubin was a sign that the Washington establishment could stand strong in the face of populist opposition as well as an indication that bipartisanship in Washington was not entirely dead despite the cries coming from the pundit class. But while Washington was still largely united over critical federal appointments and other personnel decisions, matters of policy were more heated. The year’s beginning marked the beginning of the midterm campaign, with several candidates jumping into the Senate and Gubernatorial races after the holiday season concluded. The President, having passed a polarizing healthcare bill, sought to achieve one more substantial victory before November. The immigration battle seemed like low hanging fruit. Though the economy was slowing down, there was still a large need for seasonal labor, predominantly in the agricultural sector, which presented the President with the opportunity to streamline the immigration system. Since the Reagan era, there seemed to be a bipartisan consensus within the Washington establishment on the issue, but the President and his allies did not anticipate the pushback from the public at large. While the number of border detentions continued to rise at a slow but steady pace, there was increasing anxiety about the growing population of undocumented immigrants in America. The Tea Party movement provided an outlet for these sentiments, amplifying a clear and loud message in opposition to any kind of mass amnesty. Having been exhausted by the chaotic push for healthcare, the President was not looking for another prolonged fight, but rather, the elusive promise of an easy bipartisan solution. Choosing the immigration issue to score these points would quickly prove to be a mistake.

Though the Republican base was firmly opposed to amnesty, the party’s financial backers were supportive of a path to citizenship that could greatly expand the labor pool. The fight within the ranks of the Republican Party over immigration reform was one of the earliest examples of the growing chasm between the Republican voter and the Republican Party itself. While some, including former Congressman Jack Kemp, argued that the GOP would be doomed by demographics if action was not taken, others like Congressman Tom Tancredo warned that any amnesty bill would result in the significant erosion of American sovereignty. These factors created an inverse of the Democratic Party’s own discord over healthcare, which made a narrower immigration bill more desirable in the eyes of President Kerry. The proposed DREAM Act offered this way out. The bill granted citizenship to undocumented youth, who could apply for legal status after completing college or military service. It also creates the Deferred Action Program, which allows for the parents of these students or service members permanent residency status. Though the amnesty options were more limited than some liberal Democrats would care for, the opportunity to shore up their level of support among America’s fastest growing demographic was enough to secure their votes for the time being. Some moderate Republicans such as Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a potential challenger to President Kerry in 2008, voiced their support for the DREAM Act at great political risk.

Already having a hard enough time corralling his caucus, Speaker Hastert and the Republican leadership suddenly had another pressing reality to face when former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay announced he would resign from Congress after being indicted for money laundering and campaign finance violations. With Speaker Hastert set to stand down after the elections in November, there was an impending fracture waiting as several Republican members of Congress eyed the top job. Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt was the leading contender to take over the Speakership, though Congressmen John Boehner (R-OH) and David Dreier (R-CA) also flirted with the idea of taking the top job. Meanwhile, Eric Cantor (R-VA) began maneuvering to take over as Whip.

In Iraq, the surge that began in October was beginning to show results. Shia militias were more willing to disarm voluntarily after American forces spent most of the previous three months dismantling several Al Qaeda cells around Baghdad, while training of the Iraqi security forces continued to strengthen the Iraqi government's hold over the country. But talks with Prime Minister a-Jaafari were going nowhere, and the subtle American effort to undermine him politically had resulted in a second Iraqi general election in December. This election resulted in a new government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was more pliable to the whims of Washington and willing to work with Secretary of State Holbrooke and Secretary of Defense Nunn. With a Prime Minister more willing to cooperate with the Pentagon, the President at last had the flexibility to begin building the Arab coalition that would eventually fill the American role. This process was begun in early January, when the new Saudi King was hosted at the White House. Due to the complicated internal politics of his Kingdom, which adhered to one of the strictest interpretations of Sunni Islam in practice, the Saudi King was unwilling to deploy his own forces to Iraq, but agreed to help fund the proposed Arab Stabilization Force. Terrified of an Islamist uprising not dissimilar to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, King Abduallah promised to use his influence over the Gulf States to form an anti-Iranian bulwark, insisting only that the United States pull out of Iraq by the end of 2007 with the hopes that it would relieve the internal pressure on the Saudi elites from their own radical clerics.


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President Kerry and King Abdullah, pictured in 2005.
Israel, like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, also saw a change in leadership. Under investigation for corruption, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon collapsed and died following a massive stroke. Ehud Olmert took over as interim Prime Minister, leading a government that had been thrown into turmoil. Though President Kerry had for the better part of a year entertained an ambition to bring together the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, the death of Sharon was a serious setback. Worsening matters was the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections, resulting in the Islamist party taking control of the Gaza Strip. This was the cause of great concern for the government of Prime Minister Olmert, putting any planned talks on the backburner indefinitely. Kerry would lose the opportunity to be peacemaker, but he did gain the chance to host one. The end of January saw Pope Benedict XVI travel to Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, for a weeklong visit to the United States. For President Kerry, a Roman Catholic himself, the visit was an empowering spiritual experience which he’d go on to describe in his post-presidential memoir Reporting for Duty as being spiritually revitalizing.

Sorry for the delay! I've had a lot going on work wise, and what little time I've had has been devoted to another project as of late. This is continuing though, and I promise to update this as regularly as I can. It is written up through 2012, so I should be able to maintain a pretty steady update pace like before.
 
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Well, hope your computer gets fixed soon!
Thanks! The good news is that I actually wrote this in Google Docs, so it is written up through 2010 (I think) and still accessible. The bad news is that I converted it to a word document afterwards, which means everything I had written from 2010-2012 (I was up to election night 2012) *might* be lost. That isn't the end of the timeline though, because I wasn't super confident about what I had in store for the 2012 Democratic and Republican primaries. A rewrite would probably improve the quality of the timeline when we get to that stage.

I've been continuously writing this and rewriting it for over ten years, actually. It started as a date by date timeline, then a narrative format, and finally this. I'm hoping to one day beef this up with infoboxes similar to what True Grit did with Ormania.
 
Chapter XV: February 2006.
Thank God, I was able to recover my files from my old laptop. This will continue.

Chapter Fifteen:
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Former Vice President Cheney on NBC's popular morning show.
February would prove to be quite the month for former Vice President Cheney, who appears on NBC’s Today Show on the morning of Wednesday, February 1st, for a wide ranging interview intending to publicize his memoirs. Cheney turned heads by unequivocally ruling himself out as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, stating bluntly "not only no, but hell no." But the former Vice President's book tour was continuously interrupted by hecklers as the ongoing Scooter Libby controversy lingered over him, and there was frequent chatter in the media about Cheney's potential precarious position. Libby, Cheney's former Chief of Staff, would go on to be convicted a year later on charges relating to the leaking of classified information to the media. Claiming that he had done so on the orders of Vice President Cheney, Libby was trying to use this information to manipulate the media into supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of a wider public relations campaign being waged by the Bush White House in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the War on Terror. Cheney tried to escape the growing legal woes of his former staff by joining a GOP donor on a hunting trip on the estate of former Ambassador Anne Armstrong a few weeks later, but this also ended in disaster after the former Vice President shot and injured his hunting partner, who was rushed via helicopter to the nearest hospital in critical condition.

In Iraq, the war’s fury turned its focus from the American forces towards the civilian population instead. Pushed on the defensive since the start of the surge, Sunni jihadists launched a series of attacks against softer targets with catastrophic results. The historic Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, Iraq, was destroyed by a suicide bomber in one of the most shocking events of the war, for example. In fact, the blast at the mosque was so powerful that it's dome collapsed down upon the worshipers below, killing over a hundred people. A week of intense sectarian violence followed, with 25 American soldiers being killed in various attacks across Iraq. The attack inflamed supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, and it did not help that the fiery invective exhortations of the Iranian Supreme Leader were whipping the Shia population of Iraq into a frenzy. Worse yet was the fact that the Revolutionary Guard under the command of Qasem Soleimani began training militant groups and constructing IEDs to be used against American targets and convoys as part of a more direct and concerted effort to destabilize the government of Iraq and drive the American and Coalition forces out of the region for good.

One issue that arose in February was the Equal Pay debate; the long desired push by women to end the wage gap by prohibiting gender based payroll discrimination had by 2006 become somewhat of a bipartisan issue that enjoyed support even among some conservatives. The bill was introduced by Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Connie Morella (R-MD), quickly gaining bipartisan support as Committee hearings over pay discrepancies in workplaces were scheduled and conducted. While women's groups were delighted by the easy progress of their push to enforce equal pay for equal work and the support coming from all corners of Congress, civil liberties groups were saddened by the partisan gridlock over the impending renewal of the PATRIOT Act. While prominent liberals such as Senators Boxer (D-CA), Feingold (D-WI), and Wyden (D-OR) all spoke out passionately against the act, which authorized extensive government surveillance efforts in the name of counterterrorism efforts. But they had trouble attracting any Republican support at all, particularly in the Senate, where not a single one of their Republican colleagues voiced opposition to the PATRIOT Act's extension. In the House of Representatives, there was some marginal pushback against the reigning neoconservative ideology that defined the politics of the Republican Party, coming from the likes of libertarians like Ron Paul (R-TX) and moderate northeastern Republicans like Wayne Gilchrist (R-MD) among others. Other conservative columnist and commentators, such as Patrick Buchanan and Tucker Carlson, echoed this opposition, but they were drowned out by the reliably pro-war, patriotically charged hawks such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, both whom were practically drunk on post 9/11 jingoism.
Using parliamentary tactics and proposing amendments that would water the bill down, the increasingly marginalized opposition to the PATRIOT Act were able to stall the passage of the extension for the time being, but wavering Democrats were likely to ensure its eventual passage.
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Congressman Mark Foley, a rising star in Florida politics.
As the November midterms loomed, political jockeying and campaign activity increased. In Florida, Attorney General Charlie Crist - a candidate to succeed term limited incumbent Jeb Bush - announced a lawsuit against the federal government, protesting that the individual mandate imposed by the healthcare bill was unconstitutional. A number of other Republican Governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas, would soon follow in his footsteps. Florida’s Senate race was also heating up, with Congressman Mark Foley and Congressman Adam Putnam competing for the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Bill Nelson. Up in New York, George Pataki was set to win a fourth term against a weak field of challengers. Westward in Michigan, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard was leading Senator Debbie Stabenow, while down in Virginia, the Democrats divided between the more liberal leaning Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine, progressive minded businessman Harris Miller, and populist former Navy Secretary Jim Webb. Once believed to be endangered incumbents, controversial Senators like George Allen (R-VA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were still in contention, though both races remained reasonably close even as the political headwinds seemed to favor the Republican Party.
 
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Chapter XVI: March 2006.
Chapter Sixteen:
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Congressman Ron Paul - the leading GOP critic of the Iraq War.
By spring, the ideological evolution of the Republican Party in the Kerry era had become increasingly clear; moving beyond neoconservatism, which was effectively discredited after the reelection defeat of President Bush, the Tea Party movement was pulling the needle to the right. The increasingly conservative base of the Republican Party was, by and large, still supportive of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though a greater number of middle American voters had begun to question further proposed foreign adventurism. At home, the “America First” rhetoric of Pat Buchanan from the 1990s was dusted off and brought into political syndication. Another growing faction of the GOP was the libertarian/free market wing. Some from this small but expanding sliver of the Republican base, like Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, tacked to a socially conservative brand of constitutionalism while others like former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld espoused a more mainstream brand of small government politics. Equally skeptical of the neoconservative foreign policy agenda, though less open to the isolationist agenda of the libertarian purists or the America Firsters within the party, the growing “classical liberal” wing of the party championed a more socially liberal and fiscally conservative course. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina were notable faces of this faction’s anti-regulation agenda.

With the Republican Party still searching for it's ideological soul following the repudiation of neoconservatism, the few political figures who could bridge these various regional and philosophical divides saw their stature rise within the ranks of the Grand Old Party. But without a Republican President in the Oval Office, and with a relatively unpopular, polarizing, or otherwise boring congressional leadership, the Republican Party lacked an ideological leader who could unite its factions under a common purpose. There was even debate over who exactly defined what is and what wasn’t conservative, with previously respected thought leaders among the conservative intelligentsia being shelved in favor of fresher voices. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly soon found themselves with record viewers, while respected commentators including former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich found a second wind. It was during this period that the “Conservative Inc '' brand of political grifters first began to flourish, hawking all variety of books and political causes. Prototype campaigns had existed before (the Swiftboat controversy pushed by Jerome Corsi for example), but the growing access to the internet and technological advances created a wild west atmosphere on the right for the duration of the Kerry presidency.

The new anti-war strain in the Republican Party began to become more vocal, making issues like taxation and budgetary concerns more appealing to middle of the road candidates attempting to appeal to the conservative base. But among independent voters, the wars overseas were more unpopular than ever. Led by the likes of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a "kook coalition" (as Senator McCain labeled them) in opposition to the continuation of the conflict in Iraq. Joined by Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Dennis Kuinich (D-OH), and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), Paul had authored and introduced a bill which would have required President Kerry to withdraw all American forces from Iraq within 90 days. While the bill was overwhelmingly defeated, some surprise votes in favor of the resolution would come from Congressmen Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Steve King (R-IA) as well as Louie Gohmert (R-TX). The increasing casualties inflicted in Iraq had begun to blunt the initial perception that the war would be quick and easy; with no clear end yet in sight, many once avidly pro-war right wingers across the country began to turn against the conflict, citing a lack of direction or purpose.

The DREAM Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehetin (R-FL) and Congressman Luis Guttierez (D-IL), largely implementing most of the proposals raised by President Kerry. The argument over the DREAM Act was not as polarizing as the healthcare battle, due to its limited scope. Though Congressman Tom Tancredo led the charge against it, the provisions of DACA program were well defined enough for the liking of Speaker Hastert. After a month of debate, attempted amendments, and other minor procedural fights, the bill was passed through the House of Representatives 268-167, with broad support ranging from corporate America to immigrant rights groups. Brought before the Senate by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Betty Castor (D-FL), the tight partisan makeup of the body ensured that the quick process in the House of Representatives would not be replicated as March came to a quiet end.


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Senator Betty Castor - a driving force behind the DREAM Act.
 
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Chapter XVII: April 2006.
Chapter Seventeen:
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Former Senator Mike Gravel announces a longshot primary campaign to President Kerry.
The 2008 election began in earnest as the first major party candidate filed his candidacy with the FEC. Former Senator Mike Gravel, aged 75, announced he would primary President Kerry from the (far) left. Having served in the Senate from 1968 until his 1980 reelection defeat, Gravel was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex, and the threat of the “imperial presidency” to the peace of the world. Though the President dismissed the challenge from Gravel (Press Secretary Dag Vega had never even heard of him until first pressed about the rise of a primary challenger), the Senator delivered his announcement at the National Press Club, generating headlines for showing up alone (having traveled at his own expense) and controversially questioning whether the 9/11 Report was fully factual. But while Gravel was the first, he was not entirely alone.

Though he had not officially announced any intent to run for President, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) planned a challenge of his own. Waiting to be reelected once more from his Cleveland based district, the progressive Congressman had a national presence due in part to his own longshot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 that he could build on. With a far more successful career than Gravel, Kucinich believed his campaign could put New Hampshire into play. Two others were also rumored to be mulling runs of their own - the most notable was The Reverend Al Sharpton, who despite owing hundreds of thousands to the FEC over campaign finance violations, was also making waves and had taken to criticizing the President over the response to Hurricane Katrina. Then there was of course Lyndon LaRouche, who despite a federal prison sentence and advanced age continued forward with his bizarre ideology and cult following. Though only Gravel had announced his campaign, the chatter about a more serious challenger emerging did not abate.

Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom marks the 80th birthday of the Queen, which is celebrated across the nation without incident despite concerns about terrorism. The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair had begun the withdrawal of all 8,000 military personnel from Iraq during April, adding to a sense of optimism that boosted and sustained his governing Labor Party in the polls as the United Kingdom celebrated their monarch with a swell of patriotic sentiments. Things are less pleasant further south in Africa, where rebel forces in Chad seize control of N’Djamena from President Idris Ibery, who flees for exile in Paris. All the while, in Thailand, opposition parties announce they will not contest an upcoming election, and encourage citizens not to vote on the grounds that Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra is planning to rig the elections in his favor. These events, though important and regionally impactful, are largely overshadowed by events at home, however.

The FBI successfully thwarted a plot to bomb the New York City subway system, arresting three Afghan immigrants and one Pakistani in the process. The stalled attack gives a sense of urgency about the ongoing terroristic threat, resulting in the Senate voting to renew the PATRIOT Act by a vote of 89-11. It later would clear the House of Representatives before the month's end, being passed 385-50. This development was not welcomed by civil liberties activists, who were less than enthusiastic about the President due to his lack of action on rolling back Bush era surveillance programs. The President's decision to sign the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act was seen as a betrayal by some liberal Democrats, who were already disappointed with the Kerry administration's compromise on the healthcare bill.

April 20th saw the opening of the internet based insurance markets, a provisional of the Affordable Care Act. Due to millions of Americans overlogging the website, it quickly crashed and would be offline for several hours, creating a wave of public anger over the confusing and glitchy process. Though the website was eventually back online after twelve hours, there would be continuous crashes and server disruptions that would continue for the duration of the month. Meanwhile, tax rebates had been sent out in the mail as per another provision of the act. But the anticipated checks were far below the cost of a monthly insurance payment, and many lower income Americans with adult children were not eligible for the CHIP “KiddieCare” program. As a result, the ACA’s impact on the average American’s wallet had been seemingly overstated. The process of signing children up for the Medicare “KiddieCare” program was equally arduous and technologically challenged. But in spite of these controversies, Health and Human Services Howard Dean insisted that the problems could be solved by the Department’s IT staffers.

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The ACA website was plagued by outages in its early weeks.
 
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Somethings Just never changes, but again is not too early for internet only?
I thought about that, but I'd imagine that by 2006-2007, the internet would comprise a significant portion of the signups. Of course, there would still be in person registration offered through contracted third parties, etc as well.
 
I thought about that, but I'd imagine that by 2006-2007, the internet would comprise a significant portion of the signups. Of course, there would still be in person registration offered through contracted third parties, etc as well.
Yeah but seems because was smaller internet, an smaller server and collapse just like OTL, those things tend to happen anyway
 
Honestly just for your accurate description of Conservative Inc, I’m giving this a watch!

great stuff so far and pretty realistic too
 
Honestly just for your accurate description of Conservative Inc, I’m giving this a watch!

great stuff so far and pretty realistic too
As a conservative MAGA guy myself, I could easily see Conservative Inc. evolving quicker in this ATL, leading to the GOP becoming ideologically drift less earlier than in OTL.
 
As a conservative MAGA guy myself, I could easily see Conservative Inc. evolving quicker in this ATL, leading to the GOP becoming ideologically drift less earlier than in OTL.
Yup. Depending on badly the GOP bungles the '08 election we could be looking at an earlier Trump presidency!
 
Chapter XVIII: May 2006.
Chapter Eighteen:
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HHS Secretary Howard Dean.
By May, the growing problem with the Department of Health and Human Services’s online features had created a number of headaches for the administration. With the promise of an easy and efficient online sign-up system evaporating, American consumers descended in droves upon insurance agencies across the country, waiting in long lines for hours in many cases to sign up for various new programs. At the direction of the President, KiddieCare sign ups were made available in paper forms which were hastily mailed out to families across the country in order to relieve pressure on the online sign up. The massive influx of mail to the Department’s headquarters in Washington created a massive backlog which would take months to work through, yet another example of the federal bureaucracy failing to keep pace with the administration's ambitious domestic agenda. The President was forced to waive all punishments that would otherwise be employed against those who resisted the requirements of the individual mandate as a result of this backlog, despite Press Secretary Dag Vega's almost daily insistence that the situation was being adeptly handled. The crisis further widened the chasm between the President and HHS Secretary Howard Dean, who was ultimately canned at the end of the month in response to his poor handling of the ACA’s implementation. President Kerry nominated former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) to fill Dean’s former role on Monday, April 24th, 2006, much to the disappointment of progressives.

The fight over the DREAM Act moved forward throughout April; while some self-styled Chicano activists led by organizations such as La Raza Unita pulled off massive “Day without an Immigrant” protests, in which undocumented workers in the United States went on a day long strike to vocalize their role in the economy. The effort failed to make any considerable impact on the general public’s support for the proposed legislation, but it certainly did demonstrate the organizing ability of Hispanic community activist organizations. Having won 53% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the President believed that galvanizing support among the Latino populace could swing Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and possibly even Texas in his favor in the best case situation. Yet Republican opposition to immigration reform remained relatively strong; despite maverick voices like Senator McCain and establishment favorites like Susan Collins throwing their weight behind the DREAM Act, the Republican base remains stridently against the bill, making its passage all the more of a challenge for President Kerry.

Back in Washington, a scandal was brewing. Congressman Mark Foley, who was locked in a fierce primary battle with fellow Congressman Adam Putnam, was revealed to have been engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenaged male congressional pages. The revelation of numerous sexually suggestive or otherwise explicit emails from Foley to his young aides results in his departure from politics, resigning in shame days later. Foley's fall paves the way for Putnam to cruise to victory in the Republican Senate primary, placing him on an electoral collision course with incumbent Senator Bill Nelson. The Foley scandal is compounded by GOP gubernatorial nominee and Congressman Jim Gibbon of Nevada, who was accused of sexual assault by a waitress. These indiscretions on the part of these Republican incumbents were a boon to Democrats, who until this point in the midterm campaign had been largely on the defensive.

Abroad, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was making noise again, calling for the European Union to drop sanctions against his country. Threatening to withdraw Iran from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the new Iranian President went so far as to challenge President Kerry to a personal debate on the issue. Dismissively declining Ahmadinejad's offer, the White House insisted that the American policy towards Iranian nuclear ambitions would remain firmly in place until the regime in Tehran took a more transparent approach and allowed UN weapons inspectors into the country to ensure their nuclear programs were indeed for civilian purposes. But Iran was not alone; North Korea’s nuclear program was also advancing despite American diplomatic pressure, and there was some evidence that they were exporting such technology to nations like Syria. Led by Secretary Holbrooke, the US policy of strategic patience continued in cooperation with other NATO powers and regional partners. But the erratic nature of North Korea's enigmatic dictator Kim Jong Il created a shadow of uncertainty that lingered over the State Department as they carefully assessed the best approach to the North Korean nuclear program.


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Iranian President Ahmadinejad and a representative of Kim Jong Il meet in Tehran.
 
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