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Associated Press

Posted on November 25, 2013 at 6:02 AM

AP Exclusive: Obama advised Netanyahu of secret US-Iran talks in September

WASHINGTON (AP) — On a warm day in Washington this fall, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled in the White House, each flanked by a handful of top advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden. Just three days earlier, Obama had held an historic phone call with Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani, the leader of a country Israel sees as a threat to its very existence.

In the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Sept. 30, just after the high Jewish holidays, Obama revealed to Netanyahu that his administration had been engaged in secret, high-level diplomatic talks with the mortal enemy of the Jewish state. Netanyahu's immediate public reaction betrayed no surprise, but a day later he launched a full-frontal attack on Iran, delivering a blistering speech at the U.N. General Assembly in which he said the Islamic republic was bent on Israel's destruction and accused Rouhani of being a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

The White House meeting had been scheduled for about an hour, but continued on for 30 more minutes, leaving American and Israeli journalists crowded onto the portico outside the Oval Office to speculate about the discussions underway inside. The two men had and still have an uneasy relationship, and each blames the other for inconclusive results in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet In statements after the meeting, both leaders tried to display unity rather than airing their differences on Iran in public.

Neither mentioned Rouhani by name. Obama vowed to keep all options, including military action, on the table in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Netanyahu said he welcomed Obama's assurances that Iran's "conciliatory words" must be matched by its actions. At they finished speaking, Obama turned to Netanyahu and said: "Are you hungry? I am. Let's go eat." The two leaders, along with Biden, then retreated to Obama's private dining room for a working lunch.

Israeli media reports now suggest that Israel's intelligence services were already aware of Obama's clandestine outreach to Iran, which had begun some seven months earlier, but senior U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that this was the first time America's closest Mideast ally had been formally notified that it was underway. In fact, at that point, and at Obama's personal direction, senior U.S. officials had met three times with Iranian officials in a high-stakes bid to address concerns about the country's nuclear program and explore possibilities for improved ties. Israel, Netanyahu has said, fundamentally disagrees with the administration's tactics.

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Lawmakers start talk of harsher sanctions against Iran if nuclear deal falls apart

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are making contingency plans for what happens if — or when — the nuclear accord with Iran falls apart.

Congress is out of town through the end of the month, but lawmakers are already weighing their options for how to address the deal with Iran, in which Tehran agrees to a six-month pause in its nuclear program in exchange for eased sanctions worth $7 billion. Lawmakers from both parties are skeptical the agreement will prod Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions and say they will be waiting with even harsher punishment if Iran proves an untrustworthy partner.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, says he is ready to work with colleagues on beefed up economic sanctions against Iran "should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement."

Arizona Sen. John McCain said he was "concerned this agreement could be a dangerous step that degrades our pressure on the Iranian regime without demonstrable actions on Iran's part to end its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability."

The Republican said the situation "would be reminiscent of our experience over two decades with North Korea" and it is essential to keep the pressure on Iran.

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Freezing rain, sleet to hit parts of Texas before storm moves east ahead of Thanksgiving

A storm blamed for at least eight deaths in the West was expected to bring freezing rain and sleet to parts of Texas as it continued making its way through the Southwest before moving east ahead of Thanksgiving.

The National Weather Service said late Sunday night that a winter storm warning for most of North Texas had been replaced with a winter weather advisory through noon Monday. A mix of rain, light freezing rain and light sleet was expected, but meteorologist Steve Fano with the weather service's Dallas-Fort Worth office said the temperatures would not be as cold as initially forecast.

"They will still go below freezing in some places, just not as much below freezing as we initially thought," Fano said.

Meteorologists said they expected the Arctic mass to head south and east and threaten plans for Tuesday and Wednesday as people hit the roads and airports for some of the busiest travel days of the year.

More than 300 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, representing about one-third of the scheduled departures, and a spokeswoman said deicing equipment had been prepared as officials planned for the worst in a flurry of conference calls and meetings.

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NY's aggressive attack on texting drivers includes troopers peering in from tall SUVs

MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. (AP) — Even for a state trooper, it's not easy to spot drivers who are texting. Their smartphones are down on their laps, not at their ears. And they're probably not moving their lips.

That's why New York has given state police 32 tall, unmarked SUVs to better peer down at drivers' hands, part of one of the nation's most aggressive attacks on texting while driving that also includes steeper penalties and dozens of highway "Texting Zones," where motorists can pull over to use their devices.

"Look at that," Trooper Clayton Howell says, pulling alongside a black BMW while patrolling the highways north of New York City. "This guy's looking down. I can see his thumb on the phone. I think we got him."

After a quick wail of the siren and a flash of the tucked-away flashers, an accountant from the suburbs is pulled over and politely given a ticket.

New York is among 41 states that ban text messaging for all drivers and is among only 12 that prohibit using hand-held cellphones. The state this year stiffened penalties for motorists caught using hand-held devices to talk or text, increasing penalty points on the driving record from three to five, along with tickets that carry fines of up to $200.

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Thai anti-government rally escalates as protesters enter Finance Ministry compound

BANGKOK (AP) — Protesters in Thailand's capital swarmed the Finance Ministry compound Monday, overrunning several buildings and cutting electricity in an escalating campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.

The intrusion was the boldest act yet in opposition-led protests that started last month. It highlights the movement's new strategy of paralyzing the government by forcing civil servants to stop working.

Protesters say they want Yingluck to step down amid claims that her government is controlled by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. On Sunday, more than 150,000 demonstrators marched in Bangkok in the largest rally Thailand has seen in years.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban led the crowd at the Finance Ministry on a day when protesters fanned out to 13 locations across Bangkok, snarling traffic and raising concerns of violence in the country's ongoing political crisis, which has revolved around Thaksin for years.

"Go up to every floor, go into every room, but do not destroy anything," Suthep told the crowd before he entered the ministry and held a meeting in its conference room.

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As Dubai aggressively pursues world Expo, fears arise over inflating real estate bubble

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, and you might spot an unusual banner: A flag placed by six climbers emblazoned with the logo of Dubai's bid to host a World's fair in 2020.

In Dubai, the logo is also plastered on police cars, convenience store bags, storefronts, taxis, receipts, government buildings and even on new resident visa forms. Countdowns to Wednesday's decision of who will host Expo 2020 also appear on one of Dubai's main highways and in one of its main English-language daily newspaper.

Dubai's rulers say their futuristic city of skyscrapers is ideal to host the event. But their well-oiled public-relations campaign belies a worry among many in the United Arab Emirates city that increased building and real-estate speculation driven by the event could put it on the cusp of another financial crisis.

"People are betting on what's to come rather than what's really here," said Faris Mansour, director of Mubadala Pramerica Real Estate Investors. He spoke on a panel at a recent real estate conference during a discussion on whether Dubai was in recovery or not.

While the World's fair no longer holds the popularity of other global events like the Olympics or World Cup, it remains a chance for millions of people from around the world to discuss and see the business of the future. Dubai is competing with Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey and Sao Paulo to host Expo 2020.

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Convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah providing opportunities and challenges for US Jews

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (AP) — When life gives you Hanukkah on Thanksgiving, make a menurkey. Or a turkel.

That's what students at suburban Detroit's Hillel Day School are doing — creating paper-and-paint mashups of menorahs and turkeys, and the birds combined with dreidels.

The recent class projects at the Farmington Hills school illustrate one way U.S. Jews are dealing with a rare quirk of the calendar on Thursday that overlaps Thanksgiving with the start of Hanukkah. The last time it happened was 1888 and the next is 79,043 years from now — by one estimate widely shared in Jewish circles.

The convergence of the secular and sacred holidays is presenting opportunities for many Jews and challenges for others — including concerns about everything from extra preparation and party planning to those who think they will dilute or devalue both celebrations.

The dilemma is best illustrated by Hillel Day School teacher Lori Rashty, who recently watched eighth-grade students help second-graders plant their freshly painted hands onto paper to make the turkey, then transform the four finger feathers into candles to incorporate a menorah.

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Investigators' report on Sandy Hook school shooting may address unanswered questions

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Investigators are planning to release a long-awaited report on the Newtown school shooting, nearly a year after the massacre of 20 children and six women inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The summary report by the lead investigator, State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, could provide some of the first official answers to questions about the history of the gunman and the police response to one of the worst school shootings in American history.

The Dec. 14 shooting plunged the small New England community into mourning, elevated gun safety to the top of the agenda for President Barack Obama and led states across the country to re-evaluate laws on issues including school safety.

The report expected Monday afternoon will not include the full evidence file of Connecticut State Police, which is believed to total thousands of pages. The decision to continue withholding the bulk of the evidence is stirring new criticism of the secrecy surrounding the investigation.

Dan Klau, a Hartford attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said the decision to release a summary report before the full evidence file is a reversal of standard practice and one of the most unusual elements of the investigation.

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Obama mixes fundraising with immigration pitch during West Coast tour

SEATTLE (AP) — President Barack Obama is blending an aggressive fundraising schedule for Democrats with a pitch for overhauling the nation's immigration laws, mixing a powerful issue within his party with the inevitable financial draw of an incumbent president.

Obama's first event Monday is a stop at a San Francisco recreation center that serves a primarily Chinese community. He will renew his call for the House to pass new immigration measures.

After an evening of fundraisers in Seattle Sunday, Obama was scheduled to appear at four fundraisers Monday in San Francisco and Los Angeles for the Democratic National Committee and for House and Senate Democrats. One event will be held at the home of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the former NBA star and now co-owner of the Dodgers of Major League Baseball.

Immigration is an important issue with Hispanics, a primarily Democratic voting bloc. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a comprehensive bipartisan bill earlier this year that included border security and a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants illegally in the United States. But House Republicans leaders want to deal with the issue piecemeal and don't plan to hold any votes during what remains of this year.

Obama will speak at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center. According to administration data, 25 percent of the foreign-born population in the United States in 2011 came from Asian countries, and Asian immigrants comprise 11 percent of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

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Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna help provide 5 AMA moments to remember

No question Justin Timberlake is the man of the year, but oh how the women of pop music proved its their world again at the American Music Awards.

Debonair at every turn, Timberlake put on a great performance and said something funny each time he appeared. But it was Taylor Swift who won the night, taking home four awards, including top honor artist of the year for the third time. It was Rihanna who won the Icon Award — at age 25. And it was Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry who will again drive the morning's water-cooler conversation with their continuing awards show brinksmanship.

Not to worry, though, JT, we'll still include you our five moments to remember. But first, Miley:

— Miley's kitty: What was that exactly? We can describe it, no problem: Cyrus performed her hit "Wrecking Ball" as a duet of sorts with a giant, lip-syncing CGI kitten that floated through space projected on a screen behind her. But no way can we explain it. Playfully absurdist, it was a moment Salvador Dali would be proud of. And like all of these performances so far, it became delightfully self-referential when the cat finished the song by winking and sticking its tongue out — Cyrus' trademark move.

— Mr. President: After imitating a sex act last weekend on "Saturday Night Live," it was hard to imagine how Lady Gaga and R. Kelly might approach their performance of "Do What U Want" on Sunday night. They went high concept, casting Kelly as the president and Gaga as a Marilyn Monroe-like figure. Throughout the course of the song, Gaga dances on President Kelly's desk as he gazes up at her, their relationship is outed on Instagram and Kelly storms out when a reporter starts questioning him about the affair.

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