AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on September 7, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Back from Europe swing, Obama plunges into high-stakes week selling lawmakers on Syria strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Back on American soil, President Barack Obama is plunging into a frenetic, high-stakes week of selling a skeptical Congress on a military strike ahead of a critical vote on Syria.

For a president not known for investing heavily in consultations with Capitol Hill, the coming days represent one of the most intense periods of congressional outreach in his presidency. Obama seeks to salvage a policy whose fate he's placed in lawmakers' hands, planning for himself and for aides a flurry of speeches, phone calls, briefings and personal visits to Democrats and Republicans alike.

The lobbying campaign culminates Tuesday, the evening before a key vote is expected in the Senate, when Obama will address the nation from the White House to make his case that America's military must once again raise arms to protect a value he says the world simply cannot afford to place in jeopardy.

"Over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children," Obama said Friday at the close of a global summit in Russia, his voice seeming to catch as he reflected on the deaths.

"This is not something we've fabricated. This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action," he said. "I was elected to end wars, and not start them."

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Obama's push for a military strike in Syria divides Democrats still stinging from recent wars

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's pursuit of a military strike in Syria has put congressional Democrats and party leaders around the country in a tough spot.

They face loud opposition from war-weary constituents at home and are wary of being pulled into another foreign conflict. But they also are confronted with grim images from Syria of gassed children and the pleas of a president from their own political party to consider the consequences of inaction.

Breaking from Democrats' long history of being the party typically opposed to military conflict, Obama is pushing for a limited military strike in Syria in response to President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have rallied behind him.

But some liberal and moderate Democrats, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fresh in their minds, have begun joining dozens of conservative Republicans registering their opposition. And many rank-and-file Democrats are undecided on whether to support a congressional resolution for military action, questioning whether it would turn the tide in a bloody civil war, whether it's in the U.S. national interest and whether it would prompt Assad to retaliate with more chemical weapons.

"We've been to this dance before and we saw what happened in Iraq," said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who says he is leaning against supporting the resolution. "And I have a solemn responsibility to understand what the risks are before I vote to authorize the use of force. What's the risk to the U.S. and the president's standing in the world if the Congress votes against the resolution?"

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Egypt military helicopters, armored vehicles go on offensive against militants in the Sinai

EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — A military official says Egyptian helicopters and tanks are attacking Islamic militants in villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula. He says "dozens" have been killed or wounded.

The Saturday assault came after Egypt deployed a column of armored vehicles and trucks carrying infantry into the region, a militant stronghold, in a major new counterinsurgency offensive, the official said.

He said columns of smoke could be seen rising from several villages near the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid on the border with the Gaza Strip and Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Multiple al-Qaida-inspired militant groups have stepped up attacks against security forces in the Sinai since the ouster of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.

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Ex-FBI director Freeh finds possible corruption in BP settlement program

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former FBI director recommended Friday that the Justice Department investigate whether several lawyers plotted to corrupt the settlement program designed to compensate victims of BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill.

But the independent probe led by Louis Freeh didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing by the multibillion-dollar settlement's court-appointed administrator, who has been a target of BP's increasingly aggressive campaign to challenge payouts to Gulf Coast businesses.

Freeh, who was appointed by a federal judge to investigate alleged misconduct by a staff attorney who worked on the settlement program, cleared claims administrator Patrick Juneau of engaging in any "conflict of interest, or unethical or improper conduct."

The report also found nothing that warranted shutting down payments to victims of the oil spill, which spewed millions of gallons of oil into the water, fouling marshes, fisheries and beaches from Louisiana to Florida.

However, Freeh concluded that then-top members of Juneau's staff engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal. He recommended that his report be forwarded to the Justice Department.

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Senior Australian Labor lawmaker says her party has lost election

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A senior Australian lawmaker in the ruling Labor Party says her party has lost Australia's election.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television after 13 percent of the votes were counted Saturday that her government's loss was no longer in doubt.

She said: "I am a cautious person by nature, but I think that it's pretty clear it's a matter of the size of the victory" for the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition.

Plibersek's concession backs all analysts and means a coalition victory is almost certain. Opinion polls and an early exit poll all predicted a resounding Liberal win.

A coalition victory would mean an end to six years of center-left Labor Party rule. The party has been marred by relentless infighting that left the public frustrated and disillusioned.

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In interrogation tape, Ohio kidnapper tells police they missed chance to catch him in 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A man who held three women for a decade in his Cleveland home said authorities missed an opportunity to catch him in 2004, because his picture should have been captured by a school security camera minutes before he abducted one of his victims, according to interrogation videotapes that became public Friday.

In the video, deceased kidnapper Ariel Castro says cameras outside Gina DeJesus' school should have captured him there 15 minutes before the then-14-year-old girl was abducted.

"You could have broke the case right then and there," Castro told police during a recorded interview that was obtained by NBC and first reported Friday on the "Today" show.

Cleveland police did not respond to requests for comment regarding Castro's claim that there was a missed opportunity to catch him after DeJesus disappeared.

The recording shows the former school-bus driver eating a slice of pizza and later pacing the room during a reportedly four-hour interrogation in which he told police he had used victim Amanda Berry's cell phone to call her mother and say she was alive.

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NASA launches robotic explorer to moon from Va.; trouble develops early in much-viewed flight

NASA's newest robotic explorer rocketed into space late Friday in an unprecedented moonshot from Virginia that dazzled sky watchers along the East Coast.

But the LADEE spacecraft quickly ran into equipment trouble, and while NASA assured everyone early Saturday that the lunar probe was safe and on a perfect track for the moon, officials acknowledged the problem needs to be resolved in the next two to three weeks.

S. Peter Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, which developed the spacecraft, told reporters he's confident everything will be working properly in the next few days.

LADEE's reaction wheels were turned on to orient and stabilize the spacecraft, which was spinning too fast after it separated from the final rocket stage, Worden said. But the computer automatically shut the wheels down, apparently because of excess current. He speculated the wheels may have been running a little fast.

Worden stressed there is no rush to "get these bugs ironed out."

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Far below earth where twin towers once stood, powerful artifacts in place at Sept. 11 Museum

NEW YORK (AP) — Far below the earth where the twin towers once stood, a cavernous museum on hallowed ground is finally nearing completion.

Amid the construction machinery and the dust, powerful artifacts of death and destruction have assumed their final resting places inside the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

A vast space that travels down to the bedrock upon which the towers were built, the museum winds its way deeper and deeper underground, taking visitors on a journey to the very bottom.

Already on display are several pieces of mangled steel and metal recovered from the World Trade Center towers, each one telling a different story of the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The first relics that visitors will see are two massive pieces of structural steel that rose from the base of the North Tower. Now the rusty red columns soar above ground into the sunlit glass atrium that encloses the entrance to the museum.

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Rodman says he met North Korean leader again, but no release of jailed American seen

BEIJING (AP) — Retired NBA star Dennis Rodman left North Korea Saturday, professing his affection for autocratic leader Kim Jong Un and angrily rejecting calls to lobby for the release of imprisoned American citizen Kenneth Bae.

Despite earlier calling on Kim to set Bae free, Rodman said the Christian missionary's fate was none of his business.

"Guess what? That's not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae," Rodman told reporters upon arrival at the airport in China's capital, Beijing.

"Ask (President Barack) Obama about that. Ask Hillary Clinton," a visibly agitated Rodman shouted, referencing the former secretary of state.

Chomping an unlit cigar, the typically flamboyant Rodman displayed a stack of photos showing him hugging Kim, laughing and conversing with him over a meal, and the two of them watching a basketball game together.

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3 bid cities to make final pitches ahead of final IOC vote on 2020 Olympics

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — With major risks surrounding each bid, the three cities vying for the 2020 Olympics are set to make their final pitches in a tight race that could be decided by just a few votes.

Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo will make 45-minute presentations Saturday morning ahead of the vote later in the day by the International Olympic Committee.

Leading the delegations will be the prime ministers of all three countries. Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey all flew to Buenos Aires straight from the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"It's certainly an open race," South African IOC member Sam Ramsamy said Friday. "They all have positive and negative points. The final presentations will be crucial."

Picking the city with the least risks shapes up as the challenge for the IOC.

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