Friday May 3, 2013

Obama opens 2-day trip to Mexico; Border security, economy and immigration are all on agenda

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Seeking to put a new spin on a long-standing partnership, President Barack Obama is promoting jobs and trade -- not drug wars or border security -- as the driving force behind the U.S.-Mexico relationship. But security concerns are shadowing his two-day visit, given Mexico’s recent moves to limit American law enforcement access within its borders.

Arriving in Mexico City on Thursday on his first trip to Latin America since winning re-election, Obama was met at the steps of his plane by an honor guard and a trumpeting bugler. He greeted top Mexican officials before heading to the National Palace for meetings with President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December. The two leaders were to speak at a joint news conference Thursday evening.

Obama is looking for more details from Pena Nieto about changes he is making to the robust security relationship between the neighboring countries. In a shift from his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, Pena Nieto has moved to end the widespread access U.S. security agencies have had in Mexico to help fight drug trafficking and organized crime.

The White House has stepped carefully in its public response to the changes, with the president and his advisers saying they need to hear directly from the Mexican leader before making a judgment.

"With the new Mexican administration coming into office, it certainly stands to reason that President Pena Nieto would want to take a look at the nature of our cooperation," said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. "So we’re currently working with the Mexicans to evaluate the means by which we cooperate, the means by which we provide assistance."

Syria’s air defenses, among Mideast’s strongest, pose challenge to outside intervention

BEIRUT (AP) -- International military action against Syria’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would run up against one of the Middle East’s most formidable air defenses, a system bolstered in recent years by top-of-the-line Russian hardware.

The U.S. said last week that intelligence indicates the Syrian regime has likely used the deadly nerve agent sarin on at least two occasions in the civil war. That assessment has increased pressure for a forceful response from President Barack Obama, who has said the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and carry "enormous consequences."

Obama has tried to temper expectations of quick action against Syria, saying he needs "hard, effective evidence" before making a decision. But he has also said that if it is determined that the regime of President Bashar Assad has used such weapons, then "we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a news conference Thursday the administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, saying it is one of the options being considered along with its allies in the more than 2-year-old conflict.

In 2011, the U.S. and its NATO allies imposed a no-fly zone in Libya after Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal crackdown on its uprising. The allied air campaign, which received U.N. backing, played a major role in the rebels’ victory in Libya’s eight-month civil war.

Pentagon report: North Korea moving toward nuke missile

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon says North Korea appears headed toward its announced goal, which is to be able to strike the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile.

In a report to Congress Thursday, the Pentagon made no estimate of when North Korea might achieve that capability. It said the North will move closer to its goal if it continues investing in the testing of nuclear and missile technologies.

The report says the North’s work on a space-launch vehicle has contributed heavily to its effort to build a missile capable of delivering a warhead to U.S. targets. That work was highlighted by the launch of a satellite into space last December.

But it adds that the North has yet to test a re-entry vehicle, without which it cannot deliver a warhead to a target.

Daughter of woman who surfaced decade after disappearing: I wish I had never cried about her

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The teenage daughter of a woman who just revealed she abandoned her family 11 years ago said Thursday the disclosure has angered her and she is not eager to restart their relationship.

Morgan Heist, who learned last week Brenda Heist had surfaced in the Florida Keys, said the news has made her recall with bitterness the years of mourning she endured when she assumed her mother was dead and feared she’d been murdered.

"I ached every birthday, every Christmas," said 19-year-old Morgan Heist, a freshman at a community college outside Philadelphia. "My heart just ached. I wasn’t mad at her. I wanted her to be there because I thought something had happened to her. I wish I had never cried."

Brenda Heist’s mother, Jean Copenhaver, said Thursday that her daughter "had a real traumatic time" but was doing OK.

Brenda Heist was released from police custody on Wednesday and is staying with a brother in northern Florida for now, Copenhaver said.

U.S. urges NKorea to grant amnesty, immediate release for American sentenced to 15 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. called Thursday for North Korea to grant amnesty and immediately release a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a Washington state man described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Analysts say Bae’s sentencing could be an effort by Pyongyang to win diplomatic concessions in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear program. But there was no immediate sign a high-profile envoy was about to make a clemency mission to the isolated nation which has taken an increasingly confrontational stance under its young leader Kim Jong Un.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. was still seeking to learn the facts of Bae’s case. He said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which handles consular matters there for the U.S., did not attend Tuesday’s Supreme Court trial and that there hasn’t been transparency in the legal proceedings.

"There’s no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release," Ventrell told a news conference, referencing the socialist country’s formal title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Prosecutor calls Jodi Arias a manipulative liar as closing arguments begin

PHOENIX (AP) -- The prosecutor pounded his hand on the table to make his point and alternated between a loud demeanor and a soft-spoken, cordial tone as he told the jury time and time again: Jodi Arias is a manipulative liar and a killer.

The dramatic closing argument by prosecutor Juan Martinez came as family members of the victim sobbed in the front row and an unemotional Arias meticulously scribbled notes with a pencil. People lined up at 2 a.m. to get a seat in the courtroom for the spectacle with only two rows in the gallery available for the public.

"It’s like a field of lies that has sprouted up around her as she sat on the witness stand," Martinez said of Arias, who previously spent 18 days testifying. "Every time she spat something out, another lie."

Arias, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 stabbing and shooting death of her on-and-off-again boyfriend Travis Alexander in a case that has become a tabloid and cable TV sensation.

Authorities say Arias planned the attack on Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their relationship and prepared for a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias initially denied any involvement in the killing then later blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said she killed him in self-defense. Her lawyers will present their closing arguments Friday.