Obama concedes stiff challenges in winning support for Syria attack, plans big speech Tuesday
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) -- Beset by divisions at home and abroad, President Barack Obama candidly acknowledged deep challenges Friday in pursuing support for a military strike against Syria from international allies and the U.S. Congress. He refused to say whether he might act on his own, a step that could have major implications for the U.S. as well as for the remainder of his presidency.
The White House laid out an intense week of lobbying, with Obama addressing the nation from the White House Tuesday night.
"I did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism," Obama said, adding that it would be a mistake to talk about any backup strategy before lawmakers vote on a use-of-force resolution.
The president spoke to reporters at the end of a two-day international summit, where he sought backing for a strike against Syria in retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack against civilians. But Obama appeared to leave the summit with no more backing than he had when he arrived.
In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said he was the one with support from the majority of countries attending the Group of 20 meeting. Putin insisted anew that Obama seek approval from the United Nations before taking military action, despite the fact that Russia has blocked previous Security Council efforts to punish Assad throughout Syria’s bloody 2 1/2-year civil war.
U.S. orders diplomats out of Lebanon, a country
on high alert as Congress debates Syria strikes
BEIRUT (AP) -- The State Department ordered all nonessential U.S. personnel Friday to leave Lebanon, reflecting fears that an American-led strike on neighboring Syria would unleash more bloodshed in this already fragile nation.
The Lebanese government’s top security body held an emergency meeting and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah put its fighters on high alert.
Lebanon and Syria share a complicated history and a web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries. The uprising against President Bashar Assad has intensified divisions among Lebanese religious groups as well as polarization among those who support him and those backing the rebels fighting to topple him.
Lebanon has become completely consumed by the civil war next door. Car bombings, rockets, kidnappings and sectarian clashes -- all related to the conflict -- have become increasingly common in recent months.
Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, has sent its fighters to back Assad’s forces against the rebels and the militant group’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has suggested he would to do everything it takes to save the regime.
Report: Ohio kidnapper told investigators he called mother of 1 victim, told her she was OK
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro said he called the mother of one of his captives and told the woman her daughter was alive and had become his wife, according to interrogation videotapes.
Castro also told investigators that authorities missed opportunities to catch him while he held the three women captive for about a decade in a run-down house where they were repeatedly beaten and raped.
Castro says in the video -- obtained by NBC and first reported Friday on the "Today" show -- that he used Amanda Berry’s cellphone to call her mother.
"I think I said something ... that I have her daughter and that she’s OK, and that she’s my wife now -- something like that, you know, probably not the exact words," he told investigators.
When asked for the mother’s response, Castro said: "I hung up so we didn’t have a conversation."
Arizona woman who spent more than 20 years on death row awaits release
to prepare for retrial
PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona woman who has spent more than two decades on death row awaited her release Friday, a day after a judge ruled that there was no direct evidence linking her to her son’s death other than a purported confession to a detective whose honesty has been questioned.
Debra Milke has not been exonerated, but a judge granted her a $250,000 bond Thursday, meaning she could go free while preparing for a new trial in the case that made her one of Arizona’s most reviled inmates.
Milke was convicted in the death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, who was allegedly killed for a $5,000 insurance payout. His mother was accused of dressing the boy in his favorite outfit in December 1989 and telling him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall before handing him over to two men who took the child into the desert and shot him. She has been imprisoned since 1990.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Milke would probably be released Friday. But the exact timing remained unclear.
A defense lawyer told the judge last week that Milke would be living in a Phoenix-area home purchased by supporters if she is freed.
Court blocks Montana judge from undoing
30-day sentence for teacher who raped student
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Montana’s Supreme Court on Friday blocked a judge from resentencing a former teacher who got just 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old student, a sentence that was widely criticized after the judge said the victim was "older than her chronological age."
Justices said Judge G. Todd Baugh lacks authority to reconsider the sentence he gave former Billings teacher Stacey Rambold, 54.
An appeal of the case already was pending, but Baugh had been seeking to possibly undo the sentence that was panned after his remarks. Baugh also commented that victim Cherice Moralez was "as much in control of the situation as was the defendant."
The girl committed suicide in 2010 while Rambold’s trial was pending.
The Attorney General’s Office filed an emergency petition to stop the Friday afternoon hearing. Attorneys for the state had warned that holding it as planned could throw the case into disarray and "cause gross injustice to an orderly appeal."
NASA launching robotic explorer to moon, orbiting craft will study lunar atmosphere, dust
NASA is poised to return to the moon.
An unmanned rocket was scheduled to blast off late Friday night (11:27 p.m. EDT) from Virginia’s Eastern Shore with a robotic explorer that will study the lunar atmosphere and dust. Called LADEE, the moon-orbiting craft will measure the thin lunar atmosphere.
Scientists want to learn the composition of the moon’s ever-so-delicate atmosphere and how it might change over time. Another puzzle: whether dust actually levitates from the lunar surface.
Unlike the quick three-day Apollo flights to the moon, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will take a full month to get there. An Air Force Minotaur rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., is providing the ride from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
It’s the first moonshot from Virginia. All but one of NASA’s approximately 40 moon missions, including the manned Apollo flights of the late 1960s and early 1970s, originated from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The most recent were the twin Grail spacecraft launched two years ago. The lone exception, Clementine, a military-NASA venture, rocketed away from Southern California in 1994.
Tourism helps slow Greek recession in 2nd quarter
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- High tourism revenues helped Greece’s battered economy shrink less than initially estimated in April-June, making a projected exit from a six-year recession in 2014 more likely.
The country’s statistical authority said Friday that the second quarter contraction was 3.8 percent of gross domestic product year-on-year -- considerably better than last month’s flash estimate of 4.8 percent, and the lowest in three years.
This provides a morale boost to the conservative-led government, which faces mass anti-austerity protests over the weekend as well as a grueling inspection by its international creditors later this month.
Greece has received more than 200 billion euros ($260 billion) in rescue loans over the past three years, in exchange for harsh income and welfare cuts that hurt the economy and pushed unemployment to record highs. But it is still unclear whether the country will be able to pay down its debt after the bulk of the loans run out next summer, and potential new aid would probably come on condition of further austerity.
Analyst Vangelis Agapitos warned that it is still too early to say whether the projected return to growth next year can be achieved, as the government elected in June 2012 is showing signs of reform fatigue.
U.S. exempts EU nations from Iran oil sanctions
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. said Friday it was granting six-month sanctions exemptions to 10 European countries so they can restart imports of Iranian crude oil after a year’s hiatus.
Japan received a similar exemption after the U.S. said the Asian nation had significantly reduced its oil imports from Iran -- the main condition for such waivers.
American sanctions are designed to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, which Washington suspects is aimed at producing weapons. Iran has repeatedly insisted it is only for medical research and generating electricity.
The most ambitious U.S. tactic has involved pressuring countries around the world to cut commercial ties with Iran or face a series of restrictions on what type of business they can conduct in the United States, the world’s largest market. But the Obama administration has been granting exemptions to a number of mostly Asian countries that rely on Iranian oil on condition that they significantly reduce their imports over time.
The entire European Union has not purchased Iranian oil since July 1, 2012, the State Department said in a statement. Because of that reduction, the U.S. said 10 EU countries had qualified for six-month sanctions exemptions: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Britain.
The State Department said a total of 20 countries have continued to significantly reduce their crude oil purchases from Iran. China remains Iran’s top trading partner and its No. 1 client for oil exports, with Japan, India and South Korea among other top purchasers.
Despite plummeting sales overseas, Iran remains one of the world’s largest oil producers. Its exports bring in tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the country’s hard-line leaders, money the U.S. is trying to cut off.
Zimmerman divorce petition: Wife seeks life insurance policy
and the couple’s 2 dogs
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- George Zimmerman’s wife is asking that he pay for a permanent life insurance policy with her named as the beneficiary, according to a divorce petition made public Friday.
Shellie Zimmerman said in the petition that her husband should pay the premiums on the policy since he "has the financial ability to obtain such life insurance at reasonable rates." She also asked for custody of the couple’s 2-year-old Rottweiler, Oso, and 8-year-old Leroy, a mixed-breed dog. They have no children.
Shellie Zimmerman, 26, is seeking an equal distribution of their checking accounts, trusts, partnerships and any unknown assets, and asked that a judge prevent him from selling off any property. Among the unknown assets is any money George Zimmerman may get from a defamation lawsuit he has filed against NBC.
The couple, who have been married since November 2007, separated a month after Zimmerman was acquitted in July of any crime for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. The Zimmermans aren’t living together as husband and wife, said the petition, which suggested Shellie may seek legal fees from her husband for the divorce.
"The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken," the petition said.