US, Iran exchange friendly gestures, but progress on nuclear dispute will prove a tougher test
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iran and the United States are making plenty of friendly gestures, but real progress is going to be harder. A notable first meeting between the two nations’ presidents suddenly seems possible next week, but without nuclear concessions the U.S. is unlikely to give Tehran what it wants: an easing of punishing sanctions that have resulted in soaring inflation and unemployment.
President Barack Obama and Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, both will be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. And a recent flurry of goodwill gestures has raised the prospect that they will meet face to face.
Pleasantries aside, however, the U.S. and other world powers are seeking reductions in Iran’s uranium enrichment, real-time monitoring of its nuclear facilities and scaled-back production at its underground Fordo facility. Not likely, Iran experts say. At least not yet.
"I’m a bit skeptical that we’ll see those kinds of concessions this early in the game," said Gary Samore, who until earlier this year was Obama’s top arms control adviser.
The Obama administration has welcomed the election of Rouhani, a moderate cleric who achieved a stunning victory in Iran’s June presidential elections. And upbeat signals have suggested there could be talks between Obama and Rouhani on the U.N. sidelines.
Pope blasts abortion after denouncing church’s obsession with rules
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis offered an olive branch of sorts to the doctrine-minded, conservative wing of the Catholic Church on Friday as he denounced abortions as a symptom of today’s "throw-away culture" and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.
Francis issued a strong anti-abortion message and cited Vatican teaching on the need to defend the unborn during an audience with Catholic gynecologists.
It came a day after he was quoted as blasting the church’s obsession with "small-minded rules" that are driving the faithful away. In an interview that has sent shockwaves through the church, Francis urged its pastors to focus on being merciful and welcoming rather than insisting only on such divisive, hot-button issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception.
Even before the interview was published, some conservatives had voiced disappointment that Francis had shied away from restating such church rules. Francis explained his reason for doing so in the interview with the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, saying church teaching on such issues is well-known, he supports it, but that he doesn’t feel it necessary to repeat it constantly.
He did repeat it on Friday, however. In his comments, Francis denounced today’s "throw-away culture" that justifies disposing of lives, and said doctors in particular had been forced into situations where they are called to "not respect life."
EPA proposes first-ever carbon controls on new power plants, but effect ‘negligible’
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Linking global warming to public health, disease and extreme weather, the Obama administration pressed ahead Friday with tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, despite protests from industry and Republicans that it would dim coal’s future.
The proposal, which would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, is intended to help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It’s also a key step in President Barack Obama’s global warming plans, because it would put in motion proposals to end what he called "the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" from all power plants.
Under the law once the Environmental Protection Agency controls carbon at new plants, it will also control carbon at existing plants -- a regulation the agency said Friday it would start work on immediately to meet a June 2014 deadline.
Yet the federal government’s own analysis of the new power plant proposal concludes that it would have a "negligible" impact on carbon dioxide emissions, pose little to no costs for the industry and provide no additional benefits to the public by 2022. That’s because it essentially locks in what was widely expected to happen anyway. Even without new federal regulations, the agency concluded that no new coal plants would have been built without carbon controls. Instead, the bulk of new power in this country would be supplied by natural gas, which already meets the standard announced Friday.
"The EPA ... does not anticipate this rule will have any impacts on the price of electricity, employment or labor markets or the U.S. economy," the EPA wrote in its analysis.
U.S.-Russia deal on Syria props up Assad, deals major blow to beleaguered rebels
BEIRUT (AP) -- For Syria’s divided and beleaguered rebels, the creeping realization that there will not be a decisive Western military intervention on their behalf is a huge psychological blow.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has gained strength, largely because the world community is concerned that if he is toppled the result may be an Islamist Syria in the grip of al-Qaida.
The immediate result has been an uptick this week in fighting between moderate and jihadi rebels.
The long-term outcome is likely to be a prolonged war of attrition that continues the slow destruction of Syria as a coherent state and further fans the flames of sectarian hatred and extremism in a turbulent Middle East.
Only two weeks ago, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch a U.S. military strike against the Syrian regime in response to the Aug 21 chemical weapons attack it says was launched by Assad’s forces, killing hundreds of civilians in opposition-controlled areas near Damascus.
Arctic sea ice up from dramatic low record set last year, but still far below average
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean shrank this summer to the sixth lowest level, but that’s much higher than last year’s record low.
The ice cap at the North Pole melts in the summer and grows in winter; its general shrinking trend is a sign of global warming. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said Friday that Arctic ice was at 1.97 million square miles when it stopped melting late last week.
It takes scientists several days to confirm sea ice hit reached its lowest level and is growing again.
The minimum level reached this summer is about 24 percent below the 20th Century average, but 50 percent above last year when a dramatic melt shattered records that go back to 1979.
Center director Mark Serreze says cooler air triggered a "considerable recovery," from last year, while the ocean temperatures were still warmer than normal. But he adds climate change deniers who point to the bounce back from last year -- which skewed the trend -- would be wrong.
Al-Qaida kills at least 38 Yemeni troops as group’s branches grow bolder across region
SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Under a heavy fog, al-Qaida militants disguised in military uniforms launched car bomb attacks on three different security and military posts in southern Yemen on Friday, killing 38 soldiers in the group’s biggest attack in the country since last year.
The coordinated attacks point to how al-Qaida is exploiting the continued weakness of Yemen’s military to rally back here at a time when the group’s branches across the region grow more assertive. More than two years after U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, factions of the group he led are taking advantage of turmoil in multiple Arab nations to expand their presence and influence.
In Syria, foreign jihadis linked to or inspired by al-Qaida have become such a powerful force in the rebellion that the Syrian opposition on Friday accused them of being opportunists hijacking the uprising against President Bashar Assad. After the coup in Egypt toppled the Islamist president, al-Qaida leaders have called on sympathizers to join militants’ fight there against the military. Iraq’s al-Qaida branch has stepped up attacks in that country and extended operations into neighboring Syria.
Last month, the U.S. temporarily closed 19 diplomatic missions across the Middle East and North Africa after intelligence agencies intercepted a message between al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, also a one-time confidant of bin Laden who leads the Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
"I think there’s been a promiscuous rush to write al-Qaida’s obituary, and it’s always been presumptuous. It’s certainly had setbacks ... but its resilience has always been more formidable than we imagine," said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.
Chicago police chief says assault-style rifle used in shooting that injured 13 people
CHICAGO (AP) -- Those behind a late-night attack at a southwest Chicago park in which 13 people were wounded, including a 3-year-old, used an assault-style weapon to spray the crowd with bullets, making it "a miracle" no one was killed, the city’s police superintendent said Friday.
Ballistics evidence shows that those behind Thursday night’s attack used a 7.62 mm rifle fed by a high-capacity magazine, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters. That type of weapon, he said, belongs on a "battlefield, not on the street or a corner or a park in the Back of the Yards," the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
"It’s a miracle in this instance that there have been no fatalities based upon the lethality of the weapon used at the scene," McCarthy said, calling on lawmakers to restrict the sale of such weapons and choke off the flow of illegal guns into the city.
The attack happened shortly after 10 p.m. while the Cornell Square Park was still crowded with people watching a basketball game and enjoying a warm late summer night.
Investigators believe several people took part in the attack but weren’t sure yet how many fired shots. McCarthy said that based on witness interviews, it appears the attack was gang-related and that several victims are gang members.
Colorado races to replace roads washed away by floodwaters before winter descends on Rockies
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) -- With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is racing to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding, in some cases laying down crude, one-lane gravel roads just to throw a lifeline to isolated towns before winter descends.
More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed across this rugged region, plus many more county roads. Fully rebuilding all of them is sure to take years. But for now, the work has to be fast, even if that means cutting corners.
"Our priority is to reconnect these communities as quickly as we can, recognizing that we’re in a very tight timeframe," said Amy Ford, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
In many other parts of the country, road crews would be able to work through the fall and much of the winter. But in the Rockies, the cold weather comes earlier, stays longer and brings with it countless dangers. The first storms could hit as soon as next month.
That urgency was underlined this week when Trail Ridge Road, the high-elevation path through Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the few supply routes into the town of Estes Park, was temporarily closed because of snow. It normally stays open until October.