Obama speaks to
Iran’s Rouhani, says a resolution to nuclear concerns is possible
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone Friday, the first conversation between American and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years. The exchange could reflect a major step in resolving global concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama told reporters at the White House that he had a constructive conversation with the Iranian leader.
"While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution," he said.
Obama said he and Rouhani have directed their teams to work quickly to pursue an agreement. He said the U.S. will coordinate closely with its allies -- including Israel, which considers an Iranian nuclear weapon capability to be an existential threat.
The fact that it had been so long since American and Iranian presidents had traded words reflected the "deep mistrust between our countries," Obama said. But he added that it also indicated the opportunity for moving forward.
World powers see
’window of opportunity’
to resolve nuclear
standoff with Iran
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.S. and its international partners emerged from a meeting with Iran declaring that a "window of opportunity has opened" to peacefully settle their nuclear standoff. But diplomats asked Tehran to come back with a detailed plan of action to reassure the world it is not trying to build an atomic bomb.
The upbeat, if guarded, tone after the meeting of Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany was seen as a significant step forward after months of stalled talks. It was capped by an unexpected one-on-one meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who shook hands and at one point sat side-by-side in the group talks on Thursday.
It was the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in six years.
In another sign of building momentum, both sides agreed to fast-track negotiations and hold a substantive round of talks on Oct. 15-16 in Geneva. Iran, hoping to get relief from punishing international sanctions as fast as possible, said it hoped a resolution could be reached within a year.
"We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game ... and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year’s time," Zarif said after the talks. "I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naiveti. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster."
Syrian chemical arsenal inspections could begin next week; car bombing kills 30 in Damascus
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The world’s chemical weapons watchdog was preparing Friday to launch a risky United Nations-backed mission into the heart of Syria’s deadly civil war to verify and destroy the country’s chemical arsenal in a matter of months.
The risks inspectors will face were underscored when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque north of Damascus, killing at least 30 people, the latest victims of a civil war which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and driven another 7 million -- around a third of the country’s pre-war population -- from their homes since March 2011.
Law experts, meanwhile, said discussions were underway to set up a war crimes tribunal for Syria to punish perpetrators from all sides of atrocities.
A late-night meeting at the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was expected to approve a plan to rid Syria’s regime of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal by mid-2014, significantly accelerating a destruction timetable that often takes years to complete.
However a decision was delayed when the meeting broke up so one nation could consult with its government over a proposed amendment by Iran, a U.N. diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the consultations were private. The meeting was scheduled to resume at 12:30 a.m., OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said.
Top Kenyan official says military caused mall collapse, government urges patience with probe
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya’s military caused the collapse of three floors of the Westgate Mall in the deadly terrorist siege, a top-ranking official disclosed Friday, while the government urged patience with the pace of an investigation that has left key questions unanswered.
Seven days after 67 people were killed in the attack on the upscale shopping center, there is still no clear word on the fate of dozens who have been reported missing and no details on the terrorists who carried it out.
The account of the roof collapse raises the possibility that the military may have caused the death of hostages in its rescue attempt. An undisclosed number of people are feared to be buried in the rubble.
The official said autopsies will be conducted on any bodies found to determine the cause of death -- from the militants or the structural collapse. The high-ranking government official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge sensitive information.
The official also confirmed that Kenyan troops fired rocket-propelled grenades inside the mall, but would not say what caused the floors to collapse, if the action was intentional, or if it was an accident.
NSA watchdog details
12 incidents of misuse
of surveillance data
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some workers at the National Security Agency intentionally misused the government’s secret surveillance systems at least 12 times over the past decade, including instances when they spied on spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, according to embarrassing new details disclosed by the agency’s inspector general. In nearly every case, the workers were allowed to retire before they could be punished.
In addition to the 12 historical cases, authorities are investigating two other suspected violations and reviewing a third allegation for possible investigation, the inspector general, George Ellard, told Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter released late Thursday.
Senior national security officials and some U.S. lawmakers have said such cases were exceedingly rare considering the breadth of the NSA’s surveillance programs and reflect how seriously the government monitors use of its systems for potential abuses.
"Where (a media report) says we’re sweeping up the communications of civilians overseas that aren’t targets of collection systems is wrong," the NSA’s director, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, told senators Thursday. "If our folks do that, we hold them accountable."
At least six times the cases were reported to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, Ellard’s letter said. In some cases, U.S. prosecutors declined to take action but in nearly every case the employees were allowed to retire without punishment. In one case, a worker was suspended without pay then retired; in another case, a worker’s promotion was cancelled; in two cases, military employees suffered a reduction in rank, extra duty and brief reduction in salary for two months.
New Jersey judge rules state must allow gay couples to marry, but
Gov. Christie plans to appeal
New Jersey is unconstitutionally denying federal benefits to same-sex couples and must allow gay couples to marry, a judge ruled Friday.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson sided almost entirely with a group of same-sex couples and gay rights groups who sued the state in July, days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of a law that blocked the federal government from granting benefits to gay couples.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican in the midst of a re-election campaign and a possible presidential contender, said through a spokesman Friday that he plans to appeal the decision, which he believes should be determined by a popular vote rather than a court.
Jacobson made the ruling effective Oct. 21, giving Christie time to appeal and likely ask a court to delay implementation of her order.
"Gov. Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day," spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement Friday. "Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."
3 dead, dozens feared trapped as residential building collapses in
Indian city of Mumbai
MUMBAI, India (AP) -- A multi-story residential building collapsed in India’s financial capital of Mumbai early Friday, killing at least three people and sending rescuers racing to reach dozens of people feared trapped in the rubble.
It was the third deadly building collapse in six months in Mumbai, in a country where shoddy construction and lax inspections make such disasters all too common.
Relatives of the missing wailed and clung to one another, as heavy machinery lifted the largest slabs of concrete away. Dozens of rescue workers hacked away with crowbars at the flattened remains of what was once a five-story building.
At least three people were killed and 16 others have been pulled alive from the building and rushed to a hospital, said Alok Awasthi, local commander of the National Disaster Response Force.
"Approximately 80 to 90 people are believed to be left behind in the building and trapped," Awasthi said, indicating the death toll could soar higher in the coming hours and days.
As Rim Fire landscape shows signs of new life, scientists begin to assess forest management
TUOLUMNE CITY, Calif. (AP) -- In the midst of a foreboding canyon scorched bare by the Sierra Nevada’s most destructive fire in centuries, tiny ferns unfurl along a spring, black oaks push through charred soil normally blanketed with pine needles and a hawk soars above towering dead and denuded trees.
Just four weeks after the most intense day of California’s Rim Fire -- when wind and extremely arid conditions created a conflagration that turned 30,000 acres of dense conifers and oaks into a moonscape -- life is returning as the forest begins to repair itself.
"It’s a pretty harsh environment, but we know fire can be good and that species depend on it, and that fire allows seeds to germinate," said Sean Collins of the South Central Sierra Incident Command Team as he examined tiny patches of greenery amid a disorienting sepia-tone landscape.
"Next spring we’ll see a lot of wildflowers and plants that haven’t been seen around here for a long, long time. In 20 years, we’ll see something really nice. But it will take 200 years at least for it to grow back the way it was," he said.
A hunter’s illegal campfire ignited California’s third-largest fire in history Aug. 17 in Stanislaus National Forest, launching a 400-square-mile mosaic of destruction interspersed with unaltered refuges across the 1,400-square-mile forest. It scorched canyon walls in 25 watersheds nurturing sensitive trout and supplying drinking water to millions of Californians before spreading into Yosemite National Park.
Albuquerque set to say goodbye to ‘Breaking Bad’ as New Mexico city continues to see tourism spike
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The southwestern New Mexico city that’s played home to "Breaking Bad" is preparing for the end, with the Emmy-award winning series airing its last episode on Sunday.
As the AMC finale approaches, Albuquerque is planning on celebrating with watch parties and red carpet casting events in a city still benefiting from a tourism boost thanks to the drama’s popularity.
Despite the show’s dark themes of drug trafficking and violence, tourism officials say "Breaking Bad" highlighted neighborhoods around the city and gave viewers a sense of Albuquerque. The show displayed the city’s downtown Route 66, its various stores and restaurants, and even took audiences to Latino barrios and nearby American Indian Pueblos -- places rarely seen in Hollywood.
"Before the show, Albuquerque didn’t have an image," said Ann Lerner, Albuquerque’s film liaison. "When I started this job in 2003 and I mentioned New Mexico, people would say, ‘Oh, I love Santa Fe.’ No one thought of Albuquerque."
That has changed in the five seasons that "Breaking Bad" has aired on AMC, growing its reputation and buzz as Netflix users raced to catch up on previous episodes. Since then, trolley and private limo tours of scenes from the show have sold out and created waiting lists that go on for weeks. A city-run website detailing locations of scenes -- from seedy motels to the one-time headquarters of a now deceased drug lord -- has seen tens of thousands of visitors.