AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2009 6:20 AM

Iran official says country ready to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, as per UN proposal

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Iran is ready to exchange the bulk of its stockpile of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods _ as proposed by the U.N. _ but according to its own mechanisms and timetable, the foreign minister said Saturday.

Speaking to reporters at a regional security conference in Bahrain, Manochehr Mottaki said Iran agreed with a U.N. deal proposed in October in which up to 2,600 pounds (1,200 kilograms) of its uranium would be exchanged for fuel rods to power its research reactor.

"We accepted the proposal in principle," he said through a translator. "We suggested in the first phase we give you 400 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium and you give us the equivalent in 20 percent uranium."

Iran has about 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium and needs to refine to 20 percent to operate a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

The U.S. and its allies fear that if Iran continues to develop its uranium-enriching process, it could eventually develop material for a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.

The International Atomic Energy Agency proposed in October that Iran ship its uranium out of the country to be further refined by France and Russia and turned into fuel rods, which cannot be turned into weapons.

Iran has been giving mixed signals over the deal, including several statements from lawmakers rejecting it outright.

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Pakistani official says South Waziristan offensive over; army may enter new tribal area

ISLAMABAD (AP) _ Pakistan has wrapped up its army offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan, but now may send its soldiers after militants in another part of the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border, the prime minister said Saturday.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said troops may now move into the Orakzai tribal region, which lies farther north. That plan illustrates the intractable nature of the militant problem facing this nuclear-armed U.S. ally. Even as the army pounces on armed extremists in one part of the volatile northwest, they often melt away to other stretches of the rugged, barely governed territory.

"The operation in South Waziristan is over. Now there are talks about Orakzai," Gilani told reporters in televised remarks from the eastern city of Lahore. He did not elaborate.

Pakistan's army launched a ground offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan in mid-October _ a move that has led militants to carry out retaliatory bombings nationwide. The military still issues daily reports of its battlefield actions there, but it is clear that that the activity has slowed down.

Many militants are believed to have fled to other parts of the tribal belt, especially North Waziristan and Orakzai. The latter has been the home base for Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

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Senate poised to clear away GOP obstacle to $1.1 trillion bill funding federal agencies

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate is poised to clear away a Republican filibuster of a huge end-of-year spending bill rewarding most federal agencies with generous budget boosts.

The $1.1 trillion measure combines much of the year's unfinished budget work _ only a $626 billion Pentagon spending measure would remain _ into a 1,000-plus-page catchall spending bill that would give Cabinet departments such as Education, Health and Human Services and State increases far exceeding inflation.

After a 60-36 test vote on Friday in which Democrats and a handful of Republicans helped the measure clear another GOP obstacle, the bill was expected to win on Saturday the 60 Senate votes necessary to guarantee passage. A final vote is expected Sunday.

The measure provides spending increases averaging about 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress, blending increases for veterans' programs, NASA and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers.

It bundles six of the 12 annual spending bills, capping a dysfunctional appropriations process in which House leaders blocked Republicans from debating key issues while Senate Republicans dragged out debates.

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Climate talks advance as police prepare for mass demonstration in chilly Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN (AP) _ With a draft agreement on the table, climate negotiators in Copenhagen are bargaining over emissions targets and financing _ key issues that need to be resolved before world leaders can sign a pact to curb global warming.

Environment ministers are arriving in the Danish capital Saturday to raise the talks to a higher level before heads of state and government come to the Danish capital at the end of next week.

Meanwhile thousands of people are expected to join a march from downtown Copenhagen to the conference center to demand that leaders take strong action to fight climate change.

A draft agreement was sent around Friday to the 192-nation conference, although it set no firm figures on financing or on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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As allegations mount, Tiger Woods shifts focus from golf to family, takes 'indefinite' break

By The Associated Press

Tiger Woods is shifting his focus from winning majors to saving his marriage.

Two weeks after Woods crashed his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, setting in motion a swift fall that featured reports of rampant extramarital affairs, golf's biggest star delivered a stunning development of his own. He temporarily is walking away from the game that made him the first $1 billion athlete.

"After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," Woods said Friday evening on his Web site. "I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."

It will be the second straight year that the No. 1 player was on the sidelines.

A year ago, he missed eight months while recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. This time, Woods is trying to repair a broken family, knowing this will be a far more difficult comeback.

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House passes major bill to stiffen Wall Street rules, aiming to head off new financial crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House passed the most ambitious restructuring of federal financial regulations since the New Deal on Friday, aiming to head off any replay of last year's Wall Street failures that plunged the nation deep into recession.

The sprawling legislation would give the government new powers to break up companies that threaten the economy, create a new agency to oversee consumer banking transactions and shine a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped the oversight of regulators.

The vote was a party-line 223-202. No Republicans voted for the bill; 27 Democrats voted against it.

While a victory for the administration, the legislation dilutes some of President Barack Obama's recommendations, carving out exceptions to some of its toughest provisions. The burden now shifts to the Senate, which is not expected to act on its version of a regulatory overhaul until early next year.

The president praised the House action Friday, and called on Congress to act swiftly to get the bill to the White House for his signature.

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Philippine president lifting martial law in southern province where 57 were massacred

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has approved the lifting of martial law in a southern Philippine province where 57 people were massacred last month in the country's worst political violence.

The martial law edict will be lifted at 9 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) Saturday, eight days after she signed the proclamation placing Maguindanao province under martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed police and soldiers to arrest suspects without court warrants, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

It was the first time that martial law had been declared since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed it nationwide more than 30 years ago and ruled by decree until he was toppled in 1986.

Arroyo took the step to enable security forces to move against the Ampatuan clan which has been blamed for the Nov. 23 killings of members of a rival clan and 30 journalists, and accused of fomenting a rebellion to prevent authorities from arresting members of the family.

The Cabinet's security group recommended the withdrawal of the controversial proclamation and Arroyo approved it during a meeting of the National Security Council early Saturday, Ermita told a televised news conference.

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US, Japan reach agreement to relax limits on passenger, cargo flights between the 2 countries

By The Associated Press

An aviation agreement between the U.S. and Japan could usher in a new period of closer alliances among the major carriers in both countries.

United Airlines wasted no time in declaring that it will seek antitrust immunity for a joint venture with Continental Airlines Inc. and Japan's All Nippon Airways in which the three would work together to set prices and flight schedules on trans-Pacific routes.

But the real drama concerns the next deal. Japan Airlines, that country's largest carrier, is likely to seek antitrust immunity with Delta Air Lines Inc. or American Airlines, the two largest U.S. carriers.

Delta and American are already waging an unusually public fight over Japan Airlines. After Delta pledged $1 billion to prop up financially troubled JAL, American and its partners said they would invest $1.1 billion. The U.S. carriers are attracted by JAL's strong routes in Japan and China.

The aviation deal reached late Friday by the U.S. and Japan came together during an intense round of talks this week. It still needs formal approval by both nations, and no date was announced for its implementation.

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Police in Salt Lake City suburb calls case of missing Utah mother of 2 suspicious

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Utah police are putting more investigators into the search for a 28-year-old mother whose disappearance has been termed "highly suspicious."

Since Susan Powell was reported missing Monday, authorities have questioned her husband and searched a desert area where he said he took the couple's two young children, ages 2 and 4, camping last weekend in freezing conditions.

Josh Powell returned Monday night, after police had already received a call from relatives who had not heard from the Powell family.

"We are putting practically every detective we have on this case," West Valley City Police Capt. Tom McLachlan said Friday afternoon. "It's highly suspicious."

He said about 30 detectives hunted down leads Friday as investigators tried to verify Josh Powell's story, but couldn't because snow had covered the spot along The Pony Express Trail where he said he took the children.

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Sarah Palin makes surprise appearance on 'The Tonight Show' and gets back at William Shatner

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Sarah Palin made a surprise appearance on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" on Friday _ and turned the tables on actor William Shatner.

In recent appearances on the late-night television show, Shatner has adopted a serious pose and recited some of Palin's less serious observations.

He was brought out again Friday to read passages from Palin's blockbuster "Going Rogue." The carefully selected passages included ones about rapper Kid Rock and stalking sheep.

Afterward, it was Palin's turn to read from Shatner's autobiography, "Up Till Now." The former Alaska governor's selections included one in which Shatner talks about visiting an African elephant "in my underwear."

After the readings, there appeared to be no hard feelings. The two left the stage arm-in-arm.