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Kerry: Syrian moderate rebels could help in Iraq

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday that the U.S. hopes to enlist moderate Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has reluctantly decided to arm and train in the battle against militant extremists in neighboring Iraq.

Kerry, Saudi King discuss oil supply, U.S. official says

By Lesley Wroughton SHANNON Ireland (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah briefly discussed global oil supplies during a meeting on the crisis in Iraq on Friday, a senior State Department official said. During the talks, Kerry referred to recent comments by a Saudi oil official that the world's largest oil producer would increase supplies should crises in Iraq or Syria disrupt supplies, the official said. The official said Kerry believed the Saudi official's comments were "constructive." U.S. officials have expressed the belief that concerns in oil markets will ease once a more inclusive government is formed in Baghdad that can deal with a Sunni insurgency threatening to break apart Iraq.

Immigration overhaul death may hurt Colorado GOP

DENVER (AP) — The 2014 electoral map makes it unlikely Republicans will pay an immediate political price for the recent death of an immigration overhaul bill, except in one key, perennial swing state: Colorado.

California Border Patrol sends agents to Texas to help with immigrant influx

By Marty Graham SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - U.S. Border Patrol officials in Southern California are sending agents and other resources to Texas to help stretched colleagues in the Rio Grande deal with a surge of immigrants illegally crossing the frontier, two Border Patrol union officials said on Friday. Officials are trying to handle an influx of new arrivals, many of them unaccompanied children and teens from Central America, that has crowded facilities in Texas and led to efforts to move some to other states. "U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector is sending Mobile Response Team trained agents from San Diego to enhance processing and detention capabilities in the Rio Grande Valley," said Gabe Pacheco, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, which covers San Diego.

US judge warns Argentina over 'illegal' payments

A US judge said Friday a deposit from Argentina towards paying off restructured debt was illegal unless hedge funds holding $1.3 billion in bonds were also paid. Judge Thomas Griesa warned Buenos Aires that any further such payment attempts would put it in contempt, and said the $539 million sitting in an account of Bank of New York Mellon should be returned. He told the South American country to expedite negotiations to settle with the hedge funds, who held out from joining the 2005 and 2010 restructuring of Argentina's defaulted debt. Griesa has ordered Argentina to pay both the holdouts, NML Capital and Aurelius Management, and holders of the restructured bonds at the same time, by a June 30 deadline.

White House review of Veterans Administration finds 'corrosive culture'

By Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A scathing review of the scandal-plagued U.S. Veterans Administration found significant and chronic failures across the board at the agency and that a corrosive culture prevails, the White House said on Friday. The findings emerged after President Barack Obama met with acting Veterans Secretary Sloan Gibson and the White House official assigned to investigate the agency, Rob Nabors. Widespread evidence of delays in military veterans getting healthcare at the VA's facilities prompted Obama to accept the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki late in May. He has yet to nominate a new secretary. The White House review, which was conducted by Nabors, said the agency's 14-day scheduling standard for new patients to receive care is arbitrary, ill-defined and misunderstood.

Israeli air raid kills two Gaza Palestinians

An Israeli air strike on a car in the Gaza Strip killed two Palestinians Friday, medics said, hours after a bomb exploded near troops manning Israel's security fence. The violence comes a day after Israel accused two men it said belong to Hamas of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank a fortnight ago. Israel responded to the abduction by staging a vast crackdown on the West Bank network of Hamas, which governed Gaza until a recent Palestinian unity deal was struck, and has arrested hundreds of its Islamist foe's members.

Florida governor asks Kerry to help ex-Marine jailed in Mexico

Florida Governor Rick Scott asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede with Mexico on behalf of a former marine in jail there since March for carrying weapons. Andrew Tahmooressi, a 25-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was arrested on March 31 when he entered Mexico from California. His family has said that Tahmooressi suffers from PTSD and crossed the border inadvertently with several weapons in his car that he had purchased legally in the United States.

VA's 'Corrosive' Culture Needs Reform, Top Aide Tells Obama

At a meeting this afternoon, President Obama received a damning assessment of problems at the Veterans Administration from a top aide charged with reviewing the agency in the wake of its health-care scandal. The VA’s health system needs restructuring, and the agency as a whole...

Iraq, Out of Hellfire Missiles, Asks US for 1,400 More

With Iraq needing all the help it can get in pushing back Islamic militants, the government has requested 1,400 additional Hellfire missiles from the United States to restock its depleted supply.  Iraq burned through its inventory of 300 Hellfire missiles two weeks ago. In mid-July...

Call for dialogue over Central Africa conflict

All sides involved in the deadly conflict in the Central African Republic need to work together if the country is to get over the current gridlock, the president of neighbouring Chad said Friday. "The situation is at a stalemate," Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno said after a meeting with other leaders from the region at the sidelines of an African Union summit in Malabo. The Central African Republic has seen more than a year of unrest, with violence between mostly-Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and largely Christian anti-balaka militias leaving thousands dead and about a quarter of the almost 4.5 million population displaced. The country has been excluded from the AU's summits since the start of the crisis in 2013 -- but transitional president Catherine Samba Panza was invited to the latest meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

Moody's cuts Russia's rating outlook to 'negative', cites Ukraine crisis

Moody's cut Russia's credit rating outlook to "negative" Friday, a sign of a possible coming downgrade, citing the threat to the Russian economy from its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Moody's held Russia's overall rating at Baa1, in the low range for investment-grade bonds. It said Russia's annual growth outlook has fallen to 1.7 percent for the next five years from previous forecasts of three percent. Moody's said it did not cut the country's sovereign rating because it does not see the current level of conflict in Ukraine further pressing Russian growth lower.

As Ukraine inks EU deal, Moscow is not giving up

The EU's move to sign accords with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia is a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the tug-of-war over Moscow's ex-Soviet sphere of influence is far from over, say analysts. The association agreements have been met with barely concealed hostility in Russia, which will use every opportunity to undermine the three countries' EU integration while ensuring its own trade ties with Europe remain unaffected, the analysts told AFP. "Russia has many options to use the carrot and stick with these countries," said Maria Lipman of Carnegie Moscow Centre. Moscow argues the agreements threaten its domestic producers by allowing European goods to be re-exported from Ukraine through their less stringent customs channels.

US moves to phase out landmines

The United States signaled Friday its intent to eliminate its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines and eventually join a global treaty banning them, boosting efforts to rid the world of the weapons. The high-profile announcement was made at a conference in Mozambique's capital Maputo aimed at ultimately ensuring no armed forces use anti-personnel mines by 2025. "The United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. In 2009, Washington said it was reviewing its position on landmines but -- along with rivals China and Russia -- has failed to sign the Ottawa Convention that bans the use of APLs and envisions their eventual elimination.

NSA releases first statistics on surveillance sweep

The US National Security Agency released its first "transparency report" Friday, as part of an effort to quell the firestorm over reports of its massive data collection efforts. The NSA report said that in 2013, it obtained fewer than 2,000 orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The agency said it obtained just one order using Section 702 of the FISA intelligence law, which facilitates gathering foreign intelligence data on non-American people, groups or organizations outside the United States. The NSA said it made 178 applications under the law's bulk collection or "business records" provision -- which allows the agency to sweep up vast amounts of telephone metadata.

UN launches probe of rights violations in Eritrea

The UN's top human rights body launched an investigation on Friday into widespread abuses in Eritrea, including extrajudicial executions, torture and forced military conscription that can last decades. "The human rights crisis in Eritrea has been forgotten for too long and the scale of violations is unparallelled, putting the country among the worst human rights situations worldwide," Somalia's representative to the UN in Geneva, Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari-Bari, told the council. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution tabled by Somalia and France establishing a one-year special commission of inquiry into the situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa state. China, Pakistan, Venezuela and Russia refused to join the consensus, but the resolution passed without a vote, calling for the creation of a three-member investigation team to probe "all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea."

Mexican chopper crosses US border, shoots twice

A Mexican military helicopter ventured around 100 yards (meters) into US territory and fired two shots, the US border security agency said Friday. The incident took place Thursday at 5:45 am (1245 GMT) when "a Mexican law enforcement helicopter crossed... north into Arizona," said a statement from US Customs and Border Protection. The Mexican helicopter was on "a law enforcement operation near the border," it added.

US flies armed drones over Baghdad to protect Americans

The US military is flying armed drones over Baghdad to defend American troops and diplomats in the Iraqi capital if necessary, officials said Friday. The move comes after the United States deployed 180 troops as military advisers in recent days to help the Iraqi government army fend off the advance of Sunni militants, who have captured territory north and west of the capital. The flights involved "a few" drones and were ordered as a precaution to safeguard Americans in Baghdad, for what the military calls "force protection," he said. The Pentagon acknowledged that among the manned and unmanned aircraft flying over Iraq to carry out surveillance, some were carrying bombs and missiles -- without specifying if those planes were drones.