The Federal Reserve slashed its 2014 growth forecast for the US economy after the rough winter but kept policy on hold on Wednesday, showing faith in a modest rebound. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the economy had picked up after the first quarter's contraction, but she also downplayed a pickup of inflation as any sign of a need to tighten monetary policy. As expected the Federal Open Market Committee cuts its stimulus program back by another $10 billion, to $35 billion a month, compared with $85 billion in December before the taper began. It also left the benchmark federal funds interest rate at 0-0.25 percent, where it has been since the end of 2008, arguing that the economy still needs such extraordinary accommodation into next year, when the rate is expected to rise.
The United States called on Cuba on Wednesday to allow an imprisoned American contractor to travel home to attend his mother's funeral as a humanitarian gesture. Alan Gross, 65, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba in 2011 after being convicted of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state" for allegedly distributing communications equipment as a contractor for the US aid agency USAID. Washington has repeatedly called for his release, and on Wednesday State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered "our deepest and sincerest condolences" following the news that his 92-year-old mother Evelyn had died after a long battle with lung cancer. Cuban officials also offered "heartfelt condolences" to Gross's family and repeated an offer to resolve the situation by reopening the cases of three Cubans serving long jail terms in the US after being convicted of spying.
The United States fully supports Colombia's efforts to reach a deal to end Latin America's longest civil war, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected Sunday in a runoff seen as a referendum on his bid to end the 50-year-old conflict. "As I told you here in Bogota last spring, just as the United States has supported Colombian leaders on the battlefield over the years, we fully support you at the negotiating table," Biden said at a news conference alongside Santos. The Colombian government is trying to reach peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which have 8,000 and 2,500 fighters respectively.
US President Barack Obama faced demands for a new US strategy on the deepening crisis in Iraq on Wednesday, as the White House insisted he had not ruled out Baghdad's request for air strikes. But there were no signs that renewed military action was imminent in a war that Obama had declared at an end, as the president mulled a range of options drawn up by his advisors. The White House, pushing back on reports that said that Obama had decided that no strikes would take place immediately, said that he had yet to discount direct military action. "The only thing the president has ruled out is sending troops back into combat in Iraq, but he continues to consider other options," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama is mingling with inventors, sooner or later there has to be a robot. On Wednesday, it was Russell, the 17-foot electric giraffe towering in the South Lawn of the White House, a symbol of the quirky and clever creations Obama wanted to showcase on a day devoted to innovation.
The Federal Reserve slashed its 2014 growth forecast for the US economy Wednesday to 2.1-2.3 percent after a deeper-than-expected contraction in the first quarter of the year. In March the Fed forecast growth at 2.8-3.0 percent, before the depth of the winter setback, partially due to extremely harsh weather across much of the country, was known.
President Barack Obama does not support the idea of a corporate tax repatriation "holiday" that some Republicans in Congress have said could help boost the coffers of the dwindling Highway Trust Fund, the White House said on Wednesday. "The president does not support and has never supported a voluntary repatriation holiday because it would give large tax breaks to a very small number of companies that have most aggressively shifted profits, and in many cases, jobs, overseas," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. A one-time holiday in 2004 saw 15 firms get more than 50 percent of tax breaks worth billions, Carney said.
Cyprus returned to international debt markets Wednesday, just a little over a year after being forced to accept a 10-billion euro ($13.6 billion) bailout, with a five-year bond issue. Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said on Twitter: "It's done. In contrast to this public issue, Cyprus placed 100 million euros privately in April, with the six-year paper carrying a coupon of 6.5 percent. Ruling Disy party spokesman Prodromos Prodromou described the sale as “a critical moment” in restoring confidence in the Cypriot economy.
Ireland faces significant challenges as it begins a tentative economic recovery, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday in its first review since Dublin exited an international bailout programme in December. "Following a smooth exit from the EU-IMF supported programme, strong job creation and other indicators suggest Ireland's economic recovery is broadening," the IMF said in a staff report. Ireland was forced to turn to the European Union and the IMF for an 85-billion-euro ($115 billion) rescue in 2010 after a banking crash and the bursting of a property bubble, but regained investor confidence after it cut spending and raised taxes.
US Vice President Joe Biden, on a four-country trip across Latin America, said he hoped the region would accept more Guantanamo prisoners to help expedite closing the facility, in an interview published Wednesday by a Colombian newspaper. "One of the fastest ways to accelerate the closure of Guantanamo is for other countries to agree, in a responsible manner, to receive detainees," Biden was quoted as saying in the Spanish-language El Espectador. The vice president, who is on a regional tour coinciding with the World Cup, said during his stop in Colombia that closure of the prison remained a high priority for the United States. Transfer of prisoners out of the jail -- which President Barack Obama has repeatedly vowed to close -- has been accelerated in recent months.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Environmentalists in Illinois expected a battle royal over their call for a statewide ban on "microbeads" — tiny bits of plastic used in personal care products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste that are flowing by the billions into the Great Lakes and other waterways. Discovered only recently, scientists say they're showing up inside fish that are caught for human consumption.