US Secretary of State John Kerry began a difficult mission to mediate an end to the political crisis in Afghanistan Friday, warning a bitter dispute over presidential polls threatened the country's future. "Obviously we are at a very critical moment for Afghanistan," Kerry said as he met the head of the UN assistance mission Jan Kubis in the heavily fortified US embassy in Kabul. Later Friday he will meet poll rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who are locked in a bitter row over who won last month's run-off election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Kubis vowed the UN would do its utmost to help Afghanistan "finalise and complete the political transition... in a way that will strengthen the stability and unity of the country."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Friday brushed off a defeat in the Senate on repealing the country's carbon tax, calling it normal "argy bargy" that would not derail a key election promise. The government must walk a tightrope in the upper house, needing the backing of minor party senators such as those from PUP to get its legislative agenda passed if it cannot secure support from Labor or the Greens. This includes not only scrapping the carbon tax but the massive spending cuts it has planned to bring the budget under control.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hopes to increase Russian investments in and trade with Latin America. During a tour in Cuba that will also take him to Argentina and Brazil, the Russian leader said he was focusing on enhancing technological cooperation and investment, especially in the sectors of energy, nuclear power and machinery. "We are interested in creating technological production and partnership projects with countries in the region to maximize the potential for economic cooperation in critical areas such as oil and gas, hydropower and nuclear power, plane and helicopter construction and infrastructure, as well as biopharmaceutical and information technology," Putin said. "Latin America is a rich source of natural resources, such as oil and bauxite, fresh water and food."
Germany expelled the CIA station chief in Berlin over alleged spying by the United States which has refused to break its silence over the escalating row between the Western allies. The expulsion Thursday came after two suspected US spy cases were uncovered in less than a week in Germany, where anger still simmers over the NSA surveillance scandal sparked by revelations from fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. "The representative of the US intelligence services at the embassy of the United States of America has been told to leave Germany," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Blackwater guards fired dozens of shots into cars and people, an FBI expert testified, in an example of the brutality of the 2007 killings that left 14 Iraqis dead in Baghdad. Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten appeared dressed in suits and ties before a federal court in Washington as the second trial in the case entered its fifth week. FBI expert Douglas Murphy said he traveled to the site of the killings twice to examine the cars involved in the shootings. Asked about the weapons and ammunition used by the four defendants that day, Marine expert Shelby Lasater stressed the grenades used are "designed to penetrate armor and to cause casualties or kill."
By Richard Cowan and Julia Edwards WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration warned lawmakers on Thursday that U.S. border control agencies would run out of money and migrant children would run out of beds if Congress did not approve $3.7 billion in funds to address an influx of people from Central America. Days after the White House put forward its request for emergency funding to address the humanitarian crisis at the southwest U.S. border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pressed the need for lawmakers to approve the request. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection would run out of funds by mid-August and mid-September, respectively, without the emergency cash, he said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the request. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said her department would run out of beds in temporary housing facilities if the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border continued into August at the same rate seen in May and June.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The testimony of nine military officers undermines contentions by Republican lawmakers that a "stand-down order" held back military assets that could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed nearly two years ago at a diplomatic outpost and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday signed a new law creating an ID card for anyone who wants it, including illegal immigrants, amid a wider debate about immigrant rights. De Blasio said it would help illegal immigrants -- there are 500,000 in New York, he estimated -- get better access to a range of services in the city such as opening a bank account or getting a lease on a property. "This is about normalizing and improving people's lives," the Democratic mayor said, describing New York as "a beacon of hope and inclusion." People applying for the municipal ID card "will not be asked about their immigrant status," he emphasized.
By Colleen Jenkins WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - North Carolina's overhauled election law should be halted before the midterm elections in November to avoid discrimination against African Americans and young voters, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights groups said on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder did not immediately rule at the end of the four-day hearing in Winston-Salem but said he would issue a written opinion soon. North Carolina is among several states forced to defend changes to voting protocol, including its requirement for voters to show photo identification at the polls starting in 2016. Similar to voting rights battles nationwide, race and politics have been at the forefront of the North Carolina fight.
By Richard Cowan and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Republicans said on Thursday they intend to make President Barack Obama's changes to his signature health insurance law the focus of a forthcoming lawsuit accusing him of overstepping his legal authorities. The House Rules Committee made public a "discussion draft" of legislation to authorize legal action against the president for misusing executive orders and other unilateral actions to advance his agenda. House Speaker John Boehner first announced plans for a House lawsuit against Obama late last month. The draft does not mention specific grievances, but gives Boehner authority to seek injunctive relief for failure by Obama and members of his administration for failure to act in a manner consistent with the Constitution and U.S. laws "with respect to implementation of (including failure to implement) the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." Republican lawmakers, who have been trying unsuccessfully to repeal the 2010 law for years, regularly decry the Obama administration's decision to delay Obamacare coverage mandates and grant various waivers as illegal without congressional approval.
The Senate confirmed US ambassadors to Kuwait and Qatar on Thursday, as top Democrats fumed that lawmakers are slow-walking dozens more of President Barack Obama's nominations. Career diplomats Douglas Silliman and Dana Smith were confirmed as the new envoys to Kuwait and Qatar, respectively. Smith's confirmation process took a relatively quick two months, but Silliman's lasted seven months, a length of time that has become more the rule than the exception in a thoroughly gridlocked Senate.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he was worried fierce fighting with Hamas in Gaza could escalate, and offered US help to broker a ceasefire. Obama spoke to the Israeli leader after Israeli warplanes pounded the Palestinian enclave but did not stop militants firing rockets at cities inside the Jewish state, and as global concern over rising Palestinian casualties mounted. "The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm," the White House said in a statement. The 2012 deal, brokered by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Egypt, ended eight days of Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in a previous showdown.