WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are working on a set of new and unprecedented Iran sanctions that could prevent the Islamic republic from doing business with most of the world until it agrees to international constraints on its nuclear program, officials say.
The bipartisan financial and trade restrictions amount to a "complete sanctions regime" against Tehran, according to one congressional aide involved in the process. But it could put the Obama administration in a difficult position with allies who are still trading with Iran, but whom the U.S. needs if it is to secure a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
On Thursday, in its first foreign policy announcement since the president's re-election, the administration targeted four Iranian officials and five organizations with sanctions for jamming satellite broadcasts and blocking Internet access for Iranian citizens.
But the measures that Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., want to attach to a defense bill would be far more sweeping. They would target everything from Iranian assets overseas to all foreign goods that the country imports, building on the tough sanctions package against Tehran's oil industry that the two lawmakers pushed through earlier this year, congressional aides and people involved in the process said. Those earlier measures already have cut Iran's petroleum exports in half and hobbled its economy.
Yet even as the value of its currency has dropped precipitously against the dollar in a year, sparking an economic depression and massive public discontent, Iran's leadership has yet to bite on an offer from world powers for an easing of sanctions in exchange for several compromises over its nuclear program. To break the logjam, the administration is brainstorming ways to make the offer more attractive for the Iranians without granting any new concessions that would reward the regime for its intransigence, according to administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
High fliers? Marijuana votes in Colorado, Washington state raise specter of pot tourism
DENVER (AP) — Hit the slopes — and then a bong?
Marijuana legalization votes this week in Colorado and Washington state don't just set up an epic state-federal showdown on drug law for residents. The measures also open the door for marijuana tourism.
Both measures make marijuana possession in small amounts OK for all adults over 21. The measures affect not just state residents but visitors, too. Tourists may not be able to pack their bowls along with their bags, but as long as out-of-state tourists purchase and use the drug while in Colorado or Washington, they wouldn't violate the marijuana measures.
That's assuming the recreational marijuana measures take effect at all. That was very much in doubt Friday as the states awaited word on possible marijuana lawsuits from the federal government.
Obama to address 'fiscal cliff,' setting tone for negotiations with Republicans
WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly re-elected President Barack Obama will use a White House appearance to set the tone for upcoming talks with congressional Republicans on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.
Republicans continue to draw a line in the sand against higher tax rates for upper-income earners as they seek to topple the conventional wisdom that Obama has the upper hand in upcoming negotiations on averting the potentially economy-crippling set of tax increases and automatic spending cuts due to hit in January.
Obama faces a tough, core decision: Does he pick a fight and risk a prolonged impasse with Republicans or does he rush to compromise and risk alienating Democrats still celebrating his victory?
Many of his Democratic allies hope Obama will take a hard line when he addresses the matter Friday. Republicans warn that a fight could poison efforts for a rapprochement in a bitterly divided Capitol and threaten his second-term agenda.
Obama has been silent since his victory speech early Wednesday morning, but Capitol Hill Republicans have filled the vacuum with vows to stand resolutely against any effort by the president to fulfill a campaign promise to raise the top two income tax rates to Clinton-era levels.
Gasoline rationing begins in NYC; power outages continue to stymie recovery efforts
NEW YORK (AP) — A new gasoline rationing plan that lets motorists fill up every other day goes into effect in New York as a nor'easter that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of new people erased some of the progress made by utility crews.
Police will be at gas stations Friday morning to enforce the new system in New York City and on Long Island.
"This is designed to let everybody have a fair chance, so the lines aren't too oppressive and that we can get through this," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
The nor'easter brought gusting winds, rain and snow on Wednesday and early Thursday before it moved on. Snow blanketed several states from New York to New England and stymied recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy as additional storm-weakened trees snapped and more power lines came down.
Hundreds of thousands of utility customers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, have been left still waiting for their electricity to come back on — and some are losing patience, demanding investigations of utilities they say aren't working fast enough.
Defense officials: 7 Navy SEALs punished for disclosing classified information to video maker
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven members of the secretive Navy SEAL Team 6, including one involved in the mission to get Osama bin Laden, have been punished for disclosing classified information, senior Navy officials said Thursday.
Four other SEALs are under investigation for similar alleged violations, one official said.
The SEALs are alleged to have divulged classified information to the maker of a video game called "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."
Each of the seven received a punitive letter of reprimand and a partial forfeiture of pay for two months. Those actions generally hinder a military member's career.
The deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, issued a statement acknowledging that nonjudicial punishments had been handed out for misconduct, but he did not offer any details.
Gabby Giffords faces man who went on deadly Arizona rampage as judge orders life in prison
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The pain was palpable, measured in silent stares in the courtroom between an emotionless murderer and wounded former congresswoman who looked her attempted killer in the eyes for the first time since he shot her in the head.
Gabrielle Giffords limped to the podium Thursday, her astronaut husband by her side, inside a packed Tucson courtroom before a judge ordered Jared Lee Loughner to spend the rest of his life in prison.
It was the first time since the January 2011 shooting rampage that his victims would get a chance to speak their minds directly to him. Loughner sat silent, but appeared to absorb every word, his blank gaze fixed on each victim as they scolded him, told stories of their pain and loss and recounted those horrific moments when gunfire changed their lives forever.
"You killed six innocent people," said Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly. "Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered. ... Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at."
Giffords, wearing a black brace around her torso, looked closely at the 24-year-old Loughner for several minutes without uttering a word.
Balkan asylum seekers come under suspicion amid exodus to wealthy EU nations
BUJANOVAC, Serbia (AP) — Azra Ajeti's fellow Gypsies have been buffeted by accusations of filing bogus asylum claims in the rich EU, but she says there's nothing phony about her family's life of misery. "We are starving," said the woman from this impoverished southern Serbian town. "Life here is a disgrace."
Ajeti's son was among some 60,000 people from Serbia and other Balkan countries who have sought asylum in Western Europe since the EU allowed visa-free travel from their nations three years ago. Many EU and local officials describe the exodus as little more than a fraud in which mostly Gypsy migrants cross over knowing their asylum requests have no chance, their main goal to obtain the food, lodging and, in some cases, living expenses worth hundreds of euros (dollars) per month they are entitled to while awaiting an answer.
As a result of the continued surge, the EU states with the most Balkan asylum requests — Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg — are moving toward re-imposing visas for Serbia and Macedonia, the two countries that send the most asylum applicants.
Many seekers, however, cite racial discrimination in their home countries as the reason for their flight, saying it constitutes legitimate grounds for asylum.
"Everybody wants to leave," Ajeti said while selling old clothes that she picked out of garbage cans on the dusty streets of Bujanovac. "If I had money for a bus ticket, I would pack up and go right this instant."
Parents in Iraq's second city fear for children after pair of girls abducted, raped and killed
BASRA, Iraq (AP) — The brutal crimes struck a nerve, even in a country that has seen a horrific amount of bloodshed in the past decade: Young Iraqi girls kidnapped, repeatedly raped and then bludgeoned to death in two separate incidents near the southern city of Basra.
Despite a conviction in one case, a handful of arrests in the other and beefed up police patrols in the city, families in Basra remain on edge following the murders of 4-year-old Banin Haider and 5-year-old Abeer Ali in a span of less than two months.
Now, many parents in and around the city won't let their children go to school alone or even play outside after class is out, fearing their daughters, too, could be snatched off the streets, sexually abused and murdered. Others are making plans to leave Basra altogether, saying they have lost confidence in the security forces' ability to keep children safe.
"These inhuman crimes make me think of the safety of my children," said Hazim Sharif, 38, a government employee and father of four. "I do not trust the security forces any more. I have to protect my family by myself."
To many in Iraq, the murders mark a new, more menacing type of violence than the country has previously encountered — at least in public.
UN warns that 4 million people in Syria will likely need humanitarian aid in early 2013
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations is warning that the number of people inside Syria needing humanitarian aid could rise sharply from 2.5 million now to 4 million by early next year if the civil war grinds on at its current deadly pace.
John Ging, operations director for the U.N. humanitarian office, said the U.N. is also projecting that a failure to end the fighting will lead to an increase in the number of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries, from almost 400,000 at present to around 700,000 in early 2013.
Ging spoke in an interview ahead of Friday's fifth Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva where between 350 and 400 representatives of governments, international organizations and aid groups will hear reports on the sharply deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.
"People need to be aware of just how desperate the situation is inside Syria for the people there, how unbearable it is, and how they are suffering and falling into ever deeper despair and humanitarian need," Ging said. "It's just getting a lot worse very rapidly for the ordinary people."
At the moment, he said, the U.N. and other aid organizations are only able to reach 1.5 million of the 2.5 million people in need of assistance inside Syria — and one of the reasons is funding.
Group says hunt for warlord Kony hopeless without more troops, increased American involvement
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — An advocacy group says the hunt for the African warlord Joseph Kony is hopeless without more troops and urges American forces to "play a more operational role" on the ground.
The U.S.-based Enough Project said in a report released Friday that the fight against the Lord's Resistance Army is not going well partly because Ugandan soldiers in central Africa face multiple logistical and intelligence challenges that limit their ability to locate the rebels.
President Barack Obama roughly a year ago sent 100 U.S. Special Forces troops to help regional governments eliminate Kony, an accused war criminal, and other LRA commanders, but they only play an advisory role. About 2,500 African Union troops led by Uganda are involved in the manhunt.