Syrian rebels ask Kerry to send U.S. arms quickly By Michelle Nichols NEW YORK (Reuters) – The head of Syria’s opposition told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday the country’s situation was „desperate” and called for the United States to arm the rebels quickly and to push harder for a political settlement.The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed since Syria’s civil war erupted more than two years ago pitting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against rebels seeking to end his family’s four-decade rule.President Barack Obama, having withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq and seeking to wind up the U.S. war in Afghanistan, has been reluctant to get involved in the conflict in Syria.However, U.S. congressional panels this month agreed to a White House plan to provide arms to the rebels despite lawmakers’ questions about its chances of success and concerns the arms might be used against Western targets.A U.S. official has said funding for the classified program runs out on September 30, when the U.S. fiscal year ends. That means the White House will have to seek Congress’ blessing again for arming the rebels, the official said, possibly setting up a renewed confrontation over Washington’s policy on Syria.”The U.S. commitment of military support to the Supreme Military Council is vital, but it needs to happen fast, and in a way that allows us to defend ourselves and protect civilians,” Ahmed al-Jarba, the Syrian National Coalition’s newly elected leader, said in a statement released as he met Kerry in New York.”The situation in Syria is desperate. We urgently need American action to push the international community to demand a political transition,” he added. „American leadership and drive is essential to end this war and bring the democracy that the large majority of the Syrian people want.”REBELS TO MEET U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL–Jarba and three other senior SNC members – Burhan Ghalioun, Najib Ghadbian and Michel Kilo – are in New York to meet informally with the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Friday.Jarba and rebel military commander General Salim Idriss met with French President Francois Hollande and other French officials in Paris earlier this week to appeal for diplomatic, humanitarian and military aid.The Syrian rebels are frustrated that U.S. plans to send weapons to them have been held up by congressional concerns.Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have been supplying the rebels with arms, security sources and diplomats say.”Military and violent actions must be stopped by both parties, and it is thus imperative to have a peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after meeting with Kerry on Thursday.The United States, Russia and the United Nations are still working to convene a meeting in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition groups to try to broker a peace deal.So far, attempts to organize a so-called „Geneva II” peace conference on Syria to revive a political transition plan agreed in the Swiss city in June 2012 have been futile. U.N. diplomats say it is looking increasingly unlikely that such a conference will take place anytime soon, if at all.Kerry told reporters that his almost hour-long meeting with the Syrian opposition leaders had been „constructive.””The Syrian opposition committed that they believed Geneva II is very important and they agreed to work over the course of the next couple of weeks to pinpoint the terms, the conditions under which they think it could work,” he said.(Additional reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Plea deal offered to Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro, TV station reports View gallery Cleveland Kidnap Victims Speak Out For First Time Play video .Ariel Castro’s Lawyers Admit Defense Hurdles Play video .Jeff Stacklin 9 hours ago Society A plea deal has been offered to the man accused of kidnapping three Cleveland women and raping them repeatedly while he held them in captivity at his home during the past decade, according to a Cleveland TV station.If Ariel Castro, 53, of Cleveland accepts the deal, he would avoid the death penalty, according to a report by WKYC-TV in Cleveland. The deal, however, has not been finalized. A final pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Friday morning, said a spokeswoman for Judge Michael Russo, who is presiding over the case.Maria Russo, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s spokeswoman, said she could not confirm if a formal deal had been offered to Castro.Phone calls to Castro’s defense attorneys were not immediately returned. Prosecutors and defense attorneys met in Russo’s courtroom on Wednesday and said they were working toward a plea deal. A trial for Castro is scheduled for Aug. 5. He has pleaded not guilty to 977 charges, including murder, rape and kidnapping. According to the indictments, he is accused of beating and starving one of the women to force her to miscarry — a charge that could lead to the death penalty.The women — Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27 — were freed from Castro’s home on the west side of Cleveland on May 6, along with Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who was fathered by Castro during her captivity.
Obama Won’t Call Egypt a ‘Coup’ Any Time SoonAbby Ohlheiser 1 hour ago PoliticsEgyptPresidency of Barack ObamaView galleryObama Won’t Call Egypt a ‘Coup’ Any Time SoonThe Obama administration, faced with the question of whether the series of events in Egypt that led to the ouster of former president Muhammed Morsi was a coup or not, have decided not to make a final judgement in the near future. In doing so, they have, by default, declined to call it a „coup,” ensuring that the U.S. will continue to provide $1.5 billion in annual aid to the country. RELATED: Tahrir Square Erupts in Cheers as Morsi Is Removed from OfficeHere’s why, according to the Associated Press (hint: it has a lot to do with that continued aid): The administration has been forced into difficult contortions to justify not declaring a coup d’etat, which would prompt the automatic suspension of American assistance programs under U.S. law. Washington fears that halting such funding could imperil programs that help to secure Israel’s border and fight weapons smuggling into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, among other things seen as critical to U.S. national security.The non-decision leaves a door open for the administration to call the 2013 overthrow of the Egyptian government a coup in the future, but that would probably happen only if the U.S. loosened a restriction requiring the government to cut off all foreign aid to a country in the event of a coup. There are already a few members of Congress interested in pursuing those changes, including Republican senators Jim Inhofe and Bob Corker. RELATED: Did Egypt Sabotage Itself to Make Morsi Look Bad?But the Egyptian military’s decision to overthrow the democratically-elected, Muslim Brotherhood-led government of the country hasn’t been without consequence from the U.S., albeit relatively small. The U.S.’s eventual decision to slow down a plan to provide Egypt with four F-16 fighter jets indicates their displeasure with the manner in which the military has handled the removal of the elected government from power. Meanwhile, the army is calling for mass rallies on Friday in order to grant them a „mandate” to crack down on pro-Morsi protests across the country. That’s ahead of a Saturday deadline, set by the military, for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to stop rallying against them. RELATED: Muslim Brotherhood Leaders Are Being Rounded Up in EgyptThe administration’s refusal to call the events a coup puts them at odds with the AP’s go-ahead earlier this month for their journalists (and the many, many journalists outside of the AP who follow their style guide) to use the word „coup” to describe the governmental overthrow in Egypt, so long as reporters specify that the military takeover occurred in the midst of a popular uprising against the government. The AP’s decision was prompted by the military’s crackdown on Morsi supporters in the wake of the takeover, and the dissolution of its elected parliament.
DETROIT (AP) — Just as General Motors is getting a handle on its troubles in Europe, the automaker faces a new challenge in another part of the globe.GM says Japanese automakers are using the weak yen to cut prices in Southeast Asia and Australia, taking a bite out of GM’s profits there. Sales tailed off in India as well.A subpar second-quarter performance in the company’s international operations division pulled GM’s overall profit down 16 percent from last year, offsetting gains in North America and a stark improvement in Europe.The company’s shares fell 6 cents to close at $37.08 Thursday.The Detroit automaker earned $1.26 billion from April through June, or 75 cents per share. That’s down from $1.5 billion, or 90 cents per share, a year ago.Still, GM handily beat Wall Street predictions when one-time items were excluded. On that basis, GM earned 84 cents per share in the quarter, nine cents better than the forecast of analysts surveyed by FactSet.In North America, strong sales of pickup trucks drove pretax profit up 4 percent to $1.98 billion.U.S. sales of big pickups boomed in the first half, rising 23 percent as the housing industry started to recover from the Great Recession and small businesses started buying again. At GM, Silverado sales gained 26 percent and Sierra sales rose 21, helping North American profits.Pickups are GM’s top-selling vehicles, and they bring in an estimated profit of $10,000 apiece.Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said he expected improved performance in the second half as GM gets the full benefit of rolling out the new trucks, as well as the 2014 Chevy Corvette sports car, an all-new Cadillac CTS sedan and other new models.”That’s going to give us a good tail wind into the second half,” he said.But Ammann also described headwinds in Asia-Pacific countries outside of China. He said Japanese rivals used a weaker yen to cut prices, forcing GM to respond in kind and lowering its profits.Although pretax income rose in China, GM’s International Operations profit fell by $400 million to $228 million.The Japanese yen has been falling against other currencies, making goods from Japan less expensive when sold in other countries. Ammann said Japanese automakers supply much of the Asia-Pacific region from Japan.GM expects the trend to continue, and is trying to counteract it with new products and other unspecified actions, Ammann said.Weakness in auto markets in India and Russia also contributed to the decline in international profits. Market conditions accounted for more than half of the drop in profit. Another chunk was warranty and recall costs. Ammann said the recall costs have continued into the current quarter.The International Operations numbers troubled some industry analysts who were otherwise impressed with GM’s performance.”The GMIO headwinds indicate that GM’s ex-China operations may remain challenged for some time,” Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a note to investors.MorganStanley analyst Adam Jonas said in an interview that it’s too early to tell if International Operations will remain a trouble spot for GM. He doesn’t think GM will soon repeat the $600 million profit from the region a year ago, but the $200 million from this quarter is too low. He expects profit to level off in the $400 million range.The fact that problems flared up just as it appeared that GM was getting Europe under control isn’t a long-term worry for a big international company, he said. „You’re never going to get it all working together at the same time,” he said.In Europe, GM cut $284 million off its loss from last year, narrowing it to $110 million as cost cuts kicked in and new products such as the Opel Mokka small crossover SUV and Adam subcompact car sold well, Ammann told reporters.Ammann said GM’s year-over-year performance in Europe should improve as cost cuts and more new products take hold, but the second half might worsen due to a normal seasonal slowdown.”The things that we control we feel very good about,” Ammann said. „Obviously what we don’t control is the European macro environment. That remains very challenging, but we’re making good progress despite that.”GM has said it expects to break even in Europe by the middle of the decade. Ammann wouldn’t provide further guidance.Overall, GM’s revenue rose 4 percent to just over $39 billion, beating Wall Street’s estimate of $37.7 billion. Worldwide sales rose 4 percent to 2.49 million vehicles.GM’s earnings come a day after its closest U.S. competitor, Ford Motor Co., reported better-than-expected profits, especially in Asia. Ford earned $1.23 billion, up 18.5 percent from a year ago.