Iran starts implementing nuclear deal, halts most sensitive uranium enrichment
TEHRAN (AP) — Iran halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work on Monday as part of a landmark deal struck with world powers, easing concerns over the country's nuclear program and clearing the way for a partial lifting of sanctions, Tehran and the U.N. said.
An Iranian state TV broadcast said authorities halted enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, just steps away from bomb-making materials, by disconnecting the cascades of centrifuges enriching uranium in Natanz.
"Production of 20 percent enriched uranium has been halted by cutting the links feeding cascades in this facility," it said. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear agency, confirmed that the centrifuges were disconnected.
The broadcast said international inspectors were present Monday when Iran began implementing its obligations under the historic deal reached in Geneva Nov. 24. They left to monitor the suspension at Fordo, another uranium enrichment site in central Iran.
The official IRNA news agency said Iran also started Monday to convert part of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to oxide to produce nuclear fuel.
American jailed in North Korea appears before reporters, asks US to help secure his release
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — An American missionary who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.
The missionary, Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he called a press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Wearing a gray cap and inmate's uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang.
"I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country," he said.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to secure his release. He said he has not been treated badly in confinement.
With stakes high and expectations low, Syrian peace talks set to open this week in Switzerland
BEIRUT (AP) — With stakes high and expectations low, Syria's government and its opponents are supposed to sit down face-to-face this week for the first time — muscled to an international peace conference by foreign powers that fear the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings may engulf the entire region in sectarian war.
But the negotiations, tenuous from the beginning, were again up in the air on Monday as a new U.N. invitation extended to Iran prompted a threat from the Western-backed opposition to pull out of the gathering.
The international community seemingly agrees on the urgent need to end fighting that has killed more than 130,000 people, touched off the worst humanitarian crisis in decades and unleashed sectarian hatreds that have sent tremors across the Middle East.
But they do not agree on how — or who — can end the war.
Both the government and the opposition have suffered enormous losses, but even now, neither side appears desperate enough for a deal to budge from its entrenched position. The front lines of the war itself have been largely locked in place since last March.
Several of Obama's key surveillance changes are hampered by legal, logistics complications
WASHINGTON (AP) — Several of the key surveillance reforms unveiled by President Barack Obama face complications that could muddy the proposals' lawfulness, slow their momentum in Congress and saddle the government with heavy costs and bureaucracy, legal experts warn.
Despite Obama's plans to shift the National Security Agency's mass storage of Americans' bulk phone records elsewhere, telephone companies do not want the responsibility. And the government could face privacy and structural hurdles in relying on any other entity to store the data.
Constitutional analysts also question the legal underpinning of Obama's commitment to setting up an advisory panel of privacy experts to intervene in some proceedings of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the NSA's data mining operations. Obama has asked Congress to set up such a panel, but senior federal judges already oppose the move, citing practical and legal drawbacks.
The secret courts now operate with only the government making its case to a federal judge for examining someone's phone data. Civil libertarians have called for a voice in the room that might offer the judge an opposing view.
"The devil is in the details of how the government collects and retains phone records," said Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "and I think we're going to see pretty quickly the lack of specificity behind some of the president's promises."
Behind Olympic facades is a crumbling Sochi whose residents live worse now than ever
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A shining new $635 million highway on the outskirts of Sochi stands next to a crumbling apartment block with a red "SOS!" banner on its roof.
The residents of 5a Akatsy street have lived for years with no running water or sewage system. Construction for the 2014 Winter Games has made their lives more miserable: The new highway has cut them off from the city center. Even their communal outhouse had to be torn down because it was found to be too close to the new road and ruled an eyesore.
The slum is one of the many facets of a hidden dark side in the host city of next month's Winter Olympics, which stands side-by-side with the glittering new construction projects that President Vladimir Putin is touting as a symbol of Russia's transformation from a dysfunctional Soviet leviathan to a successful, modern economy. While state-run TV trains its cameras on luxury malls, sleek stadiums and high-speed train links, thousands of ordinary people in the Sochi area put up with squalor and environmental waste: villagers living next to an illegal dump filled with Olympic construction waste, families whose homes are sinking into the earth, city dwellers suffering chronic power cuts despite promises to improve electricity.
Putin promoted the Sochi Games, which begin on Feb. 7, as a unique opportunity to bring investment to the Black Sea resort and improve living standards for its 350,000 residents. Looking back at those promises, many residents, weary from years of living in the midst of Russia's biggest construction project in modern history, say they have yet to see any improvement in their lives and point to an array of negative effects.
"Everyone was looking forward to the Olympics," said Alexandra Krivchenko, a 37-year-old mother of three who lives on Akatsy street. "We just never thought they would leave us bang in the middle of a federal highway!"
NJ mayor ratchets up Sandy recovery aid ultimatum allegation against Christie, talks to feds
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Democratic mayor of a town severely flooded by Superstorm Sandy has ratcheted up her allegation that Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration tied recovery funds to her support for a prime real estate project and said that she turned over documents to a federal prosecutor investigating his staff.
While a spokesman for Christie called Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claims "categorically false," Zimmer said she met with federal prosecutors in Newark for several hours Sunday at their request and turned over a journal and other documents.
On Saturday, Zimmer said Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, and a top community development official separately told her that recovery funds would flow to her city if she expedited the commercial development project by the New York-based Rockefeller Group.
On Sunday, she went a step further and said on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" that Guadagno told her that the request "was a direct message from the governor."
"The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said, essentially, 'You've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor.' And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor," Zimmer recalled Guadagno saying.
Vietnam's 'cyber troops' step up campaign against dissent, target activist, foreign reporter
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Working on her blog in California one day, Vietnamese democracy activist Ngoc Thu sensed something was wrong. It took a moment for a keystroke to register. Cut-and-paste wasn't working. She had "a feeling that somebody was there" inside her computer. Her hunch turned out to be right.
A few days later, her personal emails and photos were displayed on the blog, along with defamatory messages. She couldn't delete them; she was blocked out of her own site for several days as her attackers kept posting private details.
"They hurt me and my family. They humiliated us, so that we don't do the blog anymore," said Thu, who is a U.S citizen. She has resumed blogging, but now the Vietnamese government is blocking her posts.
Activists and analysts strongly suspect Hanoi was involved in that attack and scores of others like it.
They say a shadowy, pro-government cyber army is blocking, hacking and spying on Vietnamese activists around the world to hamper the country's pro-democracy movement.
Jimmy Fallon's run on 'Tonight' show to begin with Will Smith, U2
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight" show, which debuts next month with actor Will Smith and U2 as guests, will look familiar to people who appreciate his current work in the time slot following Jay Leno.
Fallon said he doesn't expect to change his brand of comedy to tailor himself to an earlier time slot. Fallon and his successor at "Late Night," Seth Meyers, met with reporters Sunday as NBC begins the delicate process of a late-night transition.
"This show has completely changed from when I first started," Fallon said of "Late Night," which he has hosted for five years. "I feel like we've blossomed into what will become the new 'Tonight' show."
He rejected the idea of changes to make himself more appealing to an older, middle American audience that likes Leno. It's a delicate subject at NBC, where executives believe Conan O'Brien's limited appeal doomed their first effort to replace Leno. The executives anticipate Fallon's light-hearted comedy translating better.
Leno closes his two-decade run on "Tonight" Feb. 6 with Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks as guests. On Feb. 17, Fallon debuts a week's worth of shows at midnight following NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics. He moves into his regular time slot a week later, followed by Meyers, who has "Saturday Night Live" chum Amy Poehler booked as his first guest.