News Wrap: Diplomats make little headway on Ukraine outcome in Paris meeting
GWEN IFILL: The push for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine stalled again today. When all was said and done, it remained unclear if or when Russia might reconsider its actions in the Crimean region.
Paris was the focal point for today’s diplomacy, but negotiators came away with little to show for their efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterparts from Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The session was brief, with no breakthroughs.
Kerry said the meetings were constructive, and that no one is served by further confrontation.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We agreed to continue intense discussions in the coming days with Russia, with Ukrainians in order to see how we can help normalize the situation, stabilize it, and overcome the crisis.
GWEN IFILL: But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave no indication, before or after the Paris meeting, that Moscow would pull back in Crimea. Instead, he insisted, again, that the troops occupying much of the region are not Russian, but local.
SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): Regarding the self-defense forces created by the people of Crimea, we do not have any power over them. They do not listen to our orders.
GWEN IFILL: Lavrov also declined to meet with Ukraine’s acting foreign minister. He said there would be further discussions in days to come.
Meanwhile, in Crimea itself, U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was forced to abandon his mission there after his car was surrounded and he was threatened by a pro-Russian crowd.
New trouble cropped up elsewhere as well. Pro-Russian activists stormed and retook a government building in the eastern city of Donetsk only hours after being ejected. There’s been no talk of any American military action in Ukraine, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate hearing that the Pentagon is taking other steps.
CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: I earlier this week directed the Department of Defense to suspend all military-to-military engagements and exercises with Russia. Also, this morning, the Defense Department is pursuing measures to support our allies, including stepping up joint training through our aviation detachment in Poland and augmenting our participation in NATO’s air policing mission on the Baltic Peninsula.
GWEN IFILL: The head of NATO said the alliance also decided to suspend most of its meetings with Russian officials and review all of its cooperation with Moscow.
On the economic front, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in Kiev, talked up prospects of immediate financial aid from the West.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine: A good gesture made by the United States government to support the state of Ukraine with $1 billion of guarantees is the first sign that Ukraine could be back on track in terms of economic stability. But we need to move further, and we strongly believe that our European partners would provide a package of economic and financial aid to Ukraine too.
GWEN IFILL: The European Union confirmed it, saying a $15 billion package over two years is in the works. That’s the same amount that now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted from Russia in November.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today there’s no reason to damage economic ties between his country and the rest of the world.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): We see a certain political tension, but it shouldn’t influence our current economic cooperation. There is no need to create additional problems for anyone.
GWEN IFILL: Despite Putin’s plea, European leaders have given Russia until tomorrow to leave Crimea, or face sanctions.
Back in this country, researchers report a second baby born with HIV has been successfully treated. The announcement came today at an AIDS conference in Boston. The baby girl, born in California, was treated with a drug combination almost immediately after birth. She is now nine-months-old and free of the virus. The same treatment previously worked on a baby born in Mississippi.
Americans who like their existing health insurance coverage may get to keep it another two years. That would extend a transition first announced last fall after millions had their policies canceled under the president’s health care law. Now administration officials say the extensions will be valid to October 1 of 2016, even if the policies don’t meet new requirements for coverage.
President Obama’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department was blocked today. Debo Adegbile fell well short in a Senate test vote, with seven Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. They criticized Adegbile’s work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who in 1981 was convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Minority Leader: I think this particular nominee would likely not have been nominated at all, but for the majority leader breaking the rules of the Senate last November to change the rules of the Senate, thereby lowering the threshold.
This nominee, however, was so unfit for the position to which he’s been nominated, that even seven Democrats couldn’t support it.
GWEN IFILL: President Obama called the Senate vote a travesty. And the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, said the nominee was treated unfairly.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: I feel very strongly about this man. I think he was a person that was for the job. This man didn’t enter a courtroom for this — the murderer. He didn’t write a single word of any of the briefs on behalf of the murderer. He worked at the NAACP. And it wasn’t his brief.
GWEN IFILL: Reid reserved the right to bring up the nomination again, but the prospect of the success appeared uncertain at best.
Homeowners in flood-prone areas may soon get relief from higher premiums for federal flood insurance. The House voted overwhelmingly last night to undo the increases. They were imposed under a 2012 law to help the program tackle its $24 billion debt. The House measure now has to be reconciled with a similar bill that passed the Senate.
A leading coal producer agreed today to pay a $27 million fine and spend another $200 million to reduce toxic discharges. The settlement involves Alpha Natural Resources and its operations in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. It’s the largest fine ever for water pollution violations. We will have more on the penalty later in the program.
In Texas, Republicans and Democrats have chosen their nominees for governor in a closely watched race. Attorney General Greg Abbott secured the GOP nomination in a Tuesday primary, while Democrats chose state Senator Wendy Davis. They will face off in November.
Israel seized a ship in the Red Sea today and said it carried advanced rockets intended for Palestinian militants in Gaza. The naval raid happened in international waters, about 1,000 miles off Eilat on the Israeli coast. The rockets were found aboard a ship flying the Panamanian flag. Israel — Israel’s military said they were made in Syria and smuggled by Iran.
Traveling in Los Angeles, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it shows Iran cannot be trusted, especially in ongoing nuclear talks.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: These weapons were going to be used against Israel. The entire operation, this clandestine operation, was organized by Iran. While Iran is conducting these talks, smiling to the international community, it continues to arm terrorist groups, continues to perpetrate terrorism around the world.
GWEN IFILL: Iran denied any involvement. And a spokesman for Hamas, the militant group ruling Gaza, denied the rockets were bound for its territory.
ISMAIL HANIYEH, Hamas Adviser (through interpreter): This Zionist tale is a silly claim and a futile fabrication aimed at justifying the blockade on the Gaza Strip, as if there was a port with ships that come and go from Gaza. In actuality, the strip is blockaded, and they are talking about a ship that was found in the Red Sea thousands of miles away. This is a big lie.
GWEN IFILL: In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. worked closely with the Israelis as they planned the raid, and agreed to let them take the lead.
Meanwhile, Iran claimed it now has missiles with multiple warheads. Four types of ballistic missiles were displayed today. The defense minister said two of them have multiple warheads, boosting their destructive power. Some of Iran’s missiles are believed to have a 1,200-mile range, capable of reaching much of the Middle East.
U.N. human rights investigators charged today that all sides in Syria’s civil war are committing war crimes by shelling and starving civilians. The investigators blamed the major powers for not acting to rein in the warring parties. And they called again for the U.N. Security Council to refer the worst violations to the International Criminal Court.
Pakistan has restarted peace talks with the Taliban. The two sides met again today for the first time in three weeks, after the Pakistani Taliban announced a one-month cease-fire. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pushed for negotiations since he took office last year, but they have proceeded in fits and starts.
The World Health Organization is recommending that daily consumption of sugar be cut in half, amounting to just 5 percent of your total calories. The WHO found higher sugar consumption is strongly tied to obesity, tooth decay, and a number of chronic diseases.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 35 points to close at 16,360. The Nasdaq rose six points to close near 4,358. And the Standard & Poor’s 500 finished down a fraction, at 1,873.
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