UN Security Council votes unanimously to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday night to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, a landmark decision aimed at taking poison gas off the battlefield in the escalating 2 1/2-year conflict.
The vote after two weeks of intense negotiations marked a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has gripped the council since the Syrian uprising began. Russia and China previously vetoed three Western-backed resolutions pressuring President Bashar Assad's regime to end the violence.
"Today's historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote, but he and others stressed that much more needs to be done to stop the fighting that has left more 100,000 dead.
"A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others," the U.N. chief said. "This is not a license to kill with conventional weapons."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the "strong, enforceable, precedent-setting" resolution shows that diplomacy can be so powerful "that it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war."
Breaking freeze, Obama speaks to Iran's Rouhani, says resolution to nuclear dispute possible
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States and Iran took a historic step toward ending more than three decades of estrangement on Friday when President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone and agreed to work on resolving global suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The 15-minute call capped a week of seismic shifts in the relationship that revolved around Rouhani's participation in the annual U.N. meeting of world leaders. The night before the two leaders spoke, U.S. and European diplomats hailed a "very significant shift" in Iran's attitude and tone in the first talks on the nuclear standoff since April.
The diplomatic warming began shortly after Rouhani's election in June. But it is rooted in both presidents' stated campaign desires -- Obama in 2008 and Rouhani this year -- to break through 34-year-old barriers and move toward diplomacy.
Iran is also seeking quick relief from blistering economic sanctions that the U.S. and its Western allies have imposed on Tehran to punish it for refusing to scale back its nuclear activities. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but years of stonewalling inspections and secrecy about its activities have fueled fears it is seeking to build warheads.
Rouhani and Obama spoke while the Iranian president was in his car and headed to the airport to fly back to Tehran, with Obama at his desk in the Oval Office. Rouhani's aides initially reached out to arrange the conversation, and the White House placed the call.
Shutdown drama: Senate votes to avert it, but duel with House extending into the weekend
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Time running short, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed urgent legislation Friday to avert a government shutdown early next week, and President Barack Obama lectured House Republicans to stop "appeasing the tea party" and quickly follow suit.
Despite the presidential plea -- and the urgings of their own leaders -- House GOP rebels showed no sign of retreat in their drive to use the threat of a shutdown to uproot the nation's three-year-old health care law.
"We now move on to the next stage of this battle," said Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is a face of the "Defund Obamacare" campaign in the Senate and is in close contact with allies in the House.
First effects of a shutdown could show up as early as Tuesday if Congress fails to approve money to keep the government going by the Monday-midnight start of the new fiscal year.
"Think about who you are hurting" if government services are interrupted, the president said at the White House, as House Speaker John Boehner pondered his next move in a fast-unfolding showdown -- not only between Republicans and Democrats but between GOP leaders and conservative insurgents.
Shutdown impact: Tourists, homebuyers among the first to lose; effects would grow over time
WASHINGTON (AP) -- If the government "shuts down" next Tuesday, your mail will still come. Doctors will see Medicare patients. NASA will keep talking to the astronauts circling Earth on the Space Station. In fact, the majority of government will remain on the job.
The closings would hit random Americans first: vacationers hoping to take in Mount Rushmore or a Smithsonian museum. Homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages. Veterans appealing the denial of disability benefits. Perhaps on the bright side -- for some -- tax audits would be suspended.
Troubles would spread the longer a shutdown lasted.
A prolonged furlough of more than one-third of civilian federal workers could mean delays in processing applications for new Social Security disability claims. Lost profits for businesses that sell goods or services to the government. Problems hotels and restaurants that rely on tourism near national parks. Longer waits for kids seeking delinquent child support.
And, of course, a shutdown would mean no paychecks for an estimated 800,000 furloughed workers. They might get paid later for the missed days but couldn't count on that. Don't blame them for slacking off; the law forbids volunteering to work for free from home.
Top Kenyan official says military caused mall collapse, government urges patience with probe
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's military caused the collapse of three floors of the Westgate Mall in the deadly terrorist siege, a top-ranking official disclosed Friday, while the government urged patience with the pace of an investigation that has left key questions unanswered.
Seven days after 67 people were killed in the attack on the upscale shopping center, there is still no clear word on the fate of dozens who have been reported missing and no details on the terrorists who carried it out.
The account of the roof collapse raises the possibility that the military may have caused the death of hostages in its rescue attempt. An undisclosed number of people are feared to be buried in the rubble.
The official said autopsies will be conducted on any bodies found to determine the cause of death -- from the militants or the structural collapse. The high-ranking government official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge sensitive information.
The official also confirmed that Kenyan troops fired rocket-propelled grenades inside the mall, but would not say what caused the floors to collapse, if the action was intentional, or if it was an accident.
International panel confirms man-made warming, says worst heat, higher seas still to come
STOCKHOLM (AP) -- Top scientists have a better idea of how global warming will shape the 21st century: In a new report, they predict sea levels will be much higher than previously thought and pinpoint how dangerously hot it's likely to get.
In its most strongly worded report yet, an international climate panel said it was more confident than ever that global warming is a man-made problem and likely to get worse. The report was welcomed by the Obama administration and environmental advocates who said it made a strong and urgent case for government action, while skeptics scoffed at it.
"There is something in this report to worry everyone," said Chris Field, a Carnegie Institution scientist who is a leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but wasn't involved in the report released Friday.
Without any substantial changes, he said the world is now on track for summers at the end of the century that are hotter than current records, sea levels that are much higher, deluges that are stronger and more severe droughts.
The Nobel Prize-winning panel's report called the warming of the planet since 1950 "unequivocal" and "unprecedented" and blamed increases in heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
NJ judge rules state must allow gay couples to marry, but GOP Gov. Christie plans to appeal
New Jersey is unconstitutionally denying federal benefits to gay couples and must allow them to marry, a judge ruled Friday.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson sided almost entirely with a group of same-sex couples and gay rights groups who sued the state in July days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of a law that blocked the federal government from granting benefits to gay couples.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican in the midst of a re-election campaign and a possible presidential contender, said through a spokesman Friday he plans to appeal the decision, which he believes should be determined by a popular vote rather than a court.
The judge made the ruling effective Oct. 21, giving Christie time to appeal and likely ask a court to delay implementation of her order.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the governor "has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day."
Burial set for remains of World War II airman who vanished in 1944 in New Guinea
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Only a sole surviving sibling has a distant memory of a World War II pilot whose recently identified remains will be buried Saturday with full military honors in Utah.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird had more than a dozen brothers and sisters when he crashed over a Pacific Ocean island nearly 70 years ago. He disappeared over Papua New Guinea on a 1944 bombing run of Japanese airfields there. He was 25.
The crash site was discovered 12 years ago, but it wasn't until this summer that the Air Force was able to identify partial remains found there as belonging to Bird.
This week, about 150 distant relatives showed up at the Salt Lake airport as those remains -- only a single leg bone was recovered -- arrived inside a flag-draped casket on an airliner.
None of them knew Bird personally. His younger sister, Elaine Bird Jack of Eugene, Ore., is his lone surviving sibling and the only one who has a memory of him, said Lorna Bird Snyder, the airman's 66-year-old niece.
Albuquerque set to say goodbye to 'Breaking Bad' as NM city continues to see tourism spike
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The southwestern New Mexico city that's played home to "Breaking Bad" is preparing for the end, with the Emmy-award winning series airing its last episode on Sunday.
As the AMC finale approaches, Albuquerque is planning on celebrating with watch parties and red carpet casting events in a city still benefiting from a tourism boost thanks to the drama's popularity.
Despite the show's dark themes of drug trafficking and violence, tourism officials say "Breaking Bad" highlighted neighborhoods around the city and gave viewers a sense of Albuquerque. The show displayed the city's downtown Route 66, its various stores and restaurants, and even took audiences to Latino barrios and nearby American Indian Pueblos -- places rarely seen in Hollywood.
"Before the show, Albuquerque didn't have an image," said Ann Lerner, Albuquerque's film liaison. "When I started this job in 2003 and I mentioned New Mexico, people would say, 'Oh, I love Santa Fe.' No one thought of Albuquerque."
That has changed in the five seasons that "Breaking Bad" has aired on AMC, growing its reputation and buzz as Netflix users raced to catch up on previous episodes. Since then, trolley and private limo tours of scenes from the show have sold out and created waiting lists that go on for weeks. A city-run website detailing locations of scenes -- from seedy motels to the one-time headquarters of a now deceased drug lord -- has seen tens of thousands of visitors.
Cuba lets athletes sign pro contracts in foreign leagues, but MLB invasion still a ways away
HAVANA (AP) -- Could a new wave of Cuban baseball players be headed for the major leagues without having to defect from the communist island?
Cuba announced Friday that athletes from all sports will soon be able to sign contracts with foreign leagues, a break with a decades-old policy that held pro sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.
It's a step toward the day when the road from Havana to Yankee Stadium might mean simply hopping on a plane rather than attempting a perilous sea crossing or sneaking out of a hotel at midnight in a strange land.
But American baseball fans shouldn't throw their Dodgers or Rockies caps in the air in celebration just yet. The Cold War-era embargo against Cuba means it may not happen anytime soon.
If it does come to pass, it could increase -- astronomically, in some cases -- the amount of money Cuban baseball players can earn.