Tuesday, March 31
Talks on Iran's nuclear program will continue into tomorrow
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Nuclear talks involving Iran and six world powers -- including the United States -- will continue past the self-imposed deadline tonight.
U.S. officials say the effort to produce the outline of an agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program will be extended by at least a day. A State Department spokeswoman says there's been enough progress to justify the extension, although she says there are still "several difficult issues" to deal with.
She says Secretary of State John Kerry, who had planned to leave the talks today, will remain until tomorrow.
An Iranian negotiator says his team can stay "as long as necessary" to clear the remaining hurdles.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the sides were working to produce a text with few specifics, accompanied by documents outlining areas where further talks were needed.
Officials said earlier today they hoped to wrap up the talks by the deadline with a joint general statement agreeing to start a new phase of negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear program.
Yemen rebels take spot overlooking strategic Gulf of Aden
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni military officials say Houthi rebels have taken up positions overlooking the strategic Gulf of Aden, raising the risk they could threaten the global shipping route with heavy weapons.
They say the rebels, which have been the target of a Saudi-led air offensive, are positioned in areas called Zabab and the Sheikh Said mountain next to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait.
They say Saudi warplanes had bombed nearby islands and that heavy anti-aircraft fire could be seen reaching upward into the sky Tuesday night.
The strait leads from the Arabian Sea to Egypt's Suez Canal, a vital route for shipping between Europe and Asia.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information otherwise.
US releases military aid to Egypt, cites national security
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is releasing military aid to Egypt that was suspended after the 2013 coup in that country.
The White House says Obama is lifting the hold on sending F-16 fighter jets, tanks and other material to Egypt. The U.S. has been weighing whether to lift the hold to help combat the extremist threat spilling over from Libya and in the Sinai Peninsula.
But the White House says it is not issuing a certification that Egypt has made progress toward democracy. Instead, the U.S. is maintaining that the aid is in the interest of U.S. national security.
The U.S. had to do one or the other to unblock the aid. The funds were suspended 21 months ago when the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Lufthansa: Co-pilot told flight school of depressive episode
BERLIN (AP) — Lufthansa now says that it knew six years ago that Andreas Lubitz had suffered from a "serious depressive episode."
The airline says that's how Lubitz described his condition in emails to the Lufthansa flight school, when he was resuming his training after an interruption of several months. He wrote that the episode had subsided.
The airline says he later passed all medical checks.
The airline said Tuesday it has provided the documents to prosecutors and declined to make any further comment.
White House says Indiana law is different from federal one
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House doesn't agree with the statement by Indiana's governor that his state's new religious-freedom law is just like a federal law from more than 20 years ago.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the Indiana law marks a "significant expansion" over the federal law -- because it applies to private transactions, and not just those involving the government.
In defending the law today, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said it's similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and to the laws that have been passed in other states.
But critics have said the Indiana law is designed to protect businesses and individuals who don't want to serve gays and lesbians -- such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.
Pence said he doesn't believe Indiana lawmakers wanted to "create a license to discriminate." He said he wants to see legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the law doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But Democrats in the Indiana legislature say nothing less than a repeal will do.
Businesses and organizations including Apple and the NCAA have voiced concern over Indiana's law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to Indiana.
Christie administration says judge's pension ruling is wrong
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration says a judge got it wrong when she ordered the state to put $1.6 billion more into public workers' pension funds.
Christie's administration says in an appellate brief filed Tuesday that the judge "fabricated a constitutional right to pension funding" in a ruling issued in February
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson said the state had to honor a 2011 promise to ramp up its contributions over seven years to make up for skipped or decreased payments.
Christie said last year the state couldn't afford to pay what was agreed then, about $2.25 billion.
Christie's administration and the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services say it would be painful for residents if an additional $1.6 billion must be found by June 30.
Minnesota professor accused of smuggling elephant ivory
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A philosophy professor at St. Cloud State University is accused of conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory out of the U.S. and into China.
Yiwei (EE'-way) Zheng was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including smuggling and making a false statement to agents.
The Star Tribune reports Zheng was arrested Tuesday by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in St. Cloud. Zheng appeared in court, surrendered his passport and was released on $25,000 unsecured bond.
The indictment alleges Zheng conspired with two unnamed co-conspirators in a scheme that ran from 2006 through 2011.
According to the indictment, the black rhinoceros is listed as an engendered species and international trade in elephant ivory is largely banned.
A university spokesman said he can't comment due to the investigation.
Christie private lottery deal helped friends, missed targets
WASHINGTON (AP) — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's move to privatize the state lottery's management has benefited firms close to the governor while failing to deliver expected income gains.
The Associated Press found the state's lottery had been one of the most efficient under government control. But since a private manager took over two years ago, the games are heading for a second straight year of missed financial targets.
The deal was shepherded by lobbying and public relations firms close to Christie. They received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, while the lottery's financial shortfalls could spell trouble for social programs that depend on the money.
State officials say this year's lower earnings stem from an unlucky streak of low jackpots, and say private management will ultimately pay off.
University of North Dakota begins campaign to find nickname
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The University of North Dakota is looking for suggestions for a new nickname.
The school's nickname committee will be accepting submissions beginning Wednesday until the end of the April. The names must be 25 characters or less.
The committee says it is looking for nicknames that are unique, promote pride and strength, represent the state and region, honor the traditions and heritage of the past, and can be a unifying and rallying symbol.
A consulting group will research the suggestions for any trademark or copyright infringement. The committee will narrow down the choices for a public vote.
The school's Fighting Sioux nickname was retired in June 2012, after which the Legislature enacted a three-year moratorium on a new moniker.
Nicknames can be submitted online at www.und.edu/nickname .
NEW: Tiny songbird tracked across 1,700 miles of open ocean
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A new study has found that a tiny songbird that summers in the forests of northern North America has been tracked on a 1,700-mile, over-the-ocean journey from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada to the Caribbean.
Scientists had long suspected that the blackpoll warbler had made its journey to the Caribbean before continuing on to South America over the ocean. But it was proven by a study published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters.
As part of the study begun in 2013, scientists attached tracking devices to the birds in Vermont and Nova Scotia.
One of the authors, Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, says it's a "spectacular, astounding feat" for such a small bird.
The half-ounce birds are common, but their numbers are declining.