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White House Steps Up Pressure on Netanyahu over Speech to Congress

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In the lead-up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech before a joint session of Congress Tuesday, White House officials continued to point to what they see as politically divisive and diplomatically damaging theater.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president probably won’t even watch the speech. “I haven’t looked at the president’s schedule for tomorrow,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. “I doubt that he will spend his whole time watching the speech.”

Netanyahu was invited by House Republican leadership to address a joint session of Congress Tuesday, where he will speak out against President Obama’s plan to seek a nuclear weapons deal with Iran. The White House has said the partisanship resulting from the invitation would be “destructive” to the U.S./Israeli relationship.

Earnest warned Netanyahu not to divulge any top secret information about the negotiations that the U.S. may have shared with Israelis, who have received detailed briefings on the negotiations. “Releasing that information would betray the trust that exists between two allies,” Earnest said. He accused Israel of trying to “cherry pick” negative pieces of information gleaned from those briefings in an attempt to undermine the process.

Speaking Monday at a conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, Netanyahu insisted his speech “is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama” and that the Israeli alliance with the U.S. is stronger than ever. “Ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of my address to Congress tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.”

Speaking at that same conference later in the day, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said abandoning the talks in favor of immediate sanctions would not stop Iran from producing weapons. Sanctions have not stopped Iran in the past, she said.

And on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the negotiations with Iran have actually benefited Israel. “Israel is safer today because of the interim agreement that we created,” he said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “The 20 percent enriched uranium has been reduced to zero. We have stopped the centrifuge production. We are inspecting inside of their facilities. We have stopped the Arak plutonium reactor in its tracks.”

Kerry warned that Netanyahu’s speech runs the risk of becoming a “political football.” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — and the administration’s choice to speak directly before Netanyahu at AIPAC — also warned about playing politics. “This partnership should never be politicized,” Power said. “The bond between the United States and Israel is still a national commitment. It should never be a partisan matter.”

Many Republicans and some Democrats support further sanctions on Iran before any potential deal on nuclear weapons is made. More economic sanctions would mostly likely put an end to negotiations, which the State Department is trying to complete before the deadline this summer. Secretary Kerry is in Geneva, Switzerland, this week trying to keep the negotiations alive.

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Fidel Castro Writes About Meeting with Cuban Five

NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images(HAVANA, Cuba) — Fidel Castro met on Saturday with the Cuban Five, a quintet of agents convicted of espionage within the U.S. in a controversial 2001 trial which found them guilty of spying on anti-Fidel Castro groups.

Three of the five were released in December 2014, around the same time as the return of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. The other two had been released in 2011 and 2014.

In a piece written by Castro for La Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban government, the former Cuban President wrote about the unjust incarceration of the Cuban agents. He said that he met with them on Saturday for five hours.

The release of the last three Cuban agents came as President Obama announced a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Last month, Castro wrote in an op-ed for La Granma that he did not have confidence in U.S. policy.

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Scoreboard Roundup – 3/1/15

Hemera/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — NBA: Los Angeles Clippers 110 (40-21) – Minnesota Timberwolves 105 (13-46)

Dallas Mavericks 102 (40-22) – New Orleans Pelicans 93 (32-28)

Miami Heat 115 (26-33) – Phoenix Suns 98 (31-30)

Brooklyn Nets 110 (25-33) – Golden State Warriors 108 (46-12)

Toronto Raptors 114 (38-22) - Philadelphia 76ers 103 (13-47)

NHL: New York Rangers 4 (39-17-6, 84 pts) - Nashville Predators 1 (41-16-7, 89 pts)

Chicago Blackhawks 5 (38-21-5, 81 pts) - Carolina Hurricanes 2 (24-31-7, 55 pts)

San Jose Sharks 4 (31-25-8, 70 pts) – Montreal Canadiens 0 (41-17-5, 87 pts)

NCAAM: (2) Virginia 59 (28-1) – Syracuse 42 (18-12)

Texas 61 (18-12) - (14) Baylor 59 (22-8)

(17) Iowa State 77 (21-8) (15) Oklahoma 70 (20-9)


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Hancock County DAC Unanimously Approved Health Department Contract

03/02/15     8:10 p.m.

In a unanimous decision, the Hancock County District Advisory Council approved the merger of the county and City of Findlay health departments at their annual meeting Monday. Commission Phil Riegle said the decision was a big step in the right direction.

Audio: Phil Riegle

After approving the contract, the DAC also unanimously appointed six board members for the new health department.

From the DAC’s suggested list of five they chose: Dr. Michael Lindamood, Karen Jones and Robin Spoors. From the city’s suggested five they chose Nancy Moody Russo, Bill Alge and Barb Pasztor. The final member of the board will be Larry Lovell Jr., who was appointed by the District Licensing Council

Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik said the unanimous decision demonstrates a united dedication to the future of public health in the area.

Audio: Lydia Mihalik

The contract was signed and went into effect today. The two departments will operate as separate, parallel entities through the end of the year before merging on Jan. 1, 2016.

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Bill Gates Tops “Forbes” Billionaires List

TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Bill Gates topped Forbeslist of world billionaires for the second consecutive year, with his net worth nearing $80 billion.

In 2014, Gates’ net worth was placed by the magazine at $79.2 billion. For the second consecutive year, Forbes placed Gates one spot ahead of telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu. Helu, worth $77.1 billion, topped the list in 2013.

Investor Warren Buffett came in third place.

Forbes said that there were 1,826 billionaires on this year’s list — the most ever — including 290 newcomers. Additionally, a record 46 billionaires on the list are under the age of 40.

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**HFR 3/3 12:01 am** Bill Gates Tops “Forbes” Billionaires List

TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Bill Gates topped Forbeslist of world billionaires for the second consecutive year, with his net worth nearing $80 billion.

In 2014, Gates’ net worth was placed by the magazine at $76 billion. For the second consecutive year, Forbes placed Gates one spot ahead of telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu. Helu, worth $77.1 billion, topped the list in 2013.

Investor Warren Buffett came in third place.

Forbes said that there were 1,826 billionaires on this year’s list — the most ever — including 290 newcomers. Additionally, a record 46 billionaires on the list are under the age of 40.

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National Security Adviser Susan Rice Talks Relationship with Israel, Iran Negotiations at AIPAC

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice called the relationship between America and Israel an “alliance…rooted in the unbreakable friendship between our two peoples.”

That enduring relationship has been tested somewhat in recent weeks, with Democrats griping about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech before a joint session of Congress. Nonetheless, Rice noted, “the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel is not a partnership between individual leaders or political parties.” That relationship, she noted, “has deepened and grown through different presidents and prime ministers for nearly 70 years.”

Netanyahu has spoken out in recent weeks against a deal with Iran that would leave them with the capability to one day produce a nuclear weapon.

“I want to be very clear,” Rice said Monday about the ongoing negotiations with Iran, “a bad deal is worse than no deal.” What makes a good deal? Rice says “a good deal is one that would invariably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon.”

As far as how those negotiations are proceeding, Rice said that “significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran.” She also echoed comments made by President Obama that “we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

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LAPD Shooting: New Video Shows Man Enter His Tent Before His Death

Obtained by ABC News(LOS ANGELES) — Surveillance footage from a homeless shelter shows a new angle of an altercation between Los Angeles police officers and a transient man that turned fatal, where the man is seen entering his sidewalk tent as officers arrived on the scene.

The footage of the Sunday-afternoon incident shows the man going into his tent, and then officers trying to stop him and pulling their guns. The LAPD said the man was a suspect in a robbery.

The man, whose name has not been released, appears to talk with the officers before going into his tent. There is no sound with the homeless shelter footage.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that officers, who were called to the scene because of reports of a robbery, became concerned when the man entered his tent because they could not tell what he was trying to get.

“The individual may be arming himself and they opened the tent and that was when the altercation ensues,” Beck said.

The first footage that was released publicly of the interaction, which included the use of a stun gun against the man who was then shot several times, was taken by an onlooker on the ground. This latest surveillance footage from the Union Rescue Mission was shot from a further distance but at a higher angle.

Two investigations have been launched into the shooting.

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Death Toll in Ukraine Fighting Surpasses 6,000

Marcio Silva/iStock/Thinkstock(GENEVA) — More than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The fighting has brought with it “merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a press release. “More than six thousand lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.”

Zeid called for both sides of the dispute to honor the Minsk agreements, which called for a cease-fire.

The situation, which calmed somewhat in December, “dramatically deteriorated” in the last two months, the OHCHR report said.

“The human rights situation in Ukraine remains grave,” Zeid said in a release. “Should this trend continue, this would represent a new and very deadly chapter in this conflict, expanding the areas where the rule of law and the protection of human rights are effectively absent.”

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On Iran, a Question of Whether Obama and Netanyahu Really Have the Same Goal

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — When it comes to nuclear negotiations with Iran, President Obama has said America’s goal is to prevent Iran from ever producing a nuclear weapon, while Israel has described a different one: denying Iran the capability of ever getting there.

“Our goal here is to be able to verify that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon,” Obama said after a meeting with the emir of Qatar last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a different take.

“We must prevent Iran from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons. And I want to reiterate that point. Not just to prevent them from having the weapon, but to prevent them from having the capacity to make the weapon,” Netanyahu said last year when he spoke at the 2014 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington.

So do the U.S. and Israel really want the same thing?

“I guess you could make the case that there is [a difference in goals]. I’m happy for someone else to do that if they would like to,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

“No one else has laid out a strategy for how to accomplish what apparently the prime minister has laid out as his goal. He hasn’t even laid out a strategy for how to accomplish his goal,” Earnest said.

Here’s Earnest’s full response, in which he defended the White House’s aims in pursuing the nuclear talks that have sparked so much controversy (transcript via FedNews):

KARL: Actually, the Israeli prime minister has articulated a different goal than what you did at this briefing. You said that the United States is committed to a position where Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. What Bibi Netanyahu said today, and what he’s been saying all along is the goal, is to make sure Iran doesn’t get the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

EARNEST: Mm-hmm.

KARL: Which he says, and is, a different view. So, what do you say about his view, that the whole point of this effort is to ensure not just that Iran doesn’t get a weapon, but that Iran doesn’t get the ability to build a weapon?

EARNEST: Well, I assume that the — the prime minister will have an opportunity to elaborate on what he means when he says the ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

KARL: I can tell you what he means.

EARNEST: OK.

KARL: He’s referring to an enrichment capability. He’s also talked about the fact that they have a ballistic missile program that would enable a delivery system for a nuclear weapon. That’s what he’s talking about. When Iran has the ability to produce highly enriched uranium, it is the fuel to make a nuclear bomb. He believes that’s a threat to Israel’s survival because it puts them on a path to getting or to building a bomb.

EARNEST: And has he laid out a strategy for how to prevent them from — how to accomplish the goal that he has laid out? I guess the point is, you don’t have to speak for him any longer. The point is, he has not — he has not laid out that strategy. The president has laid out a clear strategy that we are working to achieve that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is a clearly stated foreign policy goal and it is a priority that this president has made because it’s in the clear national security interest of the United States. It also happens to be in the national security interests of our closest ally in the region, Israel.

KARL: So is he correct, though, to say that your goal, then, is not to prevent Iran from getting the capability to build a bomb. It’s to prevent them from getting a bomb.

EARNEST: Well, the… [CROSSTALK]

EARNEST: Well, if he says that there’s a difference there, he’s allowed to do that. The point that I’m making…

KARL: You don’t think there’s a difference between those two positions?

EARNEST: Well, I guess you could make the case that there is one. I’m happy for someone else to do that if they would like to. The point is that we believe — the president has made a strategic decision about what he believes is clearly in the best interests of the United States. And it happens to be in the best interests of Israel. No one else has laid out a strategy for how to accomplish what apparently the prime minister has laid out as his goal. He hasn’t even laid out a strategy for how to accomplish his goal. And by the way, I’m not even sure that the military option that some people consider to be an alternative to the president’s strategy would even accomplish his goal because it would require not just a detailed destruction of Iran’s infrastructure, but it also would require the removal of knowledge that Iran has already obtained.

So, the fact is the goal that the president has set out that would ensure that — or that is consistent with our national security imperatives here in this country, is to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. And the best way for us to do this is at the negotiating table. Those negotiations are underway even as we speak. But the other thing that I have not mentioned so far in this briefing that’s important for everybody to realize is it continues to be the case that our likelihood of success when it comes to reaching a deal in the context of these negotiations is only at best 50-50. There are difficult decisions that need to be made by the Iranian government in terms of their willingness to sign onto this agreement. And this president has made clear that he’s not going to sign a bad deal.

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