Today’s top world news from The Washington Post:

Today’s top world news from The Washington Post:

-Clinton delivers forceful defense on Benghazi in congressional testimony--In what probably was her final major public appearance as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton spent Wednesday delivering a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s response to the killings of four Americans in Libya last year and praising the commitment of the United States’ diplomats, reports Anne Gearan.

-OPINION by Dana Milbank: In Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton storms Capitol Hill


-N. Korea threatens nuclear test, more rocket launches in wake of new sanctions--North Korea threatened Thursday to carry out a nuclear test as part of an “all-out action” against the U.S., which it called the “main player” behind recently adopted international sanctions. Though an underground nuclear test would not directly threaten the U.S., it would raise stakes for the Obama administration, which has failed to curtail the North’s weapons program despite a series of sanctions and short-lived attempts at dialogue, reports Chico Harlan.


-Prime Minister Cameron promises Britain more freedom from European Union--Laying out a new, more independent road map for Britain in Europe, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Wednesday to hold a referendum within five years on continued membership in the European Union, stoking fears in Washington and across the region of a rupture between London and its neighbors, reports Anthony Faiola.


-New Israeli political star champions middle- class--Yair Lapid, the charismatic former news anchor whose meteoric rise in Israel’s election Tuesday has made him the key to the country’s next ruling coalition, rode to success by tapping into a wave of social discontent that could define the agenda of the next Israeli government.  Lapid favors a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, but that was not what won him votes. His electoral appeal stemmed mostly from his image as a champion of Israel’s struggling middle class, reports Joel Greenberg.



-Gun control proposals could split President Obama, Harry Reid--The success of President Obama’s starkly liberal second-term agenda will rest largely on the shoulders of Senate Majority leader Harry M. Reid, who has been a rock-solid political ally and a valued legislative tactician for Obama during his first term.  But for the first time since Obama became president four years ago, his political interests and Reid’s may be diverging. Not so much because there is huge disagreement on the president’s agenda, but because helping Obama may hurt vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, reports Paul Kane.


-Pentagon to remove ban on women in combat--Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta plans to announce Thursday a lifting of the ban on female service members in combat roles, a watershed policy change that was informed by women’s valor in Iraq and Afghanistan and that removes the remaining barrier to a fully inclusive military, defense officials said, reports Ernesto Londono.


-The Root: OPINION by Michael Steele: Have We Forgotten How to Be Americans?--I don't know about you, but that was a close one! All those weeks and months we heard about "the fiscal cliff," but to get that close to it -- on New Year's Eve, no less -- only to find out that, heck, we can put off this whole "going over the cliff" stuff for another two months. Wow, what a way to ruin a new year.  Will our collective hangover continue now that President Obama has begun his second term and wrangling over the debt ceiling has begun on Capitol Hill? Only time will tell, but it's worth looking back for a moment at how we got here.


-General Dynamics blames $2 billion loss on defense cuts--One of the nation’s largest federal contractors reported a $2 billion loss Wednesday and blamed it on defense cuts, a sign that the government spending that provided the rocket fuel for the metro area’s decade-long economic expansion is now dissipating.  General Dynamics, based in Falls Church, said it was devaluing its information technology business by $2 billion amid falling government demand. The announcement was particularly worrisome because IT contracting is the key ingredient to the metro area’s government-powered growth, report Jim Tankersley and Marjorie Censer.


-Lanny Breuer, Justice Department criminal division chief, is stepping down--Lanny A. Breuer is leaving the Justice Department after leading the agency’s efforts to clamp down on public corruption and financial fraud at the nation’s largest banks, according to several people familiar with the matter.  As one of the longest-serving heads of the criminal division, Breuer has had a tenure filled with controversy and high-profile prosecutions, reports Danielle Douglas.


-Ryan says GOP won’t back down on spending cuts--As House Republicans prepared to vote Wednesday on a plan to suspend the debt limit, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan made clear that the party is in no way abandoning its uncompromising approach to the budget battle with President Obama.  Republicans will insist that automatic spending cuts take effect March 1 unless other cuts are adopted, Ryan said. They may force a shutdown of the government on March 27 unless Democrats agree to additional cuts, reports Lori Montgomery.


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