Today’s top world news from The Washington Post:

Today’s top world news from The Washington Post:


-U.S., Asian allies look for leverage against North Korea after nuclear test--The North Korean underground nuclear test confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies on Tuesday served as a stark reminder that the unpredictable and largely inscrutable government in Pyongyang remains a wild card for President Obama’s second term — a nuclear threat to U.S. allies in Asia and a potential arms merchant to the highest bidder.  The timing of the test was interpreted in Washington as an attempt by North Korea’s young new leader to upstage Obama before his State of the Union address. And the claim that it involved a smaller, lighter device — an important element of any deliverable weapon — suggested that the demonstration could be the most dangerous yet by North Korea, report Anne Gearan and Colum Lynch.


-Syrian rebels loot artifacts to raise money for fight against Assad--To the caches of ammunition and medicines that they lug each day from this border city back into their homeland, Syrian rebels have added new tools to support their fight against President Bashar al- Assad: metal detectors and pickaxes.  The rebels, struggling to finance their effort, have joined an emerging trade in illicitly acquired Syrian artifacts and antiquities, selling off the country’s past as the war for its future intensifies, report Taylor Luck.


-N. Korea’s nuclear test raises tension, shows progress toward viable weapon--With its detonation Tuesday of a “smaller and light” nuclear device, North Korea moved closer to its top technological goal of building an atomic weapon small enough to mount on a long-range missile, a capability that would turn the secretive police state from a regional menace into a global one.  Security analysts cautioned that there is no immediate way to verify the North’s assertion that it has succeeded in manufacturing a smaller — or miniaturized — warhead. They added that Pyongyang sometimes makes exaggerated claims, report Chico Harlan and William Wan.


-For the faithful in Vatican City, just another day--Inside the grand Tuscan colonnades of St. Peter’s Square, a light drizzle fell on a Tuesday that seemed all too ordinary, given the momentous events a day earlier. Rowdy Chinese tour groups followed their guides’ flags. A few long-frocked priests hurried to seminary classes. Among the sparse crowds, a cluster of Spanish kids in ripped T-shirts lazily munched on panini near the Vatican obelisk.  But just as on Monday — when Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign — there was no massive outpouring here, reports Anthony Faiola.


-Senate trade leaders question E.U. pact--Top Senate trade officials warned on Tuesday that any free-trade agreement between the United States and Europe would be held to strict demands that American companies see clear benefits — particularly in areas such as agriculture that have been a source of frequent dispute. The Obama administration is nearing a decision on whether to open formal negotiations with the European Union over a transatlantic free-trade agreement. Europe has been pushing the idea in the hope of boosting its tepid rate of economic growth, reports Howard Schneider.




-Obama, in State of the Union, makes case that middle class is job one--President Obama challenged Congress on Tuesday night to assist an American middle class squeezed by rising costs and stagnant wages, making clear that he will devote much of his second term to closing the income gap between rich and poor.  In his first State of the Union address since reelection, Obama called restoring the country’s middle-class promise “our generation’s task,” casting the ability to work and prosper as a basic American principle in jeopardy because of a changing economy and partisan dysfunction in Washington, reports Scott Wilson.


-Obama urges a move away from narrow focus on politics of austerity--Just about every argument in Washington since the 2010 midterm elections, which returned control of the House to Republicans, has centered on reducing the federal deficit. On Tuesday night, President Obama leaned into his second term by declaring that a single-minded focus on deficit reduction would jeopardize the nation’s future. And he sounded an urgent call to rebuild, report Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty.


-Obama’s fact-challenged claims--A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact-check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are relatively rare. But State of the Union addresses often are very political speeches, an argument for the president’s policies, so context is sometimes missing.  Here is a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them, writes Glenn Kessler.


-WONKBLOG by Ezra Klein: Obama’s incredibly ambitious second-term agenda--In some ways, what was most noticeable about the speech was what wasn’t in it: Nothing. It was difficult to come up with a single policy favored by Obama’s party but left out of this speech. The speech included the politically possible and the politically implausible. It had the poll-tested policies, like small tweaks to encourage manufacturing jobs, and policies that have a tougher time in the polls, like putting a price on carbon. It’s often the case that candidates are more ambitious than presidents. But Obama’s second term is showing precisely the reverse progression. The speech went much further than Obama’s 2012 Democratic convention speech. There, his address was notable mainly for how modest the policy proposals were. Here, his speech was notable for the sweeping nature of the proposed changes. Obama’s agenda hasn’t been this bold since 2009.


-OPINION by Dana Milbank: Let the bleak times roll--The State of the Union ritual is by now familiar to most Americans. President Obama leads the Democratic side of the chamber to a series of standing ovations for proposals that everybody knows won’t become law. Republicans show their seriousness of purpose by smirking or making stony faces — and by inviting as guests to the speech people such as rocker Ted Nugent, who has called the president a “piece of [excrement]” who should “suck on my machine gun.”  But this spectacle, unlike the one in Louisiana, is not all harmless fun. Obama made clear that he is not entertaining serious spending cuts or major entitlement reforms. Republicans, in their responses, repeated that they are not budging on taxes. The hard choices will have to wait for another day.


-In State of the Union, Obama calls for new paths to the middle class--President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday sounded like a familiar speech touting the economic importance of a thriving middle class. But behind his proposals is a desire to tackle a much less widely accepted phenomenon: a growing inequality of opportunity.  Sometimes directly and sometimes subtly, Obama and his advisers have been sounding the alarm that the poor and middle class may have less chance to advance up the economic ladder than they did a generation or two ago, reports Zachary Goldfarb.


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