Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post

Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post


- Iran nuclear talks end on upbeat note-- Prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran received an unexpected boost Wednesday when negotiators from Tehran and six world powers emerged from talks with a commodity rarely seen in recent Iranian diplomacy: optimism. Two days of negotiations in Almaty, Kazakhstan, yielded little tangible progress other than a commitment to hold more talks in the coming weeks. But both sides described an improved atmosphere and an apparent softening of bargaining positions, leading a senior Iranian official to hail a possible “turning point” in the decade-long effort to resolve the nuclear crisis, reports  Joby Warrick and Jason Rezaian:


- Kerry: U.S. must help counter aid to Syria opposition from extremists-- The United States and several other nations want to increase support for Syrian rebels, partly to help political moderates counter the increasingly well-organized network of humanitarian and political services being offered by extremists, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday. The United States is one of about a dozen nations preparing a package of broader financial and practical support for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry and other diplomats will frame the new help during meetings with Syrian political opposition leaders Thursday in Rome. The additional aid is expected to stop short of the weapons the rebels have long sought from Western backers, reports Anne Gearan:


- Japanese take action against Chinese smog-- Even as it struggles to keep menacing Chinese ships from entering its territorial waters, Japan is bracing itself for an altogether different kind of danger from its larger neighbor – toxic smog. Under guidelines issued on Wednesday, Japanese authorities will urge residents to stay indoors if the level of toxic smog spreading to Japan from China exceeds twice the allowable limit set by the central government. The guidelines come in response to mounting concerns in Japan about the potential harmful effects of the toxic smog wafting across the ocean and after talks between the two countries on ways to curb pollution levels, reports Michiyo Nakamoto:






- Sequester spin gets ahead of reality-- The descriptions of the post-sequester landscape coming from the Obama administration have been alarming, specific — and, in at least some cases, hyped. Take the claim by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that there are “literally teachers now who are getting pink slips.” When he was pressed in a White House briefing Wednesday to name an example, Duncan came up with one school district, in West Virginia, and he acknowledged, “Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know,” reports Karen Tumulty and Lyndsey Layton:


- House to vote on Violence Against Women Act measures-- Seeking to avoid a protracted and politically damaging fight over reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Republican leaders are prepared to allow the House to vote Thursday on a version of the bill favored by Democrats, an unusual move that acknowledges GOP divisions on the touchy issue. The House will vote first on a Republican version of the bill, which authorizes funding for programs to aid prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases and assist victims. But with Democrats unified in opposition and Republicans divided, the GOP’s alternative appears likely to fail, reports Rosalind S. Helderman:


- Senate confirms Jack Lew as Treasury secretary-- The Senate confirmed Jack Lew as Treasury secretary Wednesday, giving him broad responsibilities over the U.S. economy just as the country faces potentially severe budget cuts, a still-tepid recovery and an overhaul of financial regulations that remains incomplete. After being grilled by Republican lawmakers in recent weeks over his work and pay at bailout recipient Citigroup, Lew was given the Senate’s green light in a 71 to 26 vote. Lew follows Timothy F. Geithner, whose tenure drew controversy after the sweeping measures taken by the U.S. government to bring the country’s economy back from the brink. The worst days of the financial crisis have passed, but Lew still has a tricky job ahead of him, reports Jia Lynn Yang:


- The Root: Save Our Endangered Voting Rights-- In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and called it a "triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield." But this past election season we were back on the battlefield, waging a nonviolent struggle against the greatest wave of voter suppression since Johnson's tenure. Even President Obama was moved to concede that the war for voting rights has not yet been won. Today marks a consequential battle in that fight. Just seven years after Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for a fourth time -- at which time then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman called it "one of the great moral achievements of the 20th century" -- the U.S. Supreme Court will debate the merits of Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, reports, Benjamin Todd Jealous:




- Economic crisis ‘balkanized’ global finance-- The economic crises in the United States and Europe wiped out decades of progress in expanding the world financial system, depressing the flow of investments and loans across borders and potentially setting the stage for an epoch of entrenched low growth, according to a new study on global finance patterns. The top findings: The amount of investments and loans flowing across international borders has collapsed. The overall value of financial assets compared to the size of the world economy is way down. And, in a sign of how government policy has struggled with mixed results to revive growth, the composition of world financial holdings has shifted away from equity investments like stocks and toward government debt, reports Howard Schneider:


- JPMorgan layoffs reflect some hope-- JPMorgan Chase’s impending layoff of 13,000 employees in its mortgage division reveals much of what the nation’s biggest bank thinks about the housing market: the worst is over, but optimism for the future should be tempered. On the one hand, the job cuts, as devastating as they might be for JPMorgan workers, reflect a positive turn in the housing market. Foreclosures at the bank have tumbled some 20 percent since the fourth quarter of 2011, which is why most of the employees receiving pink slips are those that were hired to handle mortgage defaults. Struggling homeowners are catching up on payments or benefiting from alternatives to foreclosure as the economy improves, reports Danielle Douglas:


- Lawmaker attacks oil companies’ ‘free’ drilling in Gulf of Mexico-- Once upon a time, the price of oil was so low — dropping under $11 a barrel in late 1998 — that Congress agreed that big oil companies needed incentives to drill for oil in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So in 1995, it ordered the Interior Department to waive royalties on virtually all of the oil and natural gas that would come out of wells drilled between 1996 and 2000. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, has come up with an estimate of how much money the oil companies would have paid so far: $11 billion. The committee’s Democrats have released a report that says roughly 25 percent of the oil currently produced in the Gulf of Mexico is not subject to royalty payments. It says more than 100 oil and gas companies fully or partially own more than 200 royalty-free leases for deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, reports Steven Mufson:


Copyright 2007