ABC NEWS EXCLUSIVE: RADDATZ TOURS WITH TOP COMMANDER
-GENERAL ALLEN: "WE OWE THEM" THE APOLOGY…Martha RADDATZ is the only journalist - print or broadcast - to travel with General John Allen, the Commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. It's obviously timely - coming in the aftermath of the Koran burnings and killings of six U.S. soldiers. Raddatz flew with General Allen for his "battlefield circulation" today, a criss-cross of the war zone that included meetings with Afghan leaders and talks about the security problems. General Allen spoke to Martha about criticism he and President Obama have received (from nearly all the GOP candidates) for apologizing about the Koran burnings. Says, Martha, Allen got very stern and said, It is their holy book and we burned it - it was a mistake - we owe them that. Allen also met with young marines about moving forward, getting beyond this. The commander also said he has no doubt the burning was inadvertent - no matter what some Afghan officials are saying. And one interesting note about those Afghan officials Martha has met during the trip: "None of them brought up the Koran burning - until we did."
-TALKS IN TROUBLE?…The New York Times reports negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have faltered despite a new American willingness to move up the transfer of detention centers to the Afghans as soon as six months from now. The Afghan government wouldn't confirm if talks were suspended, but today President Karzai will meet with Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to discuss the six-month transfer timeline.
IRAN, ISRAEL + THE U.S.
-NO WAR, PLEASE - NOT YET… President Obama welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House today - and while we'd love to be flies on the wall, you can imagine the conversation. The U.S. and Israel have telegraphed their differing views publicly - over the state and the danger of Iran's nuclear program. As Jake TAPPER put it, those differences involve "red lines and time lines" - defining precisely what the "red lines" are that Iran must not cross, and therefore the time available for diplomacy and for economic pressure to bring a non-military solution. There are also concerns that an Israeli attack would inflame the region, send oil prices soaring and deal only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear ambitions. At yesterday's AIPAC conference, President Obama urged Israel to give diplomacy a chance before taking military action. For his part, Netanyahu said Friday global powers would be falling into a trap if they pursued talks with Iran.
-ISRAELIS SIDE WITH OBAMA?…The Wall Street Journal reports Israelis are skeptical of a hard-line approach toward Iran and increasingly favor Barack Obama's more cautious approach. Only 19 percent of Israelis support attacking Iran without the blessing of the U.S.
RUSSIA: PUTIN WINS - AND BRACES FOR PROTESTS
-NOW IT GETS INTERESTING…After Vladimir Putin's tearful victory speech in yesterday's Russian presidential election, Kirit RADIA reports from Moscow that opponents have promised to respond with mass rallies beginning today - to highlight what they believe was widespread fraud in the vote. Presidential hopeful and NBA team owner Mikhail Prokhorov has said he will file court action against Putin's victory. Putin's campaign chief pronounced the election "the cleanest in the entire history of Russia." But monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation have found the elections were "clearly skewed" in favor of Putin.
-ABOUT THOSE TEARS…Kirit again: Putin says the wind made him cry - the tough man says it was the weather, not emotion, that caused him to shed a few tears as he appeared on stage last night.
SYRIANS UNDER SIEGE
-THE CRACKDOWN WIDENS…While a lot of attention has focused on Homs and Baba Amr in recent days, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is plaguing more areas of the country now. Al Jazeera reports activists have reported shelling in Qusayr, Rastan, Idlib and Hama. Reports and videos allegedly show the Syrian air force bombing population centers in Rastan. Haaretz reports the involvement of the Syrian air force is likely to revive calls from foreign opposition for a no-fly zone over the country. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports Lebanon is bracing itself for a new influx of Syrian refugees after up to 2,000 people fleeing Homs were reported to be trying to reach the border.
-ASSAD'S FATHER-IN-LAW "HORRIFIED" BY HIM… Dr. Fawaz Akhras, father-in-law to President Bashar Assad, told The Express UK today he is "horrified" by the brutal suppression of opposition forces that has reportedly claimed the lives of over 7,000 Syrians. Dr. Akhras also said he's fearful for his daughter Asma's safety. Only a week ago Asma Assad was seen at her husband's side, smiling, on the day on the country's constitutional referendum.
IRAQI SOLDIERS KILLED IN ATTACK
Mazin FAIQ reports from Baghdad: Police have confirmed 27 Iraqi soldiers and 3 militants were killed in an attack in western Iraq today. The attack happened at dawn, when armed men stormed a house of a colonel anti-terror unit director.
OBAMA ADMINSTRATION ON RATIONALE FOR KILLING U.S. CITIZENS ABROAD
Pierre THOMAS and Jason RYAN report: Attorney General Eric Holder will deliver a key national security speech in this afternoon, in which Holder is expected to provide the most detailed account yet of the Obama administration's legal rationale for killing U.S. citizens abroad, as it did in last year's airstrike against Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Holder plans to argue that the killing of an American terrorist abroad is legal under the 2001 congressional authorization of the use of military force and that the U.S. right to self-defense is not limited to traditional battlefields.
CONGO: SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS OF HUGE ARMS DEPOT EXPLOSION
Bazi KANANI reports on a tragedy in Central Africa: The official death toll is already at 146 and is expected rise above 200 as rescuers search burned and collapsed building today in Brazzaville, Congo. Another 1,500 were injured after the arms depot caught fire at about 8 a.m. Sunday. Explosions continued for several hours. Nearby buildings - including businesses, homes, and a church - also burned or were heavily damaged by the force of the blast. Many people in surrounding areas fled fearing a war had started. The government says the fire was caused by a short circuit in wiring and is appealing for help from aid agencies to respond to the disaster. Congolese TV aired video of the aftermath. There is also video of the initial blast as seen from six miles away, across the Congo River in the city of Kinshasa.
CHINA: THE PEOPLE'S CONGRESS
From Gloria Riviera in Beijing: Beijing today is under near lockdown as the National People's Congress, the annual meeting of China's handpicked legislature, gets underway. Premier Wen Jiabao delivered opening remarks in front of nearly 3,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People. Quality, not quantity, is the theme for China's economic policy going forward. "We aim to promote steady and robust economic development, keep prices stable and guard against financial risks," Mr. Wen said. The government is cutting China's 2012 growth target to 7.5%, a drop of ½ a percentage point to its lowest mark in 8 years. The move reflects China's willingness to trade bullet-train expansion for more sustainable development. If China hits that number, it will be the lowest growth rate for the country since 1990. Today's announcement signals the government's acknowledgement that 'China, Inc.' needs to slow down in order to survive.
TSUNAMI ORPHANS TO RUN L.A. MARATHON
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: More than a dozen athletes from regions devastated by the tsunami, including 6 orphaned by the disaster, will compete in the L.A. Marathon, to raise money for children back home. The students are trying to raise $45 million to build the "Tohoku Rainbow House," a community center that would provide emotional and psychological care to children who lost their parents when the tsunami struck - a year ago this week. Children orphaned last year have been traveling around the world to keep the disaster in the headlines. In some ways, they've become the most effective ambassadors for Japan. They were in New York last summer, and traveled to Davos as well.
BRAZIL: SLUM DWELLERS V. OLYMPIC PLANNERS
As The New York Times reports: It was supposed to be a triumphant moment for Brazil. Gearing up for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held here, officials celebrated plans for a futuristic "Olympic Park," replete with a waterside park and athlete villages, promoting it as "a new piece of the city." There was just one problem: the 4,000 people who already live in that part of Rio de Janeiro, in a decades-old squatter settlement that the city wants to tear down. Refusing to go quietly and taking their fight to the courts and the streets, they have been a thorn in the side of the government for months.
CHAVEZ SAYS REMOVED TUMOR WAS CANCEROUS
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made his first television appearance over the weekend since traveling to Havana to undergo surgery for a tumor he says was malignant.
QUAKES OVERNIGHT IN ARGENTINA & INDIA
The world shook a bit overnight as earthquakes hit India and Argentina. A magnitude 6.1 quake hit Santiago Del Estero, Argentina, but no injuries or fatalities were reported. In New Delhi, a magnitude 5.2 quake rumbled around the Indian capital but again, no injuries or damage.
SEVERE FLOODING HITS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
-UNDER WATER…The BBC reports thousands have been evacuated and two people have died so far because of heavy Australian floods that are expected to continue today. Days of heavy rain have led to swollen rivers, flooded farms and forced authorities to close bridges and roads. In New Zealand, the storm has passed, but Radio New Zealand reports 2,300 people are still without power because the treacherous storm brought down power lines over the weekend.
PRINCE HARRY VISITS JAMAICA
Prince Harry continues his overseas tour for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration today in Jamaica.
GERMAN'S MYSTERY DONOR
Dimitrije STEJIC flagged this: The BBC is calling it a German "Robin Hood" - a donor has been leaving envelopes of $14,000 in various places around Braunschweig, Germany. The money is always in a blank white envelope with a bundle of 500 Euro bills inside often left in places where it might not be found.
PAIR OF IMPRESSIVE SPORTS FEATS
The first comes from everyone's favorite non-royal Pippa Middleton. She finished a 56-mile cross-country ski race in Sweden Sunday, clinching a respectable 412th-place finish among 15,800 competitors. She completed the race in 7 hours and 13 minutes. She and her brother raced together to raise money for the children's charity Magic Breakfast. There's also chatter about the unknown gent who kissed her on the cheek at the finish line. The second is about 70-year-old Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu, who has qualified for the London Olympics. Hoketsu qualified by winning an international dressage meet in France. An announcement will be made soon on whether he will ride in London. The oldest Olympian in history was a 72-year-old Swedish shooter.
VIOLIN STRINGS MADE FROM SPIDER SILK
Itsy-bitsy strands of spider silk have been spun by a Japanese researcher to make a set of violin strings. The BBC reports the "spidey" strings have a "soft and profound timbre" compared to the traditional gut or steel strings. For each string, Dr. Shingeyoshi Osaki twisted between 3,000 and 5,000 individual strands of silk in one direction to form a bundle. The strings were made from three of these bundles twisted together in the opposite direction.
PENGUIN ON THE RUN
From Akiko FUJITA again: This may not rise to the level of Happy Feet - but a 1-year-old penguin that escaped a Tokyo aquarium's prompted a search of city waters. The Tokyo Sea Life Park says they had no idea the Humboldt penguin had escaped, until an employee called saying he had spotted a penguin swimming in the city's Kyu-Edogawa river. It turns out the bird didn't have to try too hard to make a run - since the concrete wall that protected them was only 3 feet high. Aquarium officials think it just hopped the fence. Should mention Humboldt penguins are becoming increasingly rare, and protected under the Endangered Species Act. NHK has video of penguins at aquarium, and a grainy photo of the penguin swimming in the river.