Nation & World Briefs 03-21-13 Obama says he is not giving up on peace in Mideast

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RAMALLAH, West Bank -- President Barack Obama said today he is not giving up on stalled peace talks in the Mideast but that continued Israeli settlement-building in West Bank is not advancing the cause.

The president, appearing at a news conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, said Palestinians deserve an independent and sovereign state and an end to occupation by Israel. He said the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel continues to exist if negotiations would restart.

"I absolutely believe that it is still possible, but I think it is very difficult," Obama said. He also said it would be helpful if rockets weren't still being launched into Israel.

Abbas said he told the American leader that peace with Israel should not be achieved through violence, occupation, settlements, arrests or denial of refugee rights.

U.S. offers $10M for info: The United States is offering $10 million for information leading to the arrest of two Americans in Somalia who are on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The State Department said the rewards are $5 million each for al-Shabab members Omar Shafik Hammami and Jehad Mostafa.

School districts form food alliance: Urban school districts in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas announced Wednesday they are joining forces to coordinate school lunch planning in an attempt to keep costs down while providing healthful food choices. The districts also will work together to purchase items like biodegradable trays in bulk, New York City Department of Education spokesman Margie Feinberg said.

Ex-pastor gets 12 years: Senior District Judge Rudy Lozano has sentenced Jack Schaap, the former pastor of a northwest Indiana megachurch, to 12 years in prison who pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with a teenage member of the parish. Lozano also sentenced the 55-year-old Schaap of Crete, Ill., to five years of supervised release Wednesday. Schaap pleaded guilty in September to transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Schaap was pastor of the 15,000-member First Baptist Church of Hammond for 11 years when he was fired in July.

Set to begin EU trade talks: The Obama administration is formally notifying Congress of its intention to negotiate a free trade deal with the European Union. The notification on Wednesday starts the clock on a 90-day waiting period required by law before the U.S. could launch the talks. Obama announced the talks between the world's largest trading partners in annual State of the Union speech last month. If completed, the deal would be the biggest bilateral trade pact ever negotiated. The momentum comes as the EU and the U.S. are both struggling with slow growth, high unemployment and high levels of debt.

Expands test of mobile checkout program: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is expanding a test of a new checkout program that allows shoppers to scan items with their smartphones while they're in the aisles and then pay at self-checkout terminals. The world's largest retailer launched what it calls its "Scan & Go" program late last year in about 70 stores in Atlanta and in the Bentonville, Ark., area, where the retailer is based. It is now testing the program in more than 200 stores in markets including Dallas, Houston, Austin, Texas; Denver, Portland, Ore., Seattle, and Phoenix.

GM recalls about 34K vehicles: General Motors is recalling nearly 34,000 Buicks and Cadillacs in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere to fix a problem with the automatic transmissions. The recall affects Buick LaCrosse full-size cars and Cadillac SRX crossover SUVs from the 2013 model year. The company says a software problem can cause transmissions to unexpectedly shift into sport mode. That can override any slowing effect from the transmission, increasing the risk of a crash. GM says no crashes or injuries have been reported. GM will reprogram the transmission at no cost to the owners. The recall is expected to start March 28.

McDonald's adds chicken McWrap: McDonald's is adding a permanent new offering to its menu: chicken McWraps. The world's biggest hamburger chain says the new sandwich wrap will come in three varieties -- Chicken & Bacon, Sweet Chili Chicken and Chicken & Ranch. The company already offers similar wraps in other parts of the world, including Europe.

N. Korea suspected in cyberattack: Investigators have traced a coordinated cyberattack that paralyzed tens of thousands of computers at six South Korean banks and media companies to a Chinese Internet Protocol address, but it was not yet clear who orchestrated the attack, authorities in Seoul said today. The discovery did not erase suspicions that North Korea was to blame. IP addresses are unique to each computer connected to the Internet, but they can easily be manipulated by hackers operating anywhere in the world. The investigation into Wednesday's attack could take weeks.

Guarantees aid only through Monday: The European Central Bank says it will keep emergency aid for Cyprus' troubled banks in place at least until Monday but will have to cut it off after that unless an international rescue program is drawn up. The ECB is keeping the Cypriot banks alive by allowing them to draw on emergency support from the local central bank. But the ECB has said it would cut that aid off if there is no bailout deal soon. The ECB said Thursday that its governing council decided to maintain the current level of so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance until Monday. But it says that, after that, such assistance can only be considered if an EU-IMF program is in place that would ensure the banks' solvency.

Mexico demands Sotheby's halt auction: The Mexican government demanded Wednesday that the Sotheby's auction house halt the planned sale of 51 pre-Colombian Mexican artifacts, arguing they are protected national historical pieces. The National Institute of Anthropology and History said Mexico has sent a diplomatic note to the French government seeking assistance in heading off the auction scheduled in Paris for Friday and Saturday. It also implied that some of the artifacts offered in what is known as the 300-piece Barbier-Mueller Collection of Pre-Colombian Art are fakes or imitations.

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