Obama to meet congressional caucuses
WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama will go to Capitol Hill next week to talk with lawmakers in both parties about his legislative priorities, the White House said Wednesday.
The president's press secretary said in a statement Obama will "meet separately with the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate."
"The president asked for the opportunity to speak to the caucuses about the priorities on his legislative agenda," the statement said, noting details of when the meetings will take place would be announced later.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a release Obama would get together with GOP senators for lunch March 14. He said the meeting was requested by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
"We have numerous challenges facing the country and Republicans have offered the president serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy," McConnell said.
Obama, who last attended a Senate Republican Policy Lunch May 25, 2010, also invited a group of GOP senators to dinner Wednesday evening at a hotel near the White House. CNN and NBC News reported the list of invited senators includes Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
"I'm glad the president is doing it," McCain told CNN. "I think it's very helpful we have continued discussions."
Graham said, "When he reaches out we've got to reach back."
Snowstorm fizzles in Washington
WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- A late winter snowstorm bearing down on Washington fizzled Wednesday afternoon, leaving the nation's capital wet but heavy snow was falling elsewhere.
The National Weather Service canceled its winter storm warning for the Washington area, which had been expected to get 5 to 10 inches of wet snow, but that came after much of official Washington had already shut down.
Washington got a dusting of snow, not enough to make slush.
"It's just not panning out to be the storm we'd thought it would be," said CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.
The federal government closed offices Wednesday, as did schools in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio.
Forecasters had predicted the system could drop up to 20 inches of heavy, wet snow west of the nation's capital and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonald declared a state of emergency and called up 100 National Guard troops.
The storm knocked out electrical power to nearly 180,000 people, Dominion Power said. Airlines canceled more than 1,600 flights.
Coastal flood warnings were in effect for parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
As it powered through the Midwest Tuesday, the storm left up to foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and elsewhere.
Sarkozy says France may need him
PARIS, March 6 (UPI) -- Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the thought of a return to public life bores him but he would do so for the good of his country.
In an interview with the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles (Current Values), Sarkozy said he would be "obliged to run," Radio France Internationale reported.
The interview, to be published Thursday, is Sarkozy's first since leaving office last year.
"In such a situation, I could no longer continue to say to myself: 'I am happy, I take by daughter to school, and I do conferences all over the world.' In such a situation, I would indeed be obliged to run, not because I want to, out of duty, solely for the sake of France," he said.
Sarkozy said thinking about resuming the presidency fills him with "deadly boredom." He complained about his treatment while he was in office, including his being questioned for 13 hours about payments made by heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
Sarkozy won the presidency in 2007 with 53 percent of the vote in the second round against Socialist Segolene Royal. Five years later, he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande, winning 48 percent of the vote to Hollande's 52 percent.
Asked if he wanted revenge for his defeat, Sarkozy called that a "very bad emotion."
"Anyway what kind of revenge would it be to take over the running of France in the state it will be in after a Socialist government? Do you think I don't know that one day I'll be dead? So, frankly do I want to return to power? No," he said.
U.N. peacekeepers held in Golan Heights
JAMLA, Syria, March 6 (UPI) -- The United Nations said Wednesday Syrian militants detailed about 20 of its peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel.
The United Nations confirmed the incident after videos posted on YouTube showed fighters with the seized convoy, al-Jazeera reported.
U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the peacekeepers were on a regular supply mission when they were intercepted near an observation post evacuated last weekend following heavy fighting. He said a U.N. team was sent to assess the situation and try to secure the peacekeepers' release.
Syrian activists said the peacekeepers are from the Philippines, al-Jazeera said. The United Nations did not confirm their nationalities.
Al-Jazeera said a man in the video said he was a member of the "Martyrs of Yarmouk" brigade and the U.N. convoy would not be freed until Syrian government forces withdraw from the Syrian village of Jamla, located near the Golan Heights, which are occupied by Israel.
"If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners," he said.
Iran's Press TV reported about 30 militants were involved.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967.
Venezuelans mourn Chavez
CARACAS, Venezuela, March 6 (UPI) -- The body of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was taken Wednesday from the hospital where he died to a military academy where he will lie in state.
Thousands of people lined the streets as Chavez's casket, draped in the national flag, was taken by hearse through the capital of Caracas to the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy, where Chavez studied as a young cadet. Chavez will lie in state there as the country declared a mourning period of seven days.
Chavez, 58, died Tuesday after treatment for cancer and after a career that included a failed 1992 coup, a successful presidential election in 1998 and 14 years as the dominant, charismatic, divisive and three-times re-elected president of oil-rich Venezuela, The New York Times noted.
"Chavez gave us everything," a mourner said on state-run television, a reference to the social programs at the center of his socialist government.
A new election will be held within 30 days, CNN reported, signaling a possible new path for the country. Interim President Nicolas Maduro, the former vice president, is widely expected to be the united Socialist Party candidate for the office, CNN said.
Schools and universities will be closed through Friday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said.
The shops of Caracas, many of which closed abruptly when Chavez's death was announced Tuesday, reopened Wednesday morning, the Times reported.
The government plans to hold a ceremony with visiting heads of state Friday, Jaua said, adding officials would announce later where Chavez would be laid to rest.