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March 15, 2013 at 8:29 AM   |   Comments

Li Keqiang becomes premier

BEIJING, March 15 (UPI) -- Li Keqiang, 58, an economist, became China's premier Friday, succeeding Wen Jiabao.

The appointment was approved by the National People's Congress, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Li's elevation to premier came a day after Xi Jinping took over as China's president, succeeding Hu Jintao.

The appointments of Xi and Li completed the once-in-a-decade leadership change in the Communist country.

Li, who was born in Anhui province, joined the Communist Party in 1976 after graduating from Peking University with degrees in economics and law. He was appointed vice premier in 2008 and was re-elected in November to the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

As premier, Li must tackle a large portfolio of domestic affairs, economic challenges, environmental woes and China's urbanization drive, the BBC said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have planned visits to Beijing as the new Chinese administration takes over.


Obama: Iran 'year or so' from nuke weapon

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Washington believes Tehran is more than "a year or so" away from developing a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama said ahead of his visit to Israel.

"We think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon," Obama told Israel's Channel 2 in an interview ahead of Obama's three-day trip beginning Wednesday that will also take him to the West Bank and Jordan.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will meet with Obama in Jerusalem Wednesday, told the United Nations in September Israel believed Iran would be close to nuclear weapons capability in the spring or summer of this year.

"Obviously we don't want to cut it too close," Obama said in the interview broadcast Thursday.

"So when I'm consulting with Bibi [Netanyahu's popular nickname, a holdover from his childhood], as I have over the last several years on this issue, my message to him will be the same as before: If we can resolve this diplomatically, that is a more lasting solution. But if not, I continue to keep all options on the table."

When asked if he would order an attack on Iran if diplomatic means failed, Obama said, "When I say all options are on the table, all options are on the table, and the United States obviously has significant capabilities."

He said Washington's goal was to ensure "Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or trigger an arms race in the region that would be extremely dangerous."


EU to discuss lifting Syrian arms embargo

BRUSSELS, March 15 (UPI) -- The European Union was preparing to discuss lifting an embargo against Syria to allow arms to go to rebels.

French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron were expected to raise the issue of the arms embargo at the talks in Brussels Friday, asking other European leaders to advance the May date for reviewing the current embargo that allows only non-lethal military support, The Guardian reported.

Hollande said Thursday France was "ready to support the rebels."

"We cannot allow the massacre of a people by a regime which right now does not want a political transition," he said. "France's view is that arms are being delivered to Syria -- but to the regime of [President Bashar Assad], in particular by the Russians."

Russia, one of Syria's major allies, strongly opposes arming the rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov restated his country's opposition Thursday, saying arming the opposition "is not an option."

A British official said the embargo had a "perversity" about it, the BBC said.

"The embargo does not stop those aiding Assad, but it does stop those who want to help the opposition," the official said.


Woman blamed for JPMorgan losses to testify

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- JPMorgan Chase denied it misled U.S. regulators and clients about huge trade losses, as the woman who oversaw the trades was to appear before the Senate Friday.

"While we have repeatedly acknowledged significant mistakes, our senior management acted in good faith and never had any intent to mislead anyone," the nation's biggest bank by assets said in a statement after a scathing Senate report said the multinational banking giant ignored internal warnings and manipulated documents as a little-known trading division lost $6.2 billion.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon briefly withheld reports from regulators, saying "it was too much information to provide," the 301-page report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said.

The subcommittee planned at 9:30 a.m. to question JPMorgan executives and regulators, including Ina Drew, 56, who resigned as head of the Chief Investment Office.

She was saddled with much of the blame for what went wrong with the trades.

Drew's testimony as the leadoff witness would be the first time she has talked publicly about the trading mistakes.

The panel's report painted her as earlier balking at regulator demands, notably by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, for more information about the perilous trades, calling the demands "unnecessary and intrusive," the subcommittee said in its report.

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