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Obama, Harper discuss environment, economy

OTTAWA, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The United States and Canada agreed to a new joint initiative to enhance cross-border cooperation to combat global warming, the national leaders said Thursday.


U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Steve Harper said during a joint news conference in in Ottawa the clean energy dialog will commit senior officials from both countries to look for ways to reduce greenhouse sasses and combat climate change.

"How we produce and use energy is fundamental to our economic recovery, but also our security and our planet," Obama said. "And we know that we can't afford to tackle these issues in isolation."

Harper said the two leaders also had a "productive discussion" on the countries' shared priorities for international peace and security, " in particular our commitment to stability and progress in Afghanistan."

Harper said the ultimate goal for Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan, beyond day-to-day security, "is the training of the Afghan army, so the Afghans, themselves, can become responsible for their day-to- day security in that country."

Obama recognized Canada's contribution to Afghanistan was large because Afghanistan is Canada's largest foreign aid recipient.

Concerning to the global economic crisis, Obama and Harper said strong leadership was needed to help steer global markets to recovery.


Harper said nations pursuing their own economic stimulus plans must recognize that "we have a synchronized global recession that requires policies that will not just benefit ourselves, but benefit our trading partners at the same time."

Both said the North America Free Trade Agreement, and similar free trade agreements, demonstrate that "trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries," Obama said, but they also must look at human and environmental implications.

On the "buy American" provisions, Harper noted that the World Trade Organization and NAFTA permit domestic preferences.

"We expect the United States to adhere to its -- to its international obligations," Harper said. "I have every expectation, based on what the president's told me and what he said publicly many times in the past, that the United States will do just that."

First U.S. lawmakers in Gaza in 8 years

GAZA, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- A U.S. congressional delegation was in the Gaza Strip Thursday, marking the first U.S. lawmakers' visit to the region in eight years, an official says.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., who is part of the delegation, said the group's visit Thursday in the Gaza Strip represents a new U.S. approach to the troubled region, CNN reported.


Baird was traveling with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., but an unidentified official confirmed U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is visiting the Gaza Strip separately from the House of Representatives pair.

Baird and Ellison, the first Muslim in the U.S. Congress, visited the U.N. headquarters in Gaza Thursday along with damaged homes in the city. The delegation is expected to visit the Israeli city of Sderot on Friday.

Meanwhile, Kerry visited the remains of U.S. school in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday.

An unidentified representative of the senator told CNN the U.S. school had been destroyed during Israel's recent military actions in the Gaza Strip.

Karen Abu Zayd, head of the U.N. relief agency in Gaza, said Hamas gave the United Nations a letter to be passed to President Obama. She said the letter was given to Kerry but it was unclear whether Kerry accepted the missive, the BBC reported. There was no word on what the letter said.

Mugabe party said seeking amnesty

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party reportedly is seeking an amnesty deal, an opposition leader's wife says.

Heather Bennett told CNN members of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party offered to release imprisoned opposition leaders in exchange for a promise of amnesty for any crimes between Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 and 2009.


Her husband, Roy Bennett, was arrested on terrorism-related charges shortly before he was to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister. He said he rejected taking part in such a deal.

There has been no official word on the alleged offer.

Bennett, a long-time Mugabe foe, has been charged with illegally possessing firearms for the purposes of trying to commit acts of insurgency, banditry and terrorism and to illegally leave the country, his lawyer said.

China demands Russia explain ship sinking

BEIJING, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- China Thursday demanded Russia explain how a Chinese cargo ship sank in Russian waters after reportedly being fired on by Russian coast guard ships.

"We are demanding that Russia carry out a swift investigation into the cause of the incident," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. China also pressed Russia to continue searching for eight Indonesian and Chinese crew members feared dead, Jiang said.

Eight other crew members were picked up by a Russian vessel, Russian authorities said.

The official China Daily newspaper reported the cargo ship New Star, flying under a Sierra Leone flag, sank Sunday after being fired upon by Russian border guards.

Media in the Russian port city of Vladivostok said the guards fired 515 shots at the vessel's bow, the Russian Information Agency Novosti reported.


When the shooting had no effect, the border guards opened fire on the stern, or rear, RIA Novosti said.

The ship, owned by a Hong Kong company, sank in the Sea of Japan during a storm 50 miles from the Russian port of Nakhodka, where it had been held, suspected of smuggling, before leaving without permission last Thursday, China Daily said.

Two Russian coast guard ships were sent to stop the vessel, but the captain ignored their orders, the Interfax news agency said. The guards fired warning shots, but when the vessel still refused to stop, they fired more direct shots, RIA Novosti said.

Al-Qaida N. Africa claims 6 hostages

NIAMEY, Niger, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Al-Qaida's North Africa branch claims it is holding hostage a Canadian U.N. peace envoy, his aide and four tourists who were kidnapped in the Sahara.

A spokesman for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian group that claims to have joined Osama bin Laden's terror network in 2006 but some say has simply adopted the name, threatened "to deal with the six kidnapped according to Islamic Shariah law," an audio recording played on pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera said.

This appears to be a threat to execute the six Westerners if the organization's demands are not met, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.


An identical threat was posted on militant Web sites, said SITE, a U.S. organization that monitors militant messages.

The al-Qaida group didn't issue immediate demands for the hostages' release, the Telegraph reported.

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, the special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Niger, and aide Louis Guay, both diplomats, were kidnapped Dec. 14 near Niger's capital, Niamey.

Four tourists, including a Swiss couple, a German woman and a British man, were kidnapped Jan. 22 in neighboring Mali after attending a Tuareg cultural festival there, the BBC reported.

"We are aware of the reports but we have nothing further to comment," a U.N. spokeswoman said.

Swiss and British officials said they were seeking to secure the tourists' safety. Germany had no immediate comment.

Calif. octuplets' home in pre-foreclosure

WHITTIER, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Mother-of-14 Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to octuplets, has been living in a Whittier, Calif., home that is in pre-foreclosure, records show.

The home where Suleman has been living with her parents and her six children is facing a default notice in relation to a past-due loan, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The notice was filed Feb. 9 after loan was officially declared $23,224 past due and, according to the home has a June 9 projected sales date.


The three-bedroom, two-bath house property was purchased by Suleman's mother, Angela, in March 2006 with a $453,750 Indymac Bank loan.

Angela Suleman said in an interview last month she had filed for bankruptcy, but added her finances had since reached a point where she had paid off her debts.

The Times said Nadya Suleman admitted recently her family would need to relocate following the birth of the octuplets.

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