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June 18, 2011 at 9:02 AM
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Obama says fathers need help

WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) -- With Father's Day a day away, U.S. President Barack Obama Saturday talked about families and his administration's efforts to help men be better dads.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama note how the recession has "taken a harsh toll" on fathers and their families.

"If you're out of a job or struggling to pay the bills, doing whatever it takes to keep the kids healthy, happy and safe can understandably take precedence over all else," he said.

"That's why my administration has offered men who want to be good fathers a little extra support. We've boosted community and faith-based groups focused on fatherhood, partnered with businesses to offer opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids at the bowling alley or ballpark, and worked with military chaplains to help deployed dads connect with their children.

"We're doing this because we all have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children."

Obama recounted how his father had left the family when he was 2, saying he "felt his absence. And I wonder what my life would have been like had he been a greater presence."

The president said that has inspired him to try "so hard to be a good dad for my own children," though he conceded "I haven't always succeeded, of course."

"But between my own experiences growing up, and my ongoing efforts to be the best father I can be," Obama said, "I've learned a few things about what our children need most from their parents."

The most important, he said, is children just want to be loved and for their parents to be part of their lives.

GOP: Stop dawdling on trade agreements

WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) -- The Obama administration needs to expedite international trade agreements to ease unemployment, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Saturday.

In the Republican party's weekly radio and Internet address, the senator said trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea were being delayed by Democrat's policy.

Of those, Hoeven focused on South Korea, which he said was waiting for Washington to formalize a trade agreement that would eliminate many tariffs.

"The South Korean Free Trade Agreement alone will increase our nation's exports to that country by more than $10 billion and create 280,000 American jobs," he said. "Free and fair trade agreements can help us create the kind of pro-jobs, pro-growth economy that will lift our nation up."

Hoeven said with nearly 14 million citizens without jobs and a $14 trillion national debt, the remedy was to increase trade and the resultant creation of jobs.

"All of these agreements have been languishing for years, but with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and a spiraling deficit, the president can no longer hold these agreements back," Hoeven said.

Afghan president: U.S., Taliban in talks

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 18 (UPI) -- Peace negotiations are under way between the Taliban militant group and the United States, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai said in Kabul Saturday.

Speaking on national television after addressing a youth conference, Karzai said the talks were aimed at ceasing violence and getting the former ruling party back into the political system in a legitimate and peaceful way, the BBC said.

Karzai's statement affirms a policy U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in Kabul earlier this month about engaging the Taliban diplomatically, CNN said.

"I believe that if we can hold on to the territory that has been recaptured from the Taliban … we will be in a position toward the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening with respect to reconciliation, or at least be in a position where we can say we've turned a corner here in Afghanistan," Gates said.

The timing for talks with the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban has apparently been set to precede the gradual draw-down of almost 100,000 U.S. troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan next month, China's Xinhua news agency said. The United States has said all of its troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014.

Temporary levee keeping Hamburg, Iowa, dry

HAMBURG, Iowa, June 18 (UPI) -- The threat of the bloated Missouri River inundating tiny Hamburg, Iowa, remained Friday with an earthen levee the only thing standing in its way.

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers crews spent the day bolstering weak spots along the 3-mile-long wall and it was holding, The Des Moines Register reported.

"It was an all-night fight," Col. Robert Ruch, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, said. "We have some challenges, including several seeps."

Civic leaders pressed their case with corps officials and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, to leave the temporary levee in place even after the waters subside, despite an agreement to remove it within 30 days.

Grassley said Ruch told him there will be no rush to remove it, the Register said.

Ruch said the Big Muddy, which breached a levee in Missouri 5 miles away had crept within 3 feet of the top of the Hamburg levee, which corp workers have built up with 5 feet of clay and dirt.

Without the addition, the floodwaters would have been in Hamburg, he said. It now appears the levee will be high enough to keep the town of 1,100 people dry.

River water from a breach in Missouri 5 miles away had climbed to within 3 feet of the top of the Hamburg levee, meaning it would have topped the original 5 feet of added clay and dirt, Ruch said.

Local businessman Don Athen urged Ruch, Grassley and Latham to see to it that the levee is made permanent.

"Without that levee in Hamburg, we'd be 6 feet under water by now," he said.

S. Korea fires at jetliner by mistake

INCHEON, South Korea, June 18 (UPI) -- Two South Korean troops fired about 100 rounds at a civilian jetliner Friday, mistaking it for a North Korean military aircraft, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The South Korean Marine Corps guards who opened fire with their K-2 assault rifles inflicted no damage on the Asiana Airlines passenger plane, a military source told the news agency. The jetliner was out of range of the soldiers' weapons, the source said.

The flight was carrying about 119 passenger and crew members from China when it came under attack as it descended toward Incheon International Airport, other sources told Yonhap.

"When the plane, which the guards said they had never seen before, was approaching, the guards misidentified it as a plane from the North Korean air force and shot at it," the military source said.

Asiana Airlines disputed the soldiers' contention that the aircraft was off the normal route for civilian planes.

"We checked yesterday through the air force and the airport control center to make sure there were no abnormalities such as being off course," a company official said.

Yonhap said the marine corps said it will beef up its training of guards in the identification of civilian aircraft.

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