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Feb. 22, 2013 at 8:22 AM
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Storm system carries snow, sleet, rain

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Snow fell in parts of the Midwest and other regions had a snow-sleet-rain mix Friday, all part of a storm system pushing eastward across the United States.

The system that carried the snow to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois is the same one that dumped more than a foot of snow across Kansas and Oklahoma Thursday and closed schools, highways, even state legislatures in some states, NBC News reported.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon each declared a state of emergency.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled at airports in the system's path Thursday, and more delays and cancellations were expected Friday.

Minnesota's twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and surrounding suburbs could get up to 6 inches of snow by the time the system clears.

By the time the system moved out Thursday, 14 inches of snow had fallen in Wichita, Kan., the second-largest on record and the most the city experienced in half a century, NBC News said.

Sleet and freezing rain were forecast for Friday in southern and central Ohio, West Virginia, western Virginia, parts of central and western Pennsylvania and possibly northern North Carolina.

The same weather system could dump snow on New England for the third straight weekend, AccuWeather.com said.

Obama phones GOP leaders on 'sequester'

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama made his first call to Republican leaders in weeks to discuss $85 billion in looming U.S. spending cuts, the White House said.

Obama spoke with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about the so-called sequester, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama "had good conversations, but I have no further readout of those calls for you," he said.

Spokesmen for Boehner and McConnell gave no details either.

Republicans interpreted the latest outreach as a public relations stunt and not a new basis for negotiation, CBS News said.

The New York Times said the GOP interpretation was slightly different -- aimed equally at fending off criticism for not reaching out sooner and at trying to open a new dialogue.

The sequester is the Washington term for across-the-board federal domestic and military spending cuts set to be automatically triggered in a week and run through September unless Congress intervenes.

The cuts -- established as part of the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit -- represent a small slice of the government's annual $3.5 trillion budget, and big-ticket programs such as Social Security and Medicare benefits are exempt from them.

U.S. said to want 1-on-1 meeting with Iran

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Washington wants a one-on-one nuclear meeting with Tehran, U.S. officials said, as Iran installed new centrifuges that can triple the speed it enriches uranium.

The meeting, proposed for international talks in Kazakhstan Tuesday to resolve disputes about Iran's nuclear program, would accelerate nuclear diplomacy ahead of Iran's presidential elections in June, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

But U.S. diplomats said they doubted Tehran would accept the offer because Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and chief arbiter on foreign relations, has ruled out direct talks with Washington.

"They say, 'Let us negotiate to force Iran to accept what we tell them,'" Khamenei said Sunday in a Tehran speech. "Such talks would be worthless. Such talks will lead nowhere."

But ahead of Iran's June 14 presidential and local council elections, U.S. and European officials told the Journal it was possible the offer would split Iran's political elite and perhaps isolate Khamenei.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can't run for a third term, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi have both publicly indicated they were open to meeting directly with U.S. negotiators.

Judge expected to rule on Pistorius bail

PRETORIA, South Africa, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A South African judge was widely expected to rule Friday on whether Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend, can be freed on bail.

Pistorius, 26, denies premeditated murder, saying he shot Reeva Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate, in the bathroom Feb. 14 thinking she was an intruder in his home.

The prosecution argues Pistorius may flee and should be refused bail.

The defense says confused testimony given by a detective who was later removed from the case has undermined the prosecution's case.

Police Thursday replaced lead investigator Detective Hilton Botha after announcing he was charged with seven counts of attempted murder in a separate episode in which he and two other officers allegedly fired at seven passengers in a minivan while drunk.

Botha denies the charges and says he fired at the minivan's tires.

During the third day of Pistorius' bail hearing Thursday, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said even if Pistorius' version of the events is true, the shooting was planned.

"He fired four shots, not one. The only reason you fire four shots is to kill," Nel said.

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