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March 15, 2013 at 5:06 PM
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Obama seeks $2B for clean-fuels research

ARGONNE, Ill., March 15 (UPI) -- A $2 billion investment in a new Energy Security Trust would fund research to help secure the United States' energy future, President Barack Obama said Friday.

Speaking at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, the president said the proposal would set aside $2 billion over 10 years and support research into a range of cost-effective technologies such as advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuel cells, and domestically produced natural gas.

Noting that the United States was making progress in weaning itself off foreign oil, Obama said, "[But] the only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices, the only way to break that cycle for good is to shift our cars entirely -- our cars and trucks -- off oil."

That's why, he said, he called on Congress during his State of the Union address to set up an Energy Security Trust to "fund research into new technologies that will help us reach that goal."

A fact sheet released by the White House said the mandatory funds would be set aside from royalty revenues generated by oil and gas development in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Hollande defends arming Syrian rebels

BRUSSELS, March 15 (UPI) -- French President Francois Hollande defended his plan to supply arms to Syrian rebels following a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, Belgium, Friday.

The European Union agreed to an arms embargo in 2011, but France and the United Kingdom are eager to see it lifted, hinting they could take unilateral action if EU leaders continue to support the embargo, the BBC reported.

At a news conference after the conference British Prime Minister David Cameron said there was a "good understanding that what is happening now isn't working."

Hollande said the rebels have given assurances the weapons would not fall into improper hands, adding it is "because we have been given those [guarantees] that we can envisage the lifting of the embargo. We have certainty on the use of these weapons."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday France and Britain might ignore the arms embargo if it is not scrapped soon.

McConnell calls for conservative unity

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for an end to the "crybaby caucus" Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

McConnell said Republicans must come together to stop Obamacare and the rest of President Obama's agenda, The Hill reported.

"I'm a little tired of the hand-wringing. Conservatives were never meant to be part of the crybaby caucus," he said. "I know folks have a lot of opinions about what happened in November, but seriously, how many conferences and lunch panels do we really need to have about it?"

The 40th annual conference, held this year in National Harbor, Md., outside Washington, is often a showcase for potential presidential candidates. But the attendees also gave a warm welcome Friday to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the last election, The New York Times said.

"It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon,'' Romney said.

New Israeli government formed

JERUSALEM, March 15 (UPI) -- Negotiations between Israeli political parties concluded Friday with coalition agreements, paving the way for the swearing-in of a new government next week.

Discussions came to an end after six weeks Friday, when the centrist Yesh Atid and right-wing Habayit Hayehudi parties signed agreements with the right-wing Likud Beytenu party, Israeli media reported Friday.

The 68-member coalition in the legislative Knesset, which will include the liberal Hatnua Party, allows Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a new government, The Jerusalem Post said.

Netanhayu praised the agreements, promising all parties would "cooperate for all of Israel's citizens."

The coalition was formed one day before an extension of time, granted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, was to expire, Haaretz reported.

Md. set to repeal capital punishment

ANNAPOLIS, Md., March 15 (UPI) -- Maryland lawmakers gave final passage Friday to a bill repealing the state's death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The House of Delegates voted 82-56 in favor of repeal, a week after the state Senate voted 27-20 in favor of the bill, which now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, for his signature.

O'Malley, who sponsored the bill, told The Washington Post he "felt compelled to do everything I could to change our law, repeal the death penalty, so that we could focus on doing the things that actually work to reduce violent crime."

Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Democrat, argued in favor of repeal, calling the vote "historic," The Baltimore Sun reported.

"Extinguishing a light, no matter how dim, is never the path to illumination," she said.

Delegate C.T. Wilson, a former prosecutor and a Democrat, said during the debate he wished the death penalty were not necessary "but I've seen the worst of the worst, and I know it's necessary."

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