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Other News: Afghan Meeting Held, Israeli PM Sworn-in

March 31, 2009 at 6:05 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: In other news today, an international conference on stabilizing Afghanistan got underway in the Netherlands. More than 70 nations attended the day-long meeting at The Hague, including the U.S. and Iran.

Secretary of State Clinton said the two nations had their first direct diplomatic contact in nearly three decades.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: In the course of the conference today, our special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a brief and cordial exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation. It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial; it was unplanned. And they agreed to stay in touch.

GWEN IFILL: Clinton and Afghan President Karzai also said the U.S. and Afghanistan will welcome Taliban fighters who embrace peace.

The new prime minister of Israel took office today, pledging to work for peace with the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu will lead a hawkish government. His choice of ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister has already drawn international criticism. But Netanyahu struck a conciliatory tone as he spoke before being sworn in.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister (through translator): Israel has always and today more than ever striven to reach full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world. We do not wish to rule another people. We do not want to rule the Palestinians. Under the permanent status agreement, the Palestinians will have all the authority necessary to rule themselves.

GWEN IFILL: But Netanyahu stopped short of endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state, a plan backed by the U.S.

A suicide truck bombing in northern Iraq has killed at least eight people. The attacker drove into a police station in Mosul. A dozen more people were wounded.

To the south, the British military transferred control of Basra province to U.S. forces during a handover ceremony. The 4,100 British troops that remain will leave Iraq by the end of May.

The new boss at General Motors said today it’s “more probable” now the automaker will face bankruptcy. Fritz Henderson said G.M. will try to avoid that fate by closing more plants, if need be. President Obama and his auto task force have given the company 60 days to make new cuts and win concessions from creditors and labor unions.

FRITZ HENDERSON, CEO, General Motors: The objectives that are set for us are — that we’ve set for ourselves and that the task force has are very clear in terms what we have to get done. And what’s equally clear now is that we’ll either get it done out of court or we’re going to get it done in court, but we’re going to get the job done. And that’s where I’m going to be spending all of my time, not necessarily trying to, you know, create a — do anything other than keep our management team focused on that job.

GWEN IFILL: In another development, G.M. and Ford announced separate plans to make car payments for buyers who lose their jobs. G.M. had also planned to decide today the fate of its Hummer brand of large sport utility vehicles. That decision has now been delayed several weeks.

Wall Street finished the month on a high note. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained nearly 87 points to close near 7,609. That’s up 21 percent since early March. The Nasdaq rose more than 26 points today to close at 1,528.

The sandbag levees held for another day in Fargo, North Dakota, despite a snowstorm and high winds. Officials had feared the combination would push the Red River over the barriers. The snow did add to the city’s miseries, and forecasters said it could push water levels higher again when it begins melting.

More than 2 million pounds of pistachio nuts are being recalled because they might be tainted with salmonella. Setton Pistachio announced the voluntary action on Monday. It covers product distributed since last fall. The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to avoid all pistachio products until further testing.