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News Wrap: Moscow amasses more troops in Crimea as U.S.-Russia diplomacy yields little progress

March 14, 2014 at 6:01 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The search expanded for that missing Malaysian jetliner today, as new leads emerged about the mystery behind its disappearance. The New York Times reported radar readings show the plane climbed sharply, then dropped, while turning several times. Separately, there were theories ranging from piracy to a cargo fire.

But there appeared to be growing agreement that the plane turned west and flew for some time toward the Indian Ocean. We will talk to two following it all right after the news summary.

Ukraine is facing a fateful weekend, with a Sunday referendum in Crimea to secede and join Russia. As that vote neared today, Russia deployed more troops and armor in Crimea. Moscow also repeated a threat to intervene elsewhere. The warning followed overnight street battles in Donetsk, a mainly Russia-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine, where at least one protester was killed.

Meanwhile, a delegation of U.S. senators, led by Republican John McCain, visited the capital, Kiev. They laid flowers at a memorial honoring slain protesters.

In London, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held six hours of talks, but failed to make headway toward resolving the crisis. They spoke to reporters afterward.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We do not have common vision of the situation. The differences are there, but the dialogue was definitely constructive. And it could help us to understand how much and how good we understand each other.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: The foreign minister made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any decision regarding Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday.

The United States’ position on that referendum, I must say, is clear, and it’s clear today. We believe the referendum is contrary to the constitution of Ukraine. It’s contrary to international law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If Crimea secedes, the U.S. and the European Union plan to impose sanctions on select Russian officials and businesses as early as Monday. That threat hit Russia’s main stock index again today. It’s down 16 percent in the last two weeks. We will return to the scene inside Crimea, where Margaret Warner is on the ground, later in the program.

The U.S. government will give up direct control over administration of the Internet. The Commerce Department announced the decision today. The practical effects were not immediately clear, but news accounts said a new oversight body must be created. That group would work with ICANN, a California nonprofit that oversees assigning Internet domain names and Web addresses.

A watchdog group now claims the problem behind a major General Motors recall may be linked to 300 deaths. The Center for Auto Safety says that it studied accidents where a faulty ignition switch may have disabled air bags. GM says the defect resulted in 12 deaths. It has recalled 1.6 million vehicles, but is being criticized for not acting sooner.

President Obama will look for ways to ease the effects of deporting those in the U.S. illegally. The move was announced last night. Two million people have been deported under Mr. Obama, and Hispanic leaders are pressing for relief.

But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney cautioned today, there are limits to what’s possible.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The president understands and is concerned about the pain caused by the separations that have come about through deportation, and — but he also understands and has made clear that there’s no comprehensive fix that he can himself enact. Congress has to act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, though, there’s little prospect of comprehensive immigration reform this year.

The president says enough people have signed up, under his health care law, for the program to work. He told the medical Web site WebMD today that enrollment to date, 4.2 million, is sufficient to make the program stable. But he also urged young and healthy people to sign up to offset costs. The deadline is March 31.

The U.S. Education Department will try again to crack down on career-training colleges whose graduates can’t pay their student debt. These programs account for almost half of all student loan defaults. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called today for stripping schools of access to financial aid if their pupils can’t find decent-paying jobs. A federal judge rejected earlier rules as arbitrary.

Wall Street lost more ground today. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 43 points to close at 16,065. The Nasdaq fell 15 points to close at 4,245. And the Standard & Poor’s 500 was down five at 1,841. For the week, all three indexes lost 2 percent or more.