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Other News: Senate Debates Spending Bill, Obama Denies Russia Deal

March 3, 2009 at 6:05 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. Senate will keep thousands of earmarks in a huge spending bill. A bid by Republican John McCain to remove the special projects failed 63-32. The bill includes $410 billion to fund government operations for the rest of the current fiscal year. President Obama has opposed earmarks, but White House officials said this bill is leftover business from last year, so he will sign it.

President Obama denied today he offered Russia deal on a planned U.S. missile shield. The offer was said to be contained in a letter to Russian President Medvedev. The New York Times reported Mr. Obama suggested giving up a missile defense system in Europe if Russia helps stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In the Oval Office, the president said the letter was not some kind of tit-for-tat deal.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I think that the report that was in the New York Times didn’t accurately characterize the letter. It was simply a statement of fact that I’ve made previously, which is, is that the missile defense program, to the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with not a Russian threat, but a Iranian threat.

JIM LEHRER: In response, the Russian leader reaffirmed Moscow’s opposition to the missile shield, but he said Iran’s nuclear program is a separate issue.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, President of Russia (through translator): We are in constant contact. We have spoken several times on the phone. We do write to one another, and it is senseless to deny this. But as for any tradeoffs or exchanges, I can say the question wasn’t put in such a way, as it would be unproductive.

JIM LEHRER: The two leaders are scheduled to meet at an international economic summit in London next month.

There’s been another American death in Iraq. A soldier was killed when mortar fire hit a U.S.-Iraqi base in Mosul. Sixteen Americans died in Iraq in February, the same number as in January.

Gunmen in eastern Pakistan launched an attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team. It happened in Lahore, as the team was driving to a stadium before their match. At least a dozen armed men attacked with rifles and grenades. None of the team members was killed, but six policemen and a driver died. Police said all of the attackers got away.

The U.S. has given the clearest signal yet that it wants better relations with Syria. Secretary of State Clinton said two American envoys will go to Damascus for preliminary conversations. She spoke in Jerusalem.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be. Again, we don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them; there has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies and our shared values.

JIM LEHRER: Clinton also met with Israeli leaders and pledged support for a Palestinian state. She said, “The inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable.”