HARI SREENIVASAN: The head of the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan said today it’s high time talks with the Taliban went forward. Kai Eide held a final news conference after two years on the job. He conceded, peace in Afghanistan within the next year or two is unachievable. And he said the overall strategy has to change.
KAI EIDE, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: I believe that the focus is too much on the military side, too little on the political side, the civilian side, and that our strategy has, unfortunately, been too much militarily driven, with a political agenda as an appendix to military strategy, instead of a political strategy being at the bottom, at the basis of our military operations.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Eide said he hopes a spring conference organized by Afghan President Hamid Karzai will bring a consensus for peace.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Marine commander said today there are no immediate plans to withdraw 4,000 Marines and Afghan forces out of Marjah in the south. They waged a major offensive last month to push Taliban forces out of that city.
A German court has convicted four members of an Islamic extremist group for plotting to attack Americans in Germany. The targets included the U.S. air base at Ramstein. No attacks ever took place, but the judge said the two Germans and two Turks had intended a — quote — “terrible bloodbath.”
The plotters showed little reaction as the verdict was announced today. They had confessed during the trial, which started last April in Dusseldorf. Sentences will range from five years to 12 years in prison.
Top Democrats in the U.S. House worked today to find enough votes to pass health care reform. President Obama called Wednesday for quick final action, even if there’s no Republican support.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today the goal is to get a final vote by Easter break. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she’s optimistic, but also realistic.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: I feel very confident about how we go forward. So, we — but we take it — a new vote every time. This is a — every vote — every legislative vote is a heavy lift around here. You assume nothing, assume nothing in terms of where you were before and where people may be now. You start one, two, three, four, all the way up to a majority vote.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Pelosi spoke not long after a dozen House Democrats warned, the Senate’s bill doesn’t go far enough to block federal funding of abortions. Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak told ABC, “We’re not going to bypass some principles and beliefs that we feel strongly about.”
And House Minority Leader John Boehner said Republicans mean to make sure the bill never reaches the president’s desk.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: I’m going to continue to urge the American people to be actively engaged in this fight. This doesn’t have to become law. We are — they are not there yet. And this bill can be defeated, and I and my Republican colleagues are going to do everything we can to stand with the American people and defeat it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: At the White House, President Obama met behind closed doors with more than a dozen House Democrats, including some who oppose the bill.
The House has passed a jobs bill that extends a tax break for employers who hire the unemployed. The bill would cost $35 billion, and also include funds for federal highway programs. The vote was mostly down party lines, 217-201. The measure returns to the Senate now for final action.
In economic news, retail sales rose more last month than any time in the past two years. And first-time claims for jobless benefits were down last week. Wall Street responded with new gains. The Dow Jones industrial average added 47 points to close at 10444. The Nasdaq rose more than 11 points to close at 2292.
A stampede at a temple in northern India killed at least 63 people today and wounded dozens more. It happened in a small town in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of people scrambled for free food and clothes at a scheduled donation of alms for the poor. The force of the stampede broke the temple gates. Almost all of the victims were women and children.
Chile will ask the World Bank and others to help finance rebuilding from Saturday’s massive earthquake. Outgoing president Michelle Bachelet said today she thinks the country needs assistance for three to four years to come.
And president-elect Sebastian Pinera laid out his own recovery plan. He said, the future government will not be the government of the earthquake. It will be the government of reconstruction. Hundreds of thousands of homes, bridges, highways and office buildings were heavily damaged in the quake.