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News Wrap: White House Defends Obama’s Authority on Libya

June 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: White House officials today defended the president’s conclusion that the U.S. is not involved in hostilities in Libya. Mr. Obama used that reasoning last week to justify not seeking congressional approval under the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Weekend reports said lawyers at the Justice Department and the Pentagon argued otherwise.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney played down the differences today.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: For me to get up and tell you that by some miracle, every lawyer in this administration was in agreement on that issue, you wouldn’t believe me, because it’s simply been too contentious for now 38 years. So, yes, it was not — there was not a unanimous agreement on it.

But the president makes a decision. Obviously, his White House counsel, State — State Department lawyer also agree with his assessment. And — and we feel very confident that the legal reasoning is sound.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi’s government claimed a NATO airstrike today hit a large family compound west of Tripoli and killed 15 people. An alliance official in Italy said there have been no airstrikes in that area for the past 24 hours.

On Sunday, NATO acknowledged that a weekend strike mistakenly killed as many as nine civilians. A spokesman said an apparent weapons failure caused a bomb to miss its intended target, an alleged military missile site.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first address to the nation in nearly two months today. He opened the door to possible reforms, but he made clear he wouldn’t to bow to a pro-democracy uprising that has begun in March. That insistence was met with a new wave of demonstrations.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Idlib in northern Syria today, protesters posted this film on the Internet of a crowd throwing its shoes at President Assad. In a suburb of the capital, Damascus, they shouted, “We don’t love you, Mr. President. Leave us alone.”

And along the Iraqi border today, a new chant went up. The people want the speech to be explained. So, despite applause here at Damascus University, the president’s speech, his first in two months, has not quelled nationwide unrest.

Mr. Assad admitted that what he called a crisis had shaken Syria, and he blamed it on saboteurs and conspirators who had spread like germs.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, president of Syria (through translator): Germs are everywhere. Scientists don’t try to destroy germs, but to immunize against them. We want the people to back reforms, but we must isolate true reformers from saboteurs.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The response was swift. “Mr. President, you are the germ,” this crowd in Damascus chanted. In Hama in the northwest, hundreds gathered outside the town hall. “Words won’t help you,” they cried. “What do we want? Freedom.”

That is the hope among more than 10,000 refugees now camping across the border in Turkey. Assad urged them to return. “The state is like a father and mother,” he said, promising they would be safe.

The response here, more protests against him, and, in this camp just inside Syria, another shoe was whacked at the president’s face.

MAN (through translator): We have been listening to such speeches for 41 years. We have been listening to promises of unity, freedom and socialism, but nothing has been achieved.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Today, Assad gave no hint of stepping aside. And he will stay on, it seems, unless his own army turns against him or an extraordinary burst of people power gives him no choice but to go.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Late today, the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, said Assad’s speech wasn’t enough. He said the Syrian leader should agree to establish a multi-party system.

Greece suffered through rolling power blackouts today as part of new protests against austerity measures. Workers at the main power utility walked off the job to oppose selling the company to private interests. It was the latest in a series of strikes that have hit Greece. Meanwhile, European finance ministers gave the Greek government two weeks to approve new spending cuts and tax hikes if the country wants a second bailout.

But European markets remained unsettled over concerns that Greece will default on its debts.

ROBERT HALVER, Baader Bank A.G. (through translator): The financial market doesn’t like insecurity. They want clarity. And I don’t know for how much longer we’re going to see meetings without results which we would need. Where do we want to go with Greece?

If the case would be that Greece cannot be saved, then it has to be said that they have to agree on a plan B. It cannot function with the Germans wanting this, the French wanting something completely different. That is just wishy-washy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, faces a critical vote of confidence tomorrow in Parliament. If his newly reshuffled government survives, it will still need to win approval for the new austerity measures.

Wall Street shook off any concerns about the Greek crisis and posted new gains. The Dow Jones industrial average added 76 points to close at 12,080. The Nasdaq rose 13 points to close at 2,629.

Hot winds eased today in southern Arizona, giving fire crews a welcome reprieve. They have been battling the Monument fire just south of Sierra Vista. It has forced the evacuations of at least 10,000 people so far. To the east, the Wallow fire was 50 percent contained. That fire is now the largest fire in Arizona’s history, scorching more than 800 square miles.

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has called for a worldwide review of nuclear safety measures. The appeal today followed the nuclear accident in Japan caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami. The U.N. official outlined a five-point plan that includes strengthening current standards and conducting regular safety reviews at all of the world’s nuclear reactors. It also recommends improving emergency response systems. Reviews in Japan have sharply criticized the response there.

The international organization that oversees the Internet’s address system voted today to allow virtually unlimited domain names. The idea is to alleviate overlap of names in traditional domains, like dot-com, which already has 94 million sites. Starting next year, groups can petition for new Web site suffixes using almost any word in any language. Each application will cost $185,000.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.