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News Wrap: World Powers Stress Diplomacy in Iran

March 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Six world powers urged Iran today to let the U.N. inspectors into all its nuclear sites, as promised.

In a joint statement, the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany also stressed diplomacy was the key to resolving tensions. And in Tehran, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had halting praise for president.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, supreme leader of Iran (through translator): A couple of days ago, we heard the American president saying that the U.S. is not thinking about war with Iran. That’s a good thing to say. It’s a wise statement. This means they stopped having delusions. Besides that, he has said we will bring the Iranian people to their knees through sanctions. This is delusion.

KWAME HOLMAN: In another development, Israeli news reports that Israel has asked the U.S. for bunker-buster bombs and refueling planes. They could be used to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites. A White House spokesman said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not raise the issue with President Obama last week.

A large number of private investors agreed today to help Greece slash $140 billion from its debt. A Greek official said more than 75 percent of bondholders would swap their existing Greek government bonds for new ones, worth much less. The move is critical to Greece’s efforts to avoid default.

In U.S. economic news, the number of first-time claims for jobless benefits rose slightly last week. But the four-week average remained near a four-year low. And Wall Street had an upbeat day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 70 points to close near 12,908. The Nasdaq rose more than 34 points to close at 2,970.

The Senate began a series of votes today on a bill to fund roads and transit programs. The two-year measure would cost $109 billion. Supporters said it would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. On the House side, majority Republicans have not agreed on what to include in a highway bill or how to pay for it.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said today, that’s not good enough.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., house minority leader: So far as we can see, our Republican colleagues have been in disarray on the subject of what, how and when a transportation bill will come to the floor. It’s very important that we move forward with this big job-creator.

KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker John Boehner had hoped to bring up a five-year bill worth $260 billion. He scrapped that idea today.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the house: The current plan is to see what the Senate can produce and to bring their bill up. And in the meantime, we’re going to continue to have conversations with members about a longer-term approach, which, frankly, most of our members want.

KWAME HOLMAN: Current transportation funding expires on March 31. The Senate is expected to vote on a final version of its bill early next week.

The state Supreme Court in Mississippi has upheld pardons issued by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in his final days in office. Barbour touched off a storm of criticism in January when he pardoned four convicted killers. They had worked at the governor’s mansion as prison trustees. The court ruled today that the governor acted properly. It also said it had no authority to overturn the pardons anyway.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.