News Wrap: Iran unplugs centrifuges, U.S. begin nuclear deal

January 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM EDT
In our news wrap Monday, to begin the interim nuclear deal, Iran unplugged banks of centrifuges used to enrich uranium to high levels. In exchange, the U.S. and European Union announced easing of economic sanctions. Also, a wave of bombings killed at least 31 people near Baghdad.
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GWEN IFILL: Diplomats labored today to salvage plans for getting the Syrian government and rebel forces together to talk instead of fight. Opponents of the Assad regime balked at including Iran in this week’s scheduled gathering. And the U.N. secretary-general ultimately rescinded his invitation to the Iranian government. We will explore all of this right after the news summary.

Iran, the U.S. and other world powers began implementing a landmark nuclear deal today. Under the agreement, Iran announced it unplugged banks of centrifuges that enrich uranium to high levels. The move was witnessed by international inspectors and announced on state television.

WOMAN (through interpreter): The implementation of the first phase of the Geneva agreement has started. To comply with the agreement, Iran, starting this morning, stopped its 20 percent uranium enrichment. The process of oxidation and dilution of the 20 percent uranium stockpile has started.

GWEN IFILL: In return, the U.S. and the European Union announced the easing of some economic sanctions. The agreement is good for the next six months, giving the parties time to try to reach a final agreement.

In Iraq today, a wave of bombings killed at least 31 people in and around Baghdad. Most of the explosions targeted crowded markets and court buildings in the capital. In addition to the dead, scores of people were wounded. Meanwhile, heavy fighting raged west of Baghdad in Ramadi. The Iraqi army launched a major offensive there yesterday to drive out al-Qaida fighters.

A Taliban bombing in Pakistan has killed at least 13 people, the second attack on the army in as many days. The blast erupted when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the main military headquarters in Rawalpindi. On Sunday, Taliban militants killed more than two dozen troops at an army compound in the northwest town of Bannu.

Americans marked this day with tributes to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on the national holiday celebrating his birthday.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: Song filled the air on the National Mall in Washington early on this holiday morning. Officials honored the civil rights leader with a wreath-laying ceremony at his memorial.

Elsewhere in the nation’s capital, Vice President Joe Biden said the civil rights struggle continues. He pointed to a Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Justice Ginsburg got it right when she said throwing out the existing process when it’s working and continues to work is — quote — “like throwing away an umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.”

And now we’re in a hailstorm, new attempts by states and localities to limit ballot access without the full protection of the law.

KWAME HOLMAN: The first family marked the occasion by taking part in a National Day of Service to honor King’s legacy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Very proud to be a part of it.

KWAME HOLMAN: President and Mrs. Obama and their two daughters volunteered at a community kitchen, helping to prepare meals for local shelters.

And there were events nationwide. In King’s hometown of Atlanta, celebrants paid tribute with dancing, singing, and drum performances. In Denver, thousands gathered at the “I Have a Dream” monument for the Mile-High City’s annual King Day Parade.

Adults and children also turned out in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to march in honor of Dr. King’s life and mission.

MAN: We need to forgive what has happened bad to us in this country and look forth to making it a better place. And we all can be a part of that by pitching in and doing our part.

KWAME HOLMAN: Parades also were held in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and elsewhere.

GWEN IFILL: An American missionary held in North Korea for more than a year appealed today for the U.S. government to secure his release. Kenneth Bae was arrested in November of 2012, convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Today, Bae appeared at a news conference in Pyongyang. He appealed for an end to what he said was a smear campaign against North Korea.

KENNETH BAE, American prisoner in North Korea (through interpreter): I would like to plea with the U.S. government, the press and my family to stop worsening my situation by making wild rumors against North Korea and releasing materials related to me which are not based on the facts.

GWEN IFILL: Bae admitted he had broken North Korean laws and said he hopes to be pardoned.

In a new interview, President Obama says marijuana is a vice, but it’s no more dangerous than alcohol. He also tells “The New Yorker” magazine that penalties for pot use are levied unfairly. He said: “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor.”

Mr. Obama again acknowledged he smoked marijuana as a young man, but says he doesn’t encourage it.