HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama is moving forward on tough new sanctions on Iran aimed at putting a squeeze on their oil exports.
The crackdown lets the U.S. impose sanctions on foreign banks that continue to buy oil from Iran. The Obama administration said in a statement it had determined there was enough oil in world markets to allow countries to rely less on Iranian oil. The economic pressure is designed to push Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
The U.S. also imposed stronger sanctions against Syria today, targeting three of the country's top defense and security officials. That came as a spokesman for Kofi Annan warned the peace envoy's plan for a cease-fire must be implemented immediately.
Still, activists reported fresh violence across northern and central areas of the country, like here in Homs, where thick plumes of smoke hovered above the city. Activists reported at least 34 people died.
In Afghanistan, two NATO service members were killed over the past 24 hours. One died in a roadside bombing, the other in an insurgent attack in the south. Separately, in Paktika Province, an Afghan village police officer killed nine of his comrades last night as they slept. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Some of the towns just inside a nuclear evacuation zone in Japan will reopen starting Sunday. For the most part, the 12-mile perimeter set up after last year's nuclear leak at the Fukushima plant will remain intact. But about 16,000 residents will be able to return to three towns where contamination levels are lower. Even so, parts of those towns will still be off-limits because of higher exposure levels.
New data from the U.S. Commerce Department showed consumer spending was up in February by the most in seven months. Analysts attributed the jump to a recent surge in auto sales. Stocks were mixed on Wall Street after a quiet day of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 66 points to close at 13,212, posting its best quarterly gain since 1998. The Nasdaq fell more than three points to close at 3,091. For the week, the Dow gained 1 percent; the Nasdaq rose just below 1 percent.
Offshore wind farms may appear in the Great Lakes sooner, rather than later. The Obama administration announced a deal with five states today to speed up the approval process for proposed farms. The states that signed onto the agreement are New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin declined for now, but could join the partnership later on. Right now, there are no offshore wind turbines in the Lakes. Opponents contend they would ruin views, lower property values, and hurt birds and fish.
Those are some of the day's major stories.