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News Wrap: Investigators search through Germanwings wreckage on Alpine slopes

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. Army sergeant who disappeared in Afghanistan for five years now faces a court martial. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was formally charged today with desertion and avoiding military service.

    Bergdahl left his post in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and held until his release last May. We will have some of the Army's announcement and reaction from Sergeant Bergdahl's defense attorney after the news summary.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There were questions, but no answers today about the German airliner that smashed into a mountainside in the French Alps. Tuesday's disaster killed all 150 people on board and left investigators looking, literally, for bits and pieces.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports from the scene.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    The search began at daybreak, the hunt by helicopter for what remains of 150 passengers and crew, the hunt for clues as to what exactly happened here, because why the Germanwings Airbus 320 came down in this remote and craggy ravine remains a mystery.

    There was no distress call or conversation with the pilots after the plane suddenly began to descend. The pilots were experienced. The plane's safety record and the weather were good. French police scouring the French Alps have not ruled out terrorism completely, but they suggest some other catastrophic event on board is more likely.

    The plane crashed just on the other side of this mountain here. It was traveling so fast that it broke into very small pieces. The area is only really accessible by helicopter. And the police who are searching on the other side of this mountain say the debris has been scattered far and wide.

    This afternoon, the leaders of France and Germany arrived to see the crash site for themselves. The dead include 72 Germans and at least 49 from Spain. Prime Minister Rajoy has also flown in to meet recover teams and those relatives of the dead who have chosen to come.

    This is the worst air disaster on French soil in decades. And France's president is determined to find out why.

  • PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter):

    Dear Angela, dear Mariano, rest assured, we will find out everything and we will shed full light on the circumstances of this catastrophe.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    The plane's so-called black box is in fact orange. Investigators say it will take several days to make sense of the cockpit voice recordings inside.

  • BRICE ROBIN, Marseille Prosecutor (through interpreter):

    Only the exterior of the second box has been found and its memory card is reportedly missing. In the meantime, it will take several weeks and DNA samples to identify all those who died. I will say it again. It won't be done in five minutes. It's going to take several weeks. Everyone has to be aware of the fact that this is going to take some time.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    Meanwhile, the tiny village of Seyne-les-Alpes is waiting to receive the bodies and their grieving relatives. One of the quietest corners of France has been transformed into one of the busiest.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    U.S. officials confirmed today that three Americans were on the airliner.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Secretary of State John Kerry headed back to the Iran nuclear talks today, with a deadline bearing down. The United States and five other countries are trying to work out a framework agreement with Iran by the end of the month. The talks have drawn strong criticism from Israel and congressional Republicans.

    Kerry fired back today before leaving Washington.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable? And that could happen. Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want, if they want, if that's what they choose, and the sanctions will not hold.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Iran issued its own warning today. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said any nuclear deal must include the immediate lifting of all sanctions. He told Iran's official state news agency: "This is the position that the government has insisted on from the start." The U.S. and the other Western powers have consistently said that sanctions must be lifted only gradually.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The U.S. has launched new airstrikes in Iraq to jump-start a stalled offensive against Islamic State forces. A senior U.S. official says the strikes hit ISIS targets in Tikrit this evening. Iraqi troops and Shiite militias, guided by Iran, have encircled the city, but they have stalled against dug-in opposition. Until today, the Iraqis had not asked for American air support.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The president of Afghanistan voiced confidence today that his government can make peace with the Taliban. In an hour-long address, Ashraf Ghani told the U.S. Congress that the key is getting Taliban fighters to break all ties with terror.

  • PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI, Afghanistan:

    The Taliban need to choose not to be al-Qaida and be Afghan. Provided that combatants agree to respect the constitution and the rule of law as the outcomes of negotiations, we are confident that we can find a path for their return to society.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ghani also thanked the United States again for billions of dollars in aid, and he vowed that Afghanistan will be self-reliant within this decade. He said — quote — "We're not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The FBI has made major progress on counterterrorism since 9/11, but it needs to make more to meet the Islamic State challenge. An independent commission reported those findings to Congress today. It called for better technology and analysis.

    FBI Director James Comey said he largely agrees.

  • JAMES COMEY, FBI Director:

    There was no intelligence career service in the FBI until after 9/11. The progress has been extraordinary, and so I don't want to ever let that be forgotten. But it's not good enough. And so it's about training, and deployment, and about culture.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The commission highlighted the threat of homegrown extremists who go abroad for training and then return home to stage attacks.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President Obama said today that he'd sign bipartisan legislation to resolve a long-running Medicare problem. He didn't endorse a particular measure, but the House of Representatives is set to vote on one tomorrow. Without it, doctors face a hefty cut in Medicare fees, a provision that Congress has waived for 17 straight years.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In economic news, H.J. Heinz Company has announced it's buying Kraft Food Groups. The move would create one of the world's largest food and beverage conglomerates. If federal regulators approve the deal, the new Kraft Heinz Company will bring Heinz Ketchup, Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and other well-known brands under one roof.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In Montgomery, Alabama, thousands of people marked the conclusion, 50 years ago, of the civil rights march from Selma. The crowd celebrated with banners, songs and speeches. The events in Selma, and the march, led to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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