In our news wrap Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that the Iranians did work on nuclear weapons prior to 2009, despite denials. The activities were reportedly limited to planning and testing basic components. Also, the first of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray got his initial day in court.
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In the day's other news, the first of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, after an arrest that sparked unrest last spring, got his initial day in court today. Gray died of a severe spinal injury in police custody.
Among other things, Officer William Porter is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors said today that Porter did nothing to help Gray or prevent his injuries. Defense attorneys disputed that.
The United Nations' nuclear agency has concluded that Iran did work on nuclear weapons prior to 2009, despite its denials. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported today that the Iranians did their most coordinated work on developing nuclear arms before 2003. It also said the activities were limited to planning and testing basic components.
NATO formally invited Montenegro today to join the alliance, and Russia immediately threatened retaliation. The small Balkans country has only 2,000 soldiers, but it's strategically located on the Adriatic Sea, with deep-water naval bases.
In Brussels, the NATO secretary-general said the decision wasn't aimed at Russia, in spite of ongoing tensions with Moscow.
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO Secretary-General:
It is a decision for our security, for the security of 28 allies, and for the security of Montenegro. Every nation has its sovereign right to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.
Montenegro's admission into NATO will not become official until all 28 members of the alliance ratify the decision.
Catastrophic flooding across Southern India grew even worse today, after the heaviest rainfall in more than a hundred years. The country's fourth largest city, and industrial hub, Chennai, was all but paralyzed, with auto factories closed, and airport operations disrupted. Monsoon downpours dumped 15 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, flooding thousands of homes. Stranded people had to wade through chest-deep waters in many places.
Back in this country, the White House welcomed congressional agreement on a five-year funding bill for highways and mass transit. The $280 billion measure could end a long cycle of short-term patches. It relies partly on oil sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but doesn't increase the federal gas tax. Final passage is expected by Friday.
The House of Representatives moved ahead late today on a long-awaited rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law from 2002. The compromise bill still mandates annual testing for reading and math in grades three to eight, and in high school. But it also lets states, rather than Washington, decide over how to use test scores to assess teachers and schools.
REP. JARED POLIS (D), Colorado: The one-size-fits-all formula of adequate yearly progress is rightfully gone. The accountability provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act create a framework for states as they create their own meaningful accountability plans. This means that states can be flexible and innovative to create specific policies that work for them. It's a challenge.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.
The government reports U.S. health care spending surged last year by the most since President Obama took office. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said spending was up more than 5 percent from 2013 to $3 trillion. Expanded coverage under Medicaid, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, reached nearly $500 billion.
On Wall Street, stocks sagged as oil fell below $40 a barrel and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said an interest rate hike is still on track for later this month. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 160 points to close below 17730. The Nasdaq fell 33 points. And the S&P 500 dropped 23.
Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger died today, after a struggle with cancer. He helped craft President Clinton's foreign policy from 1997 to 2001, including bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Iraq, and the response to al-Qaida's bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Sandy Berger was 70 years old.
And the White House unveiled its annual holiday makeover today. The featured attraction is the Blue Room Tree, more than 18-feet-tall. It's covered with messages from families of members of the armed forces. There's also a 500-pound gingerbread White House covered in chocolate, and, outside, 56 snow men and women, one for each state and territory.