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Wednesday, April 4

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Time.

British sailors, marines on flight back home to London

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- The 15 British service members held captive in Iran for nearly two weeks took off early Thursday on a British Airways commercial jet bound for London, according to Tehran's Mehrabad Airport flight information.

According to Tehran's airport information, the plane took off at 8:40 a.m. (1:10 a.m. ET).

The British Airways Web site listed the plane departing at 8:28 a.m. (12:58 a.m. ET).

The marines and sailors, who were released Wednesday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "pardoned" them, will land in London around noon (7:05 a.m. ET) after a six-hour flight.

They were seen off by Britain's ambassador to Iran and other members of the British embassy at Tehran's airport, Iran's state-run IRIB network reported.

-- CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report (Posted 1:45 a.m.)

Feds probe whether U.S. attorney was fired for missing work for reserve

(CNN) -- A federal watchdog agency is investigating whether one of the U.S. attorneys fired in a controversial Justice Department shakeup was punished for missing work for service in the Navy Reserve, the ex-prosecutor said Wednesday.

David Iglesias, who was the U.S. attorney for New Mexico until February, told CNN that an official in the Office of Special Counsel approached him shortly before his testimony to Congress about the firings in early March. Among other duties, the office is charged with protecting the job rights of National Guard and Reserve members, some of whom are called away from employers for long periods of time.

Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired in a round of dismissals last December. Though all are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, the Justice Department's initial description of the firings as "performance-related" triggered allegations of improper political influence on pending cases and calls for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.

Iglesias holds the rank of captain in the Navy Reserve and estimated that he spent 40 to 45 days a year on duty, including weekends. He was cited as "absentee landlord" in a Justice Department document laying out reasons for the lawyers' dismissals. "That was suspicious in and of itself, because virtually all of my time away from the office has been on official government business -- probably 75 percent military and 25 percent DOJ," he said. -- By Matt Smith, The CNN Wire (Posted 9:10 p.m.)

Remains of three more victims identified from WTC rubble

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The remains of three more victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center have been identified by New York City's medical examiner with the help of new DNA techniques -- for a total of five new identifications this week.

Although a renewed search is under way at the site, the new identifications were a result of the resampling and retesting of original samples collected from the rubble, according to Ellen Borakove, spokesman for the Office of the Medical Examiner.

"DNA technology has been evolving since 9/11 because of the need," she said. Borakove told CNN that she did not have permission to release any of the victim's names.

Earlier Wednesday, a New York City firefighter was confirmed to be one of two victims whose remains were identified by similar techniques on Monday. Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said that "out of respect" for the victim's family, the deceased firefighter's name would not be released. -- By CNN's Mythili Rao (Posted 7:59 p.m.)

Giuliani: Look at my record, not my 'rocky' personal life

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNN) -- Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that he believes voters should focus on his record as a public official, rather than on what he conceded was a "rocky" personal life that includes three marriages and an estrangement from his only son.

"I've had a very extensive record of success, failure. Nobody's ever questioned my honesty and integrity about the things that I do," Giuliani said in a wide-ranging interview with CNN Correspondent Dana Bash on the campaign trail in Florida. "So, look at that. Look at my public record."

"My personal life, I've made mistakes. I've had a rocky road. I regret them. They are between me, God, my conscience and the people involved." (Posted 7:50 p.m.)

Doctor: Fake firefighter accused of sexual assault attempted suicide

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A man accused of posing as a New York City firefighter and sexually assaulting a woman recently attempted suicide while in jail, a psychiatrist testified Wednesday.

During a pre-trial hearing aimed at determining whether Peter Braunstein, 42, is medically fit to stand trial, given his claims of severe headaches, Dr. Li-wen Lee testified Braunstein admitted trying to hang himself in a March 2006 interview at Bellevue Hospital. Red marks were visible on Braunstein's neck at the time, Lee said, but no one witnessed the apparent suicide attempt. Braunstein also recently caused severe trauma and hemorrhaging to his head by either falling out of bed or smashing it against a sink, Lee said.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist, it doesn't take somebody who's a Rhodes scholar to recognize that that person is going to be suffering from headaches," Braunstein's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, told reporters after the hearing. -- By CNN's Zak Sos (Posted 7:23 p.m.)

New director of national intelligence adjusting to job

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- He's only been on the job for less than two months, but the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said he has discovered his biggest early challenge is stamina.

In his first speech since becoming DNI, Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell said Wednesday he didn't quite anticipate that his day would start at 4 a.m., with preparation for the daily intelligence briefing for the president and senior White House officials, and last until 10 or 11 p.m.

Speaking at the 2007 Excellence in Government Conference in Washington, McConnell went on to talk about the real challenges he now faces, saying there is a need to further improve collaboration and information sharing among the 16 agencies which make up the intelligence community. McConnell said more work needs to be done to get analysts to shift from a "need-to-know" mentality to a framework of providing as much information as possible in a timely manner and in a format that will help policymakers make a difference. -- From CNN's Pam Benson (Posted 7:09 p.m.)

Justice official's lawyer compares lawmakers to McCarthy

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The lawyer for a Justice Department official who has invoked the Fifth Amendment over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys assailed congressional criticism of her decision Wednesday, comparing it to the abuses of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee called the comparison "bizarre and overheated" and questioned whether the official, Monica Goodling, has legal grounds to take the Fifth. Goodling, the counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department's White House liaison, announced last week that she would invoke her constitutional right against self-incrimination rather than answer questions about the now-controversial firings.

Her lawyer, John Dowd, said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has accused Goodling of misinforming him about the issue before he testified about it earlier this year -- an allegation he said Goodling denies.

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Dowd has injected such bizarre and overheated rhetoric into a good faith exchange about whether Ms. Goodling would voluntarily agree to be interviewed behind closed doors by the committee," said a Judiciary Committee spokesman who asked to remain anonymous. (Posted 7:07 p.m.)

Detained British soldiers, marines meet with British ambassador

TEHRAN (CNN) -- Britain's Foreign Office confirmed 15 sailors and marines, detained in Iran for nearly two weeks, met with British Ambassador Geoffrey Adams in Tehran at an undisclosed location Wednesday.

The meeting was to discuss their travel arrangements, a Foreign Office spokesman said. The group would likely be flown out of Tehran, but it was unlikely they would be on a military plane, the spokesman said. Their time of departure and their arrival were still being looked at, he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier Wednesday announced the release of the sailors and marines, saying it was a goodwill gesture in conjunction with the start of the Iranian new year. (Posted 7:06 p.m.)

Man, 63, arrested, charged in D.C. after allegedly planning sex with children age 10, 11

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a case termed "shocking" by the Justice Department, a 63-year-old man has been arrested and arraigned in a federal court in Washington on charges he traveled from Arkansas to have sex with 10-year-old and 11-year-old children.

Aubrey Lynn Shepard of Benton, Ark., appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge Wednesday to face charges that carry a sentence of up to 35 years in prison. He is being held without bond pending a detention hearing Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson.

"The shocking allegations in this case demonstrate the depravity of some individuals and serves as a reminder for parents to monitor and caution their children about the dangers of the Internet," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor.

Prosecutors say Shepard's arrest in Washington Tuesday followed a six-week investigation by the FBI and the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department. --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 6:29 p.m.)

Bush, Democrats trade blame on Iraq spending standoff

FORT IRWIN, Calif. (CNN) -- President Bush and Democrats blamed each other Wednesday for the failure to pass a $100 billion emergency spending bill that would largely go to fund the war in Iraq, with Bush declaring that "the clock is ticking."

"Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement," Bush told hundreds of soldiers clad in green camouflage uniforms.

The House and Senate have passed similar bills, but Bush has said he would veto whatever emerges from conference unless it is stripped of language calling for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq in 2008.

Bush said Congress would have only itself to blame if no bill is passed. "Washington has a responsibility to ensure you have the resources you need to keep this training going," he told the soldiers.

In a written statement, Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, blamed Bush for conducting the war in a way that has overtaxed the military. "Due to continuous and extended deployments to Iraq, our military is running out of troops and equipment," he said. (Posted 6:17 p.m.)

Newt en Espanol: I didn't intend to attack Spanish

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is trying to mend fences with the Latino community over his recent comments on the perils of bilingual education by delivering a video statement -- in Spanish -- in which he concedes his word choice was "poor."

In the statement, posted Wednesday on YouTube, Gingrich said his comments were not an "attack" on Spanish, and he revealed he has been taking Spanish lessons "for some time now."

In a speech Saturday to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich said English should be the language exclusively used by government in the United States. He also said bilingual education should be replaced with immersion in English "so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

Gingrich's remarks, particularly his use of the word "ghetto," have drawn fire from Latino groups. While the former speaker did not directly apologize in his statement, he did concede that "my word choice was poor."

"But my point was simply this -- in the United States, it is important to speak the English language well in order to advance and have success," he said. (Posted 6 p.m.)

Oregon health officials say 38 pet deaths suspected due to recalled pet food

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Oregon health officials suspect 38 pet deaths in the Beaver State are related to a nationwide pet food recall, the Oregon Veterinary Association said Wednesday.

Oregon's public health veterinarian, Dr. Emilio DeBess, said 66 other cases that did not result in death also might be linked to allegedly contaminated pet food. His office emphasized the link is only suspected at this point, and "a confirmed case would require a higher degree of testing, which may include isolation of the toxin in the blood or tissue of the patient by necropsy."

Pets who have consumed recalled by Menu Foods Inc. and who have experienced various stages of kidney dysfunction qualify as suspected cases, the veterinary association said.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that Menu Foods reported a total of 14 pet deaths to the government agency. However, Menu Foods spokeswoman Sarah Tuite told CNN that the deaths of a total of 16 pets -- one dog and 15 cats -- were connected to the recalled food. --From CNN's Katy Byron (Posted 5:59 p.m.)

Philadelphia leads big cities in killings this year

(CNN) -- The City of Brotherly Love has been one of America's most dangerous large cities so far this year, according to data obtained by CNN.

Among the country's five largest cities, Philadelphia ranks first in homicides this year with 104, Mayor John F. Street confirmed this week. That compares with 86 at this point in 2006, a year that ended with a total of 406 homicides.

With a 2005 U.S. Census population estimate of 1.46 million, Philadelphia's homicide rate for the first three months of the year is about one per every 14,000 residents.

"We're a city with poverty issues, our educational system has some challenges, and we have very lax gun laws in the state," Philadelphia Police Capt. Benjamin Naish told CNN. "These factors come together and make for a difficult situation in trying to combat violent crime."

The city has launched a number of initiatives in an effort to fight the rise in homicides. --By CNN's Zak Sos in New York (Posted 5:32 p.m.)

Bush bypasses Senate to name ambassador to Belgium

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has named Sam Fox the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, using a recess appointment to bypass the Senate a week after Democratic opposition forced him to withdraw the nomination, the White House announced Wednesday.

Fox's nomination stalled after several Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, criticized his $50,000 contribution to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- a group that accused Kerry of lying about his Vietnam War record during his presidential campaign in 2004.

The appointment allows the St. Louis businessman to serve until the end of the current Congress, in 2008, effectively putting him in place through the end of Bush's term.

The White House announced March 28 that it would pull Fox's nomination due to Senate opposition, acknowledging that it would not have passed the Democratic-controlled chamber. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at the time that Bush believed Fox has a "proven record of leadership and a strong willingness to serve our country." -- CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano contributed to this report. (Posted 4:39 p.m.)

Carter: Syria visit 'long overdue'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday spoke out in support of the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria, rejecting Bush administration criticism of her trip.

"I was glad that she went," he said Wednesday. "When there is a crisis, the best way to help resolve the crisis is to deal with the people who are instrumental in the problem."

Asked if the Democratic speaker's visit would dilute the United States' ability to speak to Syria with one voice, Carter answered, "I don't think that's a threat at all."

President Bush on Tuesday criticized Pelosi, saying her trip sends mixed signals. "Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President (Bashar) Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror," he said.

Pelosi defended her visit, telling reporters in Damascus her talks with Assad focused only on topics on which she agrees with the president. --By CNN's Dugald McConnell (Posted 3:40 p.m.)

Senator: Consider immunity for Justice official in prosecutor firings

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee should consider offering immunity to a top Justice Department official who plans to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to avoid questions about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, a committee member said Wednesday.

Monica Goodling, the counselor to Gonzales and the Justice Department's White House liaison, announced last week that she would invoke her constitutional right against self-incrimination rather than answer questions about the now-controversial firings. Her lawyer, John Dowd, compared criticism of that move by House and Senate leaders to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's denunciations of witnesses in the "Red Scare" of the 1950s.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy say Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's office is "hopelessly conflicted" over how to deal with Monica Goodling's decision to take the Fifth and questioned whether a special prosecutor may be necessary to investigate the dismissals.

Dowd said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has accused Goodling of misinforming him about the issue before he testified about it earlier this year -- an allegation he said Goodling denies. And he warned members of Congress against threatening to publicly humiliate his client after House members questioned whether Goodling had sufficient legal grounds to take the Fifth. (Posted 3:27 p.m.)

Housing activists want lenders to delay foreclosures on mortgages gone bad

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Housing activists say most families with high-risk mortgages whose terms are questionable should not be kicked out of their homes when they are delinquent on payments, and a coalition of groups Wednesday urged lenders to adopt a six-month moratorium on foreclosures to provide time to work something out.

"The debt is forcing people to take second jobs, sell family possessions, and rent out a second room," said Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The problem hits the "sub-prime" mortgage market, where people pay more for their home loans because the prime market considers them to be higher risks than other borrowers. Activists told a Wednesday news conference lenders are misleading many borrowers, who are surprised and unable to pay when expensive terms of the loan kick in.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that about 20 percent of the sub-prime loans made in the past two years will go into default and result in families losing their houses. --From CNN's Paul Courson (Posted 12:43 p.m.)

Obama campaign raises at least $25 million in first quarter

(CNN) -- The Obama for America campaign announced Wednesday that it will report raising at least $25 million from more than 100,000 people in the first quarter of 2007, with at least $23.5 million eligible to be spent in the Democratic primary.

Obama announced his bid on Feb. 10. Since then, his campaign has raised $6.9 million over the Internet from more than 50,000 donors, it said.

Still, Obama's total is smaller than that of fellow Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who has reported raising $26 million. (Posted 11:50 a.m.)

Iranian president promises to release British captives

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Several of the 15 marines and sailors being released from Iranian captivity shook hands Wednesday with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and thanked him for letting them go.

Dressed in suits, they approached the president -- who stood beside an interpreter -- and spoke phrases such as, "Grateful for forgiveness," "Thanks to you and the Iranian people," and "You were kind to us. Thank you very much."

Ahmadinejad joked with one of them: "What kind of compulsory trip were you on?" He then added, "I wish you success."

Ahmadinejad announced the release toward the end of a lengthy news conference, which was followed by a question-and-answer period with reporters.

One source told CNN the Britons are to leave Tehran at 8 a.m. Thursday (12:30 a.m. ET). (Posted 11:32 a.m.)

Iraq extending its security plan to the north

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq is extending its security crackdown to two key northern regions -- the Mosul area and Diyala province, and making plans for the transfer of security control to Iraqi forces this month in the southern province of Maysan, an aide to the Iraqi prime minister said Wednesday.

U.S. officials hail some achievements in the Baghdad security plan, but remain "extremely concerned" and focused on stopping deadly car bombings in the capital and throughout the country -- dramatic strikes that have yielded many deaths.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, touched on the latest developments at a press briefing.

"The way ahead is challenging," Caldwell said. "All of us face savage and determined enemies. The people of Iraq will not see results immediately. The effects will take many months." (Posted 10:39 a.m.)

Al-Sadr movement ousts two parliament members from party for meeting with U.S. officials

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Two Iraqi parliament members affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement were dismissed from the group Wednesday because they met with American officials.

An official from the al-Sadr movement told CNN it opposes meetings with "the occupiers who played a role in shedding Iraqi blood over the past four years."

Al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric with a strong grass-roots appeal in Shiite regions across Iraq, is anti-American, and his group's Mehdi Army militia has tangled with U.S. forces during the war in Iraq.

An al-Sadr political committee made the decision to fire the parliament members, the official said. They are Salam al-Maliki and Qusay Abdul Wahab, who met American officials two days ago. Al-Maliki -- who is not related to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- is a former transport minister. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jennifer Deaton (Posted 9:53 a.m.)

Britain welcomes amnesty announcment

LONDON (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday issued a statement saying "we welcome" the announcement by Iran's president of the impending release of 15 British sailors and Marines.

"We welcome what the Iranian President has said about the release of our 15 service personnel," said the statement, issued through Blair's spokesman. "We are now establishing exactly what this means in terms of the manner and the timing of their release."

In Washington, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "President Bush also welcomes the news."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced amnesty for the British troops who were seized by Iranian forces on March 23 for allegedly straying into Iranian waters. Britain says the sailors and marines were well inside Iraqi waters.(Posted 9:51 a.m.)

Iranian president promises to release British captives

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- After giving a medal to the military commander whose team captured 15 British sailors and marines, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that the Britons, who have been detained since March 23, will be granted amnesty.

"I declare that the people of Iran and the government of Iran -- in full power to place on trial the military people -- to give amnesty and pardon to these 15 people and I announce their freedom and their return to the people of Britain," Ahmadinejad said.

He said the 15 Britons will be taken to the airport after his news conference. The action was a goodwill gesture for the Iranian new year which began last week, he said. (Posted 9:21 a.m.)

Irani president: Iraq war causes pain for Iraqis, but also many Americans and Britons

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that the Iraq war has caused pain not only for Iraqis, but also for those in the United States and Britain who oppose the mission.

"It is regretful that a group occupies Iraq and brings about not only a lot of pain for the Iraqi people but also pain for people of the United States and Britain," he said, after noting that some polls show there are many people in both nations who oppose the fighting.

He also said Iran is "saddened that Great Britain violated the territorial waters of Iran." (Posted 9:08 a.m.)

Defective above-ground pool ladders being recalled

NEW YORK ( -- Intex Recreation Corp. and the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Wednesday a recall of 466,000 above-ground pool ladders due to risk of injury from the ladders breaking.

According to the CPSC, the ladder's plastic steps can be assembled backward on the support brackets. If this happens, the ladder steps can break, causing users to fall. (Posted 8:27 a.m.)

Palestinian killed in incident near Gaza-Israel border

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli Army said Wednesday its troops had killed a Palestinian gunman and wounded two others in northern Gaza.

Witnesses said the incident began when Palestinians attempted to lay explosives near the border with Israel.

An Israeli army spokesman said that the forces identified three armed Palestinians laying explosives 15 meters (50 feet) from the border and shot toward them, killing one and wounding the others. (Posted 7:53 a.m.)

Pelosi meets with Syrian leader in Damascus, expresses concerns

DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday the United States is worried about foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria, and also expressed concern about Syria's connection to Hamas and Hezbollah.

The meeting between the speaker and the Syrian president occured despite a strong rebuke Tuesday from President Bush who said Pelosi's visit "sends mixed signals."

At a news conference following the visit, Pelosi said U.S. concerns about Syria's role in the Iraq insurgency were addressed, and the delegation was "very pleased with the reassurances" from al-Assad "that he was ready to resume the peace process" with Israel.

The delegation also relayed a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "he's ready to engage in peace talks as well." -- CNN Senior International Correspondent Brent Sadler in Damascus contributed to this report (Posted 7:39 a.m.)

Sri Lanka military launches air strike on rebel targets

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lanka's air force launched a series of aerial attacks Wednesday on Tamil Tiger rebel targets in northern Sri Lanka, a military spokesman told CNN.

One airstrike hit a rebel ground base, lighting it on fire. A "sea tiger base" was also targeted, the spokesman said.

No other details were immediately released.

Hours after the reported attack, Tamil Tiger rebels denied claims that their "sea tiger base" was hit. It did not comment on the status of its ground base. --From Journalist Iqbal Athas (Posted 7:20 a.m.)

India, Pakistan renew commitment to controversial gas pipeline project

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- India and Pakistan's prime ministers on Wednesday "reaffirmed their commitment" to pursuing a controversial $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, a statement from Pakistan's foreign affairs office said.

During the hour-long bilateral talk, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "expressed satisfaction over the level of talks between the three sides and the progress made so far."

The two neighbors are "sincerely and seriously" pursuing the project for "its successful completion," the statement said.

The gas pipeline project is aimed at supplying Iranian natural gas to Pakistan and India. The 2,600-kilometer (1,616-mile) pipeline would run from Iran to India, cutting through Pakistan.

The U.S. government has voiced opposition to the project and has advised Pakistan and India not to sign any kind of agreement with Iran. (Posted 7:08 a.m.)

DaimlerChrysler CEO discussing sale of Chrysler unit

NEW YORK ( -- DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche confirmed Wednesday that the company is talking with potential buyers who he said have a "clear interest" in buying its money-losing Chrysler unit, but he would not give details of discussions and said all options for the No. 4 U.S. automaker are still on the table.

"In this context, I can confirm that we are talking with some of the potential partners who have shown a clear interest," he said in remarks prepared for the company's annual shareholder meeting in Berlin early Wednesday, released ahead of the meeting.

"But it is also true that we need to keep all options open, and that I cannot disclose any details, because we need to have the maximum scope for maneuver," he added, saying that the company's management requires "the greatest possible flexibility so that we can identify and then professionally implement the best possible solution." (Posted 6:16 a.m.)

Syria could have a hand in negotiating Britain service members release in Iran

(CNN) -- Syria is undertaking "quiet diplomacy" between Iran and Britain to "resolve the row over the British sailors," the country's foreign minister Walid al-Moallem told Kuwait's state-run newspaper Al-Anba.

The report, which was published Wednesday, comes as a top U.S. official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is in the Syrian capital to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the next two days will be "fairly critical" for diplomatic efforts to secure the release of 15 British marines and sailors captured by Iran nearly two weeks ago, according to the prime minister's Web site. (Posted 6:16 a.m.)

Gunmen in northern Iraqi ambush minibus, kill 9 power station employees inside; 2 killed in Sadr City suicide bombing

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Gunmen ambushed a minibus en route to a power station in northern Iraq's Tameem province on Wednesday, killing nine of the 11 passengers on board, police in Kirkuk told CNN.

The attack was launched at about 9 a.m. on a road in Hawija, which is about 135 miles north of Baghdad. The passengers were power station employees who were reporting to work. There was no immediate word on what happened to the other two employees traveling in the minibus.

At the edge of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, a police officer and civilian were killed when a suicide car bomber slammed into a joint security station, located, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN.

Meanwhile the U.S. military announced coalition forces in Iraq seized nine militants during Wednesday operations targeting al Qaeda in Iraq and foreign fighter cells. The raids were launched around Mosul, Habbaniya and Karma, the military said. -- From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 6:15 a.m.)

Iran seeks to meet with five detained Iranians in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. military official said Washington officials were considering a request made by Iran to allow Iranian representatives access to the five detained Iranians captured early January by U.S. forces during a military raid in northern Iraq.

"The request has been made but nothing has been approved," the official told CNN on Wednesday. It has "gone to Washington for consideration."

Meanwhile, Iran's state-run news agency IRNA reported Wednesday an Iranian representative in Iraq will meet with the five Iranians "thanks to the efforts of Iran's diplomats in Baghdad, the assistance of Iraqi officials and the U.N. representative Ashraf Ghazi."

IRNA sourced "an Iranian source in Baghdad" with the information. --From CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Jennifer Deaton in Baghdad (Posted 5:39 a.m.)

Iranian state-news agency reports there is no missing U.S. citizen in Iran

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iranian officials in Kish (prono keesh) Island said the United States' inquiry into an American citizen who has been missing for several weeks in southern Iran was made for "political purposes," according to IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency.

The officials, according to IRNA, said there is "no evidence" of a disappearance, adding the United States is required to disclose the missing individual's name and flight number.

IRNA's report comes on the heels of a State Department letter sent to the Iranian government seeking information about the American -- described as older and retired -- who is believed to have been in Iran on private business, several senior U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday.

He has been missing for several weeks and hasn't been in touch with his family or his employer, according to the State Department. (Posted 4:49 a.m.)

Jakarta woman dies of bird flu, country's 72nd victim

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- A 23-year-old woman has become the country's 72nd victim of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, the Indonesian Health Ministry said Wednesday.

The woman, who died Sunday, lived in Jakarta. Test results confirming the presence of H5N1 were released Wednesday.

Overall, Indonesia has had 92 cases of bird flu. The World Health Organization said that as of Tuesday, 288 cases of bird flu have been reported in 12 countries, and 170 people have died. -- From CNN's Kathy Quiano (Posted 11:18 p.m.)



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