President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands before having dinner at the Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo.

Obama begins Asia tour with informal sushi diplomacy in Tokyo

TOKYO -- President Obama arrived here Wednesday to begin an eight-day tour of Asian allies designed to assure leaders that they have a strong U.S. backup at a time of rising tensions in the region.

Obama went directly to his task after landing in Tokyo, heading straight into a private dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the narrow wooden counter of a popular sushi restaurant in the busy Ginza shopping district. The leaders agreed in advance to put off their formal welcome ceremony and royal reception until after they had met one-on-one in a friendly, more casual setting.

Abe chose the spot -- Sukiyabashi Jiro, a restaurant made famous in the recent documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

The sushi session opens a week of delicate diplomacy for Obama as he finally makes the Asia trip he canceled last fall because of a government shutdown in Washington. At the heart of his mission is a complicated task -- to promise a strong U.S. commitment to its allies without tripping in...

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High-ranking Egyptian police official killed by car bomb

CAIRO -- In the latest strike by suspected militants against a senior Egyptian security official, a police brigadier general was killed Wednesday by a bomb planted under his car, state media reported.

The attack in a western suburb of Cairo again demonstrated extremists’ ability to target high-ranking officials, often by pinpointing the location of their homes or learning details of their daily routines so as to stage ambushes. Wednesday’s bomb went off as the general was setting out for work.

Two police conscripts were also hurt in the blast, officials said.

Egypt has been hit by a wave of attacks, most targeting police, soldiers or security installations, in the nearly 10 months since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was toppled by the army following mass protests demanding his removal.

The military-backed interim government has engaged in a sweeping crackdown on supporters of Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organization late last year.

The...

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Despite its crackdowns on the press and political parties, Egypt was certified Tuesday to receive U.S. aid. Here, a defendant in custody gestures Tuesday during a trial of 20 people accused of being linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

U.S. clears aid for Egypt

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday that he is certifying to Congress that Egypt deserves a resumption of some U.S. military aid, even though he couldn’t vouch that the military-backed government is moving toward a more democratic system.

Kerry told Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in a phone call that he believes Egypt is entitled to the aid because it is “sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States” and carrying out its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The certification means that  the Egyptian military, which has long depended on U.S. aid, will receive 10 Apache Helicopters and some of the $1.3 billion in the annual U.S. military assistance package. The administration held up a portion of the aid in July, when the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist government.

The ouster created a dilemma...

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Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks with journalists outside a courthouse in Moscow on Tuesday after his conviction on slander charges. Navalny, under house arrest for the last two months, had a previous five-year sentence tied to his anti-corruption crusading suspended last year on condition he not run afoul of the law. He is likely to be returned to prison soon.

Russian social network CEO fired, opposition figure convicted

Russia's space for free speech suffered two further blows Tuesday when a Moscow court convicted Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny of slander and a social network founder who provided a platform for dissent was fired and fled abroad.

Pavel Durov, founder of the Russian Facebook equivalent VKontakte, said via the social media website that he had run afoul of Russian officials for his refusal to block posts critical of the Kremlin or to pass on to Russian security services the personal data of Ukrainian VKontakte users under surveillance for their participation in the rebellion that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovich in February.

“I’m out of Russia and have no plans to go back,” Durov told the online technology news site Techcrunch. “Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment.”

Durov, 29, reported more than a month ago that the Russian Federal Security Service had demanded access to the accounts of Ukrainians suspected of...

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An Iranian inmate in the women's section of Evin Prison in 2006.

Iranian protesters urge President Rouhani to free political prisoners

TEHRAN — Relatives of Iranians jailed on various security charges held a protest Tuesday outside the offices of President Hassan Rouhani, alleging that the prisoners are being detained unfairly.

The demonstration came as Iranian officials denied reports of violent clashes last week in the capital’s Evin Prison, where dissidents say many political prisoners are held.

Opposition websites and relatives of prisoners reported that authorities stormed a cellblock at  Evin and that many inmates were injured. Officials described the incident as a routine crackdown on prisoners' illegal possession of cellphones.

About 50 people participated in the Tehran protest against what they called illegal detention of fellow Iranians, many of whom were arrested in the aftermath of disputed 2009 elections that generated mass street protests.

“I am here to say that my husband has not been treated fairly, and I want him to be tried within the framework of the law, of our constitution”...

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The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Donald Cook sails past Istanbul, Turkey, en route to the Black Sea.

Pentagon orders 600 troops to Eastern Europe, criticizes Russia

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Tuesday that it was sending 600 soldiers to Eastern Europe for military exercises in response to “aggression” by Russia in Ukraine, the first U.S. ground forces dispatched to the region in the 2-month-old crisis.

The 173rd Infantry Brigade, a U.S. Army airborne unit based in Vicenza, Italy, will deploy 150-soldier companies to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia over the next month and will rotate more U.S. forces to those and possibly other countries at least through the end of the year, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.

The four countries, all of which were under Moscow’s control during the Cold War and later joined NATO, have been among the most vocal in asking the U.S. and other alliance members to send forces to their territory in response to Russia’s military buildup along the Ukrainian border.

“What we’re after here is persistent presence, a persistent rotational...

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, meets with members of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, West Bank.

Israelis, Palestinians struggle for way forward as deadline nears

JERUSALEM -- With Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations still deadlocked a week before their current round expires, negotiating teams met Tuesday with U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in Jerusalem to discuss extending the troubled talks.

Nine months of meetings between Israeli and Palestinian teams have yielded little agreement, and both sides’ tough positions have stymied the effort to secure a framework for working toward a two-state solution to the conflict.

The U.S.-mediated negotiations broke down last month over Israel's delay in releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners as promised. That was followed by a Palestinian request to the United Nations to join more than a dozen international treaties, a move opposed by Israel.

Both sides have indicated they wish to continue the talks but have terms. The Palestinians this month drew up a list of conditions, including Israeli recognition of Palestinian borders along lines that predate the 1967 Middle East War and of East Jerusalem as the...

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Syria has shipped out about 90% of its chemical weapons material, the most dangerous of which will be destroyed at sea aboard the U.S. Navy ship Cape Ray, shown docked April 10 at the Rota naval base on Spain's southwestern coast.

Removal of Syrian chemical weapons almost 90% complete, monitor says

BEIRUT — The Syrian government has shipped out almost 90% of its chemical weapons material, raising hopes that the war-ravaged nation can meet a Sunday deadline to comply with a disarmament accord, an international regulator said Tuesday.

The latest shipment on Tuesday to the Mediterranean port of Latakia means that 86.5% of the weapon material has been removed, according to a statement from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing destruction of Syria's toxic chemical stockpile.

That amount includes 88.7% of the 700 metric tons of the most toxic, “priority 1” chemicals, among them mustard gas and precursor materials for the nerve agents sarin and VX.

“This latest consignment is encouraging,” Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the OPCW, said in a statement. “We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly.”

Upon arrival in Latakia, the chemicals are placed on cargo ships for...

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Crimea residents gather at the seafront in Sevastopol to watch a telecast of a live call-in program featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian foundry issues coin celebrating Putin's Crimea seizure

For anyone who blinked and missed Russian President Vladimir Putin's swift seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, there's now a giant silver coin celebrating the Kremlin leader for bringing the territory "back home."

The coins issued by the Art Grani foundry in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk feature Putin's bas relief image on one side and a map of the Crimean peninsula on the other.

"Crimea's reunification with Russia was a historic event which we decided to embody in a souvenir collection of coins,” Vladimir Vasyukhin, director of the Ural Mountains foundry, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Vasyukhin last year visited Crimea and returned with fond memories of the peninsula, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in its article Tuesday about the new coins.

"And just like that the peninsula has come back home to Russia," Vasyukhin said of the annexation last month. He added that with the recovery of the territory, Putin had "demonstrated the qualities of a wise strategist and...

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Vice President Joe Biden meets with Ukraine's acting prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, in Kiev on Tuesday.

U.S. will stand by Ukraine in face of Russian aggression, Biden says

KIEV, Ukraine -- The United States will stand by Ukrainians against Russian aggression that threatens their nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Vice President Joe Biden pledged Tuesday during a visit to Kiev.

“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation, and we will never recognize Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world,” Biden said after meeting with Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk. “No nation should threaten its neighbors by amassing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull back these forces. No nation should stir instability in its neighbor's country.”

Biden threatened greater costs and greater isolation for Russia, already facing fresh sanctions after annexing Crimea last month, and demanded that it “stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms sowing unrest in eastern Ukraine.”

"I came here to Kiev to let you know, Mr. Prime Minister, and...

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Pakistani security officials carry the coffins of police officers killed in a suspected militant attack the day before near Peshawar.

Attacks in Pakistan kill 9 after militant cease-fire expires

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A week after Pakistani militants refused to extend a cease-fire with the government, at least nine people, including five police officers, were killed and more than 30 wounded in two attacks in the country’s restive northwest, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said militants ambushed a police patrol in Bhadbare, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Peshawar, late Monday night. Two police officials were wounded in the attack, and when other officers arrived at the site to retrieve the wounded, the attackers struck again, authorities said.

Five police officers and a civilian were killed. An ambulance also got caught in the crossfire, resulting in injuries, officials said.

In the other incident, three people were killed and 30 wounded when a bomb exploded in a congested bazaar in the town of Charsadda, east of Peshawar. Authorities said the explosive device was planted in an abandoned motorbike and that the target was a police van passing through the...

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