February 14, 2013

Iran and UN nuclear inspectors agree on some key points. Mixed reaction in Afghan to President Obama's troop withdrawal announcement. I'm Ray Kouguell reporting from Washington.

Iran says it has agreed with United Nations inspectors on "some points" regarding its nuclear program.

Iran's state-run news agency says that some differences were resolved and new proposals made that would be brought up in the next meeting.

An International Atomic Energy Agency team is in Tehran for a new round of talks aimed at letting inspectors visit Iranian nuclear sites.

Iran, meanwhile, says it is upgrading some key equipment at its main uranium enrichment facility.

The upgraded centrifuges are capable of producing highly-enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States has to change what he calls Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "calculation" about his situation.

Mr Kerry says President Assad has not yet realized that it is inevitable he will be thrown out of power.

Mr Kerry Wednesday hosted Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, whose country's economy is under stress by helping to care for 300,000 Syrian refugees.

On North Korea, Secretary Kerry is urging the international community to have a strong and credible response to North Korea's latest nuclear test. He says it is not permissible for North Korea to pursue this kind of reckless effort.

Afghanistan's government is welcoming President Obama's announcement the United States will withdraw about half of the 66,000 American troops now in the country over the next year. Taliban insurgents are rejecting the move. Ayaz Gul reports.

President Hamid Karzai welcomed the announcement and his advisers say that newly trained Afghan forces are ready to take responsibility for their country's security.

A presidential spokesman in Kabul said the war-ravaged nation has long wanted foreign forces out Afghan villages and the withdrawal of American forces in the spring will definitely help in ensuring peace and full security in the country.

The Taliban has reiterated that if any foreign forces remain in Afghanistan, fighting will continue. A spokesman for the insurgents stated that instead of "tactical efforts toward reductions and gradual withdrawals," foreign countries should immediately pull out all their troops. Ayaz Gul for VOA news, Islamabad.

A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in Nepal's capital Wednesday. Separate reports emerge confirming the 100th self-immolation in Tibetan areas of China took place earlier this month. The incident is part of a four-year protest campaign against Chinese rule in Tibet.

Thousands crowded into St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican as Pope Benedict led his last scheduled mass, marking Ash Wednesday. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

A choir sang as the 85-year-old pope entered the church, walking on his own. He looked somewhat frail in his ceremonial purple robe, and boarded a moving platform to travel down the long center aisle. His voice was raspy but clear.

Pope Benedict offered his thanks to everyone who had helped him during his papacy.

His chief assistant spoke briefly, saying there was "a veil of sadness" over the service, and thanking the pope for being what he called a "simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

Al Pessin, VOA news, Vatican City.

President Obama is calling for a boost in American manufacturing to help strengthen the middle class.

Mr Obama traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to promote the main themes of his State of the Union speech, which focused on proposals to strengthen the nation's economy.

Speaking at a factory in Asheville, Mr Obama called for the creation of more centers for high-tech manufacturing and raising the minimum wage.

"I also believe we provide our people skills and training by investing in education, and that has to start early. It has to start early. So I talked about making sure that kids are getting an early childhood education, making sure that our high schools are preparing our children for a high-tech economy, and making sure that colleges are affordable and accessible to every single American."

President Obama proposed working with towns and cities to attract investors and set a national goal of training two million Americans with skills that will directly lead to jobs.

He will be taking his message Thursday to Decatur, Georgia and, then on Friday, to Chicago, Illinois.

I'm Ray Kouguell, VOA news. More on the Internet at voanews.com.