Cantor urges GOP focus on kitchen table

A top Republican lawmaker urged his party to place more emphasis on education, health care and other kitchen-table issues as the GOP tries to recover from its November setbacks. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Republicans must show they have better solutions for families who struggle to pay their bills and who worry about their children's education and future. He said the debt remains an important, but not exclusive, GOP concern.

Obama to make 1st trip to Israel as president

President Obama will visit Israel in the spring, the White House said, marking his first visit there since becoming president. Obama will also visit the West Bank and Jordan. Israel's Channel 10 reported that a visit had been scheduled for March 20. Obama's visit could offer an opportunity to repair a notoriously strained relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some benefits coming for same-sex partners

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is preparing to expand benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel, but it remained doubtful that the Pentagon could offer the medical, dental and housing allowances desired by gay and lesbian couples, officials said. Full benefits would require the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Officials said Panetta would order benefits that included the issuance of military identification cards to same-sex partners of military personnel. That would bring privileges to shop at military commissaries, as well as access to gymnasiums, movie theaters and various family-support programs.

U.S. talks to China about N. Korea actions

The Obama administration talked to China about North Korea facing "further consequences" under a recent U.N. Security Council resolution if it conducts a nuclear test, the State Department said. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed North Korea's "continued provocative rhetoric" in a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Senator says Hagel 'seems clueless' on Iran

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Chuck Hagel "seems clueless" on U.S. policy toward Iran, and he urged the Obama administration to reconsider its defense secretary nominee. No Democrat has come out in opposition to Hagel, and he picked up more support as Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., announced that she would vote for the former two-term Republican senator and decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Two Republican senators back Hagel and several others say they wouldn't support a filibuster.


Judge denies delay in Martin shooting case

A judge rebuffed George Zimmerman's request for a five-month delay of his trial in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, saying it would begin as scheduled June 10. The decision came on what would have been Martin's 18th birthday, which was commemorated outside the courthouse in Sanford, Fla., by community leaders and students.


State colluded with nuns in forced labor

The state colluded in forced labor at laundries run by nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996, according to a report published by the Department of Justice. The Magdalene laundries were run by Catholic religious congregations using the forced labor of young women, some of whom had just given birth or were pregnant outside marriage. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told parliament it had been proved that there was state intervention in 26 percent of cases. The state had previously refused to compensate the women, denying collusion in their forced labor. The state-commissioned report published Tuesday deals with 10,012 women.


Japan claims China targeted warship

A Chinese military vessel last week locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese warship, Japan's Ministry of Defense said, marking a brief but dangerous escalation in the showdown for maritime territory between Asia's two largest economies. The Chinese ship ultimately unlocked its radar without firing a shot.


French troops hope for March withdrawal

French troops may start pulling out of their anti-extremist operation in Mali as early as next month, handing off to a still-developing African force, the French foreign minister said. The potential withdrawal date was floated by Laurent Fabius in a newspaper Tuesday.


Gas in fatal blast may have leaked for months

A water-heating system may have leaked natural gas into a tunnel beneath the headquarters of Mexico's national oil company for more than seven months before it was accidentally detonated, officials said. Mexico's attorney general said that a buildup of gas was responsible for the explosion that collapsed three floors of the administrative building in Petroleos Mexicanos' Mexico City headquarters complex, killing 37 people.


Diseases are next big challenge in Syria

Outbreaks of hepatitis A and other diseases spread by poor hygiene are now becoming problems among Syrians displaced by the civil war, the World Health Organization said.