Representatives of President Bashar Assad's regime have agreed "in principle" to attend an international peace conference aimed at ending more than two years of brutal warfare in Syria, Russia's foreign ministry said Friday.
But NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow that Russian diplomats also said it's not known just when such talks might start because it's unclear who would speak for the groups who have been fighting to overthrow the regime. Corey notes that "so far, the opposition has been resisting any peace plan that would allow Assad to stay in power, even on an interim basis."
Opposition groups are meeting in Istanbul to choose a new leader.
Still, The New York Times adds that Russian foreign ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a statement that:
"We note with satisfaction that Damascus has confirmed its readiness in principle to participate in an international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to a settlement of the conflict that has been devastating for the country and the region."
As the Times adds, "Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed during a meeting in Moscow earlier this month to pull together the peace conference, with Russia responsible for bringing the government of Bashar al-Assad to the table and the Americans focused on securing the participation of the Syrian opposition."
Since anti-Assad protests and fighting began in early 2011, an estimated 80,000 people — many of them civilians — have died in Syria.
As the residents of Moore, Okla., and surrounding communities continue to recover from Monday's devastating tornado that killed at least 24 people and injured more than 375, we're keeping an eye on the news from there:
— Oklahoma City's KOCO-TV reports that " Moore Police will be removing checkpoints into affected areas in the city limits of Moore at 7 a.m. Friday. Storm victims may enter and exit their neighborhoods as needed."
— CBS News talked with Shayla Taylor, who was in labor when the tornado struck. Nurses at the Moore Medical Center "rushed Taylor to a place without windows — the operating room." They covered her with towels and hung on to each other. Then the twister tore the hospital apart. The next things Taylor saw were the highway outside and a nearby building because, she says, "there was no wall there anymore." When it was safe, Taylor was taken to another hospital where she gave birth to a son, Braeden Immanuel.
— According to The Wall Street Journal, many people in Moore "will find that insurance will cover less of the tab than after past storms. ... A sharp jump in insured damage from tornadoes and thunderstorms has led to more policies with higher deductibles, stingier reimbursements for roof damage and limits on payouts for total reconstruction of a house, according to insurance executives, agents, regulators and consumer activists."
Some of NPR's related stories and posts:
— Interactive Graphic: Explore The Oklahoma Tornado Damage.
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who will hear the Justice Department's e-book price fixing case against Apple, hinted at her initial leanings during a pretrial hearing: "I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that." Reuters adds: While she stressed that the view was not final and that she had read only some of the evidence so far, her comments could add to pressure on Apple to settle the lawsuit, in which the Justice Department accuses the company and five publishers of conspiring to fix e-book prices." The trial is set to begin June 3.
- One of the publishers accused of e-book price-fixing, Penguin, has now settled with consumers and the Attorneys General of 33 states for $75 million, after settling with the Justice Department last December.
- Poet Mary Karr speaks to the addiction and recovery website The Fix about the fallacy of the "tortured artist": "I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist." She also touches on her friendship with David Foster Wallace: "I think we kept each other alive to some extent, for a period of time when we were trying to quit using and it was all but impossible for each of us to do that."
- In reaction to the news that Amazon will begin selling fan fiction, Melville House's Dustin Kurtz writes some (mildly racy) fan fiction featuring Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: " 'It's important you listen to me, Blair.' Jeff ran his hands over his gleaming scalp."
- Maria Semple — screenwriter, amphibian enthusiast and the author of the brilliant novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette — tells The New York Times about her reading habits. She said, "My favorite kind of book is a domestic drama that's grounded in reality yet slightly unhinged. So Jonathan Franzen is my big daddy." She also notes, wisely, that "I steer clear of any novel that gets billed as a 'meditation.' I've seen 'moving meditation,' 'elegiac meditation,' even 'angry meditation.' To me, this is code for: Run! There's no story!"
- Alberto Manguel writes about dreams for The New York Review of Books: "In literature, dreams often serve to bring the impossible into the fabric of everyday life, like mist through a crack in the wall."
- The silence surrounding the resignations of senior editors at the literary magazine and publisher Granta has finally been broken. Editor John Freeman, who recently announced his departure, told The Guardian that owner Sigrid Rausing "decided a while back she wanted to run the magazine and books on a very reduced staff," and that he "didn't want to be part of that change."
Miracle is the word that comes to Dan Sligh's mind after he and his wife Sally survived a plunge off a highway bridge in Washington State Thursday evening.
Sligh tells The Seattle Times that they were driving on Interstate 5 near Mount Vernon, Wash., around 7 p.m. local time when he saw a truck carrying a heavy load strike the southbound side of a bridge over the Skagit River. Moments later, a long chunk of the bridge began collapsed into the river.
"Forward momentum just carried us right over and ... we saw the water approaching," Sligh told the Times. "You just hold on as tight as you can. Then just a white flash and cold water."
Judging from photos taken at the scene, they fell at least a couple stories. The Slighs were in a pickup.
As we reported earlier Friday, authorities say no one was killed. At least two vehicles went into the river. Three people, including the Slighs, were rescued from the water and are said to be in stable condition at area hospitals.
NPR's Martin Kaste tells our Newscast Desk that the bridge's collapse will have a major impact on traffic in the area. "This is the principal artery between Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle," he says. The Washington State Department of Transportation says Insterstate-5 is closed between exits 227 and 230. There's a map showing an alternate route through the area posted here.
Martin adds that the bridge, which was built in 1955, was not on a "watch list" for spans considered to be dangerous or in need of immediate attention. But, according to the Times:
"The bridge is classified as a 'fracture critical' bridge by the National Bridge Inventory.
"That means one major structural [failure] can ruin the entire bridge, as compared with a bridge that has redundant features that allow one member to fail without destroying the entire structure."
That inventory also lists the bridge's type of construction as "functionally obsolete," which KING-TV in Seattle says means that "the design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders."
The newspaper adds that "the bridge is used by an average of about 70,000 vehicles per day, 12 percent of which are trucks."