Climate negotiators say global deal is close

LE BOURGET, France - Talks on a global pact to fight global warming appeared to make progress late yesterday, with some negotiators telling the Associated Press a deal was close.

Negotiators emerged from meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the host of the talks, amid an air of optimism that had been lacking just hours earlier.

Fabius was expected to present a new, potentially final draft of the elusive accord Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

"We are pretty much there," Egyptian Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy, the chairman of a bloc of African countries, told the AP late yesterday. "There have been tremendous developments in the last hours. We are very close."

A negotiator from a developed country was equally positive. "I think we got it," said the negotiator, who was not authorized to speak publicly as the talks were not over yet.

Putin: Air cover for Syrian opposition group

MOSCOW - Russia has provided air cover to a leading Western-backed opposition group in Syria, President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, calling for closer coordination with the U.S.-allied coalition-comments that may reflect Moscow's desire to narrow its differences with the West over the Syrian crisis.

At the same time, Putin vowed to further modernize Russia's military and said its forces in Syria will "immediately destroy" any target threatening them, a strong warning to Turkey following its downing of a Russian warplane at the Syrian border.

Speaking at a meeting with top Defense Ministry officials, Putin said while supporting the Syrian government forces, Russia has backed some units of the Free Syrian Army, a Western-backed opposition group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's army.

"Several (FSA) units totaling more than 5,000 people, along with regular troops, are conducting offensive operations against terrorists in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa," Putin said. "We have provided air support for them as well as the Syrian army, helping them with weapons, ammunition and supplies."

While Putin sounded unequivocal, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a few hours later that the president meant to say that Russia is sending weapons and supplies to Syrian government forces and not the FSA, but provides air cover to both.

Obama, Congress avert fed shutdown

WASHINGTON - Avoiding the high drama of recent year-end budget fights, President Obama signed legislation yesterday keeping government agencies open into next week, giving White House and congressional bargainers more time to complete sweeping deals on taxes and federal spending.

Facing a midnight deadline, Obama signed the measure keeping government afloat through Wednesday just hours after the House used a voice vote to send it to him. The Senate approved the bill a day earlier, its easy sojourn through Congress underscoring that neither party saw reason to risk a government shutdown battle.

Talks were likely to stretch at least into the weekend over the environment, Syrian refugees, guns and dozens of other disputes sprinkled across two major bills.

- Associated Press