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John Kerry Threatens Russia, Gives No New Sanctions

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia on Thursday of dragging its feet on de-escalating the situation in eastern Ukraine, one week after the two countries reached an agreement in Geneva, Switzerland, to reduce tensions.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction. Not a single Russian official -- not one -- has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva Agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings,” he said during an appearance in the State Department briefing room.

Kerry warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would see additional sanctions on individuals and businesses in his country but did not make any mention of when they would be imposed.

“If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake,” he said.

Kerry also reiterated that the United States believes Russia is completely behind the masked protesters who have sprung up in an eastern Ukrainian town over the past months, noting that they speak with foreign accents and have matching uniforms.

“Nobody should doubt Russia’s hand in this,” he said.

"Russia has chosen an illegitimate, coercive armed violence to achieve with the barrel of a gun and the force of a mob what couldn't be achieved any other way," Kerry added.

He mentioned once again photos that have surfaced of fighters who reportedly also served the Russian side in conflicts in Georgia and Chechnya, the validity of which has been questioned.

Kerry also lashed out at the Russian-funded international news network Russia Today, known in the U.S. as RT, which he called a “propaganda bullhorn.”

“Russia Today Network has deployed to promote President Putin's fantasy about what is playing out on the ground. They almost spend full time devoted to this effort to propagandize and to distort what is happening or not happening in Ukraine,” he said.

Kerry ridiculed Putin for making what he called “outrageous” claims, including that the Internet is a “CIA project.”

Despite the tough talk, the last tranche of sanctions imposed by the United States on Russian individuals and others linked to the Ukrainian unrest was released on April 11. So far, 38 individuals have been sanctioned as well as one Russian bank and a Crimean-based gas company.

Meanwhile, Russia has shown no signs of backing down since signing the agreement in Geneva. Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu announced Thursday that his troops would begin military drills in southern and western districts of Russia in response to the situation in eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the United States of fomenting the unrest.

"When you receive daily calls from John Kerry, who is saying what you should do, and when you realize how far the U.S. is from Ukraine and how much they are agitated, it appears that indeed they direct this process to a large extent,” Lavrov said in an interview with RT.

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American Journalist Detained in Ukraine Released

Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) -- The American journalist who was detained in eastern Ukraine earlier this week has been released.

In a post on its website Thursday, VICE News said it "is delighted to confirm that our colleague and friend Simon Ostrovsky has been safely released and is in good health."

"We would like to thank everyone for their support during this difficult time. Out of respect for Simon and his family's privacy, we have no further statement at this time," the statement continued.

Ostrovsky, a VICE News reporter, later tweeted: "I'm out and safe. Thank you all for your support. Had no idea I had so many good friends."

Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed "People's Mayor" of Sloviansk, Ukraine, told ABC News on Wednesday that Ostrovsky was spreading false, one-sided information and needed to be taught otherwise.

Responding to the news of the reporter's release, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday, "We welcome the news, of course, and would be greatly relieved by such a development. We do note that others, including journalists, remain hostage and call on Russia to use its influence to ensure that all are freed immediately."

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American Father, Son Among Victims in Kabul Hospital Shooting

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) --  An Afghan security guard opened fire on a group of doctors at a Kabul, Afghanistan, hospital on Thursday, killing three male American doctors and leaving two other people wounded, officials said. A father and son were among the victims, ABC News has learned.

One of the deceased is Dr. Jerry Umanos of Chicago, his family told ABC News. Umanos is a pediatrician who worked at Chicago's Lawndale Christian Health Center for 16 years before moving to Afghanistan in 2005 to work at CURE, according to ABC News' Chicago station WLS.

Bruce Rowell, Chief Clinical Officer of Lawndale Christian Health Center, said that Umanos was a pediatrician who served many of the hospital staff's own children.

"For nearly a decade, he has volunteered to train residents and see patients in Afghanistan," Rowell said. "It's a great loss for family, for those of us he worked with and people of Afghanistan. He was a loving, caring physician."

The father and son who were killed were visiting Umanos, according to WLS.

Afghanistan's Minister of Health Soraya Dalil did not name Umanos, but said this morning that "a child specialist doctor who was working in this hospital for the last seven years for the people of Afghanistan was killed and also two others who were here to meet him."

According to Kabul police, a female American nurse was also wounded in the attack.

The victims’ identities were not yet known, but the U.S. Embassy in Kabul confirmed that they were Americans.


With great sadness we confirm that three Americans were killed in the attack on CURE Hospital. No other information will be released at...

— U.S. Embassy Kabul (@USEmbassyKabul) April 24, 2014


The shooting at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul was the latest attack on foreign civilians in Afghanistan's capital this year.

The attacker was a member of the Afghan Police Protection Force assigned to guard the hospital, according to District Police Chief Hafiz Khan. He said the man's motive was not yet clear.

A spokesman for CURE said Thursday that the gunman shot himself after the attack. He was in surgery at midday in the same medical facility under heavy police guard, according to Kanishka Bektash Torkystani, a Ministry of Health spokesman.

"Five doctors had entered the compound of the hospital and were walking toward the building when the guard opened fire on them," Torkystani said. "Three foreign doctors were killed and two other doctors were wounded."

The hospital is one of the most prominent in Kabul, partly because of its specialized offerings for women and children, including obstetrics and gynecology and surgery.

CURE International, a group based in Pennsylvania that runs a network of charity hospitals, says its Kabul hospital offers "a haven where (women) can safely deliver their child."

The hospital shooting is the second "insider attack" by a member of Afghan security forces targeting foreign civilians this month. It is also the third attack on a U.S. organization in the past month.

A California based NGO called Roots of Peace was attacked in Kabul in March.

On April 4, an Afghan police officer shot two Associated Press staff working in the eastern province of Khost, killing photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon.

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South Korean Ferry: Death Toll Rises Amid Harsh Search Conditions

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Search teams continue to pull more bodies from the South Korean ferry that sank over a week ago.

As of Thursday, at least 171 people have been confirmed dead with 131 others still missing. So far, 174 people have been rescued, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The latest jump in the death toll comes as divers working to retrieve bodies are finding the job "extremely difficult."

“Divers can’t see anything,” Park Kyung Hoon, a diving team captain for the Blue Dragon Training Corp., told ABC News.

Park volunteered along with other divers when he heard about the April 16 tragedy. His team has been collaborating with the South Korean Coast Guard, but search efforts have been hindered by surging currents that stir up the silty bottom into a muddy soup.

Divers initially brought out bodies that were in the ship's lounge but now must break through cabin walls to retrieve other victims.

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Putin Warns Ukraine of ‘Consequenes,’ Orders Military Drills

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a vague but ominous warning to Ukraine’s government, saying there may be unspecified “consequences” for its use of force against pro-Russian separatists in the east.

“If the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country, it, beyond any doubt, is a very serious crime,” he said, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

“It will certainly have consequences for the people who make such decisions,” he added. “This also concerns our intergovernmental relations.”

His comments renewed fears that Russian troops might cross the border under the pretext of protecting Russian speakers there.

As if on cue, shortly after Putin spoke, his defense minister announced plans for more military drills along the border in Ukraine in response to the unrest.

“We have to react to such a development,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to Interfax.

The United States and its allies accuse Russia of fomenting unrest in Ukraine and President Obama said Thursday that the White House has additional sanctions on Russia “teed up” if it does not stop its meddling.

Putin was defiant in the face of additional Western sanctions, saying the measures imposed so far have not had a “critical” impact on Russia’s economy.

“No sanctions are effective in the modern world and they never have a lasting effect,” Putin said. “Rather, this is all political in nature.”

The Russian leader added that Ukraine’s military actions in the east justify Russia’s decision to annex Crimea.

“Otherwise, they would have witnessed the same events as eastern Ukraine and surely even worse. So, this is another proof that we have acted correctly and on time,” Putin said. “If Russia had not rendered real support to people in Crimea, it would have been impossible to organize a civilized process of the expression of people’s will there.”

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Vatican: Media 'Misunderstood' Phone Call Between Pope, Woman

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(ROME) -- The Vatican says the media have "misunderstood" a phone call Pope Francis made to an Argentine woman who sought clarification about the Catholic rite of Communion.

Jacqueline Lisboa made public the pope's call to her on Easter when she says he told her there was nothing wrong with receiving Holy Communion as a divorced and remarried woman. Catholic doctrine forbids divorced and remarried people from taking part in the rite.

Lisboa's husband, Julio Sabetta, posted on his Facebook page that the pope said the matter was being discussed at the Vatican. After Lisbao's priest refused to give her Communion, the pope suggested she "Go to another church and confess, there is no problem."

The Vatican at first refused to confirm the call. Later, it said people should "avoid inferring things regarding the Church's teaching" from it.

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Did Oscar Pistorius Lie on the Stand?

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius may have lied on the stand about a 2009 boat crash, according to a new report -- an inconsistency that could impact the outcome of his murder trial.

The report, published by South Africa's Daily Maverick, involves a 2009 boat crash that left Pistorius in a coma. Pistorius, who’s accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013, said during testimony that he smashed into a submerged pier.

“The Vaal River runs east to west and we were heading back west so the sun was setting in front of us...and I could only see the sun on the water,” he said under questioning from his lawyer Barry Roux.

But eyewitnesses told the Daily Maverick that there was no sunlight at the time of the crash because it was already dark. Also, the pier wasn’t submerged, they said.

“One [witness] said that the jetty was ‘relatively new’ at the time of the accident. Another said that the idea that the jetty was submerged by high water levels was ‘impossible,’ as this would have meant that a major flooding incident would have had to have taken place,” the Daily Maverick reports.

Representatives for Pistorius -- an athlete known as “Blade Runner” due to his prosthetic legs -- declined to comment regarding the report.

ABC News Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said the details of the boat crash are irrelevant to the murder case but inconsistencies and challenges to his statements could undermine his trustworthiness for Judge Thokozile Masipa.

“If prosecutors could prove that he lied about it, it could certainly impact his credibility on other issues in front of the judge,” Abrams said.

The challenge comes amid allegations that Pistorius had taken acting lessons before the trial, something family spokesperson Annelise Burgess denied.

“If the judge believes that he’s faking or acting, he’s in big trouble. That would go to the heart of his credibility,” Abrams said.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to murdering Steenkamp. The trial is scheduled to resume on May 5.

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Obama Warns Russia Tougher Sanctions Are ‘Teed Up and Ready to Go’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) --  President Obama warned more U.S. sanctions on Russia are “teed up and ready to go,” signaling that if Russia does not reverse course in eastern Ukraine it will face additional consequences “in days not weeks.”

But even as he threatened further sanctions, Obama acknowledged it is “entirely possible” that new economic penalties will not work to change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus on Ukraine.

“So far the evidence doesn’t make me hopeful,” Obama said.  “Assuming they don’t follow through, then we’ll follow through on what we said… which is tighter consequences on the Russians.”

Further sanctions, he said, are ready go.

“We have been preparing for the prospect that we have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up,” he said, adding that they require “technical work” and coordination with other countries.

“The fact I haven’t announced them yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t teed up and ready to go,” the president said.

Obama also had tough words for China, a country whose “peaceful rise” he has celebrated but will not visit on this trip.

Obama made it clear that the U.S. security commitment to Japan extends to the Senakaku Islands, claimed by both China and Japan but currently administered by Japan.  The Japanese fear China could move to militarily take over the islands.

“Let me reiterate that our commitment to Japan’s security is absolute,” he said, “and covers all areas, including the Senkaku Islands.”

A few minutes later, President Obama bristled at the suggestion that he was drawing yet another red line as he had done with Syria on chemical weapons and Russia on Crimea.

“The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth. So obviously this isn’t a red line I’m drawing,” Obama said.  “This is an interpretation that has stretched multiple administrations about alliance. No shift in position, no red line that’s been drawn. Simply applying the treaty.”

As for Syria, the president sought to portray his red line policy as a success, saying that 87 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles have been removed.

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Giant 'SOS' Message Saves Marooned Snorkelers

RACQ CQ RESCUE/EPA(SYDNEY) -- Five people who went missing off Australia’s coast when their boat drifted away were rescued after a search plane spotted a large “SOS” scrawled into the sand.

Their trouble began after they set out for a day of snorkeling Monday near the Whitsunday Islands. After they dropped anchor to explore, their boat drifted away, leaving them marooned on a rocky island without food, water or cellphones.

After nine hours, the group grew desperate, hoping their message wouldn’t be washed away with the tide. Lyn Forbes-Smith, one of the rescued snorkelers, worried about her safety.

“We did suspect that we would be bunkered down on those rocks for the night so that was a fairly grim prospect,” she said.

Helicopter crewman Damien Kross said he wasn’t hopeful. But in a stroke of luck, another boat spotted the drifting vessel and alerted authorities.

Rescue crews set out to find the missing group. Eventually, the group’s giant message emerged.

“We saw the 'SOS' in the sand and knew that it must be them,” Kross told ABC News.

Rescue crews lowered down to the island’s rocky surface and whisked the marooned snorkelers to safety.

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Obama Meets Families of Japanese Citizens Abducted by North Korea

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- President Obama met on Thursday with relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, the White House said.

"The President was moved by their tragic experiences and reaffirmed our commitment to work with Japan to address North Korea's deplorable treatment of its own people and resolve the issue of abductees," the White House said in a statement.

Earlier, Obama took a hard line against North Korea in his press conference with Japan's prime minister.

"North Korea is engaged in provocative actions for the last several decades. It’s been an irresponsible actor on the international stage for the last several decades," the president said. "It's the most isolated country in the world."

"If you’re serious about North Korea being a normal nation, then you have to start changing your behavior," Obama said of the Kim Jong Un regime. "Am I optimistic about major shift in attitudes any time soon? Probably not."

"In the meantime, they’re dangerous. And we have to make sure we guard against any provocations getting out of hand," he said.

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Humanoid Robot Challenges Obama in Soccer

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- President Obama Thursday got up close and personal with the latest in Japanese science and technology, including an encounter with a humanoid robot named “ASIMO.”

During a photo op at the Miraikan museum, which showcases Japanese emerging science and innovation, Obama and the robot bowed at each other and even had a conversation in English.

“It’s nice to meet you,” ASIMO said in an electronic voice. “I can kick a soccer ball, too.”

“OK, come on,” Obama said in wry disbelief.

ASIMO accepted the challenge, fetching a ball, stepping back, then punting it toward the president. Obama deftly trapped the ball with his foot.

“How about that, that was pretty impressive,” he said.

The robot, which was designed by Honda, told the president it had learned to jump and started to demonstrate.

Later, in remarks to students and civic officials at the museum, Obama joked that “the robots are a little scary. They’re too lifelike.”

During his tour, Obama also got a special taped message from Japanese astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who demonstrated on a large video screen new Global Precipitation Measurement satellites (GPM) data.

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New Agreement Jeopardizes Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A reconciliation deal reached Wednesday between Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization could spell the end to any potential peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The two Palestinian factions have been divided for the past seven years as the more moderate Fatah, the faction that dominates the P.L.O., has tried to mend fences with Israeli leaders while the militant Hamas seeks only the destruction of Israel.

However, the reconciliation pact means that both Hamas and P.L.O. will have to abide by past agreements, leading to an interim unity government by the beginning of June and general elections toward the end of 2014.

In any event, this renewed alliance may have put the final nail in the coffin of already failing talks with the Israelis to form a Palestinian state while guaranteeing Israel's security.

In Washington, Secretary of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, "It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist."

Before pronouncing peace talks dead and buried, Psaki said the White House would seek clarification from the Palestinians on just what the deal means to Israel.

After cancelling a negotiation session with the Palestinians scheduled for Wednesday night, a meeting of the Israel security cabinet is planned for Thursday to further discuss the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that the new deal with Hamas is independent of Fatah's talks with Israel and that he still seeks a peaceful arrangement with the Israelis.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained that Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

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Obama Says US Will Defend Japan's Right to Disputed Islands

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) -- President Obama's week-long swing through Asia kicked off Wednesday with reassurances to Japanese leaders that the U.S. supports its rights to a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that Beijing has also staked a claim to.

The president's words will be analyzed very closely in Japan and elsewhere as doubts have been raised over America's commitment to the region due to the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine that threatens to spin out of control.

Some of those fears may have been lessened after the Pentagon said it was sending 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltics as a message that the U.S. won't be intimidated by Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, Obama told a Japanese newspaper that the island dispute with China falls "within the scope" of a treaty Washington has with Tokyo, adding, "We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands."

Without saying so directly, the president may be signaling to Japan that the U.S. would come to its aid militarily if needed should China seize the territory known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

On Thursday, Obama, the first president to visit Japan since Bill Clinton in 1996, met separately with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese royal family ahead of a formal state dinner.

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Obama Greets Japan's Emperor, Bows Slightly

Shizuo Kambayashi/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) --  As President Obama’s motorcade rumbled onto the Imperial Palace grounds Wednesday for a state visit, the U.S.-Japan bond was evident on the bumper of his American-made limousine.

The black Cadillac, shipped in from the U.S. by Secret Service, donned blue plates with a Japanese insignia.  American and Japanese flags flew on the hood.

Obama greeted Emperor Akihito and his wife, bowing ever so slightly to shake hands with both royal highnesses, though it was a far cry from his full bow at the waist in 2009 that sparked much controversy.

The full state visit honors for Obama is the first in nearly two decades for an American president.  His arrival was filled with pomp and pageantry, kicking off a week-long Asian tour with an affirmation of ties with the closest U.S. ally in the region.

Obama and Akihito reviewed lines of Japanese troops in white uniforms, then they greeted dignitaries as the band played ceremonial tunes. Crowds of Japanese schoolchildren looking on waved paper flags from both countries. 

After the official greeting, Obama turned quickly to official business during a bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“The US-Japan alliance is the foundation for not only our security in the Asia Pacific region but for the region as a whole,” Obama said in an opening statement seated across from Abe.

“We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearaization that’s taken place in that country. But because of the strong ties of our countries confident that we will make progress in the future.”

Abe called the US-Japan alliance "indispensable and irreplaceable" as a foundation for peace across the Asia Pacific region.

President Obama’s visit "greatly contributes to regional peace and prosperity,” he said, “and Japan strongly supports and also certainly welcomes this."

Both leaders were to hold a press conference following their meeting. Then they will visit Tokyo’s cultural sites, including the Meiji Jingu shrine. 

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: US Has 'Excessive Influence' in Ukraine

iStock / 360 / Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed the United States has "an excessive influence" on the actions of Kiev authorities, describing America's impact on the ongoing crisis during an interview with television network RT.

“When you receive daily calls from John Kerry, who is saying what you should do, and when you realize how far the U.S. is from Ukraine and how much they are agitated, it appears that indeed they direct this process to a large extent,” he said.

He went on to say that anti-terrorist operations were tied to visits from high-level American officials.

The U.S. has an impact "not on the country but on the regime, which took power in Kiev," Lavrov added, and "they act much more openly and without any remorse, if one compares them with Europeans, who act more covertly."

On Wednesday, the Obama administration denied accusations from the foreign minister that claimed the U.S. is funding or running military operations in Ukraine.

"I think many of the claims he made in his interview are ludicrous and they're not based in facts of what is happening on the ground," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Lavrov warned that Russia would not back down and said the country could retaliate against Ukraine if it continued operations against pro-Russian militants. Any attacks on Russians in the country would be considered an attack on Russia itself, he said.

Psaki called his statements "counterproductive and inflammatory," explaining that the foreign minister's comments don't reflect a plan on the Geneva agreement recently signed by Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

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