Romney favored, Santorum lurking as 3 states vote Tuesday

Posted Feb. 06, 2012, at 8:38 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will vote for presidential candidates Tuesday, and while Mitt Romney is favored to win, many conservatives appear eager to signal their unease with him by voting for Rick Santorum.

Social conservatives are particularly active in Minnesota, where one poll has Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, in a virtual tie with former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Santorum.

Polls are often poor predictors of caucus results, however, where attendance is a function of campaign organization and voter passion.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic survey firm, found Santorum ahead of Romney by 29 to 27 percent in its Saturday poll, and called the race a toss-up. Not far behind were Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, with 22 percent and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, at 19 percent. Paul has campaigned hard in Minnesota; Gingrich has made little effort.

US closes Syrian embassy as diplomacy collapses

BEIRUT — The U.S. closed its embassy in Syria and Britain recalled its ambassador to Damascus on Monday in a new Western push to get President Bashar Assad to leave power and halt the murderous grind in Syria — now among the deadliest conflicts of the Arab Spring.

Although the diplomatic effort was stymied at the U.N. by vetoes from Russia and China, the moves by the U.S. and Britain were a clear message that Western powers see no point in engaging with Assad and now will seek to bolster Syria’s opposition.

“This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers as he recalled his country’s ambassador from Syria. “There is no way it can recover its credibility internationally.”

President Barack Obama said the Syrian leader’s departure is only a matter of time.

“We have been relentless in sending a message that it is time for Assad to go,” Obama said during an interview with NBC. “This is not going to be a matter of if, it’s going to be a matter of when.”

The most serious violence Monday was reported in Homs, where Syrian government forces, using tanks and machine guns, shelled a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas on the third day of a relentless assault, killing a reported 40 people, activists said. More than a dozen others were reported killed elsewhere.

Those deaths followed a regime onslaught in Homs that began Saturday, the same day Syria’s allies in Russia and China vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution aimed at trying to end the crackdown on dissent. Some 200 people died, the highest death toll reported for a single day in the uprising, according to several activist groups.

US imposes new sanctions on Iran, turning up the heat

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced tough new targeted sanctions Monday against the Central Bank of Iran, ratcheting up economic pain on Tehran in a move intended to drive it into new international negotiations over its nuclear program, but one that could prove a trigger point for conflict.

The sanctions, part of a years-long effort to force Iran to comply with global nuclear-weapons rules, were issued in a White House executive order. They comply with amendments to a sweeping defense bill that Congress passed late last year.

The sanctions require any U.S. person or corporation to freeze property or interests that belong to the government of Iran, its Central Bank or any other Iranian financial institution. Most of these sanctions already had been in place on all major Iranian banks, but targeting Iran’s Central Bank is unusual.

The action attempts to disrupt operations in which a third-country bank is acting on behalf of Iran’s Central Bank or other Iranian banks. This is happening in Afghanistan and possibly other Iranian neighbors.

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