DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran's President Hassan Rouhani held talks with the leader of the nearby sultanate of Oman on Wednesday, his first official trip to an Arab country since taking office last year.
The visit is aimed at boosting bilateral relations between the two countries, though it also has the potential to further ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and Western powers. Oman stands out among Gulf Arab states for its ability to balance friendly relations between the two.
Rouhani, a moderate who has vowed to improve Tehran's relations with its neighbors, was accompanied by a high-ranking economic delegation for the two-day visit.
"Relations with Islamic countries and particularly neighboring countries are of extraordinary importance for us," Rouhani told reporters shortly before departing from Tehran.
Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, welcomed the Iranian leader at the al-Alam palace, according to the official Oman News Agency. The colorfully decorated complex is nestled near the capital Muscat's mountain-ringed harbor on the edge of the Gulf of Oman.
Iran and Oman lie on opposite sides of the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf that is the route for one fifth of the world's oil.
Saudi Arabia and other Western-allied Arab nations in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are wary of Iran's influence in the region. Oman is a member of the GCC, but it has traditionally worked to cultivate warm ties with Iran and has at times acted as a mediator between Tehran and the West.
The sultanate was the site of some of the secret talks between Iranian and American representatives that preceded a landmark nuclear deal in Geneva in November. Under that interim agreement, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear program for six months in exchange for some relief from Western sanctions.
Tehran disputes allegations that it aims to develop atomic weapons. It says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as producing electricity, and for scientific and medical research.
The terms of a broader deal involving long-term restrictions on nuclear work in exchange for an end to all economic sanctions are still being worked out.
Oman also played a key role in the release of three American hikers in 2010 and 2011 who were detained by Iran while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border.
Sultan Qaboos traveled to Tehran in August, becoming the first foreign leader to visit Rouhani since he took office. On that visit, he said his country was prepared to develop trade routes through Iran between Oman and Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Rouhani's trip follows a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to several Gulf states, including Oman, in December. Senior Iranian leaders have yet to visit Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia.
ROSELAND, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey honor student who sued to get her parents to support her after she moved out of their home has reunited with them.
The lawyer representing Rachel Canning's parents said in a statement Wednesday that the 18-year-old's return is not contingent on any financial or other considerations, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported.
A judge last week denied the teen's request for child support and to have her parents pay her remaining high school tuition. But the judge scheduled an April court date to consider the over-arching question of whether the Cannings are obligated to financially support their adult daughter.
State Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard sounded skeptical of some of the claims in the lawsuit, saying it could lead to teens "thumbing their noses" at their parents, leaving home and then asking for financial support.
"Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an Xbox? For 13-year-olds to sue for an iPhone?" he asked. "We should be mindful of a potentially slippery slope."
Canning had left her parents' house on Oct. 30, two days before she turned 18 after a tumultuous stretch during which her parents separated and reconciled and the teen began getting into uncharacteristic trouble at school.
In court filings, Canning's parents, retired Lincoln Park police Chief Sean Canning and his wife, Elizabeth, said their daughter voluntarily left home because she didn't want to abide by reasonable household rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew, doing a few chores and ending a relationship with a boyfriend her parents say is a bad influence. They say that shortly before she turned 18, she told her parents that she would be an adult and could do whatever she wanted.
She said in her lawsuit that her parents are abusive, contributed to an eating disorder she developed and pushed her to get a basketball scholarship. They say they were supportive, helped her through the eating disorder and paid for her to go to a private school where she would not get as much playing time in basketball as she would have at a public school.
Rachel Canning had been living in Rockaway Township with the family of her best friend. The friend's father, former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, was paying for the lawsuit.
Attorney Angelo Sarno said that a news conference will be held outside the firm's office in Roseland at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities defended their handling of the hunt for the missing Boeing 777 on Wednesday but acknowledged they still are unsure which direction the plane was headed when it disappeared, highlighting the massive task facing an international search now in its fifth day.
The mystery over the plane's whereabouts has been confounded by confusing and occasionally conflicting statements by Malaysian officials, adding to the anguish of relatives of the 239 people on board the flight — two thirds of them Chinese.
"There's too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing. "We will not give it up as long as there's still a shred of hope."
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the multinational search for the missing plane as an unprecedented and complicated effort and defended his country's efforts. Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations were scouring an area of 92,600 square kilometers (35,800 square miles).
"It's not something that is easy. We are looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to coordinate, and a vast area for us to search," he said. "But we will never give up. This we owe to the families."
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning and fell off civilian radar screens at 1:30 a.m. about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. It sent no distress signals or any indication it was experiencing any problems.
Malaysian authorities have since said that air defense radar picked up traces of what might have been the plane turning back and flying until it reached the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane west of the narrow nation some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the plane's last known coordinates.
Military and government officials on Wednesday said American experts and the manufacturer of the radar systems were examining that data to confirm it showed the Boeing 777. Until then, they said the search would continue on both sides of the country, with an equal focus.
Dozens of ships and planes searching waters have failed to turn up anything, prompting officials to expand the hunt. Malaysia asked India to join the search for the missing jet in waters near the Andaman Sea — far to the northwest of its last reported position.
"As of today, we have not found anything, but we are extending (the search) further," Hishammuddin said.
Air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud said air defense radar showed an unidentified object at 2:15 a.m. about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northwest of Penang.
"I am not saying it's flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot," he said.
It's unlikely the plane would have flown across Malaysia without being detected by civilian radar unless its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be identified by radar, were either knocked out or turned off.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage and terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say what happened.
Malaysian authorities contacted their Indian counterparts seeking help in searching areas near the Andaman Sea, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
Hishammuddin praised India for joining the efforts and vowed to keep up the search until the plane was found.
Earlier, Gen. Rodzali released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had confirmed that aircraft flew west over and made it to the Malacca Strait. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official who confirmed the remarks.
Indonesian air force Col. Umar Fathur said the country had received official information from Malaysian authorities that the plane was above the South China Sea, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kota Bharu, Malaysia, when it turned back toward the strait and then disappeared. That would place its last confirmed position closer to Malaysia than has previously been publicly disclosed.
Confusion over whether the plane had been spotted flying west has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions about where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information.
Asked about this, Hishammuddin said his government had been transparent from the start.
"There is only confusion if you want to see confusion," he said.
Choi Tat Sang, a 74-year-old Malaysian man, said his family is still holding out hope that the plane and all on board are safe. His daughter-in-law, Goh Sock Lay, 45, is the chief stewardess on the flight. Her 14-year-old daughter, an only child, has been crying every day since the plane's disappearance.
"We are heartbroken. We are continuing to pray for her safety and for everyone on the flight," he said.
The mother of passenger Zou Jingsheng, who would only give her name as Zou, wept and spoke haltingly about her missing son at a hotel near the Beijing airport. She expressed frustration with the airline and the Malaysian government over their handling of the case.
"I want to talk more, but all this is very stressful, and after all it is my son's life that I am concerned about. I just want to know where he is, and wish he is safe and alive," she said.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Kuala Lumpur, Isolda Morillo in Beijing, Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — An explosion has leveled two New York City apartment buildings, killing one person and injuring 15 others. A utility company says a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas shortly before the explosion.
The New York Police Department says one person died in the East Harlem blast. No other information is available.
Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee says a resident from a building adjacent to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside.
McGee says the utility dispatched two crews just after 9:15 a.m., but they arrived just after the explosion. He says the street is served by an eight-inch low-pressure gas main. He would not speculate on whether a gas leak caused the explosion.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
An explosion in Upper Manhattan on Wednesday leveled a five-story building, sent flames and billowing black smoke above the skyline and injured 11 people.
One person with "serious trauma" was being treated at Harlem Hospital, and the hospital was expecting more injured people to arrive, said Lamarr Nelson, a hospital spokesman.
Sidewalks for blocks around were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast neat Park Avenue and 116th Street was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.
A neighboring building was severely damaged. The cause of the blast was unclear.
Police, some wearing gas masks and medical masks, handed out medical masks to residents and onlookers because of the thick white smoke that shrouded the area.
Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his entire apartment building in Harlem at about 9:30 a.m. He ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.
"I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off, it kind of shook the whole building," Hayes said. "You could feel the vibrations going through the building."
Hayes lives less than 10 blocks from where the explosion happened. He said the fire consumed one building and then moved on to another building adjacent to it, though about 40 minutes later the flames had subsided and there was mostly just smoke. Both buildings appeared to be residential.
"I ran to the window and saw the fire and the smoke going up and the sirens start," Hayes said.
The explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Metro-North service was suspended to and from Grand Central on all three train lines while employees remove debris from the tracks.
The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — The historic lamp posts on at the University of Georgia in Athens are getting a makeover.
The Athens Banner-Herald reports that restoration of the century-old posts on the north campus began this week.
On Monday, workers began removing the 10 lampposts in front of the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building on North Campus and soon plan to start the renovation process with hopes of putting them back in time for summer graduation.
The project involves slightly repositioning some of the lights, putting in new circuitry and also updating the lamps with light-emitting diodes.
The original cast iron lampposts were installed in June 1914 by the Athens Rail and Light Company. They were the first row of electric lights at UGA and the first significant outdoor electric lights in Athens.