URGENT Syria regime ready to talk 'with all who want dialogue': Muallem
MOSCOW, Feb 25, 2013 (AFP) – The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to talk with all parties, including armed groups, who want dialogue to end the conflict, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Monday at the start of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms," Muallem said at the Moscow talks with Lavrov, who warned there was "no acceptable alternative" to a political solution and that further bloodshed risked Syria's collapse.
CNN: 'Crippling' winter storm bearing down on Great Plains region, forecasters say
Just days after a storm walloped the Great Plains, a second one - bringing with it heavy snow and strong winds - was slamming the region early Monday, forcing airline cancellations and school closures from Colorado to Texas. National Weather Service forecasters warned the storm was bringing potentially "life threatening" and "crippling" blizzard conditions with freezing temperatures to portions of southeast Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle overnight.
Baltimore Sun: U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments over Md. DNA case
In a Maryland case that's garnered the attention of the other 49 states, the federal Department of Justice and the national science community, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether to restrict police in collecting DNA to solve crimes. The justices will rule on a police practice common in Maryland: taking genetic information from individuals arrested — but not convicted — to link them to unsolved crimes.
BuzzFeed: Colorado Governor: Marijuana Legalization Is “A Challenge For Everybody”
Governor John Hickenlooper said Saturday that he and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are working to establish a legal framework for the Colorado measure, passed by a 55-45 margin on the state ballot last November, to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Although federal law still prohibits marijuana, Colorado is now one of two states — Washington state voters passed a similar law last fall — to have legalized limited possession and distribution of the drug.
CNN: With deadline looming, White House details cuts
Food safety inspections, early education classrooms and mental health treatment are all at risk if massive forced spending cuts are allowed to take effect at the end of this week, the White House said Sunday. Those cuts would accompany deep reductions in defense spending – including stalling maintenance on Navy ships – that are also poised to trigger March 1. In detailed reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, President Barack Obama's budget office spelled out how the cuts – which are the result of a stalemate between Congressional Republicans and the White House over reducing the federal deficit – will affect localities, putting the stakes of the budget debate in stark terms as Congress returns to Washington after a week-long break.
ALSO SEE: CNNMoney: Spending cuts showdown may drag on
NYT: Crossed Paths: Chicago’s Jacksons and Obamas
When Barack and Michelle Obama were married in Chicago two decades ago, Santita Jackson, a daughter of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, sang at their wedding. When Mr. Obama ran for his first national office, he made sure he was not stepping on the ambitions of her brother, Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who later became a co-chairman of his 2008 presidential campaign. Now the younger Mr. Jackson, 47, who served 17 years as a congressman representing his hometown, is most likely headed to prison for campaign fraud, trailed by a string of problems from an extramarital affair to mental illness. Although the fates of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Obama could not be more different, their stories, and those of their families, are bound together.
HuffPo: Robert Gibbs Told Not To Acknowledge Drone Program Exists As White House Press Secretary
Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday that he was told not to "acknowledge" or "discuss" the secret drone program when becoming the government's top spokesman. Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's "Up," played a video clip of Gibbs and current press secretary Jay Carney dodging questions about drones in the White House briefing room before asking if the Obama administration has been sufficiently forthcoming about the controversial targeted killing program. Gibbs, who recently became an MSNBC contributor, recalled the instructions he was given upon taking the job.
WSJ: Fresh Front in Budget Battle
Already looking past the current budget impasse gripping the capital, congressional leaders are quietly considering a deal to avert a government shutdown next month—but at the cost of prolonging across-the-board spending cuts. Attention is beginning to shift from Friday, when the broad cuts known as the sequester kick in, to the next budget deadline: Congress must pass a so-called continuing resolution by the end of March to keep funding government operations. Senior aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) have begun discussing a bill being prepared by House Republicans to fund government operations through September. Republicans want the bill to extend operating funds at the lower levels set to kick in Friday and to give more flexibility to the Pentagon to manage its cuts.
Politico: GOP govs to Hill: Get back to bargaining table
Ask Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert what they think of Hill Republicans’ strategy on the sequester, and you get the exact same response: “What strategy?” It’s a sign that Republican governors might be still giving President Barack Obama a lot of the blame for the sequester — but they're fed up with their own side, too.
Roll Call: Rules of the Game: Sequester Spells Bitter K Street Failure
The seemingly inevitable sequester cuts that will slash $85 billion from the federal budget on Friday reflect not only Washington’s political paralysis but a bitter lobbying failure for K Street interests across the board. From university professors and scientists to cancer victims, defense contractors and federal workers, hundreds of advocacy, trade and labor groups have lobbied aggressively for months to head off the cuts. They’ve run ads, testified on Capitol Hill, staged demonstrations and hounded lawmakers, all to no avail.
CNN: McCain: Hagel will be confirmed this week
The Senate will move forward in confirming President Barack Obama's nominee to become defense secretary this week, a leading Republican who opposes Chuck Hagel's elevation to the role said Sunday. …The Senate will vote again Tuesday on whether to end a Republican filibuster of Hagel's nomination. Two weeks ago, a similar attempt fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the debate. Many GOP lawmakers and aides expect Hagel to be confirmed, although with just a handful of GOP votes.
The Hill: Finance to vote on Lew nomination on Tuesday
The Senate Finance Committee will vote Tuesday on President Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew. Lew, formerly Obama’s chief of staff, has faced some questions from Republicans about an investment in the Cayman Islands, and over his tenure at Citigroup between the Clinton and Obama administrations. Still, after Lew spent more than three hours answering questions from Finance this month, his nomination is expected to move through both the Finance panel and the full Senate.
Politico: Congress facing signs of immigration roadblocks
The push for immigration reform on Capitol Hill has been in overdrive thus far in 2013, but last week’s recess serves as a reminder — if one was needed — that the issue is far from settled. On the face of things, there’s plenty of momentum in Congress: The Senate Gang of Eight hopes to have a bill by mid-March; labor and business groups agreed on basic principles for low-skill workers; and a series of congressional hearings on the topic already have begun in earnest.
SEE ALSO: CNN: McCain: Immigration reform won't hurt GOP at polls
Arizona Republic: Immigration advocates seek new strategy after previous backlash
While immigrant advocates plan waves of demonstrations and other events in coming weeks to keep pressure on Congress to introduce a bipartisan immigration-reform bill as soon as possible, they say they’ve learned from past mistakes when their protests provoked a backlash. The events, which include calls to members of Congress, a multistate bus tour and a pro-immigration-reform demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., mark a significant change in tactics from 2006, when hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and supporters marched through cities around the country in support of reforms allowing illegal immigrants to gain legal status.
CNN: Coburn: Bolstering background checks not a done deal
Ramping up background checks on gun sales, which is regarded as the gun control measure with the best possible chance of gaining congressional approval, is by no means a sure thing, a key player in gun legislation negotiations said Sunday. Sen. Tom Coburn, who is among a bipartisan group of four senators working behind the scenes on a bill to expand background checks, said a sticking point had emerged on whether to keep records on gun owners.
SEE ALSO: Denver Post: Hickenlooper: Universal background checks for guns is top priority
New Jersey Star Ledger: Bedeviled Menendez confronts accusations with words of Martin Luther King
Sen. Robert Menendez, bedeviled in recent weeks by questions over his conduct, told hundreds gathered for a Black History Month celebration today that he found strength in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Dr. King said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’" Mendez said, prompting calls of "alright" from some in the audience at the ShilohBaptistChurch in Trenton. "In the end, I believe that justice will overcome the forces of darkness. Scriptures — scriptures tell us that he who ‘puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.’ "I have my hand on the plough," he said, "and I am going to continue to look forward and to work to make that plough lead us to the fulfillment of educational, economic and health care opportunity in this country."
Roll Call: Priebus Traveling West to Meet With Minorities and Tech Experts
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will head west this week to hear from minority voters and technology experts as a part of his committee’s efforts to rebuild and modernize the GOP. Priebus’ four-day swing is scheduled to take him to Denver on Monday for a listening session with Hispanic voters and GOP activists, then to Los Angeles on Tuesday for listening sessions with Hispanic and Asian voters.
Politico: Andrew Cuomo’s new problems: Bad headlines, Hillary Clinton
Andrew Cuomo’s smooth ride as New York’s governor – high approval numbers, flattering newspaper coverage, little by way of fierce opposition – has suddenly hit a rough patch. Much of it is in the form of a single, towering figure: Hillary Clinton. Gone from Washington, she has returned to Cuomo’s backyard, freezing his perceived 2016 presidential hopes as she begins the long process of deciding whether to run herself. Meanwhile, generally positive media coverage of the governor has turned sour in recent weeks, with stories that reinforce criticism that Cuomo is too controlling and either insufficiently liberal or trying too hard to placate his skeptics on the left.
CNN: Kerry's hits the road: Pitfalls ahead
John Kerry's first international trip as secretary of state is right out of diplomatic "central casting" – at least the first half, designed to avoid diplomatic pitfalls. But that may end up being impossible. The 11-day, nine-country sojourn – to England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – begins with a warm embrace for America's traditional European allies. …On Saturday, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, angered about what it called international inaction on Syrian government attacks against Aleppo, announced it was boycotting an international meeting in Rome where its representatives were expected to meet Kerry.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Upset Syrian opposition says it will skip conference
CNN: Afghanistan says U.S. special forces may be behind torture, murder
The Afghan government says armed individuals who may be U.S. special forces carried out acts of torture and murder, allegations that spurred it to demand that members of the elite American military units leave a key province west of Kabul. The U.S. military says it is investigating. NATO's International Security Assistance Force must stop all special force operations out of Wardak province, an area west of the Afghan capital where the alleged horrors took place, Afghanistan's National Security Council demanded. And all U.S. special forces must be gone from the province within two weeks. At a meeting of the council, led by President Hamid Karzai, "it became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people," Karzai's office said in a statement. It did not indicate who "named" the group a U.S. special force.
Reuters: Syrian opposition says captures former nuclear site
Syrian rebels have captured the site of a suspected nuclear reactor near the Euphrates river which Israeli warplanes destroyed six years ago, opposition sources in eastern Syria said on Sunday. Al-Kubar site, around 60 km (35 miles) west of the city of Deir al-Zor, became a focus of international attention when Israel raided it in 2007. The United States said the complex was a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor geared to making weapons-grade plutonium. Omar Abu Laila a spokesman for the Eastern Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army said the only building rebels found at the site was a hangar containing at least one Scud missile.
NYT: A New Cold War, in Cyberspace, Tests U.S. Ties to China
When the Obama administration circulated to the nation’s Internet providers last week a lengthy confidential list of computer addresses linked to a hacking group that has stolen terabytes of data from American corporations, it left out one crucial fact: that nearly every one of the digital addresses could be traced to the neighborhood in Shanghai that is headquarters to the Chinese military’s cybercommand. That deliberate omission underscored the heightened sensitivities inside the Obama administration over just how directly to confront China’s untested new leadership over the hacking issue, as the administration escalates demands that China halt the state-sponsored attacks that Beijing insists it is not mounting.
WaPo: Military is required to justify using animals in medic training after pressure from activists
The war between animal activists and the Pentagon has raged for decades. You could say there’s been a fair amount of collateral damage: thousands of goats and pigs have been mutilated, though the military argues the animals have not died in vain. So it’s no surprise the animal rights camp is salivating over the blow it’s about to inflict on the enemy. This week, by order of Congress, the Pentagon must present lawmakers with a written plan to phase out “live tissue training,” military speak for slaying animals to teach combat medics how to treat severed limbs and gunshot wounds.
New Jersey Star-Ledger: Wall Street warns Christie to avoid election-year budget moves
When Gov. Chris Christie rolls out his new budget on Tuesday, Wall Street will be watching closely — and is warning that any false moves or election-year gimmicks could trigger more downgrades of New Jersey’s credit rating. Analysts at Fitch Ratings, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have all recently drawn their lines in the sand, telling the governor to steer clear of budgeting tricks that would lower costs in the short term by kicking the can down the road. …Each agency downgraded the state in 2011, and doing it again would be bad news for Jersey taxpayers because it would make it more expensive to borrow money, which the state relies on to fund major projects. New Jersey’s debt rating is already one of the lowest in the country.
Chicago Tribune: 2nd District race in homestretch
The complexities of a special primary contest to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress gave way the final weekend before the election to more traditional campaigning as candidates spent Sunday visiting churches and restaurants in search of votes. The three top contenders for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District — Robin Kelly, Debbie Halvorson and Anthony Beale — each displayed optimism that they would cross the finish line first after the voting is finished Tuesday.
Baltimore Sun: Gun control battle moves to state Senate floor
Key provisions of Gov. Martin O'Malley's sweeping gun-control plan face renewed battles in the Maryland Senate next week, while the House of Delegates launches hearings expected to be just as contentious as those that brought thousands of people to Annapolis this month. Lawmakers are again bracing for crowds as each chamber presses forward with O'Malley's proposal, which would give Maryland some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. The governor is scheduled to appear at a Friday rally for his bill.
Sacramento Bee: Jerry Brown keeps a low profile on trip with governors to Washington, D.C.
Following the success of his November ballot initiative to raise taxes and his declaration that the state budget is balanced, Gov. Jerry Brown said California could become a model of good government for the rest of the nation. …In the nation's capital, however, Brown is turning out to be a curious ambassador.
Boston Herald: Solving the mystery of Gomez’s campaign launch
After an exhaustive search for the notoriously hard to find Gabriel Gomez — the Cohasset Republican running in the U.S. Senate special election — the Truth Squad has learned where he’ll be during his campaign rollout Thursday and Friday. Gomez, who has avoided media interviews and has introduced himself to voters via video, will kick off his campaign in Boston on Thursday morning and then continue with midday events in Worcester and Springfield in the afternoon, according to a senior campaign consultant. He’ll then be hitting locations on the NorthShore and SouthShore on Friday, but further details on his precise locations were scarce.
Philadelphia Daily News: John Baer: Allyson Schwartz admits her interest in Pa. governor's race
Allyson Schwartz used to be known as "Sen. Scarf." This was during her days in the state Senate, where she served 14 years, and – as you likely figured out – almost always wore a scarf. These days, during her fifth term in Congress, she's wearing something else: a change of heart for a chance to make history. In November, even December, Schwartz seemed certain that she wouldn't challenge Tom Corbett for governor. Now she seems certain that she will. "It is my intention," she tells me, to give up her House seat and take on T.C.
Charleston Post and Courier: Early voting remains source of controversy in Legislature
After years of having their efforts turned aside by state House Republicans, Democrats in South Carolina this year now appear to have more support for early voting from the GOP than at any time in recent memory. But despite Republican support for early voting proposals in both chambers of the General Assembly, the issue remains a political flash point.
Charlotte Observer: McCrory likes ‘pink licenses’ aimed for immigrants
Gov. Pat McCrory says he signed off on the controversial “pink licenses” that will be issued to some young illegal immigrants who were granted protection from deportation for two years. The new North Carolina governor said he thought it was important that the driver’s licenses for immigrants clearly distinguish “between legal presence versus legal status.” Critics have decried them as a modern-day scarlet letter.
Detroit Free Press: High lead poisoning linked to lower test scores in DPS
The greater the lead poisoning in a Detroit Public Schools student's blood, the higher the likelihood he or she will do poorly on achievement tests - even after accounting for contributing factors such as poverty. That's the finding of a collaborative study that provides one of the most detailed assessments yet of the impact of lead poisoning on students' learning ability.
CNN: Israel says it conducts successful test of anti-missile system
Israel completed a successful test flight of its Arrow 3 interceptor system on Monday, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement. The system is designed to defend against medium-range missiles that could be fired from countries such as Iran.
CNN: Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea's first female president
Park Geun-hye made history Monday by becoming South Korea's first female president, pledging to secure South Korea against the threat of an increasingly hostile North Korea at the same time as mending bridges with Pyongyang. …Reiterating her policy of 'trustpolitik' – a policy based on deterrence combined with cautious approaches to North Korea – she said she intended to "lay the groundwork for an era of harmonious unification where all Koreans can lead more prosperous and freer lives and where their dreams can come true. I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North."
CNN: African leaders sign Congo peace deal
African leaders signed a U.N.-backed deal on Sunday meant to bring stability to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Government forces are battling the M23 rebel group in the eastern part of that country. "It is my earnest hope that the framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. The agreement calls for cooperation among nations to "preserve and protect the territorial sovereignty" of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.
CNN: Palestinians protest inmate's death, warn Obama
All of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons - about 4,500 people - took part in a hunger strike Sunday, and crowds protested in the streets of the West Bank as Palestinian officials called for an international investigation into an inmate's death. A Palestinian official also sent a warning to U.S. President Barack Obama, who plans to make his first trip to Israel as president next month. "If President Obama wants to visit the region peacefully, he should exert pressure on Israel to release the prisoners - especially the ones who are on hunger strike - or else he will visit while Palestine is on fire," Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe said. Speaking at a news conference in Ramallah, Qaraqe demanded an international investigation.
CNN: Egypt opposition leader calls for election boycott
A top Egyptian opposition leader Saturday urged a boycott of parliamentary elections in April, describing them as "an act of deception." Mohamed ElBaradei is one of the leaders of Egypt's National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition groups. In a tweet from his official account, he called for the boycott, just like he did three years ago. "Called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy. Today I repeat my call, will not be part of an act of deception," it read. But Essam Erian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and leader of the majority party in Egypt's upper house of Parliament, criticized the proposed boycott.
Christian Science Monitor: A land of militias, Libya struggles to build a military
In the seventeen months since Muammar Qaddafi was killed, Libya has made building an army a top national priority. But progress toward achieving this goal has been slow at best, with an official admitting that he does not even know how many soldiers are currently in the army. Public statements by senior Libyan leaders suggest that there is little disagreement over the notion that the country desperately needs a functioning military to ensure a peaceful transition – and a clean break from the Qaddafi legacy of a weak army dwarfed by powerful brigades loyal to the autocrat’s sons. However, political will alone hasn't been enough to effect serious reforms.
Reuters: Ten Chadian soldiers killed fighting Islamists in Mali
Ten Chadian soldiers were killed in combat in northern Mali's mountainous border with Algeria where Islamist rebels regrouped after losing urban areas to a French-led offensive, Chad's army said on Sunday. The latest Chadian fatalities came in an area of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains where 13 Chadian soldiers were killed in clashes on Friday that centered around what one senior commander said was a rebel base of "significant importance". At least 93 rebels have been killed in fighting in the area so far, Chad's army said. The casualties, the heaviest by African troops since a campaign against al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels began six weeks ago, highlight risks that the French-led coalition becomes entangled by guerrilla war as it helps Mali's weak army.
SEE ALSO: BBC: France's military operation in Mali in 'final phase'
CNN: Pope Benedict leads final public prayer, local media buzzes with scandal
Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public prayer ceremony Sunday to a crowd of thousands at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, amid rumors of a sex scandal brewing as he prepares to step down. … This month, Benedict shocked the world with the announcement that he would step down. Thursday is his last day as acting pope. The Italian media has been abuzz in recent days with allegations that gay clergy may have made themselves vulnerable to blackmail by male prostitutes, setting off speculation that a brewing scandal may have triggered Benedict's resignation.
CNN: Cuban President Raul Castro says he'll leave in 2018
Cuban President Raul Castro said Sunday that he would step down from power in 2018, when his second term as president is set to end. "I would like to make clear ... this will be my last term," he said during a nationally televised speech at the end of a session of the country's National Assembly. The announcement came shortly after lawmakers re-elected Castro to a second five-year term. Last year, Castro said that Cuban officials, including the president, should be limited to two terms in office. He was officially elected president of the island nation in 2008. In 2018, he will be 86.
CNN: Bersani leads Berlusconi in polls as Italy votes for new parliament
Italy's parliamentary elections kick off Sunday, with polls suggesting the center-left - led by Pier Luigi Bersani - is on track to defeat controversial three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. But Berlusconi's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion. The two-day election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, outgoing premier Mario Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo.
Fortune: Two European elections, one feared outcome
The outcome of two elections this coming weekend could push Europe back to the edge of economic calamity. Sovereign bond investors in London and on the continent will be watching voter returns in Italy and Cyprus intently to see if anti-bailout and anti-austerity candidates triumph at the polls. If the results lead to radical or deadlocked governments in either nation, the markets could punish government bonds throughout the eurozone periphery, reigniting investors' fears of a potential collapse of the euro.
BBC: Horsemeat scandal: EU ministers to discuss action
European Union agriculture ministers are set to meet in Brussels for talks widely expected to focus on the continent's growing horsemeat scandal. The labelling of the origin of meat and the traceability of the products will be high on the agenda. The scandal erupted last month when horsemeat was found in some beef meals and burgers in the UK and Ireland. Since then, supermarkets across Europe have had to withdraw affected prepared meals from their shelves.
CNNMoney: Japan to tap Kuroda as next central bank governor
Japan's prime minister is poised to nominate an advocate of aggressive monetary easing to be the nation's next central banker, a move that will likely further weaken the yen while providing a boost to stocks. After weeks of speculation, multiple Japanese media reports indicate that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has chosen Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda to be the BoJ's next governor.
Houston Chronicle: On eve of oil spill trial, no deal reached
Lawyers for various companies, Gulf states and the federal government continued to prepare for Monday’s civil trial over the 2010 oil spill as they anxiously awaited news of whether a last-minute settlement would be reached. As of Sunday evening, the trial in federal court in New Orleans was moving forward as scheduled and no deal had been reached, according to people familiar with the matter. It was unclear, however, if the Justice Department and the states had presented to BP an offer that they had prepared and, if so, what response they may have gotten.
CNNMoney: China's manufacturing sector stumbles
A key gauge of momentum in China's manufacturing sector fell unexpectedly in February, raising concerns about the strength of recovery in the world's second largest economy. Global bank HSBC said its "flash" index of purchasing managers' sentiment fell to 50.4 in February from January's final reading of 52.3. Any reading above 50 signals expansion in the manufacturing sector. The index, which had been on a winning streak, is now at a 4-month low. Still, economists are not ringing the alarm bells.
WSJ: China Quietly Invests Reserves in U.K. Properties
China's foreign-exchange regulator has been actively but discreetly investing in U.K. property and infrastructure, marking a significant shift in how the secretive manager of the world's largest foreign-currency reserves uses its funds. Since May, U.K.-registered Gingko Tree Investment Ltd., a wholly owned unit of China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, has invested more than $1.6 billion in at least four deals, including a water utility, student housing, and office buildings in London and Manchester, according to data providers that track property deals and disclosures by the companies that received the investments. People familiar with Gingko Tree say there have been other deals, but the details haven't been disclosed publicly.