Ahead of the curve: The next 7 days
March 4th, 2012
07:01 PM ET

Ahead of the curve: The next 7 days

Here is a look at some of the stories that CNN plans to follow this week:

Netanyahu, Obama to meet amid high tensions with Iran

Days after a trip to Canada in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated that Israel reserves the right to defend itself against Iranian threats, the Israeli leader is due to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Iran is sure to be one of the topics of discussion. Tensions between Iran and the West have risen in recent months over its nuclear program, after a scathing report in November from international inspectors that said Iran could be developing nuclear weapons. A more recent report from the inspectors, noting that Iran was increasing its uranium enrichment capacity, said Iran blocked them from a key military facility.

The United States and its allies have long suspected Iran is developing such weapons, though Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is solely intended for civilian energy purposes.

Israeli leadership, fearing the possibility of its enemy's having nuclear weapons, has hinted that a unilateral pre-emptive military strike against Iran is a possibility. Obama, in a recent interview with The Atlantic, cautioned against such a strike, suggesting it would produce worldwide sympathy for Iran at a time when it has very little. He told The Atlantic, as he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington on Sunday, that although Iran's having nuclear weapons is unacceptable to the United States, and that he isn't taking any option off the table, different pressure such as sanctions may make Iran change its course.

Netanyahu this week also plans to visit the AIPAC policy conference, a large pro-Israel gathering in Washington. Several U.S. lawmakers also are scheduled to address the three-day conference.

Romney on hot streak ahead of Super Tuesday

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on a bit of a roll heading into the Super Tuesday contests, in which 10 states will hold primaries or caucuses and have their say in the Republican nomination race.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, managed to shake off a recent rise in rival Rick Santorum's popularity, winning contests in Michigan, Arizona, Wyoming and Washington state last week. Romney has a lead in the delegate count on the strength of results in early primaries and caucuses.

In Ohio, one of the states with the most delegates in play Tuesday, Romney and Santorum were virtually tied in a poll released Sunday, with Santorum up 34% to 32% among likely Republican primary voters.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he needs to win his home state, Georgia, on Tuesday to stay in the race, and a poll released Saturday showed he had a double-digit lead there over his nearest competitor, Romney.

Other states holding contests Tuesday are Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Literary wunderkind turns 35

Jonathan Safran Foer has enjoyed success with “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and other works. The novelist has much to be proud of yet remains humble, say those who know him. In the words of one friend, he’s “extremely shy” and “incredibly bold.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Landau’s profile of Foer will hit CNN.com’s homepage on Monday. But you can get a sneak peek here.

Here comes the iPad 3 (we think)

Apple isn't saying whether the "special event" it's planned in California on Wednesday is the launch of the iPad 3. But pretty much all of the journalists covering Apple expect the company to unveil the latest version of the device that virtually defined the tablet market when it was introduced in 2010.

There is speculation that the iPad 3 may come with a stronger, bigger battery - making the new tablet thicker than the previous version, CNNMoney reports. Another rumor is a high-pixel-count screen that's already available on the iPhone 4S. Other reports claim the iPad will come with a faster processor, a better camera, the Siri voice assistant and the ability to run on 4G cell networks - and be about $60 more expensive than its predecessors.

The unveiling would come at a time when competitors are beginning to put up a bit of a fight, CNN's Doug Gross reports. Amazon made a splash with its simpler, cheaper Kindle Fire over the holidays, and rival bookseller Barnes & Noble countered with its popular Nook Tablet. The Acer Iconia A500 offers more memory than the iPad 2, while other companies have  begun flooding the market with devices that are smaller and cheaper than Apple's standard-bearer.

Will Putin avoid a runoff election?

When final results of Sunday's presidential election in Russia are announced this week, Vladimir Putin may not need a runoff vote to reclaim the office.

Russians went to the polls on Sunday, and pre-election polls showed that Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008, may get more than 50% of the vote, in which case he would avoid a runoff election and win the presidency outright.

Putin has been prime minister since stepping down from the presidency in 2008 because of a law barring him from serving more than two consecutive terms. The current president, Dmitry Medvedev, is not running for another term.

The election comes about three months after parliamentary elections that kept Putin's ruling United Russia party in power, albeit with a smaller majority. The results caused mass protests in Russia, with protesters claiming that the results were rigged in United Russia's favor. The demonstrations were considered, among analysts and political observers, the largest in Russia in the past two decades. Protests are expected again on Monday if Putin is declared Russia's next president

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Iditarod route altered due to weather concerns
Mushers and their dogs set off from the "ceremonial" starting point Saturday morning, as crowds cheer on their favorite teams.
March 4th, 2012
10:26 AM ET

Iditarod route altered due to weather concerns

Anchorage, Alaska (CNN) - Despite near record snowfall, the 40th running of the Iditarod sled dog race kicked off in Anchorage on Saturday. However, only hours after the ceremonial start of the race, Iditarod officials announced the trail's course was being altered due to worsening weather conditions.

Sixty-six mushers entered this year's race, a true test of human and canine endurance. The contest requires each musher and dog sled team to traverse almost 1,000 miles across Alaska's notorious winter terrain between Anchorage and Nome on the Bering Sea coast.

This year, Anchorage has already doubled its usual snowfall with approximately 120 inches 10 feet of snow and is approaching the near 133-inch record set in 1954. The deep snow could be a major factor in the Iditarod, as weather conditions affect the dogs' physical performance and increase the threat of dangerous moose encounters on the trail.  Several Iditarod mushers have already reported run-ins with winter-weary moose during training runs through interior Alaska.

Behind the scenes at the Iditarod

Hours after Saturday morning's ceremonial start, race director Mark Nordman announced trail breakers had become more concerned over a previously planned reroute in a critical part of the 2012 trail. Citing high wind and new snow totals, Nordman broke last-minute news of the change to mushers and fans.

"As trail conditions are constantly affected by changes in weather," the Iditarod Trail Committee "will consistently evaluate available options with the goal of providing the best possible trail," said Nordman meaning the dangerous, highly feared and ironically named "Happy Steps" would officially be back in the 2012 race route.

Veteran musher and 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, is no stranger to harsh trail conditions: He lost one of his own race dogs to overflow ice and suffered severe frostbite during previous competitions. "You really have to respect Mother Nature, and Lord knows, she’s been beating up on me over the years. So, we just have got to take care of the dogs and keep an even keel," Neff said.

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Filed under: Alaska • Iditarod
March 4th, 2012
01:35 AM ET

Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie dies

Ralph McQuarrie, the man credited with bringing director George Lucas' vision for "Star Wars" to the big screen, has died at the age of 82.

McQuarrie's conceptual designs were the basis for some of the trilogy's iconic characters such as Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

A statement on McQuarrie's official website, posted after his death Saturday, said his influence on design will be felt forever.

"There's no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say... that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted," it read.

Lucas said he was saddened by McQuarrie's passing, calling him a visionary artist and a humble man.

"Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars," Lucas said. "His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy.

"When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'"

McQuarrie also helped to create concept designs for the original Battlestar Galactica TV show, along with the movies "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

McQuarrie's conceptual work on the 1985 film, "Cocoon," won him the Academy Award for Visual Effects.

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Filed under: U.S. • World