- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

IRAQ

Al-Maliki: U.S. troops to guard bad spots

BAGHDAD | U.S. troops will not be removed from areas of Iraq that are not completely secure or where there is a high probability that attacks could resume after the Americans leave, Iraq’s prime minister said Sunday.

Nouri al-Maliki said in an interview with the Associated Press that he had told President Obama and other top U.S. officials that any withdrawals “must be done with our approval” and in coordination with the Iraqi government.

“I do not want any withdrawals except in areas considered 100 percent secure and under control,” Mr. al-Maliki said during his flight from Australia to Baghdad at the end of a five-day visit.

The U.S.-Iraq security pact that went into effect Jan. 1 calls for U.S. combat forces to leave the cities by the end of June in the first step of a plan to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

ISRAEL

Olmert sets deadline on hostage in Gaza

JERUSALEM | Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave his two top negotiators a Sunday deadline to win the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants, as part of a final push to strike a deal with Hamas before he steps down.

Mr. Olmert said he sent Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and veteran prisoner-swap negotiator Ofer Dekel to Cairo over the weekend to make “an additional effort” in Egyptian-mediated talks with the radical Hamas movement, which has been holding Sgt. Gilad Shalit since June 2006.

“I instructed them to complete the talks by this evening,” Mr. Olmert said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday.

Israeli media were buzzing Sunday with hopes that the envoys would return with a deal for the government to endorse. In Cairo, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the Associated Press that there had been no new developments.

AUSTRIA

OPEC meeting keeps oil output unchanged

VIENNA | Ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided Sunday not to directly cut oil output in an effort to raise prices, but to focus instead on stopping individual members from producing above their quotas.

The decision was sure to be welcomed by the U.S. and other major oil-consuming countries, because setting lower output limits likely would have resulted in higher crude prices that would jolt the anemic world economy.

Cheap oil has been a rare bright spot in the otherwise gloomy global economic picture.

UGANDA

Troops leaving Congo battle

KAMPALA | Uganda began withdrawing troops hunting brutal Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in neighboring Congo after the deadline for them to leave expired Sunday, an army spokesman said.

The Ugandan military has been hunting the rebels in Congo since December in a joint operation with forces from Congo and southern Sudan. The rebels frequently cross over the heavily forested borders that separate the three countries, to kill and maim civilians.

Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulaigye said the Congolese army will continue the hunt. He said the operation had been a success, with around 100 rebels killed and more than 200 abductees rescued. The rebels are notorious for mutilating and killing civilians and kidnapping children to use as fighters and sex slaves.

NORTH KOREA

‘Dear leader’ to eat Italian

SEOUL | North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has ordered the opening of the isolated country’s first Italian restaurant, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper reported, despite the nation’s continuing struggle to feed its 24 million people.

Mr. Kim - a reputed gourmand - sent North Korean cooks to Naples and Rome last year to learn how to reproduce authentic Italian pizza and pasta after “repeated trial and error,” the newspaper said Saturday, citing a restaurant manager.

Mr. Kim, who is known as the “dear leader,” presides over a nation where faminelike conditions are widespread but luxuries remain available to the ruling elite.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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