- - Thursday, October 14, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Gates: U.S. a ‘partner’ in talks with Taliban

BRUSSELS | The Obama administration is a partner with the Afghan government in its peace talks with the Taliban, even though U.S. officials aren’t sitting at the table, two top administration officials said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said any reconciliation between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Taliban insurgents must be led by Afghans. But he said at a NATO news conference that the U.S. is offering advice and following the initial talks.

His comments came after the revelation Wednesday that NATO was providing safe passage to Taliban officials engaged in settlement talks, the clearest sign yet that the U.S. takes Kabul’s discussions with the insurgents seriously.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was more cautious in her assessment of the U.S. role in the talks. She said the U.S. continues to insist that the insurgents lay down their weapons, cut ties with al Qaeda and pledge to respect the Afghan constitution with its protections for women’s rights.

NATO

Chief calls for anti-missile system

BRUSSELS | NATO allies are moving toward approving an anti-missile system that would protect Europe, the alliance’s secretary general said Thursday, adding that he hopes Russia would join in creating such a shield.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that, based on Thursday’s meeting of the foreign and defense ministers of NATO’s 28 members, he was “quite optimistic” the anti-missile shield would be adopted at NATO’s summit in Portugal on Nov. 19-20.

He is proposing to expand an existing system of tactical battlefield missile defense to cover the territory and populations of all alliance members against attack from nations such as Iran and North Korea. He also has called on Russia to join the project.

SUDAN

Official: Vote on border region impossible

CAIRO | A northern Sudanese official said Thursday that a crucial referendum on the future of an oil-rich region along the country’s north-south border cannot be held on time because of disagreements over who should be eligible to vote.

Leaders in Sudan’s north and south are in a tug-of-war over Abyei, which is home to oil fields worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In conjunction with Southern Sudan’s independence referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, Abyei was expected to vote the same day on whether to belong in Sudan’s north or in a possible new country in the south.

LEBANON

Ahmadinejad taunts Israel from border with Lebanon

BINT JBEIL | Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taunted archenemy Israel on Thursday from just across the tense border in southern Lebanon, where he rallied tens of thousands of supporters of ally Hezbollah as Israeli attack helicopters buzzed in the skies nearby.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly has said Israel should be wiped off the map and has denied the Holocaust, vowed that “resistance” forces will liberate Palestinians from Israeli control. The U.S. and Israel called his visit to the border region of southern Lebanon a provocation.

The Iranian leader arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to a rapturous welcome organized by the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah for his first state visit since he became president in 2005. The visit has turned into a show of force by Hezbollah, which shares power in a fragile unity government with a Western-backed coalition.

VENEZUELA

Chavez takes over new businesses

CARACAS | A string of nationalizations in recent days show President Hugo Chavez is pushing ahead with takeovers that critics say are undermining an economy that is already the worst-performing one in South America.

In recent days, the president has ordered the takeover of a major fertilizer plant, a motor lubricants maker, more farmland and agricultural supplies company Agroislena.

Those nationalizations followed gains by the newly united opposition at legislative elections on Sept. 26, where they struck a symbolic blow to Mr. Chavez by winning 40 percent of seats in the National Assembly and nearly half the popular vote.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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