- - Monday, February 20, 2012

SOUTH KOREA

North sends diplomats for nuke talks with U.S.

SEOUL — North Korea’s delegation left for talks Tuesday about its nuclear program with the U.S., in what will be the first significant contact by the two sides since the death of leader Kim Jong-il.

The team headed by First Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan departed to attend “high-level talks” with the U.S., the state news agency said in a one-sentence report.

Mr. Kim will meet Glyn Davies, coordinator for U.S. policy on North Korea, in Beijing on Thursday for discussions expected to provide clues about policy directions under Pyongyang’s new leaders.

The talks will come just days after Pyongyang’s new leadership threatened “merciless” retaliation Monday for a South Korean artillery drill near their disputed sea border. North Korea did not carry out the threat.

Washington and North Korea’s neighbors are closely watching how new leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s son, handles strained ties with rival South Korea, the planned U.S.-South Korean military drills and a long-running standoff over the country’s nuclear weapons programs. 

IRAN

Nuke inspectors to press Iran on weapons

TEHRAN — U.N. nuclear inspectors starting a two-day visit to Tehran on Monday sought to meet with Iranian nuclear scientists and visit a key military facility as they try to gauge allegations that Iran is pushing toward making an atomic weapon.

The trip is the second in less than a month by the International Atomic Energy Agency team, reflecting growing concerns over alleged weapons experiments — something Iran has denied and refused to discuss.

Herman Nackaerts, a senior U.N. nuclear official, said in Vienna, Austria, before the team departed Sunday that he hopes for progress in the talks, but his careful choice of words suggested little expectation that the meeting would be successful.

TURKEY

Orthodox Christian urges greater religious freedom

ANKARA — The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians said Monday that Turkey’s new constitution should grant equal rights to minorities in the country and safeguard religious freedoms.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I met with members of a parliamentary subcommittee seeking an all-party consensus in drawing up a constitution that will replace the one ratified in 1982 while Turkey was under military rule.

The subcommittee is meeting with nongovernmental organizations and representatives of minority groups for input on drafting the laws.

Mostly Muslim Turkey, which is seeking to join the European Union, has small Christian and Jewish communities. The EU has made improved rights for the religious groups a condition for membership.

 

Turkey’s existing constitution guarantees religious freedom. But when it comes to minority religions, the country has long been criticized for restricting the training of clergy and the ownership of places of worship, and for interfering with the selection of church leaders.

SOUTH SUDAN

Attacks, clashes increase on Sudanese border

JUBA — Sudan’s military is carrying out a bombing campaign intended to shut down the main route for refugees fleeing violence in the country’s south, a rebel spokesman said Monday.

A former American aid worker who lives in the region documented five attacks and clashes last week.

Attacks by the Sudanese Armed Forces have been focused along the road leading out of Southern Kordofan, Sudan, into Yida, South Sudan, said Arnu Loddi, a spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group inside Sudan.

More than 20,000 refugees have fled to a camp in Yida to escape the violence, and the United Nations worries that hundreds of thousands more could be on the way.

YEMEN

Polling station blown up one day before vote

SANAA — Gunmen blew up a voting station in southern Yemen on Monday, one day before voters were to go to the polls to rubber-stamp the vice president as the new head of state.

The attack in the port city of Aden underlines the security vacuum in the Arab world’s poorest country after a one-year popular uprising seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Under a U.S.-backed deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbors, Mr. Saleh’s deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to become president after a vote Tuesday in which he is the only candidate.

From wire dispatches and staff reports