- - Monday, March 5, 2012

VIENNA — The head of the U.N. nuclear agency expressed growing concern Monday about investigating an Iranian site suspected of links to nuclear weapons development, saying there are indications of new activity there.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano did not specify whether he believed the activity was linked to suspected new weapons experiments or attempts to clean up previous alleged work.

But he said the suspicions of “activities … ongoing at the Parchin site” in Iran means “going there sooner is better than later” for IAEA inspectors seeking to probe suspicions that Iran has been - or is - working secretly to develop nuclear arms.

Inspecting Parchin was a key request made by senior IAEA teams that visited Tehran in January and February.

Iran rebuffed those overtures, as well as attempts by the IAEA to question officials and secure other information linked to the allegations of secret weapons work.

CHINA

Defense spending to rise by 11.2 percent in 2012

BEIJING — China said Sunday that it would boost its defense spending by 11.2 percent in 2012, the latest in a nearly two-decade string of double-digit increases.

Although the planned figure is less than last year’s 12.7 percent increase, China’s military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Only twice since the early 1990s has the increase been less than double digits.

National People’s Congress spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, said China’s defense spending would increase by 11.2 percent over actual spending last year to hit $106.4 billion in 2012.

China’s official defense spending is the largest in the world after the United States, but actual spending, according to foreign defense experts, may be 50 percent higher, as China excludes outlays for its nuclear missile force and other programs.

AFGHANISTAN

Talks bog down on U.S.-Afghan agreement

KABUL — Negotiations over a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan have bogged down over issues of detainees, night raids and quarrels within the Afghan president’s inner circle, throwing the whole deal into question.

The arrangement would formalize a U.S. role after NATO’s planned pullout in 2014. The deadlock reflects growing hostility on the part of the Afghan leadership and increasing exasperation in Washington.

Trust has eroded in recent days with anti-American protests over Koran burnings at a U.S. base, a rising number of U.S. troops gunned down by Afghan security forces and election-year demands to bring the troops home.

President Hamid Karzai met Monday evening with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, but a Karzai spokesman did not return phone calls requesting details about their talks.

Mr. Karzai has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday. It is unclear whether he will discuss the negotiations.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall would not disclose any information about the meeting.

ICELAND

Ex-premier tells court he is innocent

REYKJAVIK — Iceland’s former prime minister has rejected charges he failed to adequately protect his country’s economy from financial shocks in the first criminal trial of a world leader over the 2008 financial crisis.

“I reject all accusations and believe there is no basis for them,” Geir Haarde said as he took the stand Monday.

He said it was the first chance he had to answer questions in the case.

Mr. Haarde became a symbol of the bubble economy for Icelanders who lost their jobs and homes after the country’s main commercial banks collapsed in 2008, sending its currency into a nosedive and inflation soaring.

Prosecutors opened the case at the Landsdomur, a special court being convened for the first time in Iceland’s history.

Part of their case hinges on a charge that Mr. Haarde failed to implement recommendations a government committee had drawn up in 2006 to strengthen Iceland’s economy.

Mr. Haarde told the court that the committee’s work could not have prevented Iceland’s economic crash.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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