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World Briefs: Panetta urges allies to help train Afghans

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NATO

BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday the NATO coalition has turned an important corner in Afghanistan and has come too far and spilled too much blood to let insider attacks or anything else undermine the mission there.

While he and other ministers refused to provide details of the expected withdrawal of troops in the coming two years, he said that from mid-2013 onward, the United States and its allies will operate from fewer bases and the flow of military supplies and materiel out of Afghanistan will begin to grow.

Mr. Panetta also used his time during the closed session of the NATO conference here Wednesday to urge the other defense ministers to help fill the shortfall of military training teams in Afghanistan.

The teams, he said, are critical to building the capabilities of the Afghan forces so they can take control of their country's security by the end of 2014.

EUROPEAN UNION

Turkey's long effort to join EU deferred

BRUSSELS — Turkey's longtime goal of joining the European Union seems, like a mirage in the desert, to fade farther into the distance as time goes by.

The goal receded a little further Wednesday as the EU issued a report that was scathing toward Turkey's regard for fundamental rights and freedom of expression -- bedrock values for any country wishing to join the European club.

Turkey slammed the report, calling it a biased attempt by the crisis-burdened EU to delay Turkish membership.

The EU's criticism came in a document produced by its executive branch, the European Commission, that assessed the progress and challenges facing would-be EU members.

In customary EU fashion, the report said each country had made significant accomplishments but has more work to do.

TURKEY

Turkey intercepts Syrian plane

ANKARA — Turkish jets on Wednesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport on suspicion that it might be carrying weapons, officials and news reports said.

State-run TRT television said an Airbus A320 coming from Moscow was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and escorted to the capital's Esenboga Airport.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, interviewed by Turkey's state-run TRT television in Athens, said the plane was forced to land because of information that it might be carrying "certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules."

The move comes amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria, which have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border in the past week.

UNITED KINGDOM

Police probe 2 in journalist kidnapping

LONDON — British police were investigating Wednesday whether a British man and woman arrested on suspicion of supporting terrorism offenses in Syria were part of a group that held two veteran war journalists hostage in Syria in July.

The abduction of photographers John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans highlighted concerns that British Muslims might be slipping into Syria to join extremists.

Both said after their weeklong ordeal that some of their captors spoke with British accents.

Police seeking clues in the case searched two East London properties Wednesday -- one day after the two 26-year-old suspects were arrested at Heathrow Airport after arriving on a flight from Egypt.

IRAQ

Iraq retreats from ambitious oil plans

BAGHDAD — Iraq officially stepped back Wednesday from its ambitious plans to more than triple its oil production by 2017, but it remains more optimistic than the world's leading global energy monitor about how fast and how high it can boost output.

Baghdad's latest targets show that Iraq, which is pumping about 3.4 million barrels a day, is eager to be a major player on the world energy map despite decades of wars and sanctions.

It recently nudged out Iran as the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and further production gains would solidify its place behind the bloc's top producer, Saudi Arabia.

Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq's deputy prime minister on energy, predicted that the country's oil production will reach 5 million to 6 million barrels per day in 2015.

He envisions that rising to 9 million to 10 million barrels per day by 2020, a level that could be sustained for 20 years.

Iraq previously had been targeting production capacity of 12 million barrels per day by 2017. Many experts consider that target unrealistic.

FRANCE

Police find bomb material in terror probe

PARIS — French police discovered bomb-making materials in an underground parking lot near Paris as part of a probe of an "extremely dangerous terrorist cell" linked to an attack on a Jewish grocery store, a state prosecutor said Wednesday.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said some of the 12 suspected cell members arrested over the weekend appeared to have plans to go to Syria to fight in its civil war.

Mr. Valls, quoted in an interview posted Wednesday on the website of Paris Match magazine, said some had "unquestionably" spent time in Tunisia and Egypt. He did not elaborate.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the discovery of the bomb-making materials late Tuesday in Torcy, east of the capital, led authorities to invoke a rarely used legal clause to allow them to extend questioning of the 12 suspects by a day and possibly two.

Authorities have been on high alert for possible terror attacks by radical Islamists after a Frenchman who claimed links to al Qaeda shot and killed seven people in southern France in March.

ISRAEL

Ex-prime minister considering political comeback

JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is considering a political comeback to challenge incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections, aides said Wednesday.

With parliamentary polls set for 2013, Mr. Olmert is considered the candidate with the best chance of unseating Mr. Netanyahu at the ballot box.

Mr. Olmert recently was cleared of the most serious of several bribery allegations that forced him out of office in 2009, but he still is bogged down in a separate bribery trial that leaves his political future in doubt.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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