- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

NORTH KOREA

Six-nation talks launched in Beijing

BEIJING — North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said today that his country will adhere to its principles but is also willing to show flexibility as he kicked off the long-awaited six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear ambitions.

In a statement at the start of the session, the United States reiterated its pledge not to attack North Korea and to provide it with security assurances if it dismantled its nuclear-weapons programs.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said the United States seeks the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s nuclear programs, plutonium as well as uranium based.

RUSSIA

Government fired ahead of election

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the government yesterday and pledged to appoint a team to overhaul policy ahead of the March 14 presidential election, which Mr. Putin appears certain to win.

The president immediately signed a decree naming a Kasyanov deputy, Viktor Khristenko, as interim prime minister.

But some analysts predicted that the president finally would opt for Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin or Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to lead a new Cabinet.

Mr. Putin’s decision took Russia by surprise, because the government is required by the constitution to submit its resignation anyway after an election.

PAKISTAN

20 held in hunt for al Qaeda, Taliban

WANA — Pakistani troops using helicopters and artillery flattened three housing compounds and detained at least 20 persons yesterday in a remote border region where Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda fugitives are thought to have sought refuge.

The military searched house to house in villages near Wana, a few miles from the border with Afghanistan.

It was not clear whether any senior Taliban or al Qaeda fugitives were detained, though foreigners — including three Arab women — were among those arrested. Weapons, ammunition, passports, written materials and audiocassettes also were seized.

UZBEKISTAN

Permanent base not planned, Rumsfeld says

TASHKENT — The U.S. military is considering this Central Asian nation for expeditionary bases that could be activated during a crisis, but it has no plans to establish a permanent presence in the region, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.

He said he had discussed the arrangement with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

The bases would not be home to U.S. troops but instead could handle American troops should the United States need a staging area in the region.

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