U.S. envoy optimistic of progress in talks
BEIJING — The U.S. envoy attending talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons held out the possibility yesterday of agreement on first steps toward that goal 10 weeks after Pyongyang defiantly staged its first nuclear blast.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill said U.S. and North Korean negotiators were fleshing out plans to set in motion a joint statement from Sept. 19, 2005, promising North Korea aid and security assurances in return for nuclear disarmament.
Mr. Hill’s remarks were the first hint of progress in the talks between the United States, the two Koreas, Russia, Japan and host China that resumed Monday after more than a year’s break.
Georgia threatened with natural gas cutoff
MOSCOW — Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly threatened to cut off supplies to Georgia if it does not agree to a 125 percent increase in the price of gas imports, a company official said yesterday.
OAO Gazprom asked Georgian authorities to finalize the amount of Russian gas imports they want for next year at a price of $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, or risk receiving no gas at all, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said.
Russia cut off Georgia’s supplies last winter, causing brief shortages throughout Europe.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Blair urges Mideast to unite against Iran
DUBAI — British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged Middle Eastern states yesterday to help rein in the “forces of extremism” in Iran and to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Blair, on the final day of what may be his last Middle East tour as prime minister, said Iran was openly supporting terrorism in Iraq, undermining the Lebanese government and blocking Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The Islamic republic has not recognized Israel, and last year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Tehran said Mr. Blair’s comments were “hateful.”
Holocaust denier freed on probation
VIENNA — British author David Irving, imprisoned on charges of denying the Holocaust, will be released to serve the rest of his three-year sentence on probation, a court ruled yesterday, and the government prepared to deport him.
Vienna’s Upper State Court granted Irving’s appeal and converted two-thirds of his sentence into probation. Since Irving, 68, already has spent more than 13 months behind bars, the ruling means he will be freed from prison. His release was expected soon.
U.S. senators meet with Assad
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar Assad had talks yesterday with two visiting U.S. senators on Iraq and efforts to end the Palestinian crisis, Syria’s official news agency said.
The Democratic senators, former presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, were the latest members of the U.S. Congress to visit Syria since a bipartisan panel recommended that the U.S. administration open dialogue with Syria and Iran on Iraq.
“The Baker-Hamilton report was discussed, and President Assad affirmed the need to stop violence in Iraq and Syria’s readiness to achieve Middle East peace under honest international auspices,” the news agency reported.
From wire dispatches and staff reports