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RUSSIA TO JOIN `PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE' Russia has told NATO it will join the ``partnership for peace'' plan for military links with the alliance, helping to calm concerns it may be on a course of confrontation with the West, alliance sources said yesterday. NATO sent a mission to Moscow this week to convince the alliance's main cold-war foe it should sign on to the partnership, which offers joint military training, exercises, and cooperation in defense planning. After two years of diplomatic cooperation between Russia and the West, Moscow has warned against any expansion of NATO that would take in Eastern European states and opposed the recent threat of allied airstrikes in Bosnia Herzegovina. NATO has been worried that its plans to expand cooperation with Russia, Europe's biggest military power, could run aground and that tensions could increase across the continent.The centerpiece of that cooperation is supposed to be the partnership scheme. US economy

The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the US merchandise trade deficit in 1993 shot up 37.9 percent, to $132.5 billion. That is the largest deficit since a $159.6 billion gap in 1987. In a separate report, the government said sales of new homes plunged 20.1 percent in January, the steepest decline in nearly 14 years. Wintery weather and rising interest rates were blamed. UN aids Afghanistan

The UN sent 90 tons of badly needed food on the road to Kabul yesterday, its first attempt to deliver supplies since a major battle erupted two months ago. Meanwhile, renewed fighting broke out yesterday as President Burhanuddin Rabbani's forces traded tank and rocket fire with its Islamic rivals. Renegade Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar holds the city outskirts and has imposed a blockade on the main highway leading into Kabul. UN officials negotiated for weeks before he finally agreed to allow the aid convoy. Attack on Jews in New York

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New York City and two Jewish groups offered $30,000 in rewards for information that could help police find a gunman who fired on a van filled with Hasidic Jews, injuring four passengers, two critically. The lone motorist pursued the van across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday. The attack sent city officials scrambling to calm fears that the incident was related to Middle East tensions. Japanese economy

A Japanese government report that businesses are just as gloomy but not gloomier than three months ago was considered good news Tuesday. The quarterly central bank survey showed 59 percent of large manufacturing companies were pessimistic about the economy. Three percent were optimistic. It was the first time since August 1989 that the margin of pessimism did not increase. Austria joins EU

The European Union welcomed Austria on Tuesday. The nations joins Sweden and Finland as new members. Norway, the fourth applicant involved in marathon talks with the 12-nation bloc, had already indicated that it would postpone further high-level discussions until Monday. Blockbuster sale proceeds

Entertainment giant Viacom Inc. got what may be the final green light on Tuesday in its $10 billion quest to acquire Paramount Communications Inc. Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation shareholders upset about Blockbuster's separate merger with Viacom were denied a delay of the deal. If granted, it could have temporarily halted Viacom's takeover of Paramount which was scheduled for Tuesday. Superhighway delay

Time Warner Cable postponed a high-profile test of advanced two-way TV services like movies-on-demand and home shopping because the technology isn't ready. On Tuesday the company delayed the test in Orlando, Fla., from next month to at least October. The delay is another sign that advanced electronic networks and systems, dubbed the information superhighway, may be harder to set up than anticipated.

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