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US Air Force planes were pronouced ready for attack against targets in Yugoslavia. Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered seven extra jets to Europe to join roughly 200 other American warplanes already in the NATO arsenal and awaiting orders to begin punitive strikes. The attacks were expected to begin with dozens of pilotless cruise missiles fired at critical points in the Yugoslav air-defense network. President Clinton said the goal of NATO air- strikes would be to weaken the Yugoslav Army's ability to attack independence-minded ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

In his first full-scale White House news conference in almost a year, Clinton answered questions about suspected Chinese nuclear espionage and the threat of airstrikes in Kosovo. He said NATO must be prepared to carry out airstrikes against Serbs because the latter have already crossed the threshold that warrants military action. Clinton also said he didn't know if first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for a US Senate seat, but revealed that she'd suggested they move to New York when he leaves the White House. Clinton refused to discuss his impeachment.

Vice President Gore asked the Democratic National Committee to "stand with me" as he seeks the party's nomination for president next year. Gore indicated he would pin much of his presidential bid on the economy, whose strength he and Clinton credit to their fiscal policies. Gore's only announced challenger for the 2000 Democratic nomination to date is former Sen. Bill Bradley.

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Clinton ordered senior administration officials to step up the federal government's efforts to curb gun violence. Since 1993, he said the overall US crime rate has fallen 20 percent, while gun crimes are down 25 percent and gun murders are down by one-third. But, he said there still were 14,000 murders by firearms in 1997. The president called for checks of buyers at gun shows and a lifelong ban on violent juvenile offenders from owning firearms.

Investigators of last week's Amtrak accident in Illinois were interviewing newly identified witnesses as a Chicago newspaper reported that the driver of the truck hit by the train had a lengthy accident history. The Sun-Times said driver John Stokes had been involved in at least 17 previous highway incidents and was under a warning that his license could be suspended a fifth time.

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is due in Washington tomorrow for key talks with US leaders and international creditors in hopes of securing billions of dollars to resurrect his country's battered economy. Primakov is expected to ask Clinton to pressure the International Monetary Fund for new loans to prevent default on Russia's foreign debt. Without new credits, Russia will be unable to repay the $4.8 billion it owes to the IMF this year.

US Agriculture Department officials were due to meet this week on what to do if wheat farmers decide to forfeit their 1999 crops rather than repay federal loans. Farmers are whipsawed by a combination of low prices and a worldwide wheat glut.

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