Today's Story Line:

The Russians are coming - with an olive branch in one hand and an AK-47 in the other. As US influence and prestige wane in the Middle East, the Russians are stepping into the vacuum and offering to play peacemakers (page 1). None of the key participants object, but some Russians are questioning the Kremlin's motives.

While the diplomats are busy, so are the Russian arms dealers. Russia ranks No. 4 worldwide in weapons exports. But can it deliver on the new orders? Many factories and their subcontractors are shut down (this page).

David Clark Scott World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB..

BAGHDAD PHOTO OP: Russia's political influence in the Middle East has diminished since the end of the cold war. But Scott Peterson, a former Mideast correspondent now based in Moscow, says that Russians certainly remain visible. "You see former Soviet Jews are in Israel, and you find businessmen in Iran and Iraq," says Scott. "But one of the weirdest encounters was when the right-wing Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky visited Baghdad. We ended up in the same elevator of the Rashid Hotel, and when he saw my camera, he insisted on a portrait - of him smiling, and pointing to the Saddam Hussein pin on his lapel."

EUTHANASIA LEGALIZED: The Netherlands yesterday became the first country to legalize euthanasia, Reuters reports. Doctors will legally be able to end the lives of certain patients, but only on three conditions: that the patient's condition is diagnosed "incurable," that the patient is of sound mind and agrees to the procedure, and that their suffering is considered unbearable. As reported in our June 28 edition, for decades euthanasia was widely tolerated in the Netherlands. A controversial clause allowing children as young as 12 to demand death, even if their parents disagreed, was dropped from the new law. Children between 12 and 16 must have parental consent.

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