News In Brief

Whether there is sufficient reason to continue Middle East peace discussions is to be decided today or tomorrow by President Clinton, based on a key meeting in Cairo between CIA chief George Tenet and senior Israeli and Palestinian security officials, the White House said. The session had yet to begin as the Monitor went to press, but senior Palestinians were accusing their Israeli counterparts of "not appearing to be serious." Above, an Israeli soldier shares his water canteen with a Palestinian at a checkpoint outside the West Bank village of Khirbat al-Misbah.

Crude oil production almost certainly will be cut by 1.7 million barrels a day when OPEC members meet next week in Vienna, informed sources said. OPEC hiked production four times last year - totaling 3.7 million barrels - to try to bring down futures prices and to address projected shortages in the stockpiles of key consuming nations. Since then, prices have slid about 25 percent and - in much of Europe - mild winter weather has eased demand.

In "a major goodwill gesture," Taiwan no longer will be expected to declare itself part of China before their governments can negotiate to end a 51-year ban on direct travel and communications, news media in Beijing said. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian recently OK'd limited trade between the islands of Quemoy and Matsu and mainland China, and the first ships crossed the Taiwan Strait last week. The apparent softening of Beijing's position calls on Taiwan only to regard the new links as taking place within the same country, not between - as the latter has insisted - sovereign states.

The first absolute majority for a political party in Thai history appeared within reach, based on unofficial returns from Saturday's election. Billionaire prime minister candidate Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party stood to win 257 of the 500 seats in parliament's lower house, to 127 for incumbent Chuan Leekpai and his Democrat Party. Thaksin, however, still awaits a court ruling on whether he violated antigraft law, and analysts said the size of his victory could plunge the nation into crisis if he were ordered removed from office.

Having failed to appear for a court-ordered mental exam over the weekend, ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet also is expected not to show up today for further tests. And he's considered likely to refuse an interrogation tomorrow by a trial judge to determine whether he's fit to stand trial for alleged atrocities during his 17 years in power. It was not clear whether the judge would order Pinochet's arrest.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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